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06-10-2010
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i agree about cathy....i don't see the same amount of personal bias in suzy, but i concede some of it does pop up every now and again.

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14-10-2010
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Cathy Horyn Interview

US Bazaar Fashion Week Runway Report F/W 10.11



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14-09-2012
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How To Write About Dressing Well: The Truth About Fashion Criticism
I read this really insightful article today, about why fashion criticism is often overlooked and not really visible, even to those who love fashion. Anyways, I was curious about everyone else's two cents on the matter. Do you think that those who write about fashion need to improve the way they write and do they need to think more critically about fashion? It sort of seems like fashion criticism is such a niche subject, even within the fashion world, doesn't it? And what publications do you think critically look at fashion?

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When David Foster Wallace killed himself in the fall of 2008, I, like so many others, was hurt and disappointed but not surprised. I’d always read Wallace’s literary project as an attempt to convince his readers, along with himself, that life was worth living despite all the ****. After he abandoned that project, I carried a lack around with me. When Alexander McQueen killed himself sixteen months later, it shocked me. McQueen was someone whose work I had been following for longer than Wallace’s, but my relation to McQueen and his work was not so profound that I felt his suicide in my bones.

McQueen’s inner darkness is now evident in his work. After he hanged himself, he was memorialized as a tormented artist, not unlike Wallace. Judith Thurman, writing for the New Yorker, described McQueen as a designer who used couture as a “medium for self-revelation” and a “form of confessional poetry.” She called him an “archetypal Romantic.” This was in her review of Savage Beauty, McQueen’s barely posthumous blockbuster exhibition at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That show was the first opportunity I had to see McQueen’s clothes up close and it was so devastating, I cried right there in the Met, surrounded by strangers (McQueen’s Met show was so popular, the lines lingered into the hours and you were obligated to shuffle through a space at capacity). At 661,509 counted visitors, Savage Beauty became the eighth biggest show on record at the Metropolitan Museum, following obvious hits like Mona Lisa (1963) and Picasso (2010), and showed what an appetite there was for fashion in the museum.

Fashion can be art. It is psychology, sociology, history, identity (religion, sexuality, gender), politics, and commerce. It is the material of the everyday and a vehicle for profound human performance; shelter and superfluity. Fashion—garmenture—is, literally, significant. So why is it so hard to talk about? This is a question that I have grappled with my whole life. When your favorite childhood game is dress up and you grow up in a feminist household that sees fashion as capitalist frivolity, when that game follows you, obsessively, into adulthood, a crisis is inevitable; there still exists this notion of being “too smart for fashion.”
We are at a point in cultural history when once disparate mediums and fields of production are collapsing into each other. We look at paintings on screens and print digital photographs onto t-shirts. Film, music, literature, painting, sculpture, photography, along with “new media”—like the blogroll or interactive video, even holograms—are all just avenues, often cofunctioning avenues, used to 1. explore thought, 2. create beauty, and 3. accrue capital. Fashion is part of this network. Think artist collaborations, museum exhibitions, filmic costume design, and the rise of the fashion film. And yet, outside of the academy (where the study of fashion is flourishing), fashion still has trouble with the “explore thought” part. We don’t yet have much in the way of a popular critical discourse on fashion. It’s about time (and I’m repeating myself here) we integrate fashion into our elitist tradition of cultural criticism (and, hopefully, actually, dilute that elitism somewhat.)

Here is what I want to know: How come it took a suicide and the museum for me, an avid fashion consumer, to understand the depths of McQueen’s work? Why, in a field bloated with words, with innumerable fashion magazines and blogs, is most everything stagnant and disposable? Why, when I speak with dedicated fashion types, do I—I of all people—continue to be surprised by their intellect and breadth of knowledge? More productively: How can we write and think critically about fashion? And can we imagine new ways of looking at it?

In researching this piece, I consulted with several esteemed fashion writers, including Valerie Steele, the current director of the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology and pioneer in the academic field of fashion studies; Jenna Sauers, writer, Jezebel fashion editor, and co-founder of The Model Alliance; Sarah Nicole Prickett, the woman I always wanted to be when I grew up—a friend, feminist femme, and prolific writer on many topics, including fashion; Serah-Marie McMahon, editor and founder of the Worn Fashion Journal; and Darrell Hartman, a New York-based journalist whose travel/leisure/fashion/culture writing is regularly featured in The Wall Street Journal and on Style.com, as well as in Art Forum, Book Forum, The Financial Times, and The Daily.

