Monday, May 30, 2011

The Artful Blogger Goes Shopping: Daslu, Saõ Paolo

Do you remember the theme song to Cheers? It’s famed for being the place to go “where everybody knows your name”. The idea is that the bartenders know your drink and you’re in a safe haven. It’s an atmosphere for friends to gather.

At Daslu, they don’t just bring you your drink. If everyone there knows your name, then they also bring you racks of designer clothing, electronics, appetizers and shoes.
Versailles in the jungle? No, it's Daslu's
flagship store.
The famed Daslu is described by many as perhaps the ultimate luxury shopping experience. Located in Saõ Paolo, Brazil, the shop is the brainchild of Brazilian socialite Lúcia Piva de Albuquerque Tranchesi. Seeing a lack of major luxury goods available in her city, the native Paulista brought Brazilian haute couture to the capital city by showcasing the latest high fashion in her home. The very name “Daslu” is a colloquialism that loosely means “Lu’s place”. In the afternoon hours, she would invite her wealthy socialite friends to peruse the collections and allow them to purchase these items. Eventually, the idea and the merchandise stock grew, and a gigantic new shop was opened away from the Tranchesi home.

Today, Daslu’s flagship store is housed in a massive 180,000 square foot complex not too far from its original location. (They also have a smaller retail space in the Morumbi neighbourhood). Intended as an oasis for the mega-wealthy to shop in peace, Daslu has an otherworldly quality, but boasts an intimacy with its customers and availability of luxury merchandise that is nearly unheard of anywhere else in the world. Tranchesi’s philosophy was to cultivate its client base by getting to know her shoppers and their families well, and to foster brand loyalty as their families grow and children become enterprising, fashionable young consumers into adulthood. Tranchesi's daughter Eliana, who took over the business in 1983 after her mother’s passing, has continued that philosophy. The idea is that their clients are their friends. It makes for a far less impersonal connection between customer and merchant.

VIP Shopping Lounge
The Daslu complex requires customers to pass through two security gates before setting foot in the building. Almost nobody arrives on foot, and public transportation doesn’t exactly drop off busloads of tourists at the front door. Upon arrival, each guest’s regular salesgirl – known as Dasluzettes – greets the shopper at the front entrance and, if the customer is a returning client, then the Dasluzete will have already arranged for a private VIP shopping salon containing clothes of the latest finds. These are usually tailored to the customer’s tastes and brand preferences. (It goes without saying that price is not a barrier to a sale.) Valets take care of your vehicle as you alight and step into Daslu. The shop is not so much a building so much as it is, scale-wise, the Brazilian version of Versailles. The motif is Renaissance, but an intimate feel is apparent as the merchandise is well-displayed in long mazes of interconnected drawing-rooms. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Classic TV: United States of Tara

The Blogger grew up in a house with several women. As is common with ethnic families, several generations of the same family lived in the same home. No one thought to move out except to get married. Consequently, the Blogger counts amongst the people who were around during his childhood two parents, two siblings, two grandparents, three aunts, the housekeeper and an assistant. Even after moving across an ocean, the Blogger still had numerous relatives come to visit for several weeks at a time, and some lived with us for several months. Space has always been at a premium. This experience is uncommon to the West and particularly absent from television. 

Showtime’s poison-tipped but strangely loving comedy United States of Tara manages to accomplish the astonishing feat of having several women live in the same home while not adding any additional bodies. Created by Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno), the series focuses on a perfect nuclear family consisting of one man, one woman, one daughter and one son.

As is evident, this is no average nuclear family. Tara (Toni Collette) has been happily married for many years but also has at least three multiple personalities that arrive unannounced at triggering events. “T” is a typical teenage girl with battitude to spare and urges her ever-patient husband Max (John Corbett, perennially playing the nice guy to colourful women) to sleep with her because “it’s still your wife’s body, she won’t mind”. “Alice” is a stereotypical 1950s housewife, replete with conservative values but with a backbone and constitution that makes Sarah Palin look like a Planned Parenthood educator. “Buck” is a trucker and a stereotypically boorish redneck. At some point in the second season, Tara reads an influential psychiatry textbook and cultivates the personality of its author, “Shoshanna”, a Jewish New York shrink fresh out of the 1970s. Later on, she resuscitates her long-repressed childhood other, “Chicken”, who is five years old. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sound Advice: Lady Gaga, Born This Way & the Fame Project

The Blogger was a longtime fan of the seminal TV series Lost. Part of its appeal was its unabashed affinity for the supernatural, in particular numerology and the number 23, which appears in much of the series. The Blogger noted that its creator, JJ Abrams, intended that there be no coincidences.

The Blogger thought fondly of Lost when he heard that Lady Gaga’s long-anticipated new album Born This Way was to be released on Monday the 23rd of May. This is 18 months to the day and date that her previous work, The Fame Monster, was released … also on a Monday, the 23rd of November, 2009. This is no mere coincidence. Given that Born This Way’s release was touted as far back as the fall of 2010, the selection of the date was not incidental.

