Friday, August 28, 2009

Reality Check

When Tako said that she wanted to propose something to me, I foolishly thought for a moment that she was talking about marriage. My hopes were crushed when she revealed that her plans were much more focused on immediate concerns. She had left the "medical drama" and was now out of work. Further, she had been looking to make the move from acting to producing/directing and now felt that she knew exactly what she needed to do. I played a part in her plans, she explained, and it would be beneficial for me as well, she hoped.

She explained that Serg Riva Designs needed a facelift, and that although my work was better than ever, my media presence was still stuck in the golden age of couture swim wear that reached only the most financially gifted via word of mouth and hand-lettered invitations. What I needed, she explained, was a way to reach a broader audience. What I needed, she went on, was a Reality TV show.

I was the most interesting character she knew, she explained, and this said a lot, considering she works in Hollywood.

I hated the idea of having the atelier invaded by a television crew, but loved the idea of seeing Tako more than just a few times a month. I let my mind run away with me and started to imagine the show as a glamourous rendition of my creative life. I would go on living as I had before the cameras started rolling, the only difference would be just a little more art direction and slightly better lighting. All the boring moments could be edited away, and what remained would be like a spread in Elle Decor or Architectural Digest, but on video.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew the idea was a potential nightmare, but I didn't care.

Against all sound judgement, I agreed to do the show.

What have I gotten myself into?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

We Are Designing Dreams...

“We are not designing swimwear,” I declare to the sleepy-eyed beauties stitching together hand-made gold lamé bikinis on my floating atelier, “we are designing dreams!”

We have been working hard. The whole team is pushing late enough each night to watch the stars visibly rotate in the sky. I am thrilled to be working again, making great pieces and finding new answers to old questions that come drifting to me in the night like the distant echo of a siren’s song; I am seduced by design, that much is certain.

You can only push a team so far before the mood starts to crack. I knew I had to do something if I was going to keep working the team as hard as I was, so I arranged for a little team-building relaxation event.

The girls on the team are die-hard fans of a certain famous fashion designer. I have never let on to the team that he is a friend, but instead called him in secret and arranged for him to send a few things. He sent samples from the last few seasons, including a few dresses from Spring 2009 – as he knew these were my favorites – and I happily hid them on the boat while I got everything ready. As I thank you, I sent a small group of fake resort wear to him that included a pair of swim trunks with his face silk screened on the front with the nose right where the nose ought to be. I also included a ridiculously luxurious swim wrap. In addition I sent two cases of his favorite champagne, just in case he didn’t appreciate the swim trunks, and a very nice vintage rolex watch with pink gold accents and the numbers rearranged by a jeweler to be in the "wrong" order (my standard thank you gift).

The team is crazy for some show called Gossip Girl, so I had the sailing crew adjust the main rigging so that I could use the sail as a giant screen. I caught the team staying up late at night watching the last two seasons in preperation for the season premiere, which is still a few weeks away. I called my friends from Brown who work for College Hill Pictures and somehow managed to get a copy of the season premiere a little more than a month early. The only part of the deal is that I had to fly out a member of the studio to the yacht who would monitor everything to make sure that no one copied it, as well as take notes on the crowd reaction – which I guess means that my crew is now some sort of focus group? This is standard practice in Hollywood for films, so I’m not surprised that TV does the same thing. It was adorable seeing the studio guy try to dress “upscale resort” for the party. I knew this was what he was trying to do, because that’s how he answered when I asked him about his outfit. He was actually a nice guy, particularly once he saw how much it meant to the team that they got to see the premiere early. BTW – don’t even think of asking me about the show – I signed a stack of Non-Disclosure documents and you won’t get a word out of me.

We have a helicopter landing port on the boat – which sounds like an extravagance, but is actually the only way to keep everyone safe – how else could we get to a hospital if someone got hurt? So in addition to flying in the dresses and food and drinks and studio execs, I used the heliport to bring in friends. First on the list was JJ. Jabez Jr. flew in to do the music and brought a new DJ he was promoting. He awkwardly brought his own helicopter, however, which was a real problem because there really isn't room for two. So we had to push all of the life boats into the water and tow them behind the boat so that his helicopter had somewhere to perch.

I worked everyone especially hard in the morning. Getting everyone up early and pushing through with only the slightest lunch break imaginable. I then kept demanding more and more changes and fittings and drawings. The team was started to get agitated, but I knew that they were also starting to catch on, because the kitchen crew was working overtime and we had had three extra shipments of “supplies” that morning. Just before sun down, I sent the two helicopters out for the guests and everyone freaked out when their friends started to arrive. At that point the team knew exactly what was about to happen. I flew in boyfriends and girlfriends of the team, and brought a few extra former models and up-and-coming artists, musicians and literary scholars for those without significant others. Inside his or her closet on the boat, each team member found a dress or a suit designed and a hand written thank you note for all of their hard work.

Tako surprised me by showing up (she had originally said that she couldn’t make it – but then flew in at the last minute with the College Hill exec). I was so happy to see her that I slipped and fell on deck running to embrace her.

With the golden light of the sun just sliding into the open mouth of the ocean, JJ started in on the music, as an official call to start the party. We served food and drinks and danced and laughed until I called everyone onto the center of the deck and announced that although the party was fun, we still had some work to do, and that we had some required research still left for the evening.

In the middle of everyone's groans, the projector flipped on and blasted video up onto the mainsail while the theme song to the GG season premiere played over the speaker system. The response was enthusiastic to say the least.

