Sunday, August 24, 2008
Went to a party in LA. I’ve done a little costume work in my time, so I still have a few friends in television and movies, even though I don’t officially live there anymore. A friend showed me the new swimwear for the 90210 re-make. We had a good time tracing the references. I’m no longer in show business, so now when I work in LA, it is to create custom swimwear for people who spend more time poolside than anywhere else. Lounging by the pool is more than just relaxation in LA, it is a way to conduct business, dream up partnerships, learn bad news, build trust, expose uncertainties, and in general, re-pane the fragile glass house of fame.
As for LA fashion, this summer the look was white-hot trainers. White canvas or leather high-tops all around, from the men who worked the valet to the woman to worked the sidewalks wearing white caps twisted to the side, to the men wearing matching white summer suits in the dark and ridiculous VIP sections of summer dance clubs to the women wearing vintage Thierry Mugler dresses while driving immaculate 1981 white Cadillac convertibles down Melrose avenue. A white high-top matched every outfit.
The swimsuits were white as well: white with gold fasteners. I had several clients request miniature gold lions as fasteners, although I still believe my octopus clasp was the best of the bunch, and I’m sure someone, somewhere is working to beat it. Black and gold was also hot this summer. I actually liked the black better. Full color (such as my octopus print), I still think is the best, but if you are going achromatic, why not noir? So white with gold, or black with gold dominated the imagination of the poolside set - basically, anything that looked like it was stolen from the wardrobe of a Dynasty-era adult film. I saw more than one vintage Norma Kamali suit in the cabana section. Norma Kamali I love, even if her best looks are a rather blatant re-visitation of Madame Gres.
Speaking of the octopus clasp, I was at a hotel pool with the same friend for whom I made the octopus dress. Let’s call her Tako. It was a long hot day in the sun; I no longer have the stamina for such endurance lounging.
The day was uneventful at first, the closest thing to a highlight was that we saw Scott Schuman shooting for GQ, but we didn’t say hi. I didn’t want to get caught on the Sartorialist site, and have my identity revealed to every bikini-crazed beach-head that reads the Internet. It’s nice to have at least some partial anonymity, especially when you deal with luxury items with price tags that make even the jaded blush.
Tako ran into her contact working on the girl-detectives show. It made me realize that this was the reason we were at this particular pool in the first place. As a happy group, we had several rounds of drinks. We ordered French 75s (gin/champagne/lemon juice).
We went with the girl-detectives guy to a house in the hills for a party. This was all normal enough, except that the party was sponsored by a vodka company. I hadn’t seen a private party have a vodka sponsor before. At corporate events it makes sense, but at a private party this felt new. We live in a very mediated age, but is it really worth the time and effort of a vodka company to set up shop at a small private party? I kept wondering what the back-deal was; was there a product placement deal in the works for the detective show? I spoke to the vodka folks, (not the servers, who were models, but the one guy in the back who kept “arranging” everything) he denied any deal in the works, but he looked at me squarely and asked – “Why? Do you think they are talking to other spirits companies about a placement deal?” And then more aggressively, “Who else are they talking to?” He then flipped open his phone and started pounding the keys with his little stubby fingers.
I felt bad for causing trouble. After a while, the no-deal deal started to make sense. It was a part of a viral/sneak attack, and a pretty good one at that. Let me explain: not everyone at the party was famous, and eventually the non-famous guests would get up the courage to snap a picture or pose for a picture, usually with a camera phone, of a famous person. Non-famous people cannot help but to try to capture the strange crossover reality of our mediated existence by photographing themselves with a media illusion, such as a big star. The easiest place the corner a famous person for a picture is at the bar. After snapping a photo, the non-famous person would almost always immediately start tinkering with his or her phone, and I’m sure the results were then instantly blogged and facebooked around the globe. These photos usually had a non-famous person, a famous person, and the bar in the background. Celebrities are trained to put down their drink for a photo, or to hide it behind the other person's back, but there is no escaping an elaborate bar in the background. So from the spirits company’s point of view, placing one’s product in these images makes a lot of sense. It was viral, celebrity-endorsed and it was word-of-mouth all in one gesture. It was genius.
The vodka company had gone all out. There was an ice sculpture carved to look like an arching whale’s tail. The ice sculpture had a groove carved into it, so the drink could be poured down the tail and “cooled” as it went down. A little section at the bottom, carved like Ahab’s Pequod, held the martini glass or tumbler to catch the drink. At one point, a drunken C-lister ran right up to the ice-sculpture and put her face directly on the end of the boat, hoping a drink would flow directly into her mouth. It is a trick she learned in college, she explained. Needless to say, after that, I did not drink from the whale’s tail.