Planning and executing like a Roman general is exactly what Lady Gaga seems to have been doing. Since entering the public eye in 2008 with her experimental fashion and unbeatable hooks, there’s a calculated strategy all along to crest and eventually dictate the cultural zeitgeist. Gaga’s first album, The Fame, was a concept album that proudly, nakedly announced her intentions to become famous. It also appeared to be part of an ongoing, living cultural studies thesis studying the intricacies and effects of fame as they happened to her. She was her own living experiment, with no control group against which to gauge her progress, although that element presented itself by virtue of her record sales and the work of her peers. It is no accident that her follow-up disc was titled The Fame Monster, as her Gagaship had sufficiently explored fame to the point that she could write about its dark underbelly in coded metaphor. Every song was about a figurative monster representing some hidden pathology, begging for analysis even while you dance to it. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cinematically Inclined: Bill Cunningham New York

There’s a merciless line in the fifth season of Absolutely Fabulous. The manic but keenly observant assistant Bubble, in a moment of cutting clarity, mocked the occupation of celebrity stylist:

“Oh, I’m too rich and important to ask for free clothes for myself. Will you do it for me? Will you be my ‘stylist’?”

The tireless New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham would agree with her. In fact, in his acceptance speech of the Order of Arts and Letters from the French Minister of Culture, awarded in recognition of his photographic chronicle of New York high fashion, he stated that his love of photography was never motivated by celebrities. He often didn’t know who he photographed, and he in fact didn’t care to know most of the time. He has no patience with celebrities who are "styled" by others. He only cared about what people were wearing and how they were able to carry it off. It’s all about the clothing and a sense of style. What’s unsaid is that his fascination was in how the look, captured in the moment, is the key to understanding his subject’s personality.

Bill Cunningham is what one calls a real character, and the documentary Bill Cunningham New York makes no attempt to explain why. A former hat designer active in the fashion industry, Cunningham picked up a camera sometime in the 50s to photograph who he believed to be the most fascinatingly dressed people in New York, and never stopped. Unlike so many other industry photographers, he does not arrive at fashion shoots with armies of assistants: in fact, he doesn’t even do photo shoots. The street is his canvas and his camera is his brush. His ability to capture the truly fashionable of New York from all walks of life, while simply being out and about on the street, is his gift. It is in those moments, which are not choreographed within an inch of their lives by a team of make-up artists, wardrobe handlers, lighting specialists and the aforementioned stylists, that he felt he could truly capture the way a person wore his or her clothes. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Old Friends, Back for Good: Take That on Tour

On Friday, May 27, the British group Take That are starting yet another major tour of the British Isles and continental Europe. The group, comprised of Gary Barlow, Mark Owen, Jason Orange and Howard Donald, is coming off two highly successful series of shows within the last five years but will now have an additional weapon to make this latest juncture a blockbuster. The Progress Live Tour, in support of the album of the same name that is the fastest-selling album in the UK this century, will see the return of its prodigal son and most famous member, the immensely popular but troubled Robbie Williams, to the line-up. This makes the first time that all five founding members of the band will tour together since 1995, when Williams famously left the band after vanishing in the midst of a tour, surfacing at Glastonbury and announcing that he was sacked and / or had quit (depending on your point of view).

Forerunner of A&F catalog, circa 1993
Take That first came to cultural dominance between 1991 and 1996. In that five-year span, they released three multi-platinum albums and scored an astonishing run of eight Number One hits from a dozen Top Ten singles. Created in the mold of the American boy band New Kids on the Block (that’s NKOTB to you), Take That’s success in the UK, Europe and Asia was built partly on the still-hummable tunes by its songwriting progeny Barlow and partly on the band’s public image. Chiseled and buffed within an inch of their lives, all five members appeared in various stages of undress in their videos (such as their first Number One, “Pray") and they were one of the first major male pop stars that used model-ized imagery with a homoerotic current. Most of their publicity stills and videos from that era undoubtedly had no small influence on the fashion world, and it is not coincidental that the Abercrombie & Fitch catalogues of the last decade and a half have looked like their videos. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

PURSEuasion: A Vancouver Opera Society Fundraiser

Any day that begins with a Jane Austen reference is a great day.

The Blogger was pleasantly surprised to find out recently about a forthcoming fund-raiser for the Vancouver Opera Society, named not-so-incidentally after a Jane Austen novel. Fresh off its triumphant production of Verdi’s La Traviata, the VOS has planned a number of exciting new productions for the 2011/2012 season, and opens with West Side Story in October. In the meantime, they’re staging their third annual purse party fund-raising party on June 2, PURSEuasion.

What is a purse party?

Some readers may recall the 2003 episode of Sex & the City where the ladies attend a party staged by a friend to support her new career as a purse designer, and to show off her designs. The VOS have been staging a similar event for the past three years, but in a twist, their event is not a party but a fun lunchtime auction.

Some designers whose works have gone on auction included one-of-a-kind and rare designs by Chanel, Marc Jacobs, Salvatore Ferragamo, Boboli and Ports 1961. Past auctions have also featured the works of designers such as Tina Wilson, Haida Princess Totes, and of course John Fluevog.

