The Most Glamorous Store In America

Container Store shelves

The most glamorous store in America may be going public.

I don’t mean Neiman Marcus Inc. -- or Bergdorf Goodman, which it owns -- although the luxury retailer is glamorous to many people, and it did just file for an initial public offering.

I’m talking about Container Store Inc.

The retailer, which has 61 stores and two more opening this fall, is known as an exemplary employer, ranking high on Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list for 14 years running. It avoided layoffs after the 2008 downturn. It talks a lot about values, and its executives regularly say things like, “We all know we’re doing more than selling a product.”

All those good feelings -- and the sales that topped $750 million last year -- depend on something every Container Store customer knows well: The store’s merchandising is amazingly seductive. Like a luxury retailer, the Container Store gets a premium price for its products and persuades people to buy more than is strictly necessary because, knowingly or not, it traffics in glamour.

Glamour is not a synonym for luxury, celebrity or fashion. It isn’t a style, like mirrored furniture or satin dresses. Like humor, it’s a form of communication that elicits a distinctive emotional response. Glamour lets us feel that the life we yearn for is almost within our grasp. It is a powerful form of nonverbal persuasion.

“We’re really selling not space as much as we are time,” says Chief Executive Officer Kip Tindell. Like the sight of chairs looking seaward on a white sandy beach or a model strutting down a runway in the latest fashions, a walk through a Container Store makes a customer imagine a better self in better circumstances. With the right equipment, it suggests, your life can be peaceful and orderly, giving you more time to relax and enjoy yourself.

Read the rest on Bloomberg View.

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Vintage Glamour For The Modern Woman

1920s Lucien LelongStylists often advise against dressing in a head-to-toe vintage look, which is advice I hate. And in the same breath that people will exclaim how much they admire vintage glamour, they say they could never do it themselves. Well, why not? Why should the glamour of a bygone era be unachievable now? I decided long ago to do vintage looks whenever I please, so long as they “fit” the occasion. Though I would certainly attempt an ornate, historical era for a special occasion, the eras I like best are the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, in particular ca. 1925 to 1945, flapper era through the war years. So I’ve chosen a few conservative daytime looks from those eras, plucked from my Pinterest boards, that I think are most accessible.

I would argue that the 1920s were the start of the modern fashion era and that styles from that era forward are relevant and appropriate for almost any modern setting. 1920s styles could be sleek and pared down or ornate and hand-crafted, and day dresses and suits were abundant in the era. So deciding on what 1920s looks to wear to, say, the office shouldn’t prove difficult. For example, see this Lucien Lelong suit and sweater ensemble. While the suit jacket is obscured in the photograph, the skirt certainly looks simple and professional enough, with the hemline falling just below the knee. And the sweater features a bold yet tasteful geometric design. Though I probably would not wear the hat all day indoors, I would not hesitate to wear this look – including the little clutch handbag and simple chain necklace – to the office or a business meeting during a cool-weather month in Washington, D.C., which is where I work.

See also these two mid-1930s day looks. One, a solid, light color, tea-length skirt with a front kick pleat and self-belt with square-shaped metal buckle. It’s paired with a solid, dark color blouse with a high color and large, statement buttons. The shoes are dark pumps in a classic style. The second outfit is a sailor-inspired day dress in tea length, paired with classic spectator pumps and a smart hat. Again, I would not hesitate to wear either of these looks for business purposes, though I would probably skip the hat and gloves unless I wanted to go “full (vintage) drag.”

1930s day looks

The 1940s day looks I might chose include a beige suit with sharp shoulders, three-quarter length sleeves, and a nipped-in waist. The matching skirt is front-pleated, with the hemline just below the knee. The accent color of the hat, ascot, and gloves is a dark green. The hat and gloves are a bit fussy for a modern business look, but I would do the ascot or else a blouse underneath.

1940s day looks
The second 1940s show four comparatively casual, daytime looks that could be worn just about anywhere, hats optional.

Finally, I’ve included a photo of myself, just to show this can be done. I was headed to an Art Deco Expo in 2008, wearing a 1930s day dress and hat. I’m careful where I wear original garments, as they tend to be fragile. But the dress I’m wearing would be fairly simple to re-create in new fabric. The handbag was a Whiting & Davis metal mesh in white, a fairly easy style to obtain. The jewelry was modern and of a simple, classic style. The shoes I wore that day were modern, inexpensive Mary Jane pumps.

