Fashion Inspiration of the Day: Lillian Bassman

Around this time of year, I find myself settling into the mundane cycle of school life. School has been in session for months already, Christmas break rife with relaxation and twinkling lights is almost here, and the weight of impending exams and papers has significantly increased. As a result, my sense of fashion has also fallen into a rut. I’ve found myself settling into a daily pattern: boots, jeans, sweater, and scarf. It’s not that I don’t have time to think about an outfit—I just feel uninspired. So in the hope of curing an enduring sense of ennui, I looked to fashion idols, photographs, and the people around me. After searching for a source of inspiration, I found mine in a series of photographs by Lillian Bassman.


Image courtesy of

Bassman died earlier this year at the age of 94, and for most of her life, she was known as a master of fine-art photography. Bassman was a true New York woman: she was born in Brooklyn, grew up in the Bronx, and studied in Manhattan. Her life changed when she became an unpaid apprentice at Harper’s Bazaar in 1941, as she would go on to become one of the magazine’s top photographers. A true artist, Bassman experimented with lighting, contrast, and the willowy forms of her models to create beautiful, dreamy portraits of women who seem almost abstracted.




Images courtesy of


Image courtesy of





Images courtesy of

Bassman, however, was known most famously, or infamously, for destroying almost all of her commercial negatives in 1969 after becoming disgusted by the models and changing aesthetics of the fashion industry. Later in life, Bassman would re-interpret her remaining negatives with further experimentation and revisit what made her so popular in the first place.

Despite the vicissitudes of her career, I have felt the power of her photography. Many of the images are simply breathtaking, and looking at them is like stumbling upon a hazy dream of remarkable fashion and remarkable women. Hopefully, these photographs can serve to inspire anyone who is currently suffering from this listless sense of ennui.

Fashion for a Better World: Creating Change in the Triangle Area

Fashion can tell the stories of who we are and who we want to be. When you wear a bold dress or a piece of jewelry handed down to you by a grandmother, you are not simply trying on meaningless objects. The pieces transform when you wear them—that skin-to-fabric contact creates a bond—a fantasy, a reality. On a less personal note, fashion can tell us about the cultural and social norms of a time. Yves Saint Laurent’s 1966 tuxedo suit, Le Smoking, made a strong statement about female power, as it was the first popular tuxedo suit for women. Similarly, in 2001, Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer show, Voss, questioned the modeling industry’s obsession with creating a standard formula for female beauty. Thus, fashion has an impact on the way we feel, think, and see.

However, popular cultural and a majority of the world seem to have one view of the fashion industry, a view filtered through the lens of such phenomenon as The Devil Wears Prada. This image of the fashion industry consists of a cold, snobby, and cutthroat consumerist realm based in New York and inaccessible to the rest of the world. But if the fabulous designers from Friday night’s Fashion for a Better World show have anything to say about it, that perception of the fashion industry will be shattered. A part of UNC’s larger Global Entrepreneurship Week, Fashion for a Better World emphasized the power of rising female entrepreneurs and the growing market of sustainable fashion in the Research Triangle. Hosted by Symbology, a label that uses fashion to empower female artisans, the event showcased works by six different female designers. Additionally, Brooks Bell, founder of an enterprise-level testing and optimization firm, spoke about her experience as a female entrepreneur and the necessity of taking small risks to build confidence. Mor Aframian, from Redress Raleigh, also celebrated the modern female entrepreneur in her speech about the emergence of a sustainable fashion industry in North Carolina.

But it was the surprise celebrity guest speaker of the night, five-time Grammy nominee Nnenna Freelon who so eloquently captured the spirit of the entire night: “It’s not just about looking cute, it’s about spreading the love and the wealth and the beauty…So we can all feel good on multiple levels.” Nnenna also spoke to the notion of creating this sustainable fashion industry right here in North Carolina when she succinctly stated, “Bloom where you are planted.” You don’t have to go to New York, Milan, or Paris to interact with fashion. There’s an entire fashion industry blooming in the Research Triangle, and during Fashion for a Better World, the audience was finally able to witness it. And what I saw was not just any fashion but fashion with heart. Fashion grounded in social and environmental consciousness.