This is an event sure to bring out Vancouver fashionistas (particularly if you haven’t been able to get to the Anthropologie opening). The inaugural auction in 2008 raised an impressive $47,000.00 and this year they intend to raise more than ever. The event has been held in the past at Yaletown’s Goldfish Pacific Kitchen in 2009, and last year at the recently-shuttered Bistro Moderne. This year’s function is downtown at The Vancouver Club, to ensure that busy professionals don’t have to travel far from the office to get to the event. Since champagne is included at the buffet luncheon served at the event, it will help that fashionistas can simply walk to PURSEuasion from their offices in the downtown core.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Modern Film Classics: Moulin Rouge!

There’s a famous anecdote of the first-ever performance of Ravel’s Bolero. This classical piece is comprised of the same syncopated rhythms, played over and over again, with increased ferocity and with gradually more instruments, before culminating in a fiery climax, after which the audience had heard the same few bars of music played repeatedly for fifteen minutes. At the end of the performance, an outraged audience member furiously told the composer, Ravel himself, “Sir, you are mad!” To this, the composer responded, “Madam, you have understood the piece!”

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the release of The Blogger’s all-time favourite film, Baz Luhrmann’s mercurial Moulin Rouge!
When it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival as the opening night film at a pull-out-all-the-stops premiere, the film was like no other film on the market. Boasting dizzying, hyperkinetic editing and soaring camerawork applied to the then-defunct musical film genre, Moulin Rouge! expanded Luhrmann’s dazzling aesthetic vision from previous works and applied it to a big-budget, go-for-broke artistic extravaganza. It was such a bold directorial statement that even its title was so emphatic that it required an exclamation point. Luhrmann didn’t set out to create a landmark, influential film when he embarked on the lengthy twelve-month shoot. Given that it was the third entry in his “Red Curtain” trilogy of films, based on the aesthetic of heightened theatricality applied to film, one should have expected that this film was loaded to excess. In other words, since it’s his magnum opus and signature piece, people were not prepared for their immediate reaction after they saw the film. I still have knock-down, angry debates with people who truly, madly, passionately despise this movie.

This is not to say that Luhrmann was self-indulgent for the sake of getting off on his own artistic fetishes. He knew that he had to obtain funding for the work and drew no less than Nicole Kidman, in one of her most luminous performances, to show off her heretofore unknown musical skills. In the central role, Ewan McGregor is all over this film, almost never off-screen and narrating it. With no original film score for his musical, Luhrmann decided to deconstruct some of the most popular songs of the previous three decades, stuff them into a soundboard, and remixed the hell out of them all. From Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and the film’s smash “Lady Marmalade” cover, nothing is too good to ravish and put into the mix. The overall visceral reaction was nothing less than a period piece set in 1900 transported to 2000. One end of the millennium meets the other. The dates are not accidental.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Kylie Minogue: the Aphrodite Tour 2011

Dear Kylie Minogue,

You are in the final leg of your current North American tour, which has been playing to packed houses and received effusive praise. The Aphrodite Tour is scheduled to wrap up with a pair of celebratory blowout shows in San Francisco and Las Vegas this coming weekend. In celebration of your most recent triumphs, I am writing to tell you, in no particular order, ten reasons why I simply adore you. I know I speak for more than myself.

1. Your music.

I still know all the words to entire albums of yours. It doesn’t matter how bad a day it is, there is always, always a Kylie Minogue single to lift me from the bitch of living. Thankfully I have more good days than bad moments, and even on good days, hearing the warmth in your voice on so many of your dozens and dozens of still-danceable hits (which I murder with absolute glee and wild abandon at karaoke) can turn a good day into a great one.

2. You are Australia’s national treasure and its de facto cultural ambassador to the world at large.

I used to live in a graduate student’s resident and we had a number of visiting students every year from the University of Wollongong. This was around the time you made that blazing comeback with Light Years and especially Fever, but until “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, people were skeptical about whether you could cross over back to this side of the pond. Then that song with that video hit, and you were the toast of America once again. Through all that, the Australian housemates and I kept tut-tutting and telling the locals what exactly they were missing. No one will ever forget you now. 

3. You keep me thin.

The Blogger grew up, shall we say, corpulent. Exercise is important to me. I still have the belief that I can swallow only air and gain weight. So whenever I hear you on my iPod, I automatically move faster on the streets and I smile real big. See? Endorphins are a happy drug! There’s a rush and I keep thin! Plus, whenever I am on a run and just. Can’t. Go. On, the shuffle magically delivers a blast of sugar candy dance pop from you straight to my ears and I have the will to carry on for that final push to the finish, or that extra bit to keep me running just a bit longer. That, and every time I hear you in a club, I go completely bonkers and will dance with whoever or whatever is in front of me: guy, girl, bar, speakers, wall, etc. The most important thing is that every time I hear a Kylie song, I am convinced that I can stave off the inevitable thickening of my waistline that comes with aging for just a few months more. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Memo to File, re: Oprah

Note: this originally appeared on the Blogger’s previous blog a few years ago, and is re-published on the eve of Oprah’s farewell episode.

It was a conversation I’ve had with many lawyer friends of mine. They continue to be inundated with work, the partners they work with are sadist taskmasters, and their Machiavellian colleagues continually prey on their clients. People do not take vacations for fear that their files will have magically alighted onto the desks of the lawyer next door. My dear friends are ignoring their health and have begun to forgo family obligations, and return from work later at night. Despite our best efforts, it is becoming more difficult to “let go”.