Back at the party, Tako was well on her way to convincing one of the writers to re-write a certain section of the pilot. Her literary abilities are beyond that of most people, even professional writers. This catches people off guard, as they expect someone so model-beautiful to read nothing at all or at best flip through the pictures of Variety and Vogue.
I got cornered by the wife of the show’s producer. It turns out someone at the party knew I was a couture swimwear designer. Once it was leaked how much my suits cost, the producer’s wife had to have one. The dance of the potential client began.
I knew I was in trouble when she asked to show me a pair of shoes only I could appreciate. Looking around at the party, she was probably right, with the exception of Tako, would anyone else really know that those particular shoes had been designed by Roger Vivier for Belle du Jour? They were a nice pair, in completely mint condition. I was impressed. When I looked up from the shoes, Mrs. Producer pulled the clasp at the back of her neck and let her Bob Mackie gown fall to the floor. I was shocked, not that she had disrobed, but that she still wore Bob Mackie. I know this sounds cold, but being a couture swim wear designer carries with it certain burdens, one of which is dealing with clients who cannot separate the mythic glamour and sensuality of your garments from the reality of you as person. I am interested in making people look fantastic; I am not interested in becoming a client’s lover. Women in LA can never get this straight. They throw themselves at me in the same way women in NY used to throw themselves at Frédéric Fekkai: shamelessly, brazenly, and theatrically. It is the stuff of gossip columns.
One nice thing about working with the wealthy is the quality of their undergarments. Mrs. Producer stood there in bespoke La Perla that must have cost the equivalent of a 2009 Honda Prius. It was her little way of letting me know she would commission a swimsuit well worth making. I was in a pickle. At this point to refuse Mrs. Producer would be the coffin nail in a chance to make a truly superb piece of swimwear, and yet to give in to her seduction would lead to trouble, from Mr. Producer, from other clients expecting the same treatment, and from myself – lost self-respect is a hard button to sew back on the blouse of life. I smiled beautifully to Mrs. Producer and reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone. I called Tako, and asked her to send in my assistant, as Mrs. Producer wanted to get measured. With my other hand I slowly pulled out a tailor’s measuring tape. Mrs. Producer started to smile. Tako, of course, had been through this a million times with me before, which is why, in part, I believe I love her. She tracked down the most attractive waiter she could find from the bar and sent him in with two martinis. I took the drinks form him, gave one to Mrs. Producer, set the other one down, and then walked back to the waiter. His nametag said “Kenton.” I removed his nametag, gave him a long hard look, placed 100 dollars in his right hand then slowly handed him my measuring tape. I then turned back to Mrs. Producer and said, “This is my assistant Kenton. He will take your measurements with, I trust, the most exquisite care.” Kenton knelt before Mrs. Producer and started to measure her. He was a bit haphazard, but at least he was measuring something. Mrs. Producer closed her eyes, and I quietly walked out of the room.
Back at the party I found my costume and prop friends from my old days in Hollywood. Jake had a lariat with him that he had just sourced for a “western” sequence in a sci-fi show. I took the lariat in my hands. Having grown up on horseback, I held it in a way which explained my background; one cannot fake familiarity with a working rope. Mr. Producer walked over and started giving me a hard time about it, asking if I was some kind of cowboy. We jawed about it for what seemed like an hour. Mr. Producer was pretty drunk, so the conversation took a while. He also spoke in a way that demanded your full attention. I would have walked away immediately, but I knew Tako wanted to work on his show, and so I didn’t want to do anything to make him too mad. I explained a little about my youth, and that yes, I did used to work cattle as a matter of course growing up the way I did. But that now I am a designer, and haven’t been on a ranch in a long time.
Mrs. Producer walked over about then. She was flushed and slightly dazed. Mr. Producer looked up with a sense of immediate recognition and asked her what had happened to her. She explained that she had just been “fitted” for one of my bikinis, and then she laughed a little laugh to herself. It was a very uncomfortable scene. Mr. Producer was stumped, but angry. He knew his wife had likely cheated on him, but since he had been talking to me the whole time, he couldn’t figure out exactly what had happened. He blamed me however, that much was clear. He pointed at me with a sweaty fat finger and then swaggered over to the side of the house near the pool and shouted in a slurred and angry bark, “If you’re such a cowboy, then rope this!”
