Friday, May 18, 2018

JW Anderson Gives Young Photographers a Future

As someone who won her career in a competition—the Vogue Talent Contest in British Vogue, many years ago—I’m all for open-call contests for newcomers. So is Jonathan Anderson of JW Anderson, who hasn’t forgotten that he got one of his early-start boosts as a designer from the NewGen sponsorship scheme in London in 2011. Seven years on, that memory was part of his motivation in launching the JW Anderson Your Picture/Our Future search: to galvanize a new generation of unpublished photographers and image-makers aged 18-30. “I felt as if we were given the chance,” he stated, at the launch. “It felt right to give somebody else that opportunity.” The prize is a significant professional break: a commission to shoot the brand’s Spring 2019 campaign and £5,000.

The winner’s reveal was on his Instagram earlier today, but after last night’s exhibition of the 50 short-listed talents at 13 Floral Street in London, and a long deliberation of the jury, three were chosen: Julie Greve from the U.K., Yelena Beletskaya from Russia, and Simons Finnerty from the U.S. “Seeing all this talent come together made it impossible to choose one winner,” reads the caption. “As such, we will have three photographers that will work on the same brief and campaign coming to you next summer.”

You could see why. Pacing around a party thronged by some of the hopefuls who’d been able to travel, Anderson said, “It’s been kind of amazing. We had nearly 2,000 entries from all across the world: Japan, China, Argentina, Russia, Canada, the USA, everywhere.” The diversity of imagery, viewpoints, and techniques—intense studies of teenage life, portraiture, reportage, raw documentary, manipulated digital collages—was striking. “It’s a really good split between fashion imagery and street imagery, but you can see a zeitgeist here, and how so many people start taking pictures of their friends and families.”

Anderson paused in front of Simons Finnerty’s series of self-revealing photographs of himself, in braids, with members of his family. “He used it as an idea of therapy. Someone out there in the middle of America—it’s so fantastic.” Julie Greve submitted her series of groups of girls in the woods and countryside, all of them model hopefuls she found on the internet, but shot naturalistically in their own clothes. Yelena Beletskaya worked with dramatic, enigmatic, black-and-white collages of found images and her own silhouetted portraiture.

The three go forward through the live challenge of producing work with Anderson, his stylist Benjamin Bruno, and the JW Anderson advertising and image team M/M. But playing the game is certain to prove a springboard and encouragement for plenty more of the applicants—that’s the nature of these contests. One is Toby Ziff, who drew local awe from Londoners for his work shooting scenes of the hilariously appalling reality of weekend nightlife revelers on the Underground. Aaron Laserna’s arresting entries, shot in Baltimore, showed him as a risk-taking proto-photojournalist with his powerful portrait of a drug dealer, contrasted with a tender shot of a young boy from the same neighborhood.

And then there was the youngest on the scene: 18-year-old Diego Holmes-Bonilla, who had flown to London from Arlington, Virginia accompanied by his mom. He had taken a teen-to-teen-boy series capturing stuff he wanted to say about the friends he’s known since childhood, looking tough but peering inside their fragile hearts. “They’re people dear to me,” he said. He may not have taken home the prize tonight, but unmistakably, that’s a future in the making.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Netflix Drama The Mechanism, Already Causing an Uproar in Brazil, Is Set To Be Your Next Binge-Watch

Is there too much on Netflix? Someone on a culture podcast I rely on recently described it as a weekly “trash dump” of new releases. He was griping about the original movie offerings, but there’s even more TV to pick through. It’s true that every time I open Netflix, I’m presented with another series I’ve never heard of. I try to guess the country of origin from the accents on the cast members’ names.

If you ask me, too much TV is a nice problem to have—even though it can feel a little lonely watching, say, supernatural goings-on in Belgium (Hotel Beau Séjour), serial murders on the French coast (Witnesses), or gangsters in sunny Spain (Crematorium) without knowing if anyone else is doing the same.

But so be it. I like the scavenger-hunt quality to Netflix right now—and I checked out The Mechanism in that spirit. This eight-episode police drama about corruption at the highest levels of Brazilian society slipped quietly onto the streaming service at the end of last month. It didn’t look like a water-cooler show, but, hey, worth a shot.

