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9 Things We Learned from the 2015 Oscars


A couple of hours into last night’s Oscars (or The Expected Vice of Predictability), my wife turned to me and said, “At least the commercials are better this year.” She was right. Not only were they tonier—often not revealing the advertiser’s name until the very end, which is, of course, the quintessence of artistry—but they were steeped in the movies, from the appearance of stars like Natalie Portman for Miss Dior to the copious use of music made famous here by the movies—like Isaac Hayes’s “Theme from Shaft” and Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien.” When Boyhood’s director Richard Linklater turned up in an ad for Cadillac early in the broadcast, there was still no way of knowing that it would turn out to be his high point that night.

The show itself staggered under the weight of a six-month awards season that is increasingly turning what used to be the big event, the Academy Awards, into an undramatic formality, like the president signing a bill that Congress had spent long hard months passing. Everyone is all smiles, but the deal is done, so nobody’s really that excited. Still, there were some truths to be gleaned from the Oscars show.

1. You can win the Oscar going gate to gate.

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From the moment Whiplash premiered at Sundance in January, 2014, the conventional wisdom was that J. K. Simmons was the favorite for the Best Supporting Actor award that he finally claimed last night (after months of walking off with every piece of hardware that wasn’t glued to the dais). What made this remarkable wasn’t simply that nobody ever came close to challenging Simmons’s frontrunner status but that nobody had ever been a frontrunner for so long. Everyone expected him to win for over a year. Since before last year’s Oscars.

2. The old Hollywood guard is now pretty much gone.

Yes, Clint Eastwood turned up—and with the biggest hit of the bunch in American Sniper—and, yes, Michael Keaton was nominated as Best Actor. But neither won (and Keaton lost to a man, Eddie Redmayne, half his age). And the generational shift was even more striking in its presenters. Gone were the Jack Nicholsons, Harrison Fords, and Tom Hankses, replaced by the likes of Miles Teller, Anna Kendrick, Kevin Hart, and Chris Pratt. When it came time to find somebody with gravitas to present Best Picture, out swanned Sean Penn—who’s now the industry’s (if not Charlize Theron’s) idea of a Grand Old Man.

3. Dang, is Meryl Streep good.

Presenters at the Oscars nearly always seem uncomfortable. They stumble over names, stumble through dumb jokes, or stumble into weird emotional thickets like Terrence Howard (as host Neil Patrick Harris’s sly “predictions” list pointed out), whose introduction of Whiplash would’ve been a bit histrionic for Schindler’s List. But the one person who you knew would nail it was Streep, whose words before the “In Memoriam” section of the program managed to be sincere and grave and filled with feeling, yet always perfectly poised—she calibrated her sparkling eye-glisten like the world’s most skilled jeweler.

4. To win an Oscar, you have to want it, but you have to be careful about how you want it.

The perfect case in point came in the Best Actor category, where Eddie Redmayne worked the circuit, but charmingly. Indeed, when I talked to Laura Dern a couple of weeks ago, she talked about how much she loved him. Although he was actually doing less campaigning, Benedict Cumberbatch came across as greedy for love and attention, even scheduling his wedding on Valentine’s Day as his odds of winning started slipping. His seeming neediness horrified his fan base, which didn’t really give a hoot about Alan Turing or The Imitation Game. They wanted their Cumby to be the guy who didn’t care whether he won an Oscar or even what other people thought of him. They wanted him to be like, you know, Sherlock.

5. Matthew McConaughey evidently thinks he’s a swami.

Need I say more?

6. You can’t cliché-shame Hollywood.

For my entire life, it’s been a cheap joke that if you want to win an Oscar you should play somebody with a physical disability of some kind. Do you think Hollywood cares? It eats that stuff up, which is why Oscar winners Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne spent part of their speeches telling us about the horrors of ALS and Alzheimer’s. I wonder if, backstage, they talked about starring together in Savage Grace, not a movie to make you think that one day they’d be sharing the Oscar spotlight together.

7. Even a blind pig occasionally finds a truffle.

While I have enormous admiration for Neil Patrick Harris’s unflappable aplomb—he can sing, he can dance, he can walk out in his briefs—even he must’ve blanched when he saw the church social–worthy jokes he was given, like pronouncing the French word for snail as “s-car-got,” or including Bermuda shorts among the category of short films. Maybe it’s because there really aren’t all that many huge stars anymore—I couldn’t identify Chris Evans in a police lineup if he wasn’t wearing his Captain America uniform—but most of the show felt moribund. That said, there were a couple of good moments, including John Legend’s and Common’s rousing version of “Glory,” and at least one transcendent surprise—the wondrous coup de théâtre of having Lady Gaga perform songs from The Sound of Music, and following that up with the sudden appearance of Julie Andrews, who most of the audience probably assumed was dead. If whoever thought up that idea also thought up the introductory line about Josh Hutcherson (“Here’s the Peeta who won’t throw paint on you”), you redeemed yourself, my friend.