There is, however, a simple solution that, while it may not make the nightmare files or the fear go away, can help alleviate just a little pressure. The solution is simple that no one has ever thought of it. Every day, for one hour a day, all business must shut down so that everyone in the office can … watch Oprah. Together. In the conference room.

Don’t look at me like that. I’m deadly serious.

Everyone who has stayed home from work can attest that Oprah has a hypnotic hold over her audience. On her show, you see ordinary people, sports figures, celebrities and politicians bare their souls. People discuss social issues, from racism and sexism to homophobia and ageism, to everyone’s great cathartic release. Recent topics include her revisit with Neo-Nazis who walked out on her in the late 80s during a taping, and Chaz Bono’s transition to a biological male. Oprah’s show is like a shining beacon, one to where celebrities tearfully go to address and atone for public embarrassment and sins, or just to promote their new line of handbags. The reason why Oprah is one of the most powerful cultural figures of our time is that she empathizes with everyone and welcomes them on her show, no matter how famous or ordinary they are. Although some (still) attribute the show’s lasting success female bonding at its most powerful, but the power of The Big O is not localized to women. When she speaks, people listen. Not just women: everyone. Oprah matters.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Modern Film Classics: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

“Lemon, the dating world is a lot like your haircut: sometimes, awkward triangles occur.” – Alec Baldwin to Tina Fey on 30 Rock
The good news is that both Woody Allen and Penélope Cruz currently have films at the Cannes Film Festival. The bad news is that they’re not working together. The truly terrible news is that while Allen’s presenting his much-admired Midnight in Paris, Cruz stars in the latest budget-busting, surefire-money-making, soulless Pirates of the Caribbean sequel. While the Blogger respects an Oscar-winning actor’s right to make a film solely for a paycheque as a break from continually stretching artistic boundaries the way Cruz has done in the last five years, why the Pirates franchise refuses to die like is beyond his comprehension.

Allen’s comic romance Vicky Cristina Barcelona premiered to considerable acclaim at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, became one of his most successful films, and won Cruz numerous prizes including an Academy Award for her inspired comic work. It remains one of the Blogger’s favourite films, and will form one of the first entries in his Modern Film Classics selections (look for the tag on the side for other titles).

The premise is simple: two American college students, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) spend the summer in the titular Spanish city. The sensible, risk-averse Vicky is engaged to Doug, a stable lawyer in New York who has a suburban life waiting for them to settle into in Connecticut. Cristina is artistic and impulsive, evidenced by her sudden romance with local artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). The two friends are locked in a quintessential Apollonian / Dionysian contrast. Things get complicated as Vicky slept with Juan Antonio while Cristina was convalescing from food poisoning, Doug shows up to surprise Vicky on holiday, and Juan Antonio’s volatile ex-wife Marie Elena (Cruz) shows up, having tried to kill herself and needing care. In probably the strangest twist of all, Cristina, Juan Antonio and Marie Elena take each other as lovers and begin a three-way common-law marriage, and are impossibly happy. Or are they? And can it last?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Eurovision 2011: The Wrap-Up & Final Results

Well that was a most exciting three and a half hours!

Ell & Nikki of Azerbaijan, 2011 Eurovision winners
Azerbaijan made history this evening by winning the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time. As per custom, they will host next year’s contest at a location to be determined. Italy, returning to the contest for the first time in over a decade, claimed the runner-up spot. Sweden’s Eric Saade, whose fans were locked in a bitter Internet rivalry with fans of Russian Alexey Vorobyov, earned enough points to place third.

The Blogger is saddened that neither of his two picks for the big win, the UK’s Blue and Vorobyov, fared well, as both finished well out of the top ten.

It’s notable that when points were awarded to certain countries, the audience in attendance loudly booed their disapproval. Not wanting to ignite international warfare over pop music, the Blogger will simply attribute the placement of each entry to each country’s preference. The number of points any one entry gets in one nation will not necessary get points in another country. Some quarters have also accused nations for voting for their neighbours. One example is the perennial mutual awarding of top points between Greek and Cyprian entries, as well as those between Portugal and Spain. Nevertheless, as I mentioned in my previous article, despite the hand-wringing at this practice, what Eurovision succeeded in doing was bringing countries together. And unlike FIFA, there’s no four-year wait for the contest as it’s on every year! 

For those of you who missed it, here is the order of finish for Eurovision 2011 and the videos of each respective country’s entries, after the jump:

Friday, May 13, 2011

Guilty Pleasure: Eurovision Song Contest, 2011

UPDATE: the results of the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest are in and the recap is available here.

Eurovision 2011 Logo
Disclaimer: despite his proclamation and adoration for high art, the Blogger, like everyone else, has a guilty pleasure. His is the Eurovision Song Contest. Think of it as Martha Stewart having the occasional cheeseburger after eating healthy all week. No judgment.
Originally conceived in the mid-1950s by the European Broadcasting Union to unite a warm-torn, still-divided Europe, the Eurovision Song Contest was meant as a one-off light entertainment program. Fifty-five years after that first contest in 1956, the program has evolved into an annual international celebration of song showcasing the best Europe has to offer. It has also, in several corners of Europe, been met with much derision due to the rather, shall we say, extraordinary song choices. What may be considered hip, cool and cutting-edge in one part of Europe may be considered to be déclassé or outright vulgar. In North American urban nomenclature, one denotes this with the scathing words “Try Hard”. 