The first designer to send her looks down the runway was Oami Powers, founder of the contemporary clothing line, Judah Ross. Powers noted the importance of personal history in her edgy and eclectic designs. On her decision to go green as a designer, Oami said, “You want to feel good about the clothes you are wearing, you don’t want to feel like you’re having a really detrimental effect on the planet…” A true believer in the Slow Fashion movement, Oami emphasized the need for quality over quantity in her designs. This quality was evident in all her pieces from the night. One particular stunner was this hand-dyed watercolor skirt, no doubt influenced by Powers’ background as a painter. Oami’s attention to fabric and color can also be seen in her other dresses.

Photographs courtesy of Josh Kongmany

Following Powers’ Judah Ross was Kim Kirchstein of Leopold Designs. Motivated by a love for shape, pattern, and texture, Kirchstein has created gorgeous scarves for Leopold Designs in the past but notes that she is now making more of a transition to wearable garments. Her collection vibrated with color and intricate patterns.

Photographs courtesy of Josh Kongmany

This skirt with its blue swirling pattern was beautiful, and Kirchstein’s final look, a fiery dress, was a showstopper. Kirchstein’s clothes had an easy, flowing feel to them, but the colors and patterns kept the designs sharp. On her desire to pursue sustainable fashion, Kirchstein said, “The health of the entire planet is affecting people more on an individual basis [now]…”

Next up on the runway was Mamafrica, founded by Ashley Nemiro, a current PhD student who splits her time between school in Chapel Hill and Mamafrica in the Democratic Republic Congo. This non-profit organization takes a holistic approach to changing the lives of internally displaced women in the DRC who are often victims of sexual violence. Nemiro emphasizes that fashion “is one component, but it’s not the biggest.” Nemiro’s team also teaches health literacy and offers counseling for the Mamas of Mamafrica. The actual creation of clothing is part of the organization’s efforts to create economic opportunities for these women. Of the clothing, Nemiro comments, “All of our stuff is very unique. Everything is one-of-a-kind.” Set against Alicia Keys’ “Girl is on Fire,” the colorful and patterned garments that came down the runway showcased this spirit of individuality. But Nemiro emphasizes that the program not only celebrates individuality but also the creation of community: “It’s important that I know every single woman’s name who comes through the program…Once a woman has come through Mamafrica, she’s always a Mama.”

Photographs courtesy of Josh Kongmany

After Mamafrica’s vividly colorful designs came the softer, earthy hues of Organicality, an eco-lifestyle company dedicated to selling products that contain only organic and sustainable fibers certified under Fair Trade conditions. Carrie Huitt Rueben, the founder of Organicality, has become a leader in sustainable fashion, and her chic collection of laid-back knits was perfect for fall and perfect for the environmentally conscious. Bags and wallets from Callie Brauel’s non-profit, A Ban Against Neglect, completed Organicality’s outfits. A Ban Against Neglect is a non-profit organization based in Accra, Ghana that helps girls off the street in Accra and recycles the plastic bags that litter Accra’s roads. By teaching girls how to sew bags made out of these plastic bags and other materials, ABAN provides a financial boost and an environmental boost to the community of Accra, Ghana.

Photographs courtesy of Josh Kongmany

Marissa Heyl of Symbology closed the fashion show with her Fall 2012 collection. Titled Peacocks and Paisleys, this collection’s crisp patterns, modern silhouettes, and interesting cutout designs created a dynamic set of looks. For example, the flair of this dress and the bright color made for a stunning opening piece. Another favorite of mine was this patterned dress that could easily translate from day to night.

Photographs courtesy of Josh Kongmany

Finally, this modern red dress with an interesting cutout stole the show for me. To round out the collection, performers danced to Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls),” creating an atmosphere of high energy and female strength.