8. Hollywood wants its winner to feel like a “real” movie.

For months (and months and months), it seemed possible that Boyhood would become the unlikeliest Best Picture in Oscar history. In the end, it got swept aside by Birdman, which shouldn’t have surprised anybody, and not only because Best Original Screenplay and Best Director Alejandro González Iñárritu told a story about the wages of fame (shallow superhero movies, lack of self-respect) that movie people could relate to. Almost everyone in the industry liked and respected Linklater’s movie, but it’s small in ways that Hollywood, almost genetically, finds it hard to honor. Its star was a non-actor, its crew small, its production design modest; its narrative was oblique, muted, and inconclusive. By comparison, even Whiplash seemed like a proper movie–movie (it won three Oscars, two for technical achievements) and had the narrative arc of a war picture. As for Birdman, it was packed with stars, made the kind of difficult technical demands that Hollywood admires—it’s not for nothing the Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki won the cinematography Oscar—and kept reminding you that it was saying Something Important. It may have been an art film, but it was the industry’s version of an art film.

9. Academy voters often forget the most important thing.

When Oscars voters go wrong in choosing the Best Picture, which is often, it’s nearly always for the same reason. They lose sight of the movie (or sometimes movies) that people actually care about, the movies that help define the culture. That’s how Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan or how the dire Crash beat Brokeback Mountain, which remains a cultural touchstone. This year, there were three nominated films that, in different ways, hit people (though not always the same people) where they lived: Boyhood, Selma, and American Sniper. Birdman didn’t. For all its virtues, unexpected and otherwise, the film doesn’t really matter all that much to anybody, not even to the people who gave it the Oscar. They think it’s good, but not much more. You could’ve imagined people looking back five years from now and saying, “Remember when Boyhood won the Oscar?” Can you imagine anyone saying the same about Birdman?

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Laura Dern on Oscar Season


When I was starting out as a film critic, I saw a movie called Smooth Talk with a startlingly good performance by a teenage actress I’d never heard of. She struck me as a rare talent, and I told her that I predicted great things for her. Often when you engage in such grandiose punditry, you’re wrong. But sometimes that young actress turns out to be Laura Dern.

“I like radical visionaries,” Dern says, and you can see that audacity on-screen. Over the years, the 48-year-old has done it all: starred for Steven Spielberg (Jurassic Park) and Clint Eastwood (A Perfect World), shone in three unforgettable movies by David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Inland Empire), and played the title character in Citizen Ruth, the film that launched Alexander Payne. Along the way, she also managed to grab a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Rambling Rose and become both star and cocreator of one of this millennium’s greatest TV shows, Enlightened. At the moment, she’s nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Wild. In a matter of minutes, her beautiful, heartbreaking turn as Cheryl Strayed’s mother, Bobbi, makes her the film’s beacon of affirmation amidst all the personal darkness of the daughter played by Reese Witherspoon.

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Dern is the daughter of actors Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, and ever since I first met her, she has exuded the warm good grace of one not fazed by the hot glare of the spotlight or the cold calculations of the film industry. Her manners are old-school. She greets you easily, remembers the names of those who meet her, and presents herself with an easy sense of style. When we rendezvous for coffee (she has green tea) at Shutters in Santa Monica, the lithe actress looks sensational in her Gucci leather jacket, Goldsign jeans, and black-and-white Marc Jacobs sweater in a sixties-style tile print. With Oscar ballots due on February 17, I’m about to bring up her nomination, when she mentions that the previous day had been her birthday.

Happy birthday! What did you do?

Every year David [Lynch] and I take each other out for breakfast on our birthdays. Yesterday he took me to the Chateau Marmont, old-school Hollywood. David’s very indirect, but when he gets fierce about something, he’s so direct. We were talking about floors because I’m trying to fix the floors in my house. And he was, “All I can say is, you’re fucking insane not to use cork flooring!” It was as though it was the most important decision of my life. [Laughs]

We’re almost at the end of the awards season. I don’t know about you, but it’s been six months and I’m tired of it—and I’m not even the focus of things.

It’s crazy, isn’t it? The worst part is that you never want to feel inauthentic talking about something you actually care about. I really care about Cheryl Strayed’s story—it has all these great, flawed human characters—but the hardest job any actor has is trying to give answers that are truly genuine when you’ve given them over and over. When you get tired, you get horrified at yourself. And because you’ve been talking to the same journalists the whole time, you can see them thinking, Is she really going to answer this the same way again?