Christine Hall Art Deco Expo The main difficulty would be in finding these vintage looks. For ornate vintage styles and looks, there’s rarely a good substitute for the original, except for sellers who specialize in reproducing bygone eras (such as ReVamp Vintage). For simple styles, it’s often easier to find modern garments that look period-appropriate than to find original vintage garments that fit and are in good condition. Personally, I mix and match reproduction and original and sometimes sew my own. Vintage patterns of nearly all eras seem abundant on Ebay, Etsy, and many other vendor websites.

I would be delighted to see more people incorporate vintage styles in modern settings. I would, however, have an important word of caution on attempting these looks. In my opinion, it’s important to approximate the hairstyles (and, for that matter, the shoe styles) of the era one is trying to achieve. Or at least the hair length. They clearly “go” together – which is one reason we perceive them as so elegant and polished, no? There’s no point in doing a head-to-toe vintage look only to ruin it with an incongruous hairstyle. Plus, it would distract me to no end (in a bad way), and I just know (or, let me imagine) you wouldn’t want to do that to me.

Vintage Week: DG Q&A With Vixen Vintage Blogger Solanah Cornell

Solanah pink wallAmong vintage enthusiasts, Vixen Vintage blogger Solanah Cornell is a first-name-only celebrity and a go-to source for advice on such lost arts as how to set your hair in pin curls and how to buy vintage lingerie. As a model for online vintage shops and a vintage-fashion blogger she's also famous for her ability to strike a vintage pose. 

DG: How do you define vintage?

Solanah: Everyone will give you a different answer, but I define it as anything made approximately 20-80 years from now. Antique is anything older than 80 years old, and newer than 20 is second hand.

DG: Who does wearing vintage appeal to?

Solanah: A variety of different people, whether they are interested in alternative fashion or want to outwardly express their interest in nostalgia.

DG: What do you think of mixing vintage and contemporary pieces? Do you ever wear contemporary outfits?

Solanah: I love it, and yes, I do! Though the farther I get into vintage fashion, the more difficult it is for me to mix decades. I admire it on other people, but often find myself feeling a bit “off”. Lately I’ve been trying for a more classic look by mixing vintage and modern garments. And I do wear modern jeans and cozy sweaters pretty regularly. I’ve been loving some classic/modern fashions lately and hope to balance some with my vintage wear.

Solanah-greendress-leopardDG: Beyond the character of any specific garment, is there something glamorous about the idea of “vintage”?

Solanah: There is something glamorous about vintage, and I think it reaches back to the image women used to live up to. It was very glam, very ideal, especially if you’re talking about the mid-century. Even in camping gear women were supposed to be perfectly coiffed and pretty. At that time it was oppressive, but I think women are starting to own glamorization again. They choose it because it makes them feel good, not because they are expected to be glamorous 24/7.

DG: You’ve said that you “love to be authentic” in your style. What makes your style authentic?

Solanah: For me it means “real.” Not so much about having all the items in an outfit perfect, right down to the correct dates, but more of wearing things the way women wore them originally. And wearing what they really wore, not what Hollywood portrayed. I love slacks, and sweaters with the sleeves rolled up, and comfortable shoes like loafers and flat boots. For me, that’s authentic, because I feel more connected to the everyday woman.

DG: Some people treat vintage as an overall fashion look, some as a lifestyle, and some as simply the characteristic of a given piece. What’s your approach?

Solanah: I would say a little of each! For me it can and often does take over my entire outfit, and others it’s and accent, or a nod to yesteryear. As far as lifestyle goes, I have adapted some old fashioned ways of life into the modern world.

Solanah croquet kerchiefDG: What does dressing in vintage mean to different groups of people? To you?

Solanah: It can mean very different and often opposing things to different people. Some people, mostly those in western religious communities, view it as a traditional, and modest form of dress. It re-enforces traditional gender rolls. This situation seems like a minority.

