Johanna Blakley

Media | Entertainment | Fashion

Archive for November, 2010

Yul Brynner: Best. Cyborg. Ever.

Wow. I’m not sure how this happened, but for some reason I never saw (or even heard of) Michael Chrichten’s campy robots-run-amok movie, Westworld. Lots of interesting material for those of us interested in the singularity (it turns out the robots were programmed by computers, not humans), but also some of the best damn casting I’ve ever seen. It takes a certain kind of talent to make people believe that you’re a robot . . . and not simply robotic (a certain Schwarzenegger comes to mind). Magic happens when the robot reads like a cyborg, as I believe “it” does when Summer Glau tilts her freaky head in The Sarah Connor Chronicles, or in every single one of Yul Brynner’s scenes in Westworld. Brynner is spot on (and terrifying) as a robot gunslinger who’s no longer prepared to die at the hands of childish vacationers who paid big bucks to play cowboys and Indians. When Brynner’s eyes start glowing, I can’t tell where the special effects and the human part ways. It’s a creepy little glimpse (from 1973!) of the uncanny valleys we’ll be crossing as our robots become more and more life-like.


I’m Speaking at TEDWomen!

At long last, TED has announced its line-up of speakers for its first ever TEDWomen event . . . and I’m still having a hard time believing that I’m part of the program! I’ll be in the same session as Donna Karan (!) but I suspect she won’t be talking about fashion, and I know for a fact that I won’t. When I first spoke with Pat Mitchell, the president of the Paley Center for Media and the host of TEDWomen, she assumed that I would give another talk about fashion. It was tempting . . . I adore the topic and there’s plenty to say about the relationship between women and fashion . . . but I resisted. I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed in the TED community as “the fashion gal” when I’ve got so many other juicy research interests.

Of course I immediately regretted my decision because it meant I had to come up with a talk that would be as entertaining and intriguing as the fashion talk, which I’d been refining and honing for several years. And it was relatively easy to make a good looking slideshow about fashion: good fashion is, by definition, pretty good looking.

But how do you make a slideshow about “social media” good looking? It’s the “phenomenon” that everyone’s talking about, but coming up with visuals that capture the spirit of social media is really hard. Bar charts that demonstrate the tremendous reach of social networking platforms may excite the statistically inclined among us, but for most people, they’re a bore.

Fortunately, I have three savvy women helping me out with this presentation — Marlene Vigil and Perry Johnson on research, and Veronica Jauriqui (my savior) working on the slides. I can’t imagine doing it by myself. Hillary was right. It takes a village.

Hopefully my counter-intuitive title, “Social Media & the End of Gender,” will suck them in. And I just added a slide about Mad Men — that should help, right?

Lady Gaga & Me on Current TV

I had a great time with Current TV’s “Modern Lady” Erin Gibson when she came to the Lear Center to find out from a serious academic (ahem) why the ladies are wearing such sleazy costumes these days. I don’t know why they cut all the good bits that I said about Mikhail Bakhtin (!) but the piece is still pretty darn funny.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Lady Gaga & Me on Current TV, posted with vodpod


The Strange Appeal of Well-Worn T-Shirts

Should you wear this shirt if you weren't there?

I got a call for an interview from NPR’s Planet Money and so it gave me an excuse to revisit a great presentation that Rose Apodaca, formerly of Women’s Wear Daily, gave at the Ready to Share conference.

One thing that Apodaca talked about was the huge black market for t-shirts, particularly rock t-shirts, some of which can fetch $1,000. Now that the exchange of digital music files has put a big ol’ dent in profits in the music industry, it’s sort of odd that t-shirt sales at concerts have become a much more important part of the financial pie. Every major rock concert that I’ve gone to over the last few years has featured a more diverse array of t-shirts than I’ve ever seen before. Inevitably, the one I like best is far more expensive than the others . . . and it also looks more worn in.

