Friday, October 16, 2009

Style Ballast

Standing taller than her, looking down her forehead while holding her close, her face becomes a landscape. I can see the lovely shape of her eyebrows, and the delicate rise of her upper eyelids, the fanned elongation of her eyelashes, the peak of her nose, and the flowering of her lips that fades to the valley of her neck just past the curve of her chin. In love with Tako more than ever, I hold her close and keep staring. She looks up, and I melt.

The interstitial space between the fabric and the woman is the essence of drape. In cutting a dress, you construct this space and nothing more. The rest is decoration.

Faint, faint, if any

Said Vreeland to her assistant.

Watching a woman walk is to evaluate the placement of potential drape. How much swing, and where are the points off which to hang the cavalcade? When she stops walking, how will it settle? When she stands, with one hip slightly higher than the other, the interstitial space should feel expressly manifest as a static form as well as ripe with the potential for the polymorphism of movement.

As King Lear said, "Ripeness is all."

Speeding at night towards an unmoving deer that has been stunned by your headlights, you can sense this ripeness for movement. The deer will jump, but which way?

Ballast in a boat provides stability but can decrease your speed. There is a perfect weight for optimal speed and maneuverability. Ballast in taste is a lightweight affair, but it needs to be there. How much baggage do you bring with you to ensure your judgement is meaningful, and how much baggage is just too much extra weight, slowing you down and causing you to make long wide turns? With no ballast at all, you just skip across the top, but can easily flip and sink.

Why does anyone care about clothes? There is no larger meaning to apparel, but there are limitless smaller ones.

Back on the street, watching a figure walk towards you, calculating the length of her stride and the off-set tilting of her hips, so that a traveling ellipse could be created in space that wobbles to the side as it tracks the peaks of her hips, pivoting on a disembodied sacrum that moves forward with each step, and slides slightly to each side when it pivots, so that it sea-saws like the profile view of a canoe travelling over rolling waves of river water; you can sense a virtual representation of this particular woman's style ballast. She carries it in her hips. She dips it side to side while moving it forward. Tracing the path of this virtual flow would yield a graceful wake of movement, like when you drag a gentle finger zig-zagging through the icing on a cake.

I cut clothes in my mind. Is this unreasonable? I doubt I'll stop thinking about drape, about the interstitial space, or about the tracking of someone's style ballast.

Watching someone sitting there, I often imagine the slight adjustments I might make to their shirt or trousers. Often it is a small change, such as raising the shoulder break, or more usually a shoulder strap, by just one or two centimeters. Sometimes it is a larger change, but for that I have to imagine something of his or her frame, such as the line of the clavicles, so that my hopes for an alteration are based on something essential about that particular body. But mostly, alterations are just after-thoughts, easy things to do in your mind when you glance over in someone's direction but don't wish to have a conversation. A harder thing is to design from scratch. Everything else is wordplay.

Calling out after her as she walks down the hall, not because you have anything more to say, but only for the reason that if you call with just the right tone in your voice, she will half-turn back towards you while continuing to walk forward, and this elongated twist, this sloping S-curve that not only rocks forward and back, but also right to left, is the essence of all sculpture - she is moving in space, but connected back to you. She coming and going, locked in, yet leaving, a part of the current moment, and moving toward something else. The transition of the figure is the teleos of drape.

Where were we when we first realized that we were on the edge of no longer being very young, and then that edge extended, and kept broadening, and then started to slip away in an asymptotic gloaming? Youth is everlasting only as a constant glimmering fade.

Near the surface of the water, the trout flashes its silver body and shakes free the hook. In the boat, we reel in the line, and re-bait the hook.

Is there any more compelling argument for the existence of poetics than the natural body of a woman? What is more beautiful? What is more elegant or more hypnotic? Watching the woman you love look over at you and smile is to draw an invisible chord between the ends of the arc that starts in her mind and ends somewhere deep within your chest - at a location that is near your perceived center of gravity, somewhere between your gut and your heart.

How high should the armhole ride on a woman's blouse? If it is too high, it can bind and cause difficult pulling across the front panels. If it is too low, the entire torso lacks any will to exist. The answer seems to be to place the armhole as high as you can without looking like you are trying too hard to get it there. The armhole should feel unforced, but also superior - just a little higher than normal - and just a little bit better placed - but not in a way that calls attention to itself. The woman will simply look better and no one knows why. Her arms are just a little more elegantly connected than expected, due to the subtle placement of the armhole.

When is it best to show your neck and when is it best to hide it? The elongated neck of a woman is the twisting tree trunk of beauty. It rises from her bosom and extends to her eyes before being carried by her hair to the atmosphere. If her hair is down, the neck curves around in the shadows, if her hair is up, it is both brave and vulnerable. An exposed neck should be worn fearlessly - delicately, elegantly, but fearlessly.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dream vs Reality TV

A first look at the Serg Riva Reality TV show...

You may remember that a few weeks ago I agreed to doing a Reality TV show. Well, we are finally starting to see some of the footage.

(please be patient while the video loads below, and if you're at work, wear your headphones, there's both creepy music and a deadpan voiceover...)

Serg Riva: Dream vs Reality from Serg Riva on Vimeo.