For the most part vintage is a rebellion against the negative aspects of modern society. Not to be confused with completely turning back the clock, but rather bringing forward the attractive, and leaving the negative behind. Lately fashion had quite a few hiccups, when viewed objectively it’s so confusing and really has no collective foundation. I think people crave clarity and originality, and vintage fulfills that. It’s also something that is obtainable for all social classes, it can be found in high end boutiques, or discount thrift stores.

DG: What are some of your favorite vintage garments?

Solanah: Casual wear is my favorite find. Slacks, denim, sweaters, and coat. Though I have a huge and never ending collection of 1940s hats, I just can’t say no to them.

DG: In 20 years, today’s clothes will be vintage, at least by some definitions. Can you imagine yourself wearing any of them in 2033?

Solanah: This is a really tough question, because on one hand we have so much in terms of clothing, it’s difficult to imagine it being treated the same way we treat vintage clothing today. Right now much of our decades of clothing is rare. It was made of natural fibers, which can decay and be recycled, these garments have an expiration date. But clothing today is completely different. The fibers are so synthesized or combined with natural fibers, there really is no organic circle of life for these garments. We’ll have them for much longer than what we’ve been previously accustomed to, and I think they may come back into our wardrobes as necessity more than anything. What else are we going to do with all these garments? They won’t die.

DG: Is wearing vintage more popular among younger people (however you want to define “younger”)? If so, why?

Solanah: I think simply because people don’t want to look like they’re still wearing fashions from their heyday. It can be difficult to pull off, but honestly I think the older you get, the better you can wear vintage! I’ll always remember an elderly woman I saw walking down the street who was dressed to the nines in a 60s suit, pillbox hat, and matching gloves, pumps, and purse. She was the best!

Solanah wwii jeep overalls
DG: What’s your favorite era? Is that because of the styles, the history, the culture, or some combination?

Solanah: My favorite era can be defined as the years controlled by the second world war. It appeals to me for so many reasons, much of it not being fashion related. Mostly to do with the short taste of liberation women experienced, and the strength they showcased before being forced back into the home. I admire what they did with what little they had, and how they dealt with the hardships and tragedies. This was reflected in the styles adapted, I really love the make do and mend and DIY aspect of the war era, as it’s something I can be creative with.

Solanah victory sweater
DG: You’re well known not only for writing about vintage fashion but for modeling it in fashion shoots on your own site and also for the store you used to work for (that’s actually how I first became aware of you). What’s the secret to a good vintage fashion picture? How important are the poses you strike to how you feel about the outfit?

Solanah: In our shoots we tried to emulate a lot of original fashion portraits from magazines and ads. They really showcased the garments well, and I think there’s a certain strength in “striking a pose”, rather than the very casual, candid poses we see a lot of today.

DG: What do people who wear vintage fashion have in common (if anything)?

Solanah: The most obvious is a love for the past, but I have found many vintage enthusiasts are very involved in various forms of fantasy, fiction, and escapism. Or “geeky” interests, if I could put it simply. Fantastical television shows and movies, comic books, anything that diverts away from the confines of the modern world. I think it has to do with how different people deal with the pressures of modern living, there are those who adapt well and embrace it, and those who need to step back and slow down.

Solanah hair taking curls out

DG: Wearing vintage every day seems like a lot of work--just for the hair styling alone. What’s the most challenging part? Time-consuming? Satisfying?

Solanah: It can look as though that’s the case, but compared to a modern woman’s beauty regimen, it probably takes about the same amount of time and effort. Most vintage wearing women do wet sets at night and wake up with curls. Whereas a non-vintage woman might spend most of her morning curling or straightening her hair with a heat device. When I do that it takes me about a minute or two to do my hair in the morning, but looks like it took an hour. It takes the same amount of time to get dressed comparatively, and I keep my makeup simple: tinted moisturizer, eyeliner, powder, lipstick. I do love getting dressed up, in stockings and hats, and heels for lunch with friends or a cocktail party. Feeling that kind of glamorous is nice every now and then, the kind where you really put in effort and it shows.

Solanah eating breakfastDG: Who inspires your look?

Solanah: Fellow vintage lovers, WWII women workers, old family photos, really any “real” people. I don’t take much inspiration from the airbrushed publicity shots of movie stars, because that type of style just isn’t a huge part of my lifestyle.

DG: Who do you consider glamorous?

