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All the Rage

Category: Fashion Diary

Fashion Diary: Tales from the retail trenches

Retailhell_rage Gossip, first impressions, trends in the making, celebrities and style setters. A regular feature by fashion critic Booth Moore.

We’ve all seen it: someone trying to return something that is, as they say, gently used. But imagine having to live it every single day. That was Freeman Hall’s life for the 15 years he spent as a self-described “retail slave,” working at the handbag counter at the Big Fancy, his pseudonym for “a department store that prides itself on customer service.” (Um, Nordstrom anyone?)

The L.A.-based author’s new book, “Retail Hell” (Adams Media), is an amusing window into the world of hyper-consumption (remember those days?), full of outrageous -- and humorous -- tales of shoppers behaving badly, all in pursuit of an “It" bag. There was Patty, who offered to pay Hall $10 to buy her a Burberry bag using his employee discount; Virginia, who came to the Big Fancy every day for the company, not the handbags; and Raelene, who left a mountain of bags and paper stuffing in her wake, but rarely bought anything.

I chatted with Freeman for a few minutes on the phone recently to talk about what really happens on the other side of the register.

At what moment did you decide to write this book? 

I was standing in the middle of the Big Fancy, frustrated with screenwriting, and all at once a crazy customer, a crazy store manager and a crazy co-worker walked by me at the same time. I asked myself, “What am I doing here?” Then I thought of David Sedaris, because I am a big fan of his, and it suddenly hit me that I was supposed to write about this crazy department store.

What are some of the shopper stereotypes you got to know over the years, who became characters in your book? 

A Looky Loo is somebody who goes into the store and wanders around a lot. When they become a problem is when they want to know the entire history of the Fendi sisters, because you know they are taking all your time up and not planning on buying anything. Their favorite day of shopping is Black Friday. Those are the days when retail slaves should all call in sick.

A Shoppersaurus Carnotaurus is a shopoholic on steroids. They roar into the store and buy anything they can, and they always want what’s hot and current. The good ones don’t return anything, but the bad ones come in at lunch and buy up all this stuff to show off to their friends. Then the next day they come in with sunglasses on to return everything.

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Fashion Diary: London Calling

Gossip, first impressions, trends in the making, celebrities and style setters. A regular feature by fashion critic Booth Moore.

Glasgow-born, London-based designer Christopher Kane has created one terrific collection for Topshop. Debuting Sept. 18 at Topshop stores and online, it's full of the kind of feminine yet fierce pieces we've come to expect from the designer who got his start at Versace. He uses lots of grommets for a 1980s-meets-"Gladiator" look (see dress, left), and some softer-looking beads and paillettes (see dress, below left). The embellishments are pure Kane. After all, we have him to thank for the sequin trend that's everywhere. He was doing overgrown sequins back in fall of '08.

Priced from $60 to $310, the Topshop collection should fly off the racks. I will be flying to London the day it debuts, and who knows if there will be anything left to buy by the time I land? I'm looking forward to attending London Fashion Week, having skipped it for a couple of seasons. I missed seeing the raw talent that the city has to offer. Must-sees include Kane, of course, as well as Erdem Moralioglu, Todd Lynn and others. Because it's the 25th anniversary of LFW, several British designers who normally show elsewhere are returning to their hometown runways, including Luella Bartley, Matthew Williamson and Burberry. Should be fun. 

**Photos have been removed

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Fashion Diary: Toasting Toms Shoes

Rage_blake Gossip, first impressions, trends in the making, celebrities and style setters. A regular feature by fashion critic Booth Moore.

All the leggy, blond girls and wild-haired surfer boys were out Wednesdaynight at the Viceroy in Santa Monica to celebrate Blake Mycoskie's birthday. The founder of Toms shoes may be turning 33 (the actual date is next week, when he's going to be in New Orleans on a shoe drop), but he can still part-ay, as demonstrated by the gun-shaped flasks of tequila he was sporting in a waist holster made out of two open-toed Toms canvas shoes.