Is it ever fun?

In the long awards conversation, we’ve become a tribe of friends. Some of us have been friends for a long time. The new friend I feel privileged to have made is Eddie Redmayne. What a sweet guy. And with Wild, it’s so positive. Cheryl, [director] Jean-Marc Vallée, Reese, and myself have been doing it together since last August in Telluride. In the past, I’ve done lots of films I’ve loved and that other people have loved, but this is the first time that every single interview has a depth to it. That’s because everyone who walks in—even the journalists who go “I hear you’re going through a breakup” or “I hear that person isn’t easy to get along with” or whatever they’re after—they all say, “I’ve lost my mother,” or “I went through a divorce,” or “I had addiction issues.” Even if they don’t like the movie, they love that Cheryl Strayed exists, and they love the narrative about finding the way back to yourself.

Does it bother you when people keep saying that Patricia Arquette is the front-runner for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar?

[Laughs] No, Patricia has been amazing to spend time with. We’re both daughters of actors and have both been doing it a long time.

You’ve had some highly visible romantic relationships that didn’t work out. Does that experience help playing Cheryl’s mom, Bobbi, who has this bad marriage?

I was raised Catholic, and my grandmother taught me to stay. As a teenager, I thought if you went on a date you should stay for a couple of years. I didn’t realize that if he wasn’t your cup of tea, you got to leave. It took me a good decade to realize that you didn’t need to do a year with someone you were just discovering. A couple of very adorable leading men were like, “Oh, my God, let’s go and get married tonight!” And in your twenties, you go, “That sounds so fun!” Thank God I never did it. But in my twenties I did make some choices that were fun—and taught me a lot.

What’s cool about being in my forties is that I’ve been a lot of players in the story [of my life] by now. I’m not just the martyr or the victim. I’ve played the perpetrator. And I’ve played a lot of people who longed to find a voice. I’m moved by people who see the world differently than others. People who see the world with a longing for its poetry often can be broken people. I like to play people who are deeply flawed, and I want to find the good nature in them. I even try to be kind to myself when I’ve made big mistakes. I’ve also done that for the people I’ve loved . . . which can get you in trouble.

Leaving aside Wild, what movies are you happiest to have been in?

The work with David would be one milestone to me—Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, and Inland Empire are one big body of work. It doesn’t matter whether people love it or hate it or connect to it. There’s no greater maestro for me.

It’s obvious he’s devoted to you. I remember him standing on Sunset Boulevard with a live cow promoting you for the Oscar for Inland Empire.

I don’t know anyone else who would cast me as all four leads the way he did in Inland Empire—and also have no script—and then get annoyed when I asked him something. [Laughs] I’d be like, “Wait, who am I playing again?” and he’d go, “Stop asking so many questions!”

Almost nobody saw it, but I think it may be your greatest performance—or maybe performances.

I’m so happy you said that. Citizen Ruth is the other one I’m very proud of. To be there with Alexander and Jim Taylor on their first movie—making a comedy about abortion! I had just done Jurassic Park and had lots of opportunities but chose to do that. I feel excited and proud as I look back that, in the moment when I was on the cover of a lot of magazines, I wanted to immerse myself in a very unattractive character. It would’ve been easy to think, I should be a bit careful about how I’m perceived or how I look, or I have this ad campaign contract that’s been offered and I don’t want to mess it up. It’s lovely to be considered pretty and lovely to do photo shoots, and I just love fashion. But I’m proud that I did the characters I wanted to do. I don’t think it’s as easy to do that now because it’s become a world of actresses and campaigns. But we have to keep alive the idea of messiness in women as a part of film.

One of the many reasons I would like to see you win the Oscar is because Julianne Moore is probably going to win, and you are our two great actresses of wild and messy womanhood.

Julianne and I have a deep and awesome friendship. When she saw Wild, she was incredibly generous about how I played the mother, how I was able to make her maternal energy so filled with light. She asked, “Have you played that kind of mother before?” and I said, “Girl, the last mom I played, I was pregnant with my fifth kid and didn’t know where the other four were.”

But any role can be great if the person who’s making it is great.

When you meet a real filmmaker, you instantly know. With Alexander, I knew instantly. I knew he was brilliant at “Hello.” Or like Damien Chazelle [director of Whiplash]. He and I just had lunch because he’s friendly with mom. He’s a sweetheart—and you know. If he offered you a part in a movie, you’d say, “Yes!”

