Sometimes I really do get lucky. Last week I had the great fortune to bump into the photographer Paul Lange and his wife Jennifer in the cafeteria at the Chicago Botanic Garden. They were visiting from New York, having been invited by the The Botanic Garden to exhibit a series that Lange has been working on for the last few years entitled Big Blooms. The Big Blooms series (on exhibit at the CBG through April) is as much a celebration of the miracle of flowers as fine art portraiture. Each flower is captured on a white background, as to illuminate the insane color palette of nature. I found the transparency of each subject’s petals to be mesmerizing. The scale of these pieces is dramatic. Each flower piece is enormous, as big as a tabletop, the bloom being centered on the piece like a face. Jennifer Lange explained to me that each flower is named after subjects (often models) that Paul, a longtime fashion photographer for Conde Nast, worked with. The Bette, for example is a straight-up Bette Midler. I mean dead- on, with such personality! The Paulina is very much evocative of Paulina Porizkova, the Czech model.
It’s a Vigilante-esque story, Paul’s transition from fashion photography at the highest levels in the field (on contract with Vogue, etc.) to a more personally-directed fine art career based on his passions. He now does what he loves. I asked Paul about it, and we joked that it was nice to have the freedom to work with people you like. One of their early collectors has been Aerin Lauder of the Estee Lauder makeup empire, whom they have enjoyed working with. I will have to post separately about his Fowl Portraits series, which, like Big Blooms, captures the personalities of chickens and roosters, illuminating their majestic colors and plumes but against a black background that given them a certain gravitas.
On a sidenote, why is it that brilliance often occurs when an expert in his/her field attempts something slightly off-topic? Like the seasoned fashion photographer turning to nature as his subject (Paul Lange) or the experienced New Yorker cartoonist turning to illustrating children’s books (Ian Falconer), etc. There is a nugget in there. Like, own your field but then shift just slightly off center to find your sweet spot. I just have not sorted out just what this formula is. But in the meantime, soak in some beauty on Paul Lange’s site and get yourself primed for the budding of spring.
Profiles in Vigilante Living introduces us this week to Sami Young, a beautiful Chicago twenty-something who recently made a rather Vigilante move: she packed up her city apartment in Wicker Park and moved to the suburbs. Quite in opposition to the tidal wave of hipsters streaming from the suburban periphery into the Big City, Sami and her boyfriend Brian are emblematic of the Vigilante idea of “living life on your own terms.” In their case, the rebellion was seeking a rural-suburban community in which to shack up cozily. To be avant-garde suburbanites. Sami, a make-up artist with Chicago’s premier make-up studio Sonia Roselli, loved living in Chicago, but craved more open space to walk her dog, and square footage to hold weekend parties (something that was significantly harder to do in the city.) “We were always eating out.” she says of living in the city. Overall, it’s been a hugely positive change: Sami still gets to see shows on a regular basis (she and Brian are deep into the Chicago music scene), they are geographically closer to their families, and lastly, because Sami’s work takes her to Chicago nearly every day, she doesn’t really miss urban life. What’s best about living in the suburbs? “Oh! The peace and quiet. Birds! Trees!” says Sami. “Not to mention our pets who enjoy a significantly improved quality of life out in nature.”
So, in their new suburban life, will you find Sami and Brian out on an evening stroll in matching track suits? Well, maybe as a joke! But Sami is not afraid to rock an entirely original dog-walking outfit — she typically throws on her grandma’s full length fur coat to walk the dog, paired with huge Jackie O sunglasses. “I probably look 70 years old” she jokes. Sami’s style is utterly original. When I first met her, my first impression was that of a petite Brigitte Bardot (all lashes and 60s hair) combined with the freshest-face full of sweetness and freckles. Her everyday fashion sense is Vigilante too. She’s not afraid to shop at Target, pair a simple teeny-bopper dress with authentic 1940s vintage jackets and home-made jewelry. Sami loves thrifting and finds that her new suburban digs offer many untapped opportunities for vintage shopping where the stores are not insanely picked-over. “Some of Chicago’s suburbs are really cute little villages. Little gems. People in the city would never know about them.” Sami’s lack of snobbery so irresistibly refreshing. Sami embodies the idea that YOU are where the cool is. Your neighborhood is not your street cred. YOU are your street cred. And when Sami moved to the suburbs, guess what? That’s where the house party is now: “Nearly every weekend we entertain.” Sami giggles. “We barbeque, we have cocktails, we play our music and hangout. It’s awesome!”
As a recovering city planner (my career prior to Vigilante Paper and illustration) this is sacrilege, to applaud a city-dweller’s move to the suburbs. But what I have learned is that one cannot judge another for the decisions that make them happy. And that the suburbs can be places of poetry and mischief just like the city. It’s much more Vigilante to be like the beautiful Sami and, with open arms, embrace the unpopular thing — and with a full heart and irrepressible sense of optimism, make it your own.
As a native Californian now located in the Midwest, it has taken me several years to develop methodologies for how to survive winter. Here are some Vigilante Living tools for my friends in the wintery climates to keep in mind while getting through these next few months.
1. Wear bright colors. Go right now to the sale section of JCrew.com and pick yourself up something wildly colorful that will cheer you up. Houseoflavande.com is a marvelous resource for vintage jewelry of high quality that you will not find anywhere else.