Turns out, this is superb TV, a complex law-and-order procedural in the vein of The Wire—and a useful primer to the headlines pouring out of Brazil. Would you like to know why the country’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been imprisoned following a massive graft investigation? The Mechanism is a good place to start—it depicts the early years of an operation like the one that has ensnared him. Some supporters of the leftist Lula, who was recently leading in election polls ahead of a vote in October, and was poised for a triumphant return to office, are furious at The Mechanism and its creator José Padilha for what they say are liberties in the storytelling. Former President Dilma Rousseff, who has also been caught by corruption allegations and was impeached in 2016, called the show “underhanded and full of lies.” With the left in disarray following Lula’s imprisonment, the stakes are high and a #DeleteNetflix campaign has erupted on Brazilian Twitter.

Padilha, who was a producer on Netflix’s hit series Narcos, has been unapologetic, acknowledging some liberties in the show’s script (a disclaimer opens each episode and names of recognizable politicians and business people have been changed) but also telling a Brazilian newspaper that the broader story the show tells is true. “The left was and is just as corrupt as the right,” he has said. “The Mechanism has no ideology.”

That was my takeaway. The Mechanism isn’t didactic or overtly political. Its mood is, rather, angry and melancholy, as it tells a David versus Goliath story about ordinary federal police officers in the southern city of Curitiba, Brazil, who want to take down a corrupt political and business establishment. The two leads are Marco Ruffo and Verena Cardoni, played by Selton Mello and Caroline Abras—neither of whom have much been seen outside of Brazilian film and television, but both are utterly convincing as down-to-earth cops who make barely enough to scrape by, even as they watch millions wash through the economy above them. As the series opens, their first target is Roberto Ibrahim, a currency dealer and money launderer who slides through the political establishment with impunity.

Ibrahim wins round one, destroying the career of Ruffo, leaving Cardoni to carry on his work with a team of underdog investigators. She builds her case slowly and methodically, battling with supervisors and prosecutors who show fickle interest in following dirty money. The scenes where she finally ensnares a wealthy oil company executive are thrilling. There are more pleasures here: Like Narcos, The Mechanism, which was shot on location, benefits from a vivid sense of place. The swooping aerial photography of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Brasília is jaw-dropping, and loving shots of sinuous Oscar Niemeyer buildings in Brasília are architecture porn of the highest order. Will The Mechanism be a water-cooler show? Some Netflix offerings take their time becoming hits (see Wild Wild Country). I bet this one will, too.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Model Lera Abova: ‘I would rather be risky than be everyone’s cup of tea’

Lera Abova’s big break came in 2016 when she shot with photographer – and 90s grunge legend – David Sims, who became a champion of her career. Abova describes herself as his muse which, she says, “is just amazing”. “He’s an artist. To know that he sees something in me … I’m always really honest with him, crying in front of him, telling him he changed my life, which is very true.” She has also worked with Sølve Sundsbø, Colin Dodgson and Mariano Vivanco.

Abova has shot covers and fashion stories for Vogue Ukraine, Vogue Paris, Vogue Germany, Vogue Russia and Vogue Australia. She has also starred in campaigns for Joseph, Acne and Sportmax.

She grew up in a Siberian village that is “so small they don’t have it on the map”. Now 25, she moved to Germany when she was 13, and divides her time between Berlin, London and New York.

When she first moved, she couldn’t speak a word of German. “I used an electronic translator,” she says. At first, that piqued the other kids’ interest, but not for long. “That first summer was really hard. I had no one, only my skateboard. You should have seen how I looked. The other girls were so fancy … they already had boyfriends. I had a pink Pokémon T-shirt and crazy, long hair.”

She quickly started to find her feet – she learned the language: “Then, I got to meet cool people and [become] cooler and cooler … then I was the coolest!”

I had no one, only my skateboard … I had a pink Pokémon T-shirt and crazy long hair.

Abova dropped out of school, “right before my exams, when I was 18 or 19. They didn’t understand my soul. I never regretted it,” she says. “If I had had a school education, I would never have had the life I have.”

She was discovered for the first time at 17, “by a woman who believed I could be the next Kate Moss”. That didn’t work out. “No one needs a second Kate Moss,” she says. “There is never going to be a second Kate Moss – and I don’t want to be second someone.”