Here’s another thing I’ve witnessed. Whiplash is nominated for an Academy Award. Smooth Talk wasn’t. Wild at Heart wasn’t. But now everyone loves Boyhood, a three-hour movie, and the big popular pleasers are Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game. When I saw Birdman, I thought, What are people going to do? It’s so radical. And there’s Wes Anderson, too. It’s amazing. The Oscars are actually pushing the envelope!

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Hot Male Model Garrett Neff on Standing Apart from the Herd—of Llamas​


While he certainly didn’t expect to find himself posing next to four-legged, shaggy, spitting ungulates for Vogue “Llamas and Pajamas” story, model Garrett Neff is no stranger to collaborating with the animal kingdom. The 30-year-old male model has shared the camera with birds, cats, and dogs in his decade long career, in addition to navigating the fashion jungle in campaigns for Calvin Klein to Loewe. “The farm welcomed us into their home with open arms one cold winter morning . . . we were shooting their llamas around their property, in a garage out in a field, with their neighbors,” says Neff of the shoot. “It was quite different for me.“

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Certainly, the Tully, New York, shoot was a far cry from where he was discovered, in Miami International Airport, returning from a study abroad in Barbados. “Some guy walks by me who was really well- dressed and was checking me out,” says Neff, and the man in question promised him that if he signed up with his agency, he’d be modeling for Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie & Fitch within a year. And sure enough, within a year he was.

Since then, Neff has become one of the most sought-after male models in the industry, but despite his success and the surplus of ogling Instagram fans (currently ringing in at more than 72,000), he does not exactly fit the over-the-top Zoolander stereotype. (“It used to be my favorite movie my freshman year,” says Neff. “But when I started modeling, it began to haunt me!”) For one thing, no surplus of vanity (or hand mirrors) here: “That is what the reverse camera on the iPhone is for,” he jokes. And he’s totally fine with sharing the spotlight—even with a camelid. “I never worked with llamas before, but they were really polite. I think they spat at their owner only once!” After all, even in the fashion world, manners are everything.

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Do You Care How Your Doctor Dresses?


Does how a doctor dresses effect a patient’s perspective of their skills? In a paper just published in British Medical Journal Open, a University of Michigan Health System team has compiled a super-comprehensive collection of info on the topic gathered from 30 studies involving 11,533 adult patients in 14 countries. The team also plans on launching their own international study: “Targeting Attire to Improve Likelihood of Rapport”—or TAILOR. (I see what your did there, you sassy scientists!) What they’ve found so far is fascinating.

While it seems logical that a slovenly appearance would make a patient uneasy, the perception that a well-dressed doc is more capable and professional does not appear to be universal. There are cultural and generational differings of opinion. As Science Daily reports, “In general, Europeans and Asians of any age, and Americans over age 50, trusted a formally dressed doctor more, while Americans in Generation X and Y tended to accept less-dressy physicians more willingly.”


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Personally, I’ve only especially taken note of my doctor’s clothes when I visited a specialist who wore a right-off-the-runway dress to give me an exam. True story! The dress she had on easily cost over $1000 and she was wearing it with latex gloves. Weeks later, when I had to have surgery, she came to my hospital bed wearing a dress with fur-trimmed sleeves. At this point, I was already on sleepy drugs, so I laughed uncontrollably at the ultra-fancy sight of her. I’m told she did change into scrubs for the surgery itself, but I never saw her in them, so I like to imagine her still wearing that dress and maybe also a jewel-studded caplet and a little crown when she did the deed. (Excellent surgeon, BTW.)

My sharp-dressed surgeon aside, this study also reminded me of another anecdote. I’d read years ago that it was important for patients to dress well for a doctor’s appointment to get the MD to really listen to their concerns. I hadn’t really thought about it since until a few months ago when, as a new freelancer, I went to a late afternoon appointment makeup-free and in gym gear (I was planning to run home). Suddenly, a doctor who I’d previously had a great rapport with while wearing just-came-from-the-office work skirts treated me really differently. Once I’d had my vitals taken, there was a long gap before I was seen by him. (Because I clearly had nowhere to get to?) His greeting to me unusually cold. During the exam, when I—clad in a Celtics t-shirt, leggings, and a messy ponytail—told him my insurance would change soon because I was phasing out my corporate-chosen plan, he even railed into me about how I would have no job security and being a freelancer would prove a huge mistake. He followed that up by saying I’d regret not having kids later in life. “Um, cool. Can I get my zit cream refilled now?” Visual cues play a huge role in our interaction with others for better and worse. (And clearly that dude is also just kind of a jerk.)

Have you ever been impressed or unimpressed by a doctor’s clothes? Or felt judged by them over how you were dressed?