While the show played, Tako and I slipped away to the back. I was so happy to see her. Why do we spend so much time apart?

She had tons of news: she had been kicked off of a medical drama for fighting with the director (this makes sense, as Tako, in addition to being a talented actress and a stunning beauty, also went to medical school – my guess is that she made one too many corrections on set…). She also asked if I’d be willing to hear an idea. She wanted to propose something to me. I wonder what she’s cooked up now?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Mr. Sourpuss gets to work

After the party we went back to work. Swimwear design isn't all about playing in the sun or dining in moonlight, there is some work involved. We set up shop back on the boat and got to sketching out the new looks for the southern hemisphere - summer is just around the corner for everyone fashionable south of the equator.

Here's a shot of me between drawing sessions. I'm trying to work out a certain literary reference for a new trunk - but I don't want to be too serious about it. My team was giving me a hard time - calling me Mr. Sourpuss. I'm actually hiding a smile under my frown - look closely - you can just see it.


What a night of drawing. New ideas falling out of the sky like the perseids. More soon.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Jabez Jr.

After several days at sea, we stopped in port for a party. It was a weekend of sand, sun, old friends, and new acquaintances. One surprise was seeing Jabez Jr., a childhood friend. He had always been like a younger brother to me, but I hadn’t seen him in a long time.

My father had taught agriculture on a humanitarian mission in Tunisia years ago, and his favorite student had been Jabez Sr., a former a star footballer in Tunisia who had played for the national training team before his knee was destroyed and he went back to school to learn agricultural science. I remember as a child being delighted by the tricks he could do (flipping the ball backwards over his head at a full run, or balancing the ball on his forehead while tying his shoes, etc.). His son was also named Jabez, and as kids, we called him JJ, for Jabez Jr. I know this sounds like a glamourous time, but it was actually quite hard for everyone involved. Jabez Sr. was not wealthy, but struggling, and the agricultural needs of his community were severe. My own father was equal parts cowboy and educator, and so although I make him sound a little like an ambassador, he was more like a farmer with a passport, struggling to understand a culture different than his own. It did inspire me as a child to think of the world as a global community, rather than a series of countries. And Jabez Sr. did have a lot of style, even if he didn't have a lot of money.

When we arrived at the party in a castle in the hills by the shore, I was delighted to find out that the host wasn't the up-and-coming band playing in the yard, but was JJ, who was now evidently, a rather successful music producer. Although we weren’t anywhere near Tunsia, I recognized him the second we walked in.

Jabez Jr. was standing near an antique pool table, not playing pool, but talking to at least three people at once, and while everyone else was drinking Grey Goose or champagne, he instead choose to drink tea from an heirloom cup and saucer that he undoubtably had borrowed from some cabinet he'd found in another room. He handed the cup to the nearly nude model who was approaching him for music-career advice, asked her to hold on to it for a moment, and then tried to sneak over to my side to surprise me. I, of course, had seen him coming, but was pretending I hadn't, playing it cool, so that when he turned to tackle me (acting like the little brother he always was), I ducked out of the way and he ended up tackling an ex-VC banker turned environmentalist who was just drunk enough not to feel the fall. JJ laughed at the mistake, and asked the man if he could get him another drink and then turned to me at last for conversation.

His father had died two years ago, and JJ had been producing music for the last five years. His dad got to see him get his first song declared "gold" and had officially accepted his career choice, as long as he “stayed true to himself.”

We couldn’t just sit there and reminisce forever, so one thing lead to another and pretty soon we had a full scale soccer match staged in the garden. JJ and I were on one team, with the band as our backfield, against the bankers, some guy who owned an airlines, a “fashion exec” and what looked like to be actual athletes who appeared from nowhere once the game began. The band members were skinny, but fierce.

My second assistant was a descent mid-field man, I worked the left striker position and JJ was on the right. Several statues were destroyed (cheap copies, assured JJ) and one goal was scored when the keeper wandered off with one of the more attractive wait staff. One of the bankers laid down and took a nap. The airlines guy dribbled off with the ball into another part of the garden. The band started playing while playing their instruments. No broken bones or lost teeth – not a bad match.

The night ended with a call from Tako. (If you are new to this blog, learn more about Tako here, here and here). Nothing was sweeter than the sound of her voice.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Night Sailing

Nothing relaxes like sailing at night. You can't see it here, but I have a French 75 in one hand and a good book in the other. Wearing my favorite boat shoes always makes me swear like a sailor: courageous rhymes, animated metaphors, unexpected comparisons. Notice the charm, stolen from a couture suit I did for a client friend of mine who wanted something sharp sculpted as a fastener for her bikini - as if to say look out! Get too close and you might get hurt.

When was the last time you read by starlight? It is a challenge, but sets the mood wonderfully.

I have been debating the best course of action for days. I think it cannot be to make more commercial work simply for the sake of selling. My designs have always sold - why chase the ever retreating horizon of someone else's market?

Instead, I am taking aim at simply making the best designs I can. Everything else will sort itself out. So what if I am not a household name? Isn't better to be loved by a few than liked by all?

Where are the poetics in mass production? Even Andy Warhol got tired of that.

The rocking of the boat makes me think of the time my second assistant tried to tattoo himself while we were sailing. He ending up misspelling his own mother's name. Distracting waves - all thoughts are drowned by the immensity of the sea.