Later, after working in bars, she met her “mother” agent, Peter, who is, she says, “wicked. He has helped me so much, on an emotional level. He never gave up.”

“It’s really important to have good people around you in modelling,” she says. “Every business where it’s about money, beauty and fame is always going to be dirty”.

Abova shaved off her hair in what she describes as “a Britney Spears moment, when I was in a bad relationship”. Her boyfriend at the time also had a shaved head. “We looked as if we had just come out of prison.” It did her career no harm.

She describes herself as “a character model”. Before her career took off, she says, “I was so fixated on not being skinny enough or tall enough, but I thank my booker because he never told me to lose weight. I was brainwashed by some people in the industry, who I met when I was 17 … it stays with you, in your head. But my mother booker told me: ‘No, you are different, you have everything.’ I always call him Dad.”

She has started acting, appearing in a small part with a big name director – a project that is still under wraps – with another, larger role, in the pipeline. “I have always had ambitions to be on stage,” she says. “Some people are scared of other people’s opinions, but I never have been.”

She didn’t grow up wealthy, and now she pays her 11-year-old brother’s private school fees.

Abova is not seeking Insta-fame, despite having 52,000 followers on Instagram. “Instagram is a really hard subject for me,” she says. “I see the whole thing as bullshit. Stop making stupid people famous! I don’t understand it. I want to have followers because I am someone, not because I post a picture of my face 10 times a day.”

Quick to laugh and outspoken, Abova has a theory about fame: “People should love you or hate you,” she says. “I would never be in the middle. I would rather be risky than be everyone’s cup of tea.”

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Ssion’s Jeremy Scott After-Party Look Is “Slick Hillbilly”

You only need to watch a few minutes of the music videos of Ssion (aka Cody Critcheloe) to get a sense of his distinct style. There are the looks Critcheloe sports in his recent video for “Comeback,” the first single from his upcoming album, O, wherein a lookalike dons a zebra-print suit until Critcheloe enters the picture in a sparkling deep blue tank top (which he later swaps out for a sleeveless tuxedo dress and pants combo of the same color). Then there’s the flame-print button-down, red pants, and cowboy hat combo that he dons in his video for “Earthquake.” Clearly, Critcheloe’s not one for subtlety when it comes to his onstage wardrobe.

And considering these bold ensembles, it only makes sense that Critcheloe performed at the Jeremy Scott and MAC Cosmetics after-party last night at New York’s Public House in yet another kitschy look. Ssion wore a Moschino outfit comprised of a light blue denim vest and matching pants with animal-print details, cowboy boots, and colorful temporary tattoos covering his arms, a look that he describes as “slick hillbilly, like maybe Alan Jackson if he got to do a Vegas residency with a bit of Alan Vega thrown in.”

Most performers try to find onstage outfits that allow them to move comfortably and with ease, but that isn’t exactly Critcheloe’s style. “I always like to perform in clothes that are a bit too tight and shoes with a heel,” Critcheloe says. “I’ve been wearing my electric blue snakeskin boots onstage for six years now. They are so uncomfortable. I can barely walk in them, which makes me a better dancer on stage. It gives me the perfect slink . . . and they have good mojo.”

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Ivanka Trump Tweeted in Support of Time’s Up, and the Internet Is Not Having It

It seems like whenever feminism flares up in public discourse, we hear from America’s least effective empowerment spokesperson: Ivanka Trump. Trump tweeted in support of the Time’s Up initiative after watching Oprah Winfrey’s speech from the Golden Globes on Sunday. “Just saw @Oprah’s empowering and inspiring speech at last night’s #GoldenGlobes,” Trump wrote. “Let’s all come together, women and men, and say #TimesUp! #United.”

Unfortunately for Trump, the Internet has a very long memory, and no one was quite ready to let her forget her history of hypocrisy when it comes to women’s issues and her very specific brand of female empowerment (which comes with a huge blind spot). The fact that Trump tweeted at all was shocking to some, as you might think that she would have understood the established pattern by now. Remember when she said that she believed Roy Moore’s accusers, as all victims should be believed? Remember when she gave a speech on women’s empowerment in Tokyo that hardly anyone attended? Each time, people reacted online in the same way: reminding Trump that her father has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen women and has a history of treating women publicly with contempt and disrespect. If time’s up for other men, it must be for him, too.