Solanah: The type of women who has a certain something alluring and enchanting. She doesn’t necessarily have to look glamorous, or live a glamorous life, but she does hold her head high and has the confidence of an individual in charge of their own life and loving it.

DG: What’s your most glamorous place?

Solanah: My dressing table is my most glamorous place. It’s where the magic happens.

[Photos courtesy of Solanah at Vixen Vintage.]

DG Q&A: Fix Beauty Bar Founders Karol Markowicz And Michelle Breskin

Michelle Breskin's EITHER/OR

1) Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett? Cate

2) Paris or Venice? Venice

3) New York or Los Angeles? New York

4) Princess Diana or Princess Grace? Both!

5) Tokyo or Kyoto? Tokyo

6) Boots or stilettos? Boots

7) Art Deco or Art Nouveau? Art Deco

8) Jaguar or Astin Martin? Astin!!!

9) Armani or Versace? Armani

10) Diana Vreeland or Anna Wintour? Anna Wintour

11) Champagne or single malt? Champagne

12) 1960s or 1980s? 60's

13) Diamonds or pearls? Diamonds

14) Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell? Naomi

15) Sean Connery or Daniel Craig? Daniel Craig

Karol Markowicz's EITHER/OR

1) Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett? Angelina.

2) Paris or Venice? Venice is magic but Paris is glamour.

3) New York or Los Angeles? New York.

4) Princess Diana or Princess Grace? Princess Grace.

5) Tokyo or Kyoto? Tokyo

6) Boots or stilettos? Stilettos.

7) Art Deco or Art Nouveau? Art Nouveau

8) Jaguar or Astin Martin? Astin

9) Armani or Versace? Versace

10) Diana Vreeland or Anna Wintour? Diana Vreeland

11) Champagne or single malt? I could write 3 paragraphs on this but single malt all the way.

12) 1960s or 1980s? 1980's

13) Diamonds or pearls? Diamonds.

14) Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell? Kate Moss

15) Sean Connery or Daniel Craig? Sean Connery

DG Q&A: Electra Lang Founders On "Sensible Chic" Clothing For Real Bodies

4) Favorite glamorous movie? Breakfast at Tiffany’s

5) What was your most glamorous moment?

Electra: Living large at the Ritz in Paris

Kristi: My wedding day. I felt beautiful, confident and on top of the world.

Laura: New York City to see my friend, Patricia Heaton’s play on Broadway. I had lucked out earlier in the day when I found a perfect Marc Jacobs 40s style dress and a pair of Dolce & Gabbana Mary Janes with lamb edges!! We had dinner at Babbo, saw the play, had drinks with the actors afterward in the theater district, then ended the night at Marie’s Crisis—I felt so tall and pretty and slender…

6) Favorite glamorous object (car, accessory, electronic gadget, etc.)?

 Electra: My old 3.0 CS leftover from when I was swingle.

Kristi: My Missoni silk pajamas

Laura: My gold and pearl cuff from Sonya Ooten that my husband gave to me on Valentine’s Day 2009.

7) Most glamorous place?

Electra: Lounging the Chateau Marçay in my Julian caftan

Kristi: Lunching at the La Colombe d'Or, in St-Paul-de-Vence, France

Laura: Positano, Italy—my Jane tunic with Capri pants, gladiators, big sunglasses and my huge straw hat---I feel like Jackie “O”

8) Most glamorous job?

Electra: Salesgirl at Fiorucci in 1976 with Joey Arais as manager!

Kristi: Being an Electra Lang partner.

Laura: Fashion Designer of course!!

9) Something or someone that other people find glamorous and you don't

Electra: Plastic Surgery

Kristi: Buying only designer labels

Laura: Living in LA, I see young women heading to clubs at night in their ubiquitous uniform: skin-tight super short black dress with stilettos. It’s boring and cheap looking.

10) Something or someone that you find glamorous whose glamour is unrecognized

Laura: A mother pushing her child on a swing in the park, laughing and enjoying the moment.

Electra: How can I top that answer!

Kristi: Agree with Laura, a mother’s love and adoration to her child is priceless!!!

11) Can glamour survive?

Kristi: Absolutely

Laura: As long as women want to feel attractive, there will be glamour—we can’t help it!

Electra: In spite of children!