2. Buy insanely colorful items for your home or apartment. Christmas is over, and if you didn’t get what you wanted, go to Bellocchio.com and buy yourself a magnificent turquoise metlasse box to hide all your trinkets in. They are not expensive but they look it.
3. Wear a dab of perfume — behind your ears and your knees. If you are a guy, work a smidge of aftershave. Try Sephora.com for small bottles in new fragrances so you can test them out.
4. Pour yourself a drink and make a homey warm dinner. Just forget about salad. It does not help you feel better in winter. Make yourself a hot cider for dessert if you still do not feel the sunshine running through your veins.
5. Music is the most essential blues breaker for winter doldrums. If you want to spice things up cheaply, get a used record instead of hitting up iTunes — record shops are curious places where you can stumble upon something magical — get a record to just to shake it up and actually read some liner notes. The tactile nature of a record will go well with your cocktail at the end of the day! Tropical music, like ska, reggae, salsa, or other latin music will do wonders for your sun-deprived self.
6. The next time you are at your corner bodega or grocery store, look at the flowers for sale. If they are not dying and brighly colored, just buy them. Even baby’s breath look nice on your kitchen windowsill or on your desk at work. (I am not a flower snob. Almost every plant has some beneficial qualities.) The smell of something alive is not to be underestimated. Plants are great too — but only if you remember to water them. A dead plant is only going to add to your winter woes.
I hope these tools for surviving winter are at least a little helpful. They are not avant-garde, but they are cheap and appeal to everyone’s need for color, humor, and desire for JOY in everyday life. For those of you in California, India or Australia (where it’s now summertime) please do have a margarita for me and take a look at your legs. I totally forget what mine look like they’ve been in pants for so long.
Sayonara from the polar vortex….
This is a post about Marianna Sachse, a case study in Vigilante Style and it’s power. Marianna’s husband is my longtime childhood friend from summer camp. Even as a teen, he was an erudite, badass little Beastie Boy with big plans. He married his equal: Marianna is brainy, creative and nurturing, with street smarts and a dancer’s graceful body. She is an amazing woman with ideas and the energy to implement them. Last year, Marianna was diagnosed with cancer. This is her account of true Vigilante Living — namely, the unconventional approach she took to dealing with hair loss after chemo.
When you get kicked in the face by a cancer diagnosis, you expect that tough roads are ahead and that you will have to say goodbye to your talisman of beauty: your hair. Nine months into my cancer journey I finished chemo and lost my hair at the same time. No one told me that my hair might continue to fall out after I finished treatment. So there I was, watching my hair pile up in the drain and scatter on my pillowcase, wondering what to do about my hair post-chemo.
I was done with treatment and finally feeling better, the last thing I wanted was to look sick. I’d had enough of that, thank you. I’d beat cancer and come out the other side stronger. I needed to look like it. So what to do? Classic chemo solutions just didn’t seem my style. I didn’t want to futz with wigs and scarves. My solution: rock the ‘hawk. When cancer kicks you in the face, fight back like a punk with a Mohawk.
I admire you, Marianna. You are fierce and elegant.
You can read more about Marianna here: www.fullydomesticated.com.
Is it a cliche to discuss Frida Kahlo’s style, beauty and fashion sense? Surely! However, to ignore the fashion influence of the Mexican painter would be like passing up a mention of Galileo in the history of astronomy. Kahlo is part of fashion’s collective memory: when we see someone with hair parted down the middle with roses piled high like a crown, or in a full skirt of vibrant colors, we think of her. Kahlo’s gifts as a painter and her perseverance in the face of hardship (childhood polio, thirty operations to correct serious injuries from a traffic accident, her famously unfaithful husband Diego Rivera) are part of her legacy. Seldom do people say the obvious: Frida Kahlo was a fox. She was a woman for whom beauty was never the endgame; but because of her soulfulness, her dedication to her work, and her attention to her own physical self (hence the many self-portraits) she became an epic beauty. By embracing what was uncommon about her appearance (i.e. bold eyebrows) she actually made herself more striking. Lives such as Kahlo’s teach us that seeking out conventional beauty is pretty much a dead end: it’s the originals who stand the test of time.
Chronicle Books has come out with Frida Kahlo Paper Dolls. How lovely!
This scene from the film American Beauty has stayed with me, years after I first saw it. It was such an eloquent way of demonstrating how visually poetic little everyday moments can be. You just have to open your eyes to them. Below are some random photographs I’ve taken in places that should ostensibly be deemed ugly — but are not when you look at them in the right way.
The dancing plastic bag scene from the film American Beauty.
A wet street somewhere in the suburban Palm Springs area,
The view out of my old San Francisco studio apartment.
A messy music studio.
I have long coveted the Vigilante-ness of a low bun, or braid, parted in the middle a la Frida Kahlo. The revolutionary nature of this hairdo upon your life cannot be underestimated. Just imagine the time saved every morning! A low bun, parted in the middle, adds instant elegance to what clothes are bring worn — and stands is stark contrast to the ubiquitous Hollywood cheesefactory bedroom hairdos on every magazine cover. Some of my favorite contemporary middle-part wearers are Beatrix Ost and Olya Thompson (whom I went to college with and has always been stunning and original.) A certain ballerina crispness sets the wearer apart , and suggests confidence. Pulled back hair adds drama to clothing, begging the introduction of jewelry and flowers around the face, and elongates the neck. It’s pretty, in a dignified way.
The amazing Beatrix Ost