At this point, he flung open a gate and sent a gorgeous German Shepard charging for me. The dog was a trained attack dog: a guard dog of the highest pedigree. If I had been attacked on the ranch, by, say, a coyote or a wolf, I would have simply shot the animal. Here, however, I had no gun, just the rope. Roping cattle happens from horseback, and usually with the cowboy chasing the cattle, not the other way around. It is a much different thing to rope an animal that is running towards you than it is to rope a steer from the rear. I didn’t have much time to react. This dog was beautiful, and I didn’t want to hurt it. Also, I didn’t want any of the other guests to get hurt. I laid the rope to my side and then whipped it up again in a single arching, looping motion. I made two turns of the loop above my head and then whipped it around a third time much faster in a single tight circle. I threw the rope hard and fast over the neck and right foreleg of the dog. I pulled back tight and cinched the loop snug across the animal’s chest just as the dog leaped to attack. I heaved to my right as hard as I could and swung the dog tumbling across the slate stone deck and into the pool. The animal crashed with a huge splash into the water and started swimming, unharmed, toward the edge. I handed the lariat to the producer on my way out the door.
Tako was waiting for me at the car. “You just can’t help it but play the cowboy, can you?” she asked. I did not respond, but instead slid into the driver's seat of my pristine, silver 1973 BMW 3.0 csi and turned over the engine.
“Can I take you home?”
“That depends. Are you going to rope me?”
We both laughed and drove down off the hillside.
(thanks for reading such a long post. Leave a comment if you made it all the way through without giving up...)
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Late one night after the party, we re-enacted our favorite scenes from our favorite movies. Everyone got into a performative mood. Very compelling performances! We started filming, making little movies of our "scenes." Here's me doing the end of Breathless. Luckily we were on the beach, so the fall at the end didn't hurt too badly.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Sunday, August 10, 2008
I am constantly asked to design something to wear over a swimsuit. Usually I come up with some type of robe: an easy-tie-in-front-easy-to-put-on-easy-to-take-off type of covering. Sometimes I'll make a variant of a wrap-dress. Once I made a towel/halter terry-robe combo. It really is depends on the client.
Recently I had a client (I love LA!) who insisted I design something so she could wear straight from the pool to a night out. This sounds strange, but makes sense in LA. You are at a hotel, by the pool, you run into an old friend/new acquaintance who is casting a new Nancy Drew-esque mini-series, which takes place in LA and stars five women in their early 20s who are smart, sexy, single and excellent crime-fighters... You hit it off and get invited to a party at some other place than the pool by which you are currently lounging. The party invitation is fleeting; there is no time to go home and change. Your career moves at the speed of your wardrobe, so you need some sort of over-dress you can just throw on and go...
Evidently, this type of fashion situation happens every day in LA. After it was explained to me, it all made sense. I immediately thought octopus! Under the octopus dress she has on a strapless bikini top and a low-profile (nothing that would stick out or cause bumps) bikini bottom. The shoes were her choice (yes - I would have done something slightly different... more gold, less tan, but her choice also works...)
You can't see it, but I also designed a mini-clutch with the same fabric, gold octopus clasp, and bright pink/fuchsia silk interior. It's in her left hand, hidden behind her body.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
I have been fairly calm about design lately. Nothing too urgent. But then, after cutting a long shirt into a swim-robe I can't stop thinking about men's shirts for women's swimwear. It keeps up up at night; I am lying in my bed, looking up at the ceiling, thinking of things more grand than fashion (the origin of the stars, or the reason some combinations of musical notes sound harmonious and other do not...) when thoughts of re-cutting men's shirts creep back into my mind. And the fabric - I've always said it's the fasteners that make the swimsuit, but I find myself stuck on fabric and structure. Have you ever seen a properly structured bra? It is an architectural miracle. I told myself I'd post only extra things, little asides on this blog, but I am overwhelmed with the urge to post actual inspiration. I am inspired by the look of a wet blue oxford. Imagine it recut, structured, and properly backed. It just seems like a little piece of perfection. Have you felt a wet oxford shirt? It feels strong like canvas, but soft like a well worn garment. It feels substantial, like a piece of sailing equipment. Able to hold a seam. Will start sketching soon. Rolling the idea of this re-cut shirt on my mind like a favorite piece of candy I want to last and last.
Posted by Serg Riva at 1:39 PM
Thursday, July 24, 2008
My assistant was looking out over the deck of our seaside atelier.
"Rot," he said, and pointed to a section of deck that connected to the side of the building.
The downside of having a facility on the beach is that you are endlessly fighting a war with rot. Water comes from everywhere, seeps into your building and slowly eats away at your foundation, like a nagging regret or a lost word you used to know in another language, but no can no longer remember.
The upside of working near the water is the ability to go kite surfing whenever the wind is up, the ability to product test right outside your doorstep, and the constant soothing sound of waves at night.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Military style: we are all soldiers of culture. Two things are important here - namely the billowing box pocket and the slight roll-up on the pant. Both add fabric to the design, and cover up more of the form - but a little covering creates narrative. Too much exposure becomes dull - like reading the last page of a mystery novel before you've earned the pleasure of the punchline. Not that swimwear is pulp. Swimwear is the mark of our progress. Nothing is more natural than to swim in the nude, but to do so would be to deny all critical distance, all language. With swimwear we name the unspeakable, we mark the continuous as different. With difference, we can break the flow of experience into nouns and adjectives. The ammo belt here does not contain bullets. It contains custom cosmetics - lipstick, eyeliner, sunscreen, blush, concealer, etc.