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Coach Creative Director Stuart Vevers and Designer Benjamin Seidler’s Winter Wedding in Cumbria, U.K.


Stuart Vevers, the executive creative director of Coach, and Benjamin Seidler, a designer and illustrator who’s worked with brands like Prada, Smythson, and Acne Studios, to name a few, met in 2008. Benjamin had just graduated with an architecture degree from Cambridge University and was hired by Suzy Menkes to assist her and create illustrations at the International Herald Tribune in Paris. During his first month on the job, there was a big party for Suzy at the Palais Galliera, celebrating her 20-year tenure at the paper, that fell within the whirlwind of Paris Fashion Week. Benjamin worked the door that night and was invited to join the celebration afterward. Stuart had just been named the creative director of Loewe and made an appearance at the party. The two struck up a conversation and set up a date at Benjamin’s local café in the Marais, where they stayed drinking red wine until 1:00 a.m.

While Stuart worked in Madrid for Loewe, Benjamin pursued jobs in France, Italy, and England—so the couple was forced to date long-distance. After six years of shuttling across Europe to see each other, they both started at new posts in New York and moved in together. They got engaged just two months later.

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“It was more of a discussion than a proposal,” explains Benjamin. “Stuart took me out for my birthday, and during the meal, I said that I wanted to get married before I turned 30, but that I’d be willing to just go down to City Hall. Stuart agreed to tying the knot within those two years, but also suggested a larger New Year’s Eve celebration.”

The two ultimately got married on December 5 at City Hall in New York with two witnesses. “The intimacy of that ceremony contrasted beautifully with the reception we ultimately threw for 80 friends at the Arts and Crafts house we’ve spent years restoring,” says Benjamin. “It’s called Daweswood and it’s nestled in a forest in the Lake District near the English-Scottish border. We really wanted to show it to all our friends as it had previously been more of a private hideaway.”

The reception’s floral scheme was Christmas-y and festive, with berries and ivy strewn across tables. English Christmas crackers were added to every place setting to give guests an icebreaker when they sat down. Green was a key color, but the couple was specific. They even went so far as to give the baker a Pantone swatch for the green wedding cake frosting. The script on all of the menus and place cards, as well as the floral arrangements, was inspired by Arts and Crafts and Pre–Raphaelite artwork. Thirzie Hull and Samina Raza of Jeeves and Jemima helped them source local flowers and resources as much as possible, including serving all local food.

“We thought our wedding was the best opportunity to have suits custom-made, so we did, and we had our names and the date embroidered into the interior pocket,” says Benjamin. For the wedding bands, they chose 2mm gold bands (yellow for Stuart, rose for Benjamin) from Tiffany & Co. “We got engaged in New York, so we wanted our rings to come from the quintessential New York jeweler,” says Benjamin. They also wore Coach shoes and belts that Stuart designed. Their navy ties were Prada, where Benjamin had his first proper design job, and the boutonnieres were sprigs of holly with red berries. “Benjamin also wore a gold watch given to him by his father and his family signet ring, but mostly it was kept clean, classic, and minimal,” says Stuart. “Lots of our girlfriends went all out and wore white and red, and daring cuts, but that was fine since there was no bride to upstage.”

The reception started at the house at 7:00 p.m., and guests were driven there in chauffeured Land Rovers from the various hotels and bed and breakfasts they were staying at in nearby villages. Tables were set up in the dining room and the sitting room with a lot of hors d’oeuvres, made to look like a banqueting feast, and mulled wine was served in enamel mugs. Fireplaces were lit in every room, and people mingled around the house and explored.

At 8:30 p.m., guests walked through a rainy forest with a lantern-lit path straight out of a Victorian fairy tale, to the three interconnected teepees—one with a bar and an open fire in the middle featuring hay bales strewn with Persian rugs and elk skins for lounging; another one with dining tables surrounding a second open fire pit; and the third for dancing. Cumberland sausages and mash in enamel dishes were served for dinner with plenty of red wine gravy to go around. Dessert was sticky toffee pudding (which is said to have been invented at a hotel on the Ullswater, the lake next to their house) with Lakeland cream.

After dinner, Neil Amin-Smith from the band Clean Bandit helmed the turntables, and everyone piled onto the dance floor. At midnight, the music stopped momentarily for a New Year’s Eve countdown. And then, warm bacon rolls were served, and the couple cut their wedding cake. “Guests were driven back to their hotels at 3:00 a.m., but a few diehards made their way back to the house and fell asleep in various places,” says Benjamin. “We found three girls in the bathtub—together! So festivities continued long into the night, and we had a few surprise house guests for breakfast the next morning, which was mostly leftover meat pies and mince pies and lots of wedding cake with tea.”