Friday, November 17, 2017

How Two Shanghai-Bound Victoria’s Secret Angels Get Dressed to Hit the Airport

The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show isn’t set to shoot until Monday, but the girls have already turned the sidewalk into their own personal runway, even before touching down in Shanghai. Before catching their flight from New York, Angels Martha Hunt and Elsa Hosk took the lead with an impromptu photo shoot just outside of the check-in counter. It was clear where they were headed, too, thanks to super cute coordinating T-shirts that read “Angel” and “Love,” respectively.

Hosk threw on a statement coat from street-style favorite Sandy Liang. The moto jacket was done in patent leather and trimmed with pastel pink shearling—a perfect match for everything VSFS, from the satin robes worn backstage to the bright pink carpet leading into the after-party. Like Hunt, she tucked her tee into supermodel-approved off-duty skinny jeans and flat boots. Her cherry red cat-eye sunglasses tied in nicely with a crocodile bucket bag in the same hue, but it was the proverbial VS puckered lip pose that read the most angelic of all. Hunt kept things decidedly more pared back in a cool blue palette, but added polish with a menswear-inspired tweed blazer and a classic gold watch, which is sure to have come in handy when getting on Shanghai time.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Clothes From the New Y/Project x Honest By Collaboration May Not Be Transparent, But Everything Else Is

If you happen to follow Honest By’s founder Bruno Pieters on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll have seen a tantalizing image on his feeds of late: a headshot of Person Unknown with a box obscuring his/her face, and the date 19.10.17, teasing the label’s latest collaboration. So, perhaps no need for the drum roll for the big reveal, given the headline of this story already gives it away, but Glenn Martens of Y/Project is the latest designer to work with Pieters on his own project. (Yep, you likely already guessed that, given the obscured face’s tufty blonde crop and chin stubble.) Since its inception in 2009, Honest By has challenged industry thinking of where things are made, what they’re made of, and how much (usually way too much) is being charged for them; an impeccably cool and impeccably credentialed prod of the conscience, as it were.

In the case of this latest collaboration, that means a six-strong capsule of re-imagined seasonless and gender-free Y/Project pieces from the Spring and Fall 2017 collections—a trench, a striped shirt, articulated jeans, a sweatshirt/dress, a turtleneck top, and skirt-cum-pants—all of which are produced in France, with every element of their execution, fabrics, finishings, the lot, traceable back to their sources of origin. Everything also carries the GOTS tag, which means the pieces are made to the Global Organic Textile Standard. “There’s a lot of talk about sustainability these days,” Pieters said over the phone from Antwerp, where he’s based, “but it means nothing without transparency.” Everything, in other words, is naked and unafraid—including, it has to be said, the reminder of how sharp and assured Martens is as a designer, after coming off a run of stellar Y/Project shows.

“Bruno has been a mentor to me—we go way back,” says Martens, and indeed they do; Pieters tutored him while he was at Antwerp’s Royal Academy, before hiring him to consult on the European H&M offshoot Weekday, and then asking him to design the first Honest By collection, so things have gone full circle. For Martens, Pieters was a designer whose work exemplified “a level of craftsmanship we don’t find that easily in fashion today.”

Clearly those standards haven’t slackened, for this capsule doesn’t sacrifice any of the inventive detailing and interactivity typical of Y/Project—the double construction of the shirting, the detachable legs on the buccaneer denim, the broad double shoulder line on the trenchcoat. Some of the materials used for the new pieces switched, with that trench now in gabardine, not leather. The experience has also been eye-opening for Martens, fueling him to think more about his own label’s actions and accountability. “We are very much aware of where we produce, and while I wouldn’t say we are totally certified in terms of fabrics, we’re trying,” he says, listing how when he arrived at Y/Project, 80 percent of the collection was leather, while now, he says, “the only leather in the Spring 2018 collection are the shoes.”

As for Pieters, it may only be a collaboration of six pieces, but the impact of it can be far greater. “People who are interested need to be encouraged,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of role models for young designers interested in sustainability, just Stella McCartney, really, and that’s it. Glenn is still maybe more niche than that, but I think he is going to have an impact.”