ABBA winning with "Waterloo" in 1974
Nevertheless, the Eurovision Song Contest has been indomitable and survived the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the Prague Spring of 1968, international incidents at the Olympics, Perestroika, the fall of the Iron Curtain, the formation of the EU and the rather alarming albeit mercifully temporary ubiquity of Fabio. The contest introduced the world to ABBA and showcased a teenaged Quebecois singer named Celine Dion who competed and won for Switzerland in 1988. The show has also, with the inclusion of several former Soviet republics, expanded to become more inclusive and focus less on the western part of the continent. Individual countries spend the winter months choosing their entries via popular vote, and this is undertaken with considerable seriousness and a surprisingly high degree of gravity. It is this writer’s opinion that the contest may be taken more seriously than many actual elections. In the end, the winner represents the nation to the world at large.

My Re-Education, with Lauryn Hill

I wrote these words for everyone who struggles in their youth.

Some days, the radio can sound so empty. The current vogue on American radio is overproduced dance beats layered over a hook to mask a thinly veiled voice trilling about hypersexual activity. This post on The Village Voice puts it most succinctly: it’s not that the records are terrible, it’s just that they’ve become a bit run-of-the-mill. By characterizing certain voices as “robotic” and “plasticized”, what we’re left with is a lack of distinct voices. That an artist as imaginative and original as Janelle Monae, who rivals Lady Gaga for producing some of the greatest hooks and visual trickery out there today, isn’t a bigger star is criminal. (Ironic that Monae’s album is based on the robotic character in Fritz Lang’s silent movie Metropolis but is more animated than the photocopied, soulless beats of, say, Britney Spears or Ke$ha.) This unfortunately speaks to the current appetite for naughty-but-safe product lacking strong artistic vision. In times like these, I return to Ms. Lauryn Hill, who is currently on tour and is coming to the Blogger’s home town of Vancouver on May 24 and May 25 for a pair of shows.

Born from the frustrations of her time with the Fugees and in particular the fallout from her professional and intense personal relationship with Wyclef Jean, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill spoke of romantic betrayal, the empty pursuit of commercial gain, low self-esteem, the falsity and fragility of public image and set it all to an irresistible groove that has not and will not age. Miseducation is perhaps the ultimate R&B/hip-hop concept album, with its thesis that the definition of joy is misbegotten and distorted due to the barrage of imagery and ideas that are actually empty shells. Ten years before Gaga came out with The Fame, Ms. Hill already explored the topic of fame and committed it to sound. The difference is that whereas Gaga aspired to fame, Ms. Hill saw fame from her direct experience with it, and found it lacking.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Anthropologie Opens In Vancouver

This Friday, May 13, the sound of silence in offices will be deafening. That’s because every fashionista in your Metro Vancouver office will be charging to the long-awaited opening of the city’s first-ever Anthropologie.

Owned by and a sibling corporation to Urban Outfitters Inc., Anthropologie is a chain of upscale women’s wear dedicated to providing high-quality apparel to befit the customer’s lifestyle. The brand’s ideal customer is the professional urban woman with a creative, artistic bent. Therefore, the designs are based on classic forms that easily transition from day into evening wear. The collections are vivid in terms of colour and prints, and recall 70s glamour with a romantic finish. Think Bianca Jagger heading to meet Anna Wintour for lunch rather than going to Studio 54 and you’ll have an idea of the collection. Understanding that their customer wants to look chic without breaking the bank, Anthropologie’s collections are priced lower than their couture counterparts.

Anthropologie does not stop at women’s wear, as they also offer home fashions as part of their “complete lifestyle” approach to retail. The new location, like most of their other shops across the world, will also carry accents to any home such as bedding, curtains, wallpaper, pillows and lighting. To complete the styling of any home, they also offer their own line of kitchenware, dinnerware and glassware. It is designed to be a one-stop shopping experience. Anthropologie achieves this by creating themed spaces within their shops to harmonize their product lines into a complete lifestyle, and not as a disparate diaspora of merchandise. Anyone who has been to an Anthropologie shop understands that each location is a feast for the senses.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Artful Blogger Goes Shopping: TSUM, Moscow

Special to Retail-Details

Last week’s article on GUM in Moscow generated some unexpected intrigue. At least where the Blogger lives, there is a lack of awareness of luxury shopping in the Russian capital and readers have commented that thanks to the post, they have found their “new happy place”.

Although GUM is a luxury shopping mall, readers did ask about the leading luxury department store in Moscow, comparable to a Saks, Bloomingdales, Barneys or Harvey Nichols. Behold, TSUM.

Located in central Moscow not far from its chief rival GUM, TSUM (rhymes with “gloom” but far from gloomy) affords luxury shoppers an intimate and personalized shopping experience. Housed in a formerly drab state department store, it is now one of the ultimate shopping destinations not only in Russia, but in all of Europe.