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André Leon Talley Curates the First Posthumous Oscar de la Renta Exhibit, Opening Thursday


When André Leon Talley began curating “Oscar de la Renta: His Legendary World of Style,” which opens Thursday in Savannah, Georgia, at the Savannah College of Art and Design, he says he went into the wardrobes of many of the eminent women who have become his friends over the decades—and he doesn’t mean that metaphorically. “I was literally inside their closets,” he laughs.

The exhibit began to take shape in Talley’s imagination shortly after de la Renta’s passing in October—what better way to honor that genius designer, Talley’s dear friend for many years, than by mounting the first posthumous presentation of his work? “It’s not a retrospective,” Talley explains. “Everything has been selected from my own memory, my moments.”

Oscar de la Renta Exhibit

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Nor is this a mere sterile recitation of ensembles. Talley remembers almost every client wearing these clothes. Loyal de la Renta aficionado Mrs. Mercedes T. Bass offered him fully five wardrobe trunks for the show; Catie Marron laid her collection out on her bed for Talley’s delectation. There are contributions from two former First Ladies, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton. One golden dress was worn by both Nicole Kidman and Michael Bloomberg’s partner, Diana Taylor. Talley says it looked wonderful on each woman, “even though they are a generation apart. These clothes say to me, Oscar can dress everyone from a young girl to a grand lady.”

Save for a pair of striped evening pajamas belonging to Annette de la Renta, the designer’s wife and muse, there are no trousers in the show—this is a glorious review of dresses, day and evening. One spectacular area is devoted to weddings: the designer’s stepdaughter Eliza Bolen’s dress and veil, worn at her June 1998 nuptials; Miranda Brooks’s gown, inspired by Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette but topped with a Spanish equestrian hat; the dress of Elizabeth Cordry, which took 1,350 hours to create and involves three layers of French laces.

But lest you think that only ladies exuding a certain gravitas are comfy in de la Renta, please be aware that Taylor Swift is also a big fan, donning a vast pink confection to the Met Gala last year. “Oscar came from the couture world, so you are going to get the bow, the train!” Talley smiles. “He always wanted the appropriate look, a sense of the occasion. He would ask himself, ‘Is it beautiful? Will they wear it? Is it elegant?’ ”

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Normal Isn’t Normcore, and Other Struggles for Gap


News broke today that Rebekka Bay, the creative director of Gap, is being let go, effective immediately. Even more interesting: Gap won’t be replacing her. Instead, the role of creative director is being eliminated and the senior design team will take over. However, the brand did hint that it would be evaluating a “long-term leadership approach for the global design team” in a release on its site.

The change shouldn’t come as too much of a shock. Since Bay was hired in October 2012 after a successful stint at Cos, Gap has failed to evolve as a mass-market brand (sales dipped in the first quarter of 2014) or as a fashion favorite. While recent years have seen the normcore movement make an undeniable impact on the fashion world (jeans on the runway is now an expectation, not a surprise), Gap failed to cash in on the trend. Brands from both ends of the style spectrum have been eating Gap’s lunch when it comes to market demand for everyday basics—Nasty Gal branched out into denim, and J.W. Anderson created a logo sweatshirt. Meanwhile, the brand most associated with normal fashion struggled to be relevant. In a nutshell, normal is boring but normcore (whether you love or hate the word) can be aspirational.

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Gap now has to ask the hard question: What’s next? Without a creative leader, should it reach for a business one? Brands like J.Crew, H&M, and Uniqlo have all managed to bridge the gap between mass market and fashion savvy thanks to their business leaders. So could Gap woo back Mickey Drexler (unlikely, given their abrupt split in 2002) or reach for a trendsetter like Nasty Gal’s Sophia Amoruso (surely too big a gamble for an entrepreneur largely untested at the operational level)? For the moment, it’s betting on its incoming CEO, Alex Paige, who is being promoted from president of growth, innovation, and digital at the brand.

As per its release, the brand is also planning to devote a lot more effort to consumer relations. “Now’s the time to intensify our customer focus and break through with a truly dynamic and integrated approach to building relationships with our customers,” said Jeff Kirwan, Gap’s global brand president. Listening to consumers is important, but what Gap might want to focus on even more is keeping an ear to the ground for the subtle shifts in trends in basics—a thing that its competitors from J.Crew to Cos do so well. Collaborations, an area where brands like H&M and Target have excelled, should also be on Gap’s radar. Why not take up a partnership with the many talents today reimagining American sportswear? Wouldn’t you love to see Rachel Comey’s frayed jeans at a Gap price point? Trademark’s smart outerwear? Derek Lam’s chic dresses? Band of Outsiders’ seersucker separates? There is so much potential for Gap to become the iconic brand it deserves to be. (Hey, it was the first label to cast Joan Didion for an ad campaign.) Let’s see if its clothing designed by committee turns out to be the right kind of camel. Perhaps a camel coat?