I want to thank all of these incredible people for their time and thoughtfulness. As grateful as I am, though, I’ve also caught myself cursing them. Not the-people-them, but the conservations we had, and only with regards to their impact on getting this piece done. Because with every conversation, I grew more overwhelmed and tripped out on my chosen spirit journey, caught in the infinity net of questions like “what is fashion?”. There are no simple answers to the questions I have proposed. Each interview was so rich, it could have been an article unto itself. What follows is essentially a list of those ideas that, between interviews, repeated and converged. Where original, I’ve cited the idea with the person but this was truly a collaborative effort.

We start with query No. 1, the deconstructive one: Why does most writing on fashion suck? “We are into the Baudrillardian post-fashion phase,” wrote Sarah Nicole Prickett in her essay Said Language to Fashion: OMG I Die, “in which fashion exists for fashion’s sake and clothes are mere copies of copies of signifiers, communicating emptiness at worst and self-satisfaction at best.” In mass market fashion magazines—what the masses not interested in fashion think fashion is—language is dead. Words are thriving, type is on the page, but meaning is null. This season, grey may be the new black, but what is black? Back in 1967, semiologist Roland Barthes made a study of this tautology of magazine copy in The Fashion System. He presented the idea that fashion is a language: garments and poses are vested with meaning that we put on to communicate, that we can read and write. Fashion magazines claim meaning on behalf of garments (bold shoulders=power dressing) with little to no exposition. When this equals that in boldface copy, the historical and social dynamics of that equation are lost. The language of fashion gets reduced to acultural idiom and empty metaphor; made stupid. Military chic…

Darrell Hartman told me that Hamish Bowles, International Editor-at-Large for Vogue, was one of the most “knowledgeable, cultured, and refined” minds he’d met. That I believe. I believe that Bowles probably knows what black is in the “blank is the new black” equation. I don’t believe we’ll be reading that stuff in American Vogue, though, which prefers to show me socialite shopping trips and other things money can buy. Money is probably the biggest impediment to my idea of quality fashion coverage. Fashion is big business and largely commercial. One, there’s an already established audience for magazines like InStyle. Two, fashion content, in print and even online, as Jenna Sauers pointed out, is enmeshed with advertiser interests. (Hartman made a great point, which is that it’s imaginable to have a bad review for a film next to an ad for that film in say The New York Times, but that the same does not hold for fashion media.) Not all fashion needs to be discoursed. The majority of fashion production is banally commercial, designed by a team for an imagined audience of consumers. Michael Kors may not merit Artforum analysis, but should Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan, Rei Kawakubo, Walter Van Beirendonck, and the like be stuck with what Vogue considers coverage? Definitely not.

Money alone doesn’t resolve the question of why fashion isn’t subject to the kinds of high criticism that other forms of visual culture (film, art) are. In terms of numbers, the film industry and the art market are equally as enterprising as fashion. The art world—bastion of the kind of elitist theorizing I want for fashion—likes to pretend it’s not. The art world is idealistic, invested in maintaining its integrity, reverent to philosophy and tradition (irreverent art is still reverent). Fashion is more concerned with the now, nay, the next. The business of fashion is tied to what Hartman called, “fashion’s meta-calendar.” Pre-fall, Fall/Winter, Couture, Resort, Spring/Summer, Couture—the deadlines are merciless and non-negotiable. To participate, you abide by this schedule. Not only does the ethic of constant renewal—we are always one season ahead—not support reflexivity in fashion criticism, simple logistics (like next-hour deadlines during Fashion Week) make researching and writing anything of substance difficult. In the time it takes to talk about it, the trend will have already passed. Next!

“In order to criticize you have to be there, and in order to be there you have to be in,” Sauers tells me. The fashion world values exclusivity. Yes, the internet is democratizing; live-streaming runway shows, front-row bloggers, blah, blah (see: Lady Gaga’s V editorial blasting The New York Times‘ old hat Cathy Horyn). Seeing the défilé in person is different though, wearing the dress is different though, and fashion insiders like to remind us of this. “I have been both amused and irritated over the years by fashion academics who write unreadable piffle about a world they do not know,” writes Colin McDowell of The Business of Fashion. ”Few are invited to the shows and none have gone through the apprenticeship of watching hundreds of shows per season, some of which are unbelievably bad. This is the equivalent of a cricket commentator who goes only to the Oval and knows nothing of local cricket greens.”