Mycoskie's business is going great guns, thanks in no small part to his AT&T commercial, which is in heavy rotation on TV. Turns out the folks from AT&T called the Toms 800 number to offer the gig to Mycoskie who was, ironically, out of touch, traveling in Chile. He went to check his e-mail at an Internet cafe, and finally got word of the commercial. And since it's started airing earlier this year, he says shoe sales have increased 600%.

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Fashion Diary: The simple style changes in 'Coco Before Chanel'

Audrey-tatou

Gossip, first impressions, trends in the making, celebrities and style setters. A regular feature by fashion critic Booth Moore.

The march of fashion films continues with "Coco Before Chanel," opening Sept. 25. The biopic, directed by Anne Fontaine, stars Audrey Tautou as the legendary designer who was born poor, orphaned at a young age, grew up in a convent and slept with a slew of important men throughout her life -- a roster that included the aristocratic horseman Étienne Balsan, the Grand Duke Dmitri of Russia and composer Igor Stravinsky. With each one, she advanced her station in life and her style, taking their pajamas, hats and tweed riding jackets and making them a uniform for the newly liberated woman.

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Fashion Diary: Peeking inside Zara at the Los Angeles Farmers Market [Updated]

Gossip, first impressions, trends in the making, celebrities and style setters. A regular feature by fashion critic Booth Moore.

I stopped into the new Zara at the Farmers Market at Fairfax Avenue and 3rd Street, and it's way better than the other L.A. Zara stores. It's probably no accident. I had breakfast with the publicist for the Spanish fast-fashion brand last week, and she told me that each Zara store around the world has localized merchandise, ordered by the store manager on a Monday and delivered by Thursday. Wow.

Apparently, the brand is so nimble that if a store manager sees a lot of customers coming in wearing, say, pink jeans, the manager can put them into production in Spain, and have them on store shelves within two weeks. Double wow. No wonder high-end designers are so freaked out about their futures.

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Fashion Diary: Cashing in on the red carpet

Beckham 

Gossip, first impressions, trends in the making, celebrities and style setters. A regular feature by fashion critic Booth Moore.

When it comes right down to it, designers are hard-pressed to quantify how much red carpet dressing is really worth. "It's brand exposure," they say. "It's advertising money can't buy" (though it is often paid for) ... yada, yada, yada. But with so many red carpets, so many designers playing the game and so many stars demanding one-of-a-kind styles, is it really? 

Well now Giorgio Armani, who has been at the game longer than almost any designer, is turning the red carpet into gold.  After he designed a one-of-a-kind pink beaded dress for Victoria Beckham to wear to his New York store opening in February, the store received so many inquiries that Armani put the style into production for the Emporio Armani line.  The one-shoulder dress is $1,695 and available now at Armani/5th Avenue in New York, (212) 339-5950, and at Emporio Armani in Beverly Hills, (310) 271-7790.

Call it fashion on demand.

Photo: Victoria Beckham and Giorgio Armani at the designer's store opening in New York. Credit: David McKnight. 

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Fashion Diary: Berzerk for Cirque

Cirque Gossip, first impressions, trends in the making, celebrities and style setters. A regular feature by fashion critic Booth Moore.

If you haven't gone to see Cirque Berzerk's "Beneath," do it now! The production, which runs through Aug. 9 at Los Angeles State Historic Park, is a collision of subcultures, a visual feast of cabaret-burlesque-neo-Goth under a big top in the menacing shadow of the downtown skyline. It wasn't only the acts that were impressive (the vert ramp-inspired trampoline guys are unforgettable), or the subte political message, it was the style. "Beneath" had the feel of a John Galliano runway show. 

First performed at Burning Man in 2004, the production was conceived by producer and co-creator Suzanne Bernel; her husband, composer/co-creator Kevin Bourque; and choreographer Neal Everett. Costume designer Heather Goodman, who lives in Long Beach, only had a couple of months to outfit the 25 players. Kevin Bourque plays the ringmaster. "I took the shirt and full-front pants Kevin was wearing in years past and turned it up," Goodman said on the phone this week. "I designed a kooky jacket with mismatched gold brass buttons."

