Monday, March 30, 2009

Now That's What I Call Fierce: Part I

A couple of entries back I got testy about the fashion industry's bogus merchandising of "fierce"--meaning riveting--via surly-looking models, aggressively angular poses, in-your-face flaunting of acres of youthful skin, and accessories that would make Torquemada smile in recognition.

I don't like this commoditization of fierce because it's bullshit. True ferocity, of the kind Tyra and panel so enthusiastically espouse, isn't something you can fake. You throw it because you have:

1) Great natural beauty and--critically--belief in it. This faith in the equipment is what allows a supermodel to soar while others mill around on the runway.

2) Finely-tuned physical prowess. Check out sprint- and middle-distance runners as they move up to the blocks. These women can't help but strut, testosterone is coursing through every muscle. Plus, they know that throwing a ripple here and there will initimidate the lessor competitors in the lineup.

3) Intellectual chops. Camille Paglia (whose theories I'm not fond of, but who cut an incredible figure). Michelle Obama. Zaha Hadid. These women look amazing because the strength of their mind has molded their bearing in a way that demands, and rewards, your attention, just as the more classic notion of beauty does.

This is a very roundabout way of getting to today's subject, Renata Adler, here photographed by her friend and colleague Richard Avedon.

Adler's credentials would fill an entire issue of the New Yorker, for which she was a longstanding contributor. Movie critic, prizewinning author on legal affairs, novelist, and usual suspect in that rarified realm of intellectual heavyweights writing for a popular audience, when it really mattered, in the 1970s and 80s.

What I love about the photograph, though, is that this fiercely brainy woman is also radiating serious style. Not in the haute sense, of course, but in the everyday way that most of us long to attain when we've got five minutes to dress and a dayful of mixed obligations that make statement dressing impractical.

While the look is extraordinarily simple, its minimal elements are deliberately managed. Take a pair of jeans. Add a great white linen shirt, cut close to the body. Style with front placket buttons casually undone, and long sleeves very carefully rolled to short-sleeve level. Accessorize with a watch whose plain band matches the shirt. Tan at your own risk.

Anybody can do this, on any sort of budget, and look pretty damn good. But to look fierce as Renata if you're not a natural beauty, or athlete, hit the books. You'll eventually look indominatable, in a way that time can't touch.

(Photo 1978 by Richard Avedon, reproduced in Woman in a Mirror © 2005 The Richard Avedon Foundation)

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