Anyone can go to the museum, walk into a gallery, buy a movie ticket. Fashion shows are invite only. Fashion’s exclusivity is self-reinforcing, hegemonic. The same few photographers shoot all the major campaigns. The same set of designers lend clothes to the same stylists and celebrities who are photographed and reproduced in the same magazines and blogs. Generalization, but probably 95% true: You can’t just write about high fashion, you have to live high fashion. Go to the parties, wear the clothes, hang with the models. (Derek Blasberg is exemplary of this.) If you’re not in, the insiders won’t hear you. And once you’re in, you’re unlikely to publicly backstab your new BFFs. It’s not that the fashion world isn’t critical. But without a real critical stance, we get a critical eye. Matters of taste are voiced (“Ew, I hate that”) more than knowledge is shared.

Darrell Hartman writes about menswear, and a great deal about heritage revival wear, a trendy knowledge-based economy where boys nerd out about things like archival Americana shoelaces. He cites this as a space where good writing on fashion is happening. When I bring this up with Sauers, she interrupts—“that’s such a dude thing.” A hetero-masculine pose: dudes can’t enjoy fashion for fashion’s sake, so they turn it into something more.

This brings me to the last negative I’ll address. “Fashion has often been relegated to being a woman’s domain, something historically not deemed worthy of critical thought,” responds Serah-Marie McMahon of Worn, when I queried her on the dearth of good fashion writing. Valerie Steele echoed this thought. In a recent interview, the scholar opined that fashion has often been denigrated for its association with feminine vanity (think Madame Bovary). “It probably has something to do with the whole Judeo-Christian-Islamic idea that fashion has to do with … covering up nakedness,” Steele claimed. “It’s not just plunging necklines or rising hemlines, but the mere fact of decorating your body at all, which is viewed as somehow troubling.”

All of the above complaints—of fashion’s commerciality, interest in novelty, protected exclusivity, and history as frivolous femininity—have to do with fashion’s hegemonic form. Steele, Sauers, Prickett, McMahon, and Hartman are evidence that this is not all there is. So as we start on query No. 2, the constructive one, of can-we-write-productively-about-fashion, the answer is unequivocally, obviously, yes! And it is already being done here and there, you just have to look for it.

While the consumerism and invite-exclusivity of the fashion system aren’t going to change anytime soon (it’s both too institutionalized and too economically forceful, and if the 20th century taught us anything, it’s that you can’t fight the system), what we can do is seek out and promote those cracks in the system, those areas of resistance, which show fashion to be something more. We can do as the great art critic Dave Hickey tells us, and take, “that ever-available American option of throwing up one’s hands and slipping into the invisible fissures that run through this society like fault lines across California.” And so we arrive at a reading list.

Judith Thurman, the writer on McQueen I opened with, came up repeatedly as one of the great fashion writers of today. Thurman writes mostly for the New Yorker, a publication which Valerie Steele noted has “always been good at getting smart women to talk about fashion,” going back to Lois Long and Jenna Sauers’ favorite, Kennedy Fraser. Thurman talks about clothes with the same precision, hauteness, and humor that fellow New Yorker writer Anthony Lane brings to film.
You can read more of the article at the link
http://bullettmedia.com/article/writing-fashion-good/

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Last edited by BetteT; 15-09-2012 at 04:03 PM. Reason: Editing font to make it larger ... adding breaks between paragraphs.
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14-09-2012
  79
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Goodness, what a dark opening to that article I couldn't get very far, between that and the tiny type/enormous line length ...

I used to read more fashion criticism, basically during the 'fashion week' season. IMO there are pretty much really only two fashion critics, Cathy Horyn and Suzy Menkes, and they are doing it pretty well. Others tend to be part of the collective kissing lips of the fashion industry, with the odd snide remark directed at an 'unimportant' designer.

It's kind of fun to use the good ones as a benchmark, but that's also challenging since they have access I don't.

I think fashion critics are useful in that they provide useful reporting, and prod some designers who may need prodding to do better. The two I mentioned may also provide some useful moments of truth-telling in an industry that is about anything and everything else.

But fashion criticism is almost irrelevant to the task of dressing well, as I see it. It relates to how runway models are dressed, but not really to how I dress, even if I'm wearing things that were on the runway (and I think the most useful parts of a designer's line often aren't seen there).

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14-09-2012
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^Yeah, I'm really sorry about the font size, I didn't really think about how tiny it was until it was too late!