Ever feel like you are caught between a dream and daily life? Serg Riva knows the feeling. Why does he keep dreaming of his own murder? Is it his life or his high fashion atelier that is at risk? Who is the masked woman? Who is the dancer? What is the meaning of the man in the chauffeured car? Judge for yourself.

About the Video...
Even though Tako is my most trusted companion, I still never know what will make it into an episode and what will get cut. She tells both my true story and a fictional version of it at the same time.

For instance, I told her about a dream I had where I was murdered. We had been watching night after night of Film Noir classics, like Double Indemnity and Criss-Cross and so I told her my own dark, noir dream. The cameras were rolling and so she got the whole story on tape, right down to the flat-fake-film-noir voice I used to tell the story.

But then when I saw the episode, instead of showing me sitting there telling everyone about it, she attempted to re-create the dream. She cut together pieces of my life that she'd already filmed and lined them up to match my story. Next, whenever I mentioned something that was in the dream, but didn't happen in real life, she sent her crew out and filmed it as a "re-creation" using the members of her crew and sometimes complete strangers as actors to fill in the gaps.

The result is something like a reconstructed dream. As the person who had the dream, the experience is unsettling. But I'm proud of Tako, I think she did a great job.

Posted here is the first peak at the Serg Riva Reality TV show. It is the Dream Sequence I just described. Tako and I still haven't decided what to call the show. I want to name it "Interstitial Orrery" whereas she is voting for "The Urge to Serg."

Serg Riva: The Urge to Serg

Too much? Not enough? If you can think of a better name for the show, please let me know.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Waking while the night persists, with the sound of waves on either side of me, the stars old and drifting, the moon hot, but cut by the Earth’s shadow, and my body warm against the cold of the sea, I am pulled to thoughts of fashion, and how I might create something transformative. No amount of description is enough. I must not describe – but instead must transform. Without transformation, we have only text, not poetics - we have illustration, not art - we have memory but with no poignancy.

I design swimwear. This is my curse. If designers are at odds with the cultural hierarchy - with opera, painting, sculpture, dance, theatre and literature firmly at the top, and cinema, fashion, architecture, and graphic design somewhere further down - then as a swimwear designer, I am near the bottom.

A plain nude figure is not sexualized, but is instead anatomical. Pose the figure in a certain way and it gains the hint of a narrative. Partially drape the figure, and it suddenly reeks of sex. Desire is always in a state of partially revealing itself. If completely revealed, it disappears. It can only cast the shadow of it’s own making. A hint of a second intent.

All fashion exploits this tension. Swimwear, however, is mistrusted most, as it is so close to the final reveal as to threaten the elimination of the narrative and to send us back to the anatomy with no trace of the poetry. We desire literature. We crave story.

As a swimwear designer, I have to work twice as hard to find a way towards narrativity. The story of your own internal world is the one I’m trying to represent. The story of your body is already told; I must instead use the body as a landscape to reveal your intent, your thoughts, your desires, and your mind.

When I start a collection, I do not start by thinking of a woman, but instead I start by thinking of a gesture, a motion seen by accident that reveals the woman is thinking of something that unlocks her inner story. Sometimes it is how she places her hand around a cup or how she slowly slides her fingers into the pocket of her coat. Other times, it is how she shifts her weight from one leg to the other, causing a cascade of angles all the way up through her shoulders and neck. Mostly, however, it is how she covers or uncovers her eyes. Pulling her hair to the side, looking up when you would expect she’d look down, glancing sideways with a long pull across her own face – a woman will reveal her inward thoughts by how she reveals her own vision. Do not look to her hips or chest for clues - whatever signals emanate from those regions are decoys at best. Instead watch how she chooses to reveal her own looking. The gesture, if you catch it, will be brief.

Everyone thinks being a designer is easy, that my decisions are a capricious yawn I turn with fickle pleasure to declare this color or that silhouette to be the most desirable for a particular season.

Wallstreet goes up and down for specific reasons even if the results seem random or superstitious. The reasons are more complicated and fragile, however, when it comes to what to wear, as we are not concealing our desires, but draping them across our bodies.

Early encounters with social derision keep our senses on high alert when it comes to apparel. We know that someone is always around the corner ready to point out when we fail to get it right. But fashion is an aggregate wisdom; the group learns by churning upon itself. Mistakes are mutated into innovation. Dead ideas are pruned away, but never forgotten for long. New ideas take shape. New desires find their voice. The crowd rolls over the old and recycles the new.

Fashion cannot exist without a crowd. But it also cannot exist without instigators. Designers are both members of the crowd and mischievous outsiders who disrupt and disturb the old in order to perpetuate the new.

We claim our clothes keep us warm, protect us from nature, give us comfort, and keep us dry. We are even willing to admit that some clothes make us feel good through their intrinsic materials: soft cashmere, warm wool, ligneous, yet diaphanous linen. And yet - with the exception of the mountaineer sleeping in a cave of ice, we are not comforted by materials, but rather, we are comforted by ideas.

It is the idea of sensuality and the idea of beauty that drives the orrery of fashion. But we are cautious to admit taking pleasure in these ideas. We deny the sexuality of an overcoat in order to keep the power of its mystery intact.