Posted by Serg Riva at 11:46 AM
Monday, July 21, 2008
How much does your high school style experience stick with you a decade or more past graduation? Recently, I went running on a high school track that reminded my of my hometown. The track looped around the varsity football field, like a belt with the scoreboard as the buckle.
I ran for a while, listening to "Maria Callas Voice of the Century" - which is an all-aria greatest hits collection. At a certain high note, I cut across the field and ran towards the endzone. I leaped up into the air and grabbed the crossbar on the goal posts. I did not expect to get all the way up, as I am old, and the goalposts are high. But I did. My hand wrapped around the yellow bar and I hung by the post for a second and then swung back down to earth. Grabbing the post made a satisfying sound.
I did not play football in high school. So the memories I felt filling my mind were not my own, but were from somewhere else - the collective mythology of the experience of others. Style, I think, works this way. Who has not felt the glamour of others transfered by means of a garment?
I did think of swimwear; can there be a varsity element in the fasteners? Jewelry replaces trophies in our mental treasure chests.
Monday, July 14, 2008
"FAINT, FAINT, IF ANY
...is one of my favorite Diana Vreeland memos.
And yet recently, I've become more and more interested in thick, but well-shaped brows. As a swimwear designer, how important is matching the arch of the eyebrows to the shape of the bikini top? I think very important. The two should speak to each other like siblings in bunk beds.
Here my fit model turns around to look at me, right after I told an off-color joke. Don't worry, she smiled a second later. Look how thick her eyebrows are! Facial architecture worthy of a pritzker.
THICK, THICK, BUT SHAPELY
Friday, July 11, 2008
Worked on a new design this last week for a client. Wasn't sure how it would go. I caught a glimpse of my assistant in the mirror looking truely pensive. He was very concerned (as was I) about the shoulder straps. Too thin and they dig in, to wide and no one smiles as you walk by. It is a dilemma. We went halter. Also, I knew someting was missing, so I called in a long white shirt from Charvet (why not? they dressed both JFK and Marcel Proust?). I had one delivered extra long. I turned it inside out on the dressform and pinned it tight along the side seams. I added a tie as a belt, stitched it all up (or rather, my assistant did) wrapped the whole package in a custom built leather and linen box, filled with additional gifts such as extra-dark chocolate cigars, a carved wooden rabbit, a collection of miniature sunglasses (thanks Oliver P) and a Delila CD, and presented my client a swimsuit with a matching belted shirt-dress swimrobe. She loved tieing and untieing the tie-belt. Must remember to call about the shoes she wanted...
My first bikini design. I was still in school. Notice I hadn't learned yet that fasteners are the reason to get up in the morning. I was so focused on prints. Fabric choices. Also - I hadn't figured out yet how to finish a design. See how everything looks 85% there? It makes me smile, however, that I included a shopping/beach bag and sabrina heels - even at that early stage in my career I knew that fashion is a fiction, and telling a story is as important as choosing a silhouette.
Ran into a friend of mine at the Superheros costume gala at the met. She was wearing one of my one-piece swimsuits as the basis for her Aquagirl look. She wore a white vintage Dior skirt layered on top of an electric orange underslip, which you could just see through the ancient, diaphanous Dior. She finished the look with the most beautiful hand made shoes from her cobbler in Barcelona: bright yellow soles, high heels.
She said nothing to me as she walked by, but her slight smile was enough to let me know that she knew that I knew the origin of her dress.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Went boating. Notice my friend's topsiders. The charm? Pure Serg Riva. You can't see it, but she has a bikini top on under a super-cute wind breaker that has a matching charm. I love the rough edges of the anchor. It makes it all the more enjoyable to know that your swimsuit could harm those who don't take care when embracing you.
Swimwear is really jewelry. The fabric is next to nothing. There is a bit of architecture involved with creating the supports, but for the most part, the fasteners steal the show. A bikini is three triangles and five fasteners. I just happen to make the most exquisite fasteners. Each one is like a little jeweled sculpture. I make bespoke swimwear. I never advertise. You cannot find me in any store. If you know how to get a hold of me, and have more money than hours in the day, and beauty is of great importance to you, than I am your man. Swimwear is our only connection back to the idealism of ancient Greek statuary. Swimwear has replaced drawing is our arts education. We needn't study anatomy, we instead study each other's bodies at the beach.