Verber, with Naomi Campbell
One cannot understand TSUM without knowing something of the powerful woman behind it. TSUM’s fashion director is the mercurial Alla Verber, known as a long-time fashion power broker for Russia. In this interview for ABC News, no less than George Stephanopoulos compared Verber to the formidable Anna Wintour in terms of her clout. Trained in fashion and business in the West during the Soviet era, Verber returned to Moscow after the fall of Communism with a big idea: to bring the same luxury brands she loves into her beloved Russia. In an era when more democratically priced brands such as Levi’s and Calvin Klein were the most coveted designer clothes, Verber’s idea was unheard of, even at the end of the Soviet era. She spearheaded the revitalization of TSUM and shepherded it into its current form, which stands as a lasting testament to Verber’s love of couture and intense commercial ferocity. TSUM was spotlighted on the English-language site Moscow Out (via Russia Today) earlier this year, and includes an interview with Verber herself (the interview begins at 4:58).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Gay Old Time: Vancouver Men's Chorus Spring Concert

The Artful Blogger is a sucker for a song and a dance, preferably together. He didn’t have a high school glee club to join (it must be an American thing) and he never had the gift of song, so he must live vicariously through others. In particular, he only wishes that there could have been a chorus like the Warblers on Glee to have joined.

This is why the Blogger is very much looking forward to the Vancouver Men’s Chorus upcoming series of spring concerts. “Duets: Two Fabulous!” is exactly as it sounds: a series of duets starring talented and vocally inclined Vancouver men. The concept of this year’s show is duets performed by the Chorus and another local vocal group known as Pandora’s Vox. For the Glee fan within, this is a bit like watching two hours of dream duets between New Directions and the Warblers.

The Chorus is a non-profit group that showcases local gay and gay-friendly musical talent. They host a fall concert and a Christmas show, in addition to numerous events such as Big Gay Sing, World AIDS Day, AIDS Walk, outreach events, and Singing Can Be A Drag. The Blogger attended last year’s fall drag concert, where the “Telephone” duet was first performed by two intrepid members of the Chorus with copious amounts of glitter and suitable amounts of theatricality. The Chorus includes many of the Blogger’s personal friends, who have taken turns slaughtering him at karaoke night and making him look like the sad movie star warbling drunkenly in Lost in Translation. (Mercifully, the Blogger will not be allowed to castrate songs in front of a paying audience, not even as Yoko Ono in drag.)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cannes Film Festival 2011: A Preview

Cannes 2011 Poster

Note: Post has been updated as of 16:00 PDT on Tuesday, May 10, 2011.

In April 2010, the Blogger had the rare opportunity of meeting a true international star. The enigmatic and talented French singer Charlotte Gainsbourg launched her first-ever concert tour in Vancouver at the famed Vogue Theatre to promote her critically-acclaimed second album IRM. She did not disappoint. Thanks to the generosity of local cultural paper The Georgia Straight and Warner Records, I met Charlotte herself after the show. She was effusive and charming, and a bit nervous. I asked her flat-out if, as the reigning Best Actress winner, she would be attending the forthcoming Cannes Film Festival. Gainsbourg looked a bit taken aback and then replied, with a twinkle in her eye, that she was “unsure”. Sure enough, a month later, she was on hand on the Croisette to present the biggest award of the festival, the Palme d’Or.

The annual Cannes Film Festival, now in its 64th year, is not the biggest such gathering in the world, but it lays claim to being one of the oldest (after Venice) and most prestigious. This is the festival where Bridget Bardot once played in the surf in front of an international cadre of admiring paparazzi. This was where the film that gave rise to the word “paparazzi”, Fellini’s immortal La Dolce Vita, scandalized the Catholic Church and won the top prize, birthing an international sensation and helping popularize European cinematic discourse in North America. This was where notorious Danish director Lars von Trier won prizes year after year but showed his displeasure at not winning the Palme d’Or by first giving the jury the finger one year, and telling them seven years later that they gave him “the wrong award” for another film. Gong Li all but became an unofficial spokeswoman for the festival due to her annual appearance to in support of director Zhang Yimou’s films in the early 90s, every one in which she played a leading role. Sharon Stone never misses the Festival, whether or not she has a film to promote. This is where Catherine Deneuve, Maggie Cheung, Juliette Binoche and, yes, Brangelina come to be seen and to present serious work. To get an idea of the international star power on hand, have a look at this clip.

This year’s festival boasts one of the most exciting lineups in years. In particular, the Blogger is looking forward to the following films in competition for the prestigious Palme d’Or:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mama Said

Albert Brooks’s 1996 film Mother is the underrated modern classic comedy (for those of us who saw it) that should have become required Mother’s Day viewing for the rest of recorded time.

The film is no fawning love letter or sentimental feel-good fraud that skirts real, substantive issues about human relations like conventional comedies.

The premise is simple yet restrained wackiness, if such a thing exists. Brooks plays a frustrated writer who has just finalized his second divorce. Sensing that his marital issues may have stemmed from a poor relationship with his retired mother (the unsinkable Debbie Reynolds), the son decides to stage an “experiment” by moving back in with her so that they could understand what makes him tick. He goes so far as to move back into his old bedroom in his childhood home and arrange it exactly the way he left it, complete with posters of Barbarella and 2001: A Space Odyssey. His mother is game, although somewhat befuddled by his rationale. 