Why is it we’re willing to pay a premium for a worn-in look? Apodaca talks about the quest for authenticity, which is right on the money, but with concert t-shirts in particular, there’s another valence as well.  A music concert is a collective experience in one particular place at a certain historical moment. Now that we have the ability to grab and sample from the history of music (whether on P2P networks or iTunes) any time we like (asynchronously), I think we have a pretty deep desire to get back on the same page with one another, to experience music in the moment it happens. Buying and wearing a t-shirt that memorializes that moment signals to the world not only what you like, but where you were one night . . . and maybe they were there too . . .

Fashion Innovation in Virtual Worlds

Paper Couture channels Clark Gable and Carole Lombard.

Next, the third and final installment from my interview with Iris Ophelia, the official fashion correspondent for New World Notes, a long-running blog about Second Life, and Blue Mars, another 3D social world. You can follower her on Twitter @bleatingheart. Check out part one and part two of our conversation where we discussed, among other things, Mad Men,  Alexander McQueen and Armani’s ill-fated experiment in Second Life.

OK, here’s the most obvious question: who are your favorite Second Life designers and why?

It’s incredibly hard to pick, though most of my favourites are my favourites because they’re so innovative in addition to the other qualities that I’ll list… I love June Dion because she’s a powerhouse of variety and she takes risks many other designers won’t while keeping her prices unbelievably low.

I’m also a big fan of Dakota Buck because her designs have this really alluring femininity to them that isn’t tarty or trashy and that’s something that really needs to be nurtured more in Second Life’s fashion scene. Zaara Kohime is amazing because she uses colours and patterns and even textures effectively along with really unique ethnic influences.

Nylon Pinkney is without a doubt the patron saint of hand drawing in Second Life and her pieces for her own brand as well as the pieces she contributes to Paper Couture are each works of art on their own, and Emma Gilmour has an equally amazing artistic gift with 3D modeling tools so her sculpted clothing elements are miles ahead of everyone else.

I’ll also admit that I’m very fond of Yukio Ida who designs more fringe fashions, things like fawn hooves and gothic kimonos, because I have tremendous respect for designers who keep true to their own personal tastes and vision, even if those aren’t really mainstream. I’m really happy that Second Life has an environment that allows brands like Ida’s to flourish.



A virtual fashion design by Emma Gilmour.

I’m always looking for Second Life fashions that have some functionality embedded within them. Are there some designers who are pushing the envelope in this direction, developing designs that do interesting things?


That depends on the kind of functionality. There are shoes with scripts that make them click when you walk (though most SL fashionistas look down their nose at this and consider it tacky); purses that have animations in them that make your avatar hold them a certain way; completely prim avatars that blink and change colours (Blue Galaxy has good examples of this), and prim finger nails and feet often come with the ability to control details like polish colour (SLink comes to mind immediately here), stickers and skin colour… I think most of the functionality of fashion is limited to the bells-and-whistles category like those, though the best example of function and fashion meeting is likely the animation override, an attachment that makes you move and pose in a customized way, which almost everyone seems to use at this point.

Other examples can probably be found in the role playing communities which tend to produce gorgeous weapons and accessories that are scripted for combat (personally I’m always on the look out for cute Three Kingdoms-era warfans), but are also excellent accessories in their own right.

Designs by June Dion.

Who are the most innovative designers in world and who are the most influential?

I’d say that Eloh Eliot had a huge impact when she released her skin textures completely free to the community for modification and resale. So many skin designers learned from her templates, and she’s an excellent example of how creatively beneficial open sourcing can be to a community.

There’s also Ginny Talamasca who died several years ago, but who ran one of the largest and most popular virtual brands, Last Call. Talamasca really raised the bar for texture quality, and brought a lot of significant real life trends into Second Life fashion. Even today there are many brands that style themselves after Last Call both in their artistic techniques and their overall image.

LeLutka is a brand that has been very influential in bringing the fierce and scowling runway model look into Second Life. The extreme features of high fashion definitely play a larger part in virtual fashion than they did before LeLutka’s founder started creating in SL– it’s not a look I’m particularly fond of, but it has brought some dramatically different items into the market and I’m always happy to have more variety. That’s what makes Second Life such an incredible fashion playground.