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Mile Runner: Grizzly Bear Singer Ed Droste Goes to Bali


Upon arrival in the States, my Swiss boyfriend, Simon Renggli, quickly found out that his planned stay in the U.S. would be entirely too long—over the 90-day limit by fifteen days, to be exact. We would have to somehow get him in and out of the country to renew his visa waiver admission, and it turned out that we needed to fly somewhere other than Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean for Simon’s entry stamp. Being the crazy, mile-running, status-maintaining freak that I am, I decided to kill two birds and take the long haul needed to re-qualify with my airline. So we researched far-flung locales with good flight deals, and eventually arrived at the decision to travel to Bali.

I love visiting Asia possibly more than any other continent because of its wide variety of cultures, cuisines, and climates, all at relatively affordable prices. I’d yet to see Indonesia and was thrilled to get a small glimpse of the country. We decided to stay at the lovely Mulia in the southern, more populated region of the island, which is close to many different towns, beaches, and activities.

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The flight was long. Possibly one of the longest journeys I’ve ever been on. But once we arrived, the thrill of being somewhere new and tropical gave us all the energy we needed, and we immediately opted out of napping and explored the sprawling estate and had an ocean-pool-ocean moment. We took a stroll along the empty beach—where was everyone?—and stumbled across some rock formations with fishermen and semi-rough waves. We swam between large rock arches and quickly sensed the tide rising. Locals giggled at us but also waved us back to a safer, more tranquil lagoon in front of the hotel. Everyone wanted to know where we were from. Apparently not a lot of Americans make the trip there—it’s mostly Australians and Europeans—so my answer garnered a lot more interest than Simon’s.

Since it was too late in the day for an excursion, we decided to stay put and had an epic meal that surprised both of us. (I tend to opt for street food and rarely am into a hotel’s food options.) Full, hazy, and with jet lag setting in, we called it a night relatively early and planned a trip to Ubud, a town in central Bali famous for its gorgeous rice paddies and monkey forests.

I didn’t really know what to expect of Bali, other than that it is a predominately Hindu island in an otherwise Muslim nation, and a longtime tourist destination. Evidence of the tourism industry was conspicuous—there’s a newly built toll road, which cuts travel time in half along the southern peninsula—but once we passed it, we were putting along narrow roads with street stands and farmers, exploring a more rural side of the island. The monkey forest turned out to have mostly very socialized monkeys, waiting to snatch a treat from your hands and climb onto your shoulders. It was an interesting evolution of people and jungle butting heads and comingling, to the point where the monkeys remain close by and rotate in groups to get fed by tourists. We found it amusing, but also slightly confusing.

We decided to get a little further off the beaten path, weaving down dirt trails through rice paddies and farmland until we stumbled across a cute little restaurant that seemed removed from everything but was actually only a 30-minute walk from the hustle and bustle of Ubud. We filled up, then climbed higher to check out the terraced paddies—one of those sights that, despite being on postcards, is still fantastic to see with your own eyes. Nearby was a farm where the famously expensive “cat poop coffee” is made: An Asian palm civet ingests coffee beans and excretes them out, and the result is a prized commodity, though to me it didn’t taste very special. Also, the treatment of the animals and the whole operation, though legit on the surface, left a figurative and literal bad taste in our mouths. Upon further investigation on the Internet, the product seemed to be a ridiculous one, the production of which involves rather inhumane conditions for the civet. Not a fan. Avoid.

Deflated after seeing caged civets quasi-force-fed only coffee beans, we headed back to our little oasis down south, stopping off at a tourist bar called Potato Head, which showcased the major Western-surfer–fruit cocktail–DJ-tourist vibe that we felt quite removed from at our hotel. The structure itself was fairly interesting, though, with hundreds of colored shutters creating a facade around the giant circular complex. It’s always interesting to see all sides of a destination, including the heavily touristed regions. When I was in Phuket years ago, I made a point to see the seedy, trashy, drunk-tourist area, as depressing as it was, just to get a larger understanding of what the totality of the place was like, especially a place where tourism is the number-one industry.