Within moments of his arrival, mother and son are already at odds with something as basic as eating. Mother offers him various meat dishes for dinner, even though he is a strict vegetarian. When she offers him lamb and he declines, having already turned down beef stew and pastas in meat sauce, she replies, “I didn’t know if it was the animal you were siding with or the whole thing”. She also has a penchant for freezing all food items including salad, a slab of cheese the size of a hat box that expired three years ago, and sherbet. She insists that there is no way the food could have spoiled, and that the discolored sherbet is perfectly edible due to freezer burn that she mistakenly calls but sincerely believes to be a layer of “protective ice”. There’s also a parallel plot involving the writer’s younger brother, who despite being the more accomplished of the two sons, feigns incredulity at his brother’s experiment to disguise some thinly veiled jealousy (paging Dr. Freud).

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Verdi, Verdi Good

Although this blog is dedicated to the finer things in life, and opera is one of them, this writer finds it deliciously, comically ironic that arguably the most famous aria in La Traviata is a drinking song.

That is precisely the spirit of one of Verdi’s finest, most-beloved works, which is currently being staged by the Vancouver Opera Society. The so-called “drinking song” is a defiant celebration of one woman’s indefatigable spirit and refusal but to enjoy life in the moment, for “life is a folly” according to her worldview, without any cares for tomorrow. This is because she is one of those consumptive types in nineteenth century Paris who somehow remains full of voice and prone to fainting spells in overcrowded ballrooms. The play’s title literally means “the fallen woman”, and Violetta succeeds beautifully on this. In the opera’s first act, Violetta throws a lavish party to celebrate her recovery from a long illness, where she ends up ditching her current rich lover for a younger plaything. Fast-forward to several months later, when Violetta and the young man, Alfredo, have moved in together, akin to social suicide in those days. Like many a party girl no matter what the era, her reputation precedes her and threatens her social standing and future prospects. And since I mentioned that Violetta is consumptive, I wouldn’t spoil anything by saying that the play does not end well.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Artful Blogger Goes Shopping: GUM, Moscow

Special article for Retail Detail.

GUM corporate logo
This year, Forbes magazine reported that 79 of the year’s billionaires live in Moscow, more than in any other city in the world: that’s billionaire, not millionaire. This statistic means that there is plenty of wealth going around than ever before and a sign that, 25 years after Perestroika, Communism has indeed gone the way of the floppy disk.

With such an abundance of luxury, it’s no wonder that some of the world’s most luxurious shopping is now done in Moscow, with the largest shopping centre being GUM Trading House. GUM (pronounced like “doom” with a “g”, but far more pleasant) is located in Red Square and close to St. Basil’s Cathedral, situating it in perhaps the single most prominent and immediately recognizable area in all of Russia. The acronym “GUM” is derived from the Cyrillic “ГУМ”, meaning “State Department Store”, and was originally built as a shopping mall with an astonishing 1,200 stores housed within its walls. During Stalin’s reign, it was initially converted into an office and it even displayed his wife’s body following her suicide in 1932. Grim. Eventually, GUM was converted back into a department store and became one of the few well-stocked shops in the nation, given its centrality and its location next to the Kremlin. (Yes, Lenin is likely turning over in his grave next door.) Of the many state department stores, the one in Red Square stands alone today and remains the most iconic.

GUM, in all its glory. Note original architecture preserved.
Once the Soviet Union collapsed, plans were eventually in place to at first partially, and then fully privatize GUM. It is now owned and operated by the Russian luxury goods distributor and boutique magnate Bosco di Ciliegi. Concurrent with the collapse of Communism, many Russian capitalists stepped out of the socialist closet and were eager to shop. Designers and shop operators, sensing a nascent new market on the verge of explosion, rushed to fill GUM with luxury goods to an eager public flush with wealth. 
GUM promenade, lit up at night

Fashionistas and even casual luxury brand admirers (such as this writer) are surrounded by a nearly obscene number of designer brands with stand-alone boutiques, such as Armani, Sonia Rykiel, Burberry, Hugo Boss, Dior, Hermes and Frey Willie. Luxury brand names populate their retail spaces with considerable amounts of haute couture, in addition to their second lines and prêt-a-porter collections. The Russian designer Valentin Yudashkin, whose haute couture works are so innovative and coveted that they have been on display both at Paris Fashion Week and at the Louvre, has one of his major shops here. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Comedy Tonight!

Everyone, it seems, loves Stephen Sondheim: even lawyers.

Here in Vancouver, the legal profession gathers once a year to stage a charity event show for two local non-profit arts groups, the Carousel Theatre for Young People and the Touchstone Theatre. This is the annual Lawyer Show. While productions in the past had a legal slant, such as Witness for the Prosecution and Inherit the Wind, the lawyers have expanded their repertoire in the last few years: in fact, they performed Shakespeare for the last two years and by all accounts, the lawyers have a good deal of fun staging it, whether they were reciting soliloquies or merely carrying spears. 

This year’s play will prove to be the most high-risk yet, as the lawyer are staging their first musical. Based on Sondheim’s musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum shall continue to satisfy every lawyer’s need to unshackle the more stringent conventions attached to the profession and give them a chance to burst into song. There’s an old joke that all lawyers are at some level really failed actors with a need to command a stage, so the leap for litigators to tread the boards has somehow always been natural and organic.

