Sunday, June 23, 2013

North Star: Naming Kim and Kanye's Daughter

When I heard the name of the currently most-famous baby girl in the United States, I liked it.  To be sure, I was also amused by the puntastic readings of North's name, but I thought that, given Mr. West's identity as the son of an English professor (his beloved mother Donda West died in 2007), something more symbolic might be afoot.

When I heard "North," I thought of the resonance that the direction has within African American history--slaves fled the South to go North, following the North Star, often traveling via the Underground Railroad.  "North" represents a new beginning; it represents freedom.

Kanye West, as music listeners might know, does not shy away from political commentary.  In his new album, for instance, his song "Blood on the Leaves" samples Nina Simone's version of "Strange Fruit" (a devastating protest song about lynching earlier recorded by Billie Holliday) and curiously turns it into a protest about women demanding too much of him--dropping Jay-Z's name in their pursuit.

If the legacy of lynching ("Strange Fruit") can be twisted into a critique of twenty-first-century women, then it's possible that one little girl's name can invoke the promise of freedom for a people.

So what about West?  It's the name Kanye was born with, of course, but if we think about the United States, West points toward California, where Kim is from and currently thrives.

North West, then, represents both her parents: her first name calls forth a symbol of African American freedom; her last name plants her in her mother's Californian back yard.  And I like that interplay between the historical and the local.

As an English professor, I thought it would be simple to name my children. It wasn't; indeed, our middle child was named three times (thrice!) before we got it right sometime into her second month.  A child has to fit her name; it has to be comfortable, like coming home.

And to this interpretive mind, North points the way home.

*Image from Faith Ringgold's beautiful children's book Tar Beach.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Psychopreppy: Qu'est-ce que c'est?

If "psychobilly" can be the love child of punk and rockabilly music, then surely style can have a similar spawn. Hence, "psychopreppy," the product of prep and cynicism, aka sweetness with a snarl.

I was thinking about the need for psychopreppy as I got dressed the other day; I selected a shrunken Lacoste faded brilliant-green polo (just *made* to be worn with pink) and a faded heavily appliqued skirt from Anthropologie, circa San Francisco 2004. This I wore with a messy tall topknot and my Acne sandals from last summer.

Today it was my other Lacoste, a faded sky blue, paired with faded J Crew reddish-pink shorts. Lacoste with l'attitude.

If I were anywhere in the United States with "Cape" or "Island" in its name, I'd have fit in, but I am not near those places at the moment, so my attire looked out of place, but happily so.

Actually I have a love/hate relationship with preppy looks.  Clothing for women is either shapeless (potato-sack shift dresses) or infantilized ("critter" and other "cute" prints) or both (hello Lilly Pulitzer).  Its bright colours can lend a costume-y feeling, as if adults are playing dress-up, which is particularly noticeable in groups--a costume ball perhaps? 

But a lone preppy dresser (in faded colours), a true fish out of sartorial water, appeals to me precisely because it's got that odd-girl-out appeal. Think hydrangeas in August as they take on a genteel shabby chic.

So it's not the perky preppy that I like, but the moodier psychoprep.  Just waiting for the Talking Heads to put it to music.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Crazy Women in Beautiful Gowns? The Tonys 2013

My favourite line from a Broadway musical (as interpreted on tonight's Tony Awards) is uttered by Cinderella's fairy godmother: "You'd be surprised how many beautiful gowns have crazy women in them."

Indeed tonight was a night for women in gowns.  But especially for women who won non-gender-designated awards, like Pam MacKinnon, who directed the best play revival, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, or Diana Paulus, who directed the best musical revival, Pippin.

Or Cyndi Lauper, who won for best score. To be fair, she wore crazy hair (and Kinky Boots). Martha Lavey, Steppenwolf's artistic director and winning producer of the Woolf revival, also had what I'd call crazy hair, billows of crinkly gray piled atop her head.

from ChicagoMag
 And all these women brought their articulate game--no crazy speeches here. One of the best lines from a speech was delivered by Billy Porter, for his Kinky Boots leading-actor win. He insisted on sharing it with his co-star, adding, "But I'mma keep it at my house." He plays what HuffPost calls a "fierce drag queen," so maybe there's a bit of crazy in one of his gowns. Go see the show and find out.

Finally, there was also a beautiful woman in a crazy gown: Miss Cicely Tyson inhabited an architectural, deep purple garment that looked like a field of wild irises in bloom.

But she owned it and by the end of her thank-you speech, the audience was reminded that the colour purple has a special significance for women who want to be articulate, to say something truthfully. And I am thankful that NPH did not follow her with one of his running-gag Mike Tyson jokes. (I don't think Mr. Tyson, sitting in the audience, "got" them.)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Baja Fever: Coveting a J Crew Shirt (updated)

I quite liked this Baja embroidered shirt from J Crew last week and dropped it in my virtual shopping bag a couple of times.

I liked it a little more this week when it went on sale, but still couldn't convince myself to click all the buttons on the order screen.

Then when it was SOLD OUT a couple of days ago, I absolutely ADORED it and went on a wild search via eBay. I also checked in multiple times with the original source in case one turned up. Nothing.

But with a clearer mind tonight, I cooly ordered the shirt when one surprisingly was available in my size and colour. We'll see.

Update: worth the effort and wait. But do a half-tuck like Liya in the photo to avoid le boxiness. Plus, the neckline is dangerously low, though it doesn't look so in the photo. Of course.