12) Is glamour something you're born with?

 Electra: Yes, if you were born before 1930. For the rest of us, we have to work at it.

Kristi: For some it comes naturally.

Laura: You can definitely be born with a great eye, but it takes a bit of work to cultivate it.

1) Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett? CB
2) Paris or Venice? How can you choose between two lovers?
3) New York or Los Angeles? Los Angeles
4) Princess Diana or Princess Grace? Grace
5) Tokyo or Kyoto? Kyoto
6) Boots or stilettos? Boots!!! (I [Electra] have ten pairs..)
7) Art Deco or Art Nouveau? Nouveau
8) Jaguar or Aston Martin? Aston Martin
9) Armani or Versace? Armani
10) Diana Vreeland or Anna Wintour? Vreeland
11) Champagne or single malt? Some days I need BOTH.
12) 1960s or 1980s? 60s
13) Diamonds or pearls? Pearls
14) Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell? Moss
15) Sean Connery or Daniel Craig? Connery (loyal, handsome, ages well, sense of humor)

[Photos courtesy of Electra Lang: Sensible Chic]

Bill Cunningham: The People's Fashion Photographer

Editor's note: New contributor Dorian Electra is a student at Shimer College in Chicago, who is best known for the playful videos she produces and stars in, including her breakout viral hit, a love song to economist Friedrich Hayek.--VP


“He who seeks beauty shall find it” is the personal motto of 82-year old fashion photographer Bill Cunningham. He’s been riding around on his bicycle, photographing fashion on the streets of New York City for roughly half a century. And although his name and reputation are well established in the fashion world, his personal “fashion philosophy” is by no means conventional.

In the movie Bill Cunningham New York, Bill comes off as a mysteriously simple character, a happy man who loves what he does and does what he loves. But there’s more; in fact, there are many complex and profound ideas wrapped up in the way Bill views fashion and culture, all of which inform the pictures he takes.

When photographing runway shows in Paris, he says, “If it isn’t something a woman could wear, I’m not interested.” His down-to-earth, fun-loving attitude makes fashion approachable to all. He praises daring and originality in clothing choices above all. He’s not afraid to call an outfit boring, no matter who’s wearing it. He may ignore a celebrity on the street wearing a multi-thousand dollar gown in favor of a bag-lady digging in the garbage, whose overlapping patterned shawls and head-scarves he thinks are “marvelous.”

Bill Cunningham’s straightforwardness stems from his ethical commitment to honesty and to celebrating individual creativity. He takes a firm stance against fashion magazines’ “In & Out” lists for attempting to dictate from the top-down what’s “in fashion” and what isn’t. Part of his opposition is moral and the other part is practical. He understands that no matter what magazines and designers decree, real fashion—what is actually “in”—can only be determined from the bottom up, by what everyday people actually wear.

To me, it seems that Cunningham’s incredible ability to capture weekly street-style trends is made possible by his understanding of how culture works. Bill’s photographs show us that in the city, fashion is a silent dialogue between people on the streets. Some respond to the latest designs from Paris; others adopt and revise the looks of those around them, incorporating good ideas from anywhere they can be found. People’s clothing choices are also often responding to the conditions of the local climate and Bill traces these complex and spontaneous orders with skill and grace (see “Boiling Point,” documenting the woven, eyelet fabrics of the hot New York week of August 14, 2009).

In de-emphasizing the role of “top-down” dictates from the fashion elite, Bill Cunningham helps us see how we, as everyday people, have the opportunity to participate in the fashion world. “I’m not interested in celebrities with their free dresses,” he says, “I’m interested in clothes!” He calls our attention to the role each of us has as a potential contributor to the silent dialogue of fashion with the choices we make in front of our mirrors each morning.

Click here for a list of when and where the film is showing.

Ditching A Younger Sibling

Sistersplus As I was headed to a going-out-of-business sale at the Border’s Bookstore in Santa Fe, I saw something that probably happens millions of times a day around the world. An older sibling was trying hard not to appear connected to a younger. In the photo shown at left, two sisters are distancing themselves from their parents and younger brother behind them. And, sadly, at some point in her teen years, the older sister will protest if told she needs to let her sister tag along.