The illustrious cast includes a number of leading practitioners and up-and-coming legal superstars. It also includes at least two trained theatre professionals. The feisty redhead in the picture above is the writer’s good friend Amanda Kemshaw, a litigator and former dancer trained in the style of Martha Graham. Also look out for Danielle Lemon, a sole practitioner in intellectual property law whose vocal stylistics can be heard on her MySpace page.

The show opens with the now-immortal “Comedy Tonight”, and indeed comedy is what one will get in this show. Forum boasts all the elements of classic force including mistaken identity, improbably situations, and a good deal of door-slamming. Since farce actively encourages transgressive behaviour, it may be one of the few times when the lawyers let loose with a few double entendres in mixed company and get away with it. Needless to say, from the writer has heard from former cast members of previous shows, everyone has a grand time performing, even if the lawyers are opposing counsel who have faced off in court before! There’s also the required elaborate chase scene at the end, where everyone is somehow resolved through bizarre plot machinations, deus ex machine, or as Shakespeare himself once wrote, “I don’t know; it’s a mystery”.

This year’s Lawyer Show plays nightly from May 4 to May 7 at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island. Click here for ticket information. Take note that the $75 ticket also includes a $45 tax receipt, since it’s a charity event. Thursday's performance even has an oyster bar after the show!

Bring everyone to the Forum, including and especially opposing counsel and actors who may one day wonder if they too could suffer the fate of leaving the theatre to become lawyers.

The German Opera Project: Maiden Voyage

I made it through part one. How was my first experience?

My first question, if you recall from my first post, was: where were the Viking helmets?

When I first settled in to watch Das Rheingold (literally "Gold of the Rhine River") and couldn't spot any, I knew I was in for some trouble, or at least make peace with the fact that this is a postmodern interpretation that may be beyond me and require a brush-up of my contemporary literary theory lectures from college. Keep in mind that this is the controversial, much-discussed and now-legendary centennial production at the Bayreuth Opera House, which ran from 1976 to 1980.

German opera is like German food: it's heavy, it's rich in texture, it's altogether satisfying, but it is a large undertaking and chasing it with a light aperitif is required to wash it all down. A glass of red wine in a twilit room, as my Wagnerite friend K said, is perfect, and she was right.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The German Opera Project: Go Big Or Go Home

As a child, I saw the classic Looney Tunes animated short “What’s Opera, Doc?” It was my first introduction to high culture, albeit via popular culture, as “Ride of the Valkyries” played throughout the short. In it, Bugs Bunny runs from Elmer Fudd by dressing as a fetching Nordic soprano with a horned Viking helmet and breastplate. (As I was informed at the time that the helmet was German or Norse, I assumed for years that everyone in Germany or Scandinavia wore them not only as a national costume, but also in daily life. That is another story.) The most telling line in the short was when Bugs “died” at the end and is carried off to Valhalla by Elmer. In the very last frame, while Elmer weeps, Bugs comes to life, turns to the camera and says, “Well what did you expect in an opera? A happy ending?”

It was not until I got to high school that I learned the proper reference to the opera. It was Wagner’s mammoth Ring Cycle, a piece that plays anywhere from 15 to 20 hours over four evenings and is considered a towering icon of Teutonic culture. Since I could not stomach the idea of even 1.5 to 2.0 minutes of solid opera, I could not fathom how people would willingly subject themselves and sacrifice their evenings to an event that was 100 times the size. It also did not help that for a long time, having lived overseas, my concept of opera was limited to Chinese opera, which consists of hysterical high-pitched caterwauling (to the untrained ear) punctuated randomly by a gong, and only then after interminable stretches. (Curiously, the cross-dressing by Bugs in the short and the convention of men assuming female roles in opera did not make me blink.)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Modern Film Classics: In the Mood for Love

A miracle cure-all was discovered in Hollywood. This magical elixir is guaranteed to alleviate pressure, banish heartache, raise self-esteem and, if its creators could make it so, cure cancer while also giving whoever drinks of this cure-all a makeover. This elixir is sex. And while everyone in Hollywood seems to have it on screen, no one seems to note that its ready availability makes it cheap and a total cheat. If it’s so accessible, why value it so much? Take away the materiality on flagrant display in film, and space invaders wouldn’t consider us a higher species on first sight (or second sight, for that matter).

The renowned auteur Wong Kar-Wai’s 2000 romance In the Mood for Love is aptly named. Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Chan (the incandescent Maggie Cheung) live in Hong Kong in the 1960s. Due to the crowded living conditions in the city, they live in single rooms in tenements. Their friendly, seemingly innocuous neighbours eat, sleep and have mah-jong marathons. Their spouses are always out of town at the exact same time, and they eventually discover through arbitrary clues that they are being cuckolded by the same two people.

Unlike baser animals in lesser films, Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan do not fall into bed for a fitful bout of revenge sex. Instead, they attempt to understand how their spouses’ affair came into being. They playfully reenact (and mock) the imagined come-ons, which look very much like cheap pick-up lines and thereby make other romances look phony and pedestrian. They work late and dine out. He writes a wudan novel. She is a fan and helps him out. He helps her rehearse the moment when she confronts Mr. Chan about the affair.