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Fashion Diary: Shorts sighted

Cutoff-shorts

Gossip, first impressions, trends in the making, celebrities and style setters. A regular feature by fashion critic Booth Moore.

On Friday, I went down to Huntington Beach to take in the sights, sounds and styles of the U.S. Open of Surfing. I saw lots of neon-print board shorts, cheap sunglasses (a $5-a-pair booth sold retro Ray-Ban styles with flip-up lenses), and tanned tummies with airbrushed logos (courtesy of umpteen corporate partners taking aim at the young demo with everything from samples of Honey Bunches of Oats to Nike bandanas).

It's always a confidence builder to be around so many young, perfect bodies. (Not.) But I'm down with the string bikinis and shirtless dudes. When it comes to dressing, I am not prudish. Still, I couldn't help but be shocked by the latest trend in undressing -- young girls wearing super-short jean shorts unzipped and unbuttoned over bikini bottoms. To me, it is beyond sexually suggestive; it's like advertising that you are open for business.

After noticing it a few dozen times (I mean really, what is the point of wearing shorts if they are barely hanging on to your backside?), I asked a group of girls what the deal was. Where did this trend come from? "We just copy our friends," they said. Second question: Why? "If you are TTK, they cover up." (TTK means "thunder thigh krew," the 15-year-olds from Huntington Beach explained.) When I asked if their parents objected to the look, they looked at me like I had three heads. Zero comprehension of what the styling choice might be saying to the world.

Could they really be that naive? Another thought occurred to me: Perhaps this is the muffin top girls' revenge. After all, leaving your shorts unzipped and unbuttoned minimizes stomach spillover. Of course, so would buying a larger pair of shorts.

What do you think of the barely-there beach shorts trend? Suggestive or just silly?

Story: Letting it all hang out

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Photo: The barely-there beach shorts trend on wide display at the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach. Credit: Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times

Fashion diary: September issues

Anna-wintour Gossip, first impressions, trends in the making, celebrities and style setters. A regular feature by fashion critic Booth Moore.

You can say a lot of things about Anna Wintour, but you can't say she isn't a good sport.

New York Magazine's blog the Cut reports that on Aug. 19 the Vogue editor-in-chief will host a screening and opening fete for R.J. Cutler's "The September Issue." The film is a not-altogether flattering portrait of fashion's high priestess as she puts together the September '08 issue of the magazine at the height of the luxury boom. (Though it certainly could have been worse; for one thing, Cutler relied mostly on people inside Wintour's inner circle to tell the story.)

Could we be seeing yet another crack in Wintour's icy shell? I hope so. When I blogged about the film several weeks ago, I suggested -- now that the luxury bubble has burst -- it might be a good time to start  showing some humility. She teared up in the film, so who knows what might happen at the screening? Maybe she'll even laugh at herself.

In other glossy mag news, Women's Wear Daily has a sneak peek at the page counts of several September issues, which are expected to decline as much as 30% from last year because of slow ad sales. Elle will carry 21% fewer pages this year, or an average of 327 pages in 2009 compared with 414 in 2008, WWD reports. Harper’s Bazaar is estimated to carry between 275 and 285 pages, representing about 25% fewer ad pages than last year. Conde Nast releases its page counts later this week.

People StyleWatch is one of the few bright spots, slated to be up 10% over last year, which suggests that women are getting a lot of their fashion and style cues from weekly tabloids rather than monthly glossies, and that the celeb feeding frenzy isn't about to end any time soon. 

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Photo: Vogue's Anna Wintour Credit: Diane Bondareff / Associated Press

Fashion Diary: Bicycle chic

Pink-bike
 

Gossip, first impressions, trends in the making, celebrities and style-setters. A regular feature by fashion critic Booth Moore.

I have recently taken up bike riding, in the casual, cruising around the neighborhood and occasionally down to Venice boardwalk sense. I'm crazy about my new pink Electra Hawaii beach cruiser (a gift from my husband, from the fantastic San Diego-based bike company), with hibiscus flowers on the seat. And the Nutcase helmet I got to match.

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