Heyl founded Symbology with the intention of empowering women and creating a source of income for artisans in developing countries. Named because of Heyl’s interest in how symbols are imbued with cultural meaning, Heyl explains the thinking behind Symbology: “[Symbology is] not only a thread that connects us as humans but is interested in the symbolic nature of our dresses, our pieces…Every dress tells a story, something that connects women, empowering women, celebrating art forms that are dying, providing customers with works of art.”

Heyl uses textiles made by artisans in India and provides these artisans with a steady demand and fair income. Her innovative approach to fashion has changed the way in which we view sustainable fashion. In this case, Heyl has created sustainable relationships with artisans in India. She noted how larger companies like Anthropologie sometimes partner with poorer artisans, but after using these artisans, the companies leave. So no permanent solution to their lack of income has been established. Symbology, on the other hand, thrives on these close relationships. Heyl explained that being on the ground and talking to people in these developing countries has served as the basis of her professional relationships with the artisans.

Marissa Heyl’s commitment to creating communities focused on bettering the world through fashion has resulted in not only Symbology but also Friday’s Fashion for a Better World. Heyl brought together a group of women in North Carolina to show how amazing female collaboration can be. The night also solidified the importance of creating fashion to sustain the world and the people who live in it. Most of all, the night allowed me a glimpse of an alternate fashion universe, one where fashion tells the stories of who we are and who we will be. One where snobby exclusivity is replaced by heart and a desire to see change in the world.

Jenny Packham -New York Fashion Week Fall 2012

Jenny Packham, Kate Middleton’s go-to designer, surprised viewers this season with a bold, edgy collection inspired by 40’s film stars. Far from her usual collections of ethereal, ladylike bridal wear and dresses, the designer featured stunning ensembles with sharp shoulders and lots of embellishments.


Image Courtesty of ImaxTREE

The show opened with a cloud of smoke as models strutted down the runway, sporting coiffed hairstyles and blood-red lips. Packham said her inspiration for the collection was the time of film noir, a period known for “dark mood lighting and even darker morals.” Her looks suggested just that.


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The collection, perfect for the modern, burlesque-loving girl, featured daring looks such as a black silk jumpsuit and a dramatic gown in an all-over black and white floral.  The dresses were all about the shoulders.  They were either capped-sleeved, one-shouldered, or dripping in studs and beading.  The looks were prim, yet tough, with a dramatic black and white palette with pops of red and sky blue.


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The noteworthy looks were a sequence of gorgeous, Oscar-worthy gowns with plunging necklines and dazzling embellishments. Packham revisited her talent for making beautiful gowns, however, this time with more drama and sex appeal.


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Although this vampy look may not be appropriate for the college student, we can take some styling tips from Jenny Packham. Add a touch of Old Hollywood glamor to your everyday life by working heavy embellishments and retro silhouettes into your wardrobe.

Model Profile: Karlie Kloss

After watching the countless amount of shows from  the Spring 2012 season, I have seen so many new faces and talent on the runways. There was one face that I truly remembered and has been taking notice throughout the fashion industry with her signature walk and beautiful face; Karlie Kloss.

At just 19 years old, Kloss has been considered one of the greats. Karlie at first had dreams of becoming a ballerina; but at just 13 years old walking in a fashion show in her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri Karlie was then discovered by a modeling agent. From then on, she proceeded to take modeling seriously and moved to New York to start her career. In her first runway season being signed to NEXT Model Management, Karlie Kloss walked a number of 64 shows. Kloss was already born to be a star.

Kloss has been shot in advertisements for Yves Saint Laurent, Gap, Oscar de la Renta, Dolce & Gabbana, and more. She has also been featured in editorials for Vogue, W, Elle and Allure. I can already see her being more successful things in the future. The question on everyone’s mind: what is Ms. Kloss going to do next? I’m afraid we’ll have to wait and see!

You can see her signature strut opening for the John Galliano Spring 2012 show in the video below.

