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Style / Lessons on being visible

Four recent runway looks from Louis Vuitton demonstrated connections that went far beyond purses or luggage.

Photos supplied by vendor


The room is dark. It is crowded or, at least, more crowded than your living room. You are not the prettiest, the youngest, or the most fit. You are not a bigshot flashing a platinum credit card. You are, well . . . you. It would feel good if someone looked at you from across the room and it wasn’t because you were wearing two different shoes. But, how does this “getting noticed” happen in a world where strategically placed duct tape—and only duct tape—is the latest apparel on the club scene? Is there a way for a regular Jane and a regular Joe to be noticed anymore? I say there is.


Let me start over. You are in a favorite drinks place. It is crowded and you want to get to the bar. To cut through all the commotion, your eyes have to do a special job.  They need to help you become a bit of a running back looking for some empty space, an almost hole, to wedge through. Now to navigate through this crush of people, your eyes start searching for contrast. They hunt for a signal that one body is stopping and another begins. And they will do this until you are only two rows of humanity away from getting to lean your forearms on that sticky bar rail. Yay! It was a long day at work, after all, and you really need that Manhattan. But wait: during the journey, something catches your eye. It could be a line of white collar under a dark jacket. It’s not much, but the level of distraction you get to is not the point. The point is, when you are in the sea of navy blues and grays, washed-out greens, and muted Buffalo plaids, your eyes will notice that one tiny thing that is bright. Or vice-versa. This is how attention works. We notice when something is different. We notice whatever it is that breaks the continuum of color or pattern or texture that has overloaded our line of vision. Contrast is an attention-getter.


Holding on to that attention is where the real struggle exists. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the unexpected is just a blip on our internal radar screens: strip of white noted, and now back to ordering that cocktail. To keep that attention, we need to offer more. We need to put on a show. This helps explain a lot that goes on in the fashion world. People pay more attention if they sense an element of danger (as in all things spiky or tight or with a confusing number of buckles). People get caught up in the promise of adventure (which gets us to the idea of mixing florals with plaids, wearing white lipstick, and bleaching eyebrows). But, let’s assume that Big Statement style is not our thing. We have no interest in sending a message with our clothes, but we still don’t want to be invisible. One solution may lie with what I saw on the runway during Louis Vuitton’s 2018 spring/summer ready-to-wear show in Paris. I know. An epiphany via LV? I can hardly believe it myself. That’s why I’m sharing.


In past fashion weeks, I’ve been astounded by some designers’ skill with fabric or design lines or even just the respect shown for the human form or the need for human function. But at this show, this time, it was harder to figure out what it was that captured me so. LV is a design house famous for purses and luggage featuring the repeating LV monogram and the famous Damier—or checkerboard—check. During this show, I had no idea what the company presented in the way of its iconic self-storage items. Nope, because my eyes never dropped below one runway model’s waist.


She was a brunette model with pale white skin and ice-blue eyes and a jawline that seem to come straight out of the Marvel superhero universe. “Oh, she’s just beautiful,” I said to my friend. “She could wear anything and it would work.” But, there was something more. The woman wore a T-shirt dyed in a tough-to-get-away-with green. On the front of the tee was printed an oversized face of an LV watch. Over this rested a sleeveless jacket made out of what could have passed for upholstery fabric from the turn of the last century. Normally I would have focused in on the tee and muttered, “Enough with the branding, please.” I would have associated the jacket with a dusty divan and gotten all asthmatic and itchy. Instead, I let my eyes linger just a little more, and that’s when I noticed it. Her cool blue irises matched the blue of the LV watch face on her tee. It was the same blue woven through as an undercurrent in the jacket weave. Her brown hair was the same color as the rich brown in the jacket, styled into the same waves as in the jacket print’s negative spaces. There was a lot of contrast balanced against a lot of connections. Her hair color, her hair style, a pale face, dark eyebrows, icy eyes, yes, all these factors connected with the weight and shape and color and texture of the clothes. There was a quiet power in this presentation, and an invitation, too. It seemed like a trick. The model is not a clothes hanger. She is a person of interest. Huh, I thought.


Then there was the brown-skinned model. There was less contrast between her skin tone and hair. Her eyes were also warm. Here, a contrast was created by a soft, elegantly rolled white collar, and a jacket in silver and ivory hues. And there was more. There was a pale purplish-brown thread woven into the edging of the jacket that went up around her neck. The color of this edging picked up the palate of her skin and hair. The shape of this pale purplish-brown pattern shared a shape with her hair style, done in a way that did not look like a gimmick. There was nothing matchy-matchy about anything she wore or any way she was styled. It just somehow connected. At the center of it was a lip. Or, I should say, the color of her lip, a natural pale pink that worked with the ivory and silver and the silver blue and browns and purplish browns. It was perfect. I wanted to be her.


This was intentional. This was a Super Bowl level of preparation, a Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony degree of attention to detail. When it was the wispy-haired, blonde model’s turn, she would of course not be overwhelmed by pirate-wide sleeves and a pleated tunic, no (even though she could have been twelve years old). The bulbous sleeves were gossamer sheer. The print within the fabric of her tunic made it look lightweight, as if woven of feathery grasses. Light, light, light, with substance in her tunic and a visible set of eyes. There was not one bit of neon eyeshadow, no liner, no blush, no rectangles drawn with a Sharpie over her eyebrows, and still she had a face. This is almost impossible with wispy-haired twelve-year-old blondes in pleated tunics. But LV did it. I had been educated.


In all, it was masterful. Regardless of the design, the weight or tightness or complexity of the fabrics, none of these women disappeared. None of them looked scary or abused. They each had an identity. Each looked like she had a clue. This is a runway rarity. And awakening to this means that I am about to take a completely different approach to impressive dressing. I am going to spend less time stressing about my thighs, and more time on the weight of the fabric. I will stand for a longer time in the dressing room asking, “Does the color work for me? Does the whole look complement me? Do I still have a face? Are my eyes still in charge?” The older I get, the more I shy away from looking at the whole me in the mirror, and this is a mistake. I can’t leave any parts at home when I go out. So I am going to take an LV approach to making all of it work together.


Two more tips about Night Out dressing. First, function matters. Will you be sitting on a bar stool or relaxing at a table? Will there be mingling? Is there a chance you could dance? There are four certainties about any Swedish house party. Everyone shows up on time. You will shake hands and repeat your name to everyone there, immediately. You will forget everyone’s name, immediately. And you will dance. After three hours of pretending to be sophisticated adults, guests will help push the furniture out the window and crank the music. I love this about Swedish house parties, so I don’t know what I was thinking when for the last one, I donned a black turtle neck, a plaid skirt (it was a hip hugger, but still), black tights and a pair of thick-soled black loafers. It was perfect for a lunch at a museum, but when the music started, I couldn’t move. I felt like I was wearing a box.


The second tip is a favorite of mine, conceptually, but not one that is easy to get right. Perhaps you will have better luck. If you are feeling all tight inside, all angular and rigid, or if your neckline is too serious or naked, then add a drape. Not a big scarf. Not one of those ermine wraps that made Frank Sinatra’s leading ladies look like they were wearing a triangular coffee filter. No. Find something lightweight but still seasonally appropriate and not likely to end up in food or under a shoe. This is another form of contrast dressing, adding a touch of softness or cover to ease any edges. Yes, find something that calms the outside of you down until you’ve had a chance to sip that first glass of wine. Or that Manhattan.


OK. Got it? Now forget everything I said for now, and go out and have some fun.                 


Catherine Berlin is Spree’s longtime style writer.


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