In Santa Fe I saw a nattily dressed boy of about seventeen purposely walking very fast, forcing his younger sister to periodically have to run or skip to catch up. He was trim, attractive, and had impeccably styled hair. He was wearing a nice sport coat with a well-matched shirt and tie, nice trousers, and well-polished dress shoes. He perhaps looked a bit preppy for the bookstore, but there was no question he looked  confident and sharp.

His younger sister was about thirteen or fourteen, and I could see why he was trying to ditch her. She was pudgy, her hair was a mess, and her unattractive pink dress fit horribly. She had put on a long-sleeved t-shirt under the dress for warmth, and this make her outfit look even worse.

While he looked sophisticated, she looked clueless. Once in the bookstore, they separated, and I never saw him go anywhere near her the whole time I was there.

I told this story at a dinner gathering the other night, and many people starting talking about their relationships with their siblings. One woman’s younger brother (by two years) used to like to hang out with her girl friends when they came over, and she was not happy that her friends found him so funny that they liked having him around. Although she had a good relationship with him, she reached her limit when he tried to join them at their lunch table at high school. After all, she laughingly recalled , “I was a senior!”

No matter how close we might usually be to our siblings, there are times when they can interfere with the image we are trying to project, especially in the strange peer-pressure world of junior high and high school.

[Photo "Hey, Alice, I've been thinking: we're old enough to go out on our own now, without Mom and Dad and our younger brother tagging along and slowing us down" by Ed Yourdon. Used under the Flickr Creative Commons license.]

Are Cell Phones The New Glamorous Accessory?

Glamorous woman cell phone cigarette sunglassesRandall's post below, “If Someone Glamorous Walked By, Would You Notice?” is about the things you miss when you’re on your cell phone. But the title made me wonder what the person walking by might look like. 

When I searched Google images for “glamorous woman” and “walking,” I discovered a different connection between cell phones and glamour. The top three results were this stock photo, in which the woman is wearing sunglasses, the most classic glamorous accessory, while talking on a cell phone. (She’s also pushing a baby carriage, which may or may not be glamorous.)

Sunglasses, cigarettes, veils, hats, and fans are all classically glamorous accessories. All simultaneously attract attention and create distance. The audience gets an intriguing glimpse of the glamorous person, not a full view.

On a cell phone, the person is similarly present and distant, engaged with someone the viewer can neither see nor hear.  The phone adds an aural dimension to the visual mystery of  sunglasses. At the same time, like wearing jewelry or expensive clothes, talking on the phone signals status: Here is a person who is socially connected, who has friends, who is busy or important.

With cigarettes, veils, hats, and fans all more or less out of fashion, has the cell phone joined sunglasses as a glamorous essential?

["Beauty Talks" image courtesy of Piero Paravidino, Flickr user Sensitive2Light, and used with permission.]

Vienna As Fashion Muse? Projections Of Splendor

LV04smShown at the Paris Fashion week last Thursday, the Louis Vuitton Fall/Winter 2010 Menswear Collection immediately caught my eye. Not because I am particularly fond of Vuitton (like too many other fashion houses, it has fallen prey to the Plague of Excessive Logos), but rather because of the references to Vienna.

Dominated by narrow-waisted suits, crisp riding boots and structured bags, the collection is described as having been inspired by Vienna's Age of Splendor, and by the Vienna of today. As Vienna has been my home on and off for the past several years, I could not help but ruminate on my own impressions of the city's style, and on the implications of its new status as Fashion Muse.

Over the course of my life in Vienna, I have continuously struggled with how I relate to it. On some level, it has become deeply familiar and even quite mundane, while on another level it has remained a romantic hallucination. In many ways, Vienna is a continental European city like many others – rich in heritage but dynamic in contemporary culture. The streets are full of young trendy people, the museums offer impressive lineups of cutting-edge international artists, the UN Headquarters looms large, and no matter where you are, you can be certain that a Starbucks or an H&M is not terribly far off. And yet, Vienna is not quite of this time. The spirit of the Austro-Hungarian Empire remains present, its rigid, explosive splendor running through the city like a rogue undercurrent.


Experiencing Vienna in this manner is like having persistent double vision, or perhaps even triple vision – whereby reality, history and historical fiction co-exist and struggle for domination over the cultural landscape.