Closets You Can’t Help But Covet

The racks of clothes, shoes and bags in the closet of The Devil Wears Prada is enough to make any fashionista drool, and when Anne Hathaway’s character brings home new clothes and shoes every day, we begin to wonder: what does a fashion editor’s closet really look like? Thanks to a new website launched by stylist Stephanie Mark and clothing designer Erin Kleinberg, we now have an inside look. (not to be confused with offers a peek into the closets of some of the top magazine market editors, buyers, fashion publicists, and designers. Photographer Jake Rosenberg goes behind the scenes and artistically captures the pieces that collectively make a fabulous collection worth coveting.

The fashion icons provide commentary on each piece – why they love it, where it came from, the significance it has on their daily fashion decisions, or even what inspired them to purchase the item. From the images of Jane Keltner De Valle’s impressive shoe display to Mary Kate Steinmiller’s collection of mini skirts, every photo captures the essence of style and luxury that comprises every closet.  As the Dries Van Noten quote on the website states, “It’s more interesting to have just a picture of a small detail – then you can dream all the rest around it. Because when you see the whole thing, what is there to imagine?”  The showcased items captivate and enthrall the viewing audience while also manifesting the icon’s personal style. With eight closets added in the past week, this site will definitely become the fashionista’s new obsession!

Photos by Jake Rosenberg –

Friday Fashion Shorts

JC Penney Takes Two with Mary-Kate and Ashley

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They’ve inspired a following of fans with their straight-to-VHS movies, produced a K-Mart line to allow their fans to dress in their name, designed their lines Elizabeth and James and The Row, and now, although they’re not the young little babies that they were on Full House, Mary-Kate and Ashley are at it again, still sticking together.

The lower-priced junior brand, called Olsenboye, will be sold at starting November 6th for a limited time before the official launch in February 2010. The line is described as “a casual sportswear and accesories collection that includes denim, bottoms, tops, dresses, skirts, shorts, jackets, handbags and shoes.” Olsenboye pieces will retail between $20 and $50.

Betsey Johnson Honored

Tuesday night, whimsical fashion designer Betsey Johnson was awarded the Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement by the National Arts Club.  Her portrait now hangs alongside the likes of Carolina Herrera and Carol Oates.  Johnson, who got her start in the 1960’s, is well known for her off-the-wall yet stylish pieces.  She lived up to this reputaion when she showed up to the awards in blue stretch capris, a signature pink tutu, and an Andy Warhol inspired tee.  Betsey is known for her participation in the ’60s rock and roll lifestyle, but she is also remembered for her groundbreaking achievements in the fashion world.  She was the first American designer to have her own store in New York City, and was among the first to open a boutique on Melrose in Los Angeles.  Johnson might be a fashion and business mogul, but her personality shines through every outfit she designs.  Check out her new collection at  It’s edgy and has that punk rock aspect that Betsey has become known for in the fashion world.

Celebrating a Lifetime of Tutus, Betsey Johnson Receives Medal of Honor
Johnson at the National Arts Club

Image courtesy of Yahoo Fashion News

One of Johnson’s famous sketches

Image courtesy of Elle Girl Magazine’s Prom Edition



Local Fashion Expert: Wendy Gow

Wendy Gow is a local fashion expert, image consultant, and wardrobe stylist who currently lives in Chapel Hill, NC. She is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and has over 25 years of experience in the beauty and fashion industry including Sales Education and PR with Lauder Corporation, a buyer position with Abraham and Straus, and runway modeling.

Her clientele is spread throughout the U.S., in cities like New York and Atlanta, and has recently expanded to include international clients.  I happen to be one of her clients and I must say that she is the best of the best! She knows what is trendy, where to shop, and how to find the best deals. I now have a complete wardrobe, filled with pieces that can mix-and-match!

Wendy is a warm-hearted, welcoming person and loves to work with UNC students so don’t hesitate to send her an email with any questions about fashion, whether its for help updating or redoing a wardrobe, or picking an outfit for an interview!

Click here for her website and more information.