Challenging fashion: Comme des Garçons at the Met

Since I was a child, growing up in the 1980’s, I have admiringly followed the work and career of Rei Kawakubo. When I was too young to know what, precisely, avant-garde fashion was, I sensed that this designer was doing something special, unique, and somehow, important.

From the pages of W and Vogue, I pieced together an education in the adornment and presentation of the female body as idealized and imagined, often by male designers creating for the pleasure of male gazes. Kawakubo was starkly different in every way: female, Japanese, trained in fine art but not in fashion, and wholly original in her rejection of simplistic prettiness and conventional beauty. Her work lit a fire of possibility in my mind.

Snapshots from Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between. Photo by Irene Kaoru.

The Costume Institute exhibition featuring Kawakubo’s womenswear for Comme des Garçons at the Metropolitan Museum is called “Art of the In-Between.” Fitting with this title, the show presents over 120 examples of Kawakubo’s work in groups of textually defined dualities. These are: Absence/Presence, Design/Not Design, Fashion/Anti-Fashion, Model/Multiple, Then/Now, High/Low, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/Not Clothes. Under each heading, we are offered a selection of sculptural fashion objects (it seems wrong and incomplete to call them “outfits” or “clothes”) with an essay exploring the items in the suggested context. These essays seek to place the items in a chronological or conceptual context, but often raise more questions than they answer. (See them in the exhibition guide, here as a PDF.)

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Ethical Fashion: A rant and guide for fabulous women (Updated!)

Since I swapped my East coast corporate job for West coast startup life, I’ve been struggling to refresh my wardrobe in a way that will keep me comfortable (no matter which coast I’m on), professional (from meetings to yoga class to business trips), and still looking like myself style-wise (something I can’t explain but I know it when I see it). This is harder than it should be because I want to avoid the biggest problems with modern shopping: In a world choked with “fast fashion” – disposable, poorly-made mass-produced garments that are often 1) made by slaves and children 2) in factories that pollute the Earth, and are often 3) ill-fitting and 4) short-lived style-wise – what’s an ethical fashion-lover supposed to do?

It’s hard to find clothing that looks good, is responsibly made, and well-constructed enough to last for years. To even try to do this almost feels quaint. If you care about style, fit and quality, and you happen to be a professional woman, congratulations, you’ve got a double whammy of a problem. Women’s clothing is much more trend-driven, more expensive and usually less-well-made than men’s clothing – good luck finding a suit with functional pockets.

I’ve been floored by how hard it is to find functional women’s clothes at all, even before imposing the preference for ethically and sustainably produced garments.

I know I’m not the only one out there hunting for the right fit, so I thought I’d share what’s working for me, and in the process, honor a few kick ass women-run businesses. Maybe it’ll help you find a gift for yourself or the awesome women in your life.

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On useful surveys

You know you need to get feedback from your users – you probably already do it. Lately I’ve spent a ton of time carefully adjusting, rewriting and generally fiddling with customer communications, trying to pin down the perfect number of words and the right timing to say something and get a response without annoying people or turning them off. Something just happened that so perfectly illustrates a few key principles to follow that I had to write it down.

Here’s what happened:

I got a haircut yesterday at my favorite salon. The owner greeted me. My usual stylist was friendly and in a good mood. I loved the haircut when I walked out. I had a generally great experience – I even mentioned this to my partner when I got home, what a nice experience I had. (Every business owner’s dream, an actual unpaid spontaneous positive brand placement.)

Today, I got an email from the salon, asking for my feedback. Sure, I thought. I clicked the button (step 1), gave the visit a 5-star rating (2), wrote a one sentence positive note (3), and said yes, I would be likely to recommend the salon (4). That was easy and painless, but it still took about 3 minutes of my time and a high level of goodwill on my part as a customer to complete these 4 steps. I clicked the button to send my response, expecting to be done.

And behold – I was taken to a second page – with 10 verbose multiple choice questions.

Oh my god, I thought as I looked at this wall of text, never mind, I don’t have time for that. Shaking my head, I closed the survey.

If you write surveys that are too long, this is exactly what your customers will do.

So what? Here are some things to remember when surveying customers.

Even the most positive customer will only allow you to impose on them for a moment. You might be their favorite brand, but remember…you’re still just a brand. You’re not their friend. Don’t get confused. You work for them. Not the other way around.

What does that mean? It means that you must respect their time. Ask your three most important questions. Then stop. If they like you, they’ll be back. Ask them another question next time. Or ask those questions a different way. Or maybe, don’t ask them anything for a while, then ask again next month or next quarter.

People like to be nice, they like to help out, and they don’t like to be rude. When someone – even your hair salon, or your podcast app, or your insert-favorite-SaaS-product-here – asks a quick question that costs them almost nothing to answer, they’re  inclined to just answer it. After all, answering “Yes” or “No” or “:)” is just about the same amount of effort as clicking the “X” to dismiss the email or dialog box. The further you get from that amount of effort – the more work you make them do – the less they’ll feel like helping you.

On the flip side, people feel good when they help each other.

Ask them a simple question that they are capable of answering – make it quick and easy – maybe even make it fun by using conversational language and a cute button to press – and they’ll actually have a moment of positive emotion. Maybe it’ll make them more likely to answer your next question, when you ask it in a week or a month. And that’s what you want.

Here are some resources that I found useful as I thought about surveys.

These articles are really basic, but I found them all to be good starting points for inquiry.

A trick to save time hunting for the right photo

Recently a friend asked in frustration: How and where can I search for good “background” stock photos – you know, stock photos that have a significant amount of space that is just “empty”?

Whether you’re designing a presentation or print ad, this question comes up all the time. I’ve spent countless frustrated graphic design hours sifting through sites like Veer or iStockphoto searching for just the right image, only to find things that were thisclose over and over again, but without quite enough space for my non-negotiable copy.

iStockphoto, my go-to site for a lot of projects, has a great search tool just for this that many people I’ve talked to don’t seem to know about, so I’m posting it here. Scroll down in the advanced search options sidebar and simply select the areas where you expect to place copy, then run your search.

Screenshot: iStockphoto copyspace search
Screenshot: iStockphoto copyspace search

This feature has saved me lots of of angst while searching for the right photos to use as backgrounds in my ads and presentation decks, I wish all stock photo services would offer this search capability.

 

Happy photo hunting!