The Snook Book

The Grade Book, post #1: fashion-coverage faux pas

When the Hearst faux-alt 210sa launched early in 2007, among its hodgepodge of indecipherable sections (2Buy? 2SellAds? 2MakeFragileMaleEgoJokes?), it introduced the Wardrobe Warrior -- a weekly installment in which they photographed a young San Antonian and some of his/her clothes and accessories. Although the Wardroble Warrior wasn't well-done, and still isn't, it's not a bad idea, per se. But as the year wore on it was clear they'd run through all the fashionable friends-of-friends they could find (some of whom were pretty damn stylish -- you know who you are, Artpace women) and the photo spreads were growing increasingly less compelling.
Perhaps that's why for the last two issues, 210sa has gone ahead and just knocked off its likely inspiration, New York magazine's Look Book -- a weekly installment in which NY photographs someone with a little (or a lot of) visual splash on the streets of Manhattan, and transcribes part of the conversation -- which is only nominally about the actual clothes. (They've also added compilation shots of fashion subsets, at schools, office buildings, etc.) But Hearst didn't copy LB in a clever Target kind of way. There are two basic reasons for WW's failure (and it's not the fault of the subjects):

1. One of SA's great charms is that it has never been a terribly fashionable place. It has its esoteric signifiers to be sure, like the '09 obsession with monogramming things (the high, or low if you prefer: monogrammed flip-flops -- although I'll admit the wearer of these also rocks a Chanel suit on occasion), but generally speaking, outside of formal events people feel comfortable walking around in whatever, even if they're going to the symphony. If you just splurged on a Marc Jacobs dress, ahem, you'll just have to decide to flaunt it on an everyday basis, special occasion be damned, or it'll gather dust until it no longer fits. Why is this? More reasons than I'm prepared to go into over my first cup of coffee, but climate, relative income, and custom all play a part (we're still largely an entertain-at-home crowd, for one; our club and restaurant nightlife -- on the upswing for a few years now -- still isn't on par with Houston or DFW, which are both notably more style-obsessed).

It's been suggested that NYC is so fashion-oriented in part because it's a walking city, and to some degree its residents are always on display. Here, you might spend the better part of the day in your car, where a sweatsuit in winter or plain sundress in summer will wear a lot better than that trendy pleated smock. This is starting to change, especially up in Super Loopland, but before we can gauge how quickly, we have to decide whether we can count Mexican Nationals in our fashion census. Anecdotal evidence? In the latest issue of New York, a short profile of Philip Seymour Hoffman theorizes that he's down-to-earth (or that he demonsrates that he's serious about his art) in part because he appears in public dressed like a slob (i.e. unshaven and wearing an unremarkable T-shirt).  If Hoffman sported that around SA, we wouldn't even notice (unless Andrew Weissman booted him from Le Rêve for not wearing a dinner jacket). While I sometimes bemoan this state of things, I mostly think it's a reason to love this city.

2. Even more importantly, Look Book, as its name implies, isn't really about fashion. It's about the vastly diverse array of people who make New York home (or find haven from more conservative communities), and the city's inherent embrace of that diversity as evidenced by individuals' wildly disparate styles. And callings. Sure they catch the high-end dermatologists, the gallerinas, inumerable creative-class folk, but I can think of at least two subjects offhand who essentially gave "muse" as their profession, and one of my favorite spreads of the last year featured two carefree models who were enjoying the bikes a near-stranger gave them earlier that day. The interviewer isn't afraid to let the conversation wander into some personality kinks, either. As far as I can tell, 210sa is tone-deaf on this count, or doesn't care. The Look Book could be adapted to SA, and maybe Hearst will stumble into it one of these days, but in the meantime, if you want to see it done right, pick up the new compilation, New York Look Book: A Gallery of Street Fashion.