Vienna_Architecture3When I ask myself why this is so, one obvious thing that comes to mind is the architecture. Unlike that of other German-speaking cities, Vienna's architecture has largely remained intact after the Second World War. Enormous neoclassical structures erected for the sole purpose of glorifying the Empire continue to surround the city center along the Ringstraße. The towering white marble, the black wrought iron, the vast stretches of cobblestone, and the tall chestnut trees, create a backdrop that insists upon itself and undermines the passage of time. In a sense, it is a romantic backdrop. But the brand of romance is the kind that makes one feel overpowered and somewhat uneasy. The architecture - both in its grandiosity and in the sheer fact of its continuity - sets a mood over the central district that even an army of neon Starbucks and H&M signs cannot overpower.

Vienna_CafeInteriorGranted, architecture can be seen as a passive influence. But there are other areas where Vienna's anachronistic atmosphere is maintained by choice. Take, for instance, the phenomenon of the Viennese Cafe. One can walk into any number of Viennese cafes that look as if they have remained basically unchanged since the 1920s: gilded interiors, plush red upholstery, starched white tablecloths, waiters in tuxedos, sugar cubes in tiny silver bowls, newspapers attached to wooden holders... the head spins from the elegance, and extravagance of it. And the elaborate coffee nomenclature puts other countries' terminologies to shame. (When in doubt, just order a Melange - and stay away from what the Viennese call a Cappuccino unless you want your coffee made with pure cream instead of frothed milk.)

It is not just the look of such a cafe that functions like a time machine, but the atmosphere as well. In a Viennese cafe, you will be called by your title. You will not encounter crammed floor space, even if it means that the cafe is serving only a quarter of the patrons that it could be serving. And you will never be rushed to free up your table, even if you have been nursing the same cup of coffee for hours while a crowd of hopefuls queues outside. And no, such places are not gimmicky tourist traps; they are perfectly normal cafes where the Viennese themselves go to relax.

Vienna_FurcoatLady And then of course, there are the head-turning persons you see in Vienna, the likes of whom I have not encountered elsewhere: from the ladies in floor-length fur coats and sculptural hats who look as if they've walked out of a silent film, to the serious men with heavy, intense gazes and thick streaks of gray in their hair regardless of their age, to the people wearing traditional national costumes as formalwear on a night out. True, the “retro” look has been internationally popular for over a decade, but I feel that in Vienna the look isn't “retro” at all, as it is done entirely without irony. The mixing of the old with the new simply reflects the city's nonlinear sense of time and its playful attitude towards contemporary realities.

Vienna_StoreWindowAn interesting trend I have noted, is how many fashion ateliers in Vienna are simultaneously involved in costume design for the theater. Of all the arts, theater probably occupies the most important position in Vienna, and has enormous cultural influence. Perhaps this explains why even the most contemporary boutiques seem to be at least partly inspired by dramatic turn of the 20th Century style: the designers who make the clothes for the streets are the same ones who create the costumes for the local stage. It would also explain why the past that mingles with Vienna's present seems to be not so much a historically accurate past, as a fantastical one: a romantic notion that the city embraces and projects back onto itself.

LV02smGetting back to the Louis Vuitton Fall/Winter 2010 Menswear Collection, I think that in large part it succeeds in portraying all of these things. The clothing is architectural, theatrical, and communicative, and there is a conceptual depth to it that exceeds what I have come to expect from Vuitton. The garments are rigidly tailored while suggesting fluidity, tightly closed while expressing a potential for openness. They evoke Sigmund Freud's writings on hysteria, Egon Schiele's images of tortured lanky youths, Gustaf Klimt's gilded motifs, and Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis while mixing traditional and contemporary materials and employing deconstructive techniques.

Vienna_ShoesThe LV collection is rather impressive really. But... Well, quite frankly, it brings to mind what has been available in Vienna for as long as I have lived there. If you want Viennese splendor that embodies all the anachronistic complexity the city has to offer, visit Vienna itself and walk through some of the neighborhoods that are lined with independent boutiques carrying Austrian designers, including the areas around Neubaugasse and Kettenbrückengasse. Viennese style is at its best in its natural habitat.

[LV runway images via Louis Vuitton/ Antoine de Parceval; all other images belong to the author]