We spent a few more days poking around various temples and towns and exploring both crowded and empty beaches around the southern peninsula, until we learned that my good friend Christine Ronan was going to overlap with us on our last day in Bali. On our final night, we decided to make the most of the massive grounds of the hotel and pool-party it up into the night, ignoring the pruning and soaking up the pleasure of being literally the only people in what seemed to be an Olympic-size pool. We recounted our adventures on the island, noting that my favorite experience was walking to the gorgeous cliff-hanging Uluwatu Temple and meditating on the edge of a nearby cliff, above crashing waves. After a good five hours of drinking and laughing in the pool, we decided to have Japanese food at the delicious Edogin restaurant. (Half the patrons had “selfie sticks,” which I hadn’t really noticed much before this trip, but man, are they everywhere.)

Though we had spent only six nights in Bali, Simon and I were sad and reluctant to leave. We were beyond relaxed and soothed, but I wanted to see more of the culture—we ultimately declared that not only must there be a longer trip to Bali someday, but also that we needed to explore other, less trafficked parts of Indonesia. Our bags packed, we bid adieu to our friends and the crew of peeps we’d met at the hotel, and headed off for the 20-plus-hour flight back to Los Angeles. Simon got a new stamp. I re-qualified. In retrospect, it all felt a bit like a dream.​

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Autumn/winter menswear 2015: Women are the new men, but is it just about the bottom line?


My take-away from the autumn/winter 2015 menswear collections across Milan and Paris? Women are the new men. That’s not a feminist statement. Rather, it’s a comment on the current tastes of the fashion world.

Frequently, those tastes reflect deeper rumblings in popular culture: the fabric on our backs a physical manifestation of the fabric of society. This season’s favourite catwalk conceit: parading women amongst the men at catwalk shows, including those of Gucci, Raf Simons, No. 21 and more.

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Doing so usually serves to irritate menswear press and buyers. Perhaps because female fashion is still perceived as more worthy of our time and money than menswear. Traditionally, womenswear has formed the lion’s share of the world luxury market, but the balance has shifted. The menswear-dominated markets in the Far East may be leading the way, but according to Mintel, the UK menswear market grew 18 per cent between 2008 and 2013, to reach £12.9bn in 2013.

So, why bring in the girls now? Surely it’s to piggyback on the burgeoning attention given to the menswear shows. Miuccia Prada was one of the first to do it. Since spring 2014, the label has showcased its womenswear pre-collections alongside its menswear designs – it makes more sense than staging a separate show for the pre-, in the manner of houses such as Chanel and Dior. Especially because Miuccia Prada oversees both her menswear and womenswear, and there’s a common concept between the two. Look at the flat-packed, heavily-shod, almost-all-nylon collections she showed for him and her earlier this month in Milan. They were, literally, cut from the same cloth.

This season Mrs Prada explained herself in print – a manifesto placed on each and every seat in the show. “Gender is a context and context is often gendered,” she expounded. Doesn’t sound like she’s just talking about nylon, but rather a whole way of looking at fashion – as a bigger picture, applicable to men and women. Both equal.

Then again, so far it’s only on two catwalks a year. It remains to be seen whether men are as equal as women when it comes to the all-important February womenswear collections.

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Edmund Ooi Gets His Milan Debut at Armani’s Teatro


In case you haven’t noticed, genderless is the new thing, in fashion and otherwise. It is not about men dressing like women and women like men, though: That is androgyny, or maybe unisex, and it had its heyday in the progressive ’70s, at the peak of counterculture. It is the less-ness that makes genderless a thing of the moment—not caring how gender is represented through clothing and experienced in life. It is, in a way, a purist, minimalistic approach: a refusal of everything too specific and detailed. Relief or curse? You decide. One way or another, options today are infinite.

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Edmund Ooi, the Malaysian designer chosen by Giorgio Armani to show in the Teatro venue this season, is in the vanguard of the new genderless tribe. You can barely tell man from woman in his work. While other designers multiply layers, however, Ooi amplifies the drama with considered precision. He completed his studies in Antwerp, and it shows: The big volumes and twisted historical details were quintessentially Belgian. The collection he presented opened and closed with patterned short tunics and skirts that stopped at the knee (you’ll be forgiven for thinking you already saw them not long ago in a show by another Belgian, Raf Simons), and featured lots of elements taken from 19th-century gear (high necks, ribbons tied at the wrists) sliced and assembled in a series of graphic compositions on sturdy jackets with a fey, decadent allure.

Variations on the theme were endless, and maybe a tad scholastic, but Ooi proved a fresh, energetic vision, and quite a certain potential. One only wonders if it would have been better to wait a little longer before hitting the runway, and try editing and perfecting the collection a little more. Even the most promising talent, after all, needs proper training far away from everybody’s eyes before confronting the hard, unforgiving fashion world. Give Ooi another year or less, however, and he’ll make waves, hopefully not only in his own genderless niche.

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