One of the parts of the article that I didn't share on here, that I think I really should have (which I posted down below), was a roundup of magazines, publications, and websites that the author of the article thinks is writing about fashion in an insightful way. And I have to agree with many of them. For me there are two magazines that really influenced my love for fashion. One of course is Vogue and the other, some might be surprised to find out, is The New Yorker. I can remember looking at my grandmother's subscription to The New Yorker and my favorite articles were always when they published the annual style issue. It's so incredibly well written, one of the articles that really stood out to me when I first became interested was a lengthy piece on Cristóbal Balenciaga (which I just checked, was published in 2006). To me, they publish some of the finest critiques about fashion.

I wouldn't say that fashion criticism is completely useless, ideally it serves a purpose to understand more complex side to the garments. To ask what a particular garment/style/designer/etc means and represents. And I think a lot of fashion writers ought to be looking at it more critically, rather then just writing drivel like, "it's inspired by Marie Antoinette" or whatever. Well, tell me (the reader) why a collection is inspired by her, what it symbolizes, and why it matters. I guess I just wish that people would look at fashion through a more intellectual lens, but it can be hard for many because of factors like the short amount of time writers have after a show till they have to to publish an article.

And I think it's interesting, the Alexander McQueen exhibit was amazing (truly it was a sight to see!), but for many people it was also their first foray into viewing fashion as art. My own mother turned to me at one point during our visit to the Met and said, "I didn't know how incredibly detailed and complex fashion could be." Fashion is an art. But it is an art that is often rather undervalued and dismissed. Though I do think that the McQueen exhibit did wonders for how museums might curate fashion exhibits and for how people might perceive them.

I'm very interested at looking at clothing from an anthropological/sociological viewpoint and perhaps, maybe my wish is that more people would look at fashion this way too. I find it far more interesting and enriching to look at fashion in a more detailed way rather then just seeing it as a simplistic form of expression.

Quote:
Among paper products, the semiannual Style issues of the New Yorker are always fantastic. Some of the best fashion magazines, like Acne Paper, Dossier, and The Journal weave fashion throughout all their features; what’s art vs. fashion is irrelevant. Another inspiring source of alternative fashion coverage can be found in passion project zines like Worn Fashion Journal, Garmento, Style Zeitgeist, and Hot and Cool. I’d also endorse Encens, an editorial heavy French periodical with an aseasonal aesthetic.
Cricket commentators or no, academics are producing great writing on fashion. For an introduction to the field, check out the blogs Threadbared and Worn Through and anything from the Berg Fashion Library. Serah-Marie of Worn recommended a new journal called Address. When we spoke in June, Valerie Steele was enjoying reading FashionEast: The Spectre that Haunted Socialism from MIT Press.

The museum is a space in which fashion thought is flourishing. Steele is currently busy preparing for an exhibition on “Queer Style: From the Closet to the Catwalk” for the museum at FIT. In addition to the increasing number of traveling exhibitions, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have regular, wonderful shows. Darrell Hartman cited Jocks and Nerds, from Richard Martin and Harold Koda, the Costume Institute’s director, as one of his all time favorite fashion books.

The internet, of course, is the place to go for niche representation. Donatien Grau’s column An Intellectual Fashion for AnOther online is a revelation. In his column, Grau seeks to resolve the discrepancy he sees between intellectuals perceiving fashion from the outside as shallow, and fashion people not having the “in-depth knowledge of the hermeneutic tools they could use to better understand what they are doing.” His subjects include designers like Thom Browne and Rick Owens, editors like Cecilia Dean, scholars like Caroline Evans and Valerie Steele, journalist critics (Glenn O’Brien and Sally Singer), artists (Marina Abramović), authors (Douglas Coupland), and philosophers (Bernard-Henri Lévy). Grau asks each subject the same series of questions about elegance, intellectualism, Barthes, and art history. Other recommended online sources include The Business of Fashion, Are Clothes Modern, and DIS Magazine.

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Last edited by YoninahAliza; 14-09-2012 at 10:39 PM.
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15-09-2012
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I edited it for you ... to increase the font size and to add breaks between paragraphs ... should be a bit easier to read, now.

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15-09-2012
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^Thanks a bunch BetteT! It looks so much better now.

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16-09-2012
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Don't we have a thread about Fashion Critic ?

One thing I've always wondered is : is there any fashion critical theory ?

I guess if Suzy Menkes' been the BEST fashion critics for decades it is because she has a standpoint, and remains there ... She has enough distance, compared to all ***-lickers...
And distance and standpoint, with theory is what is a critic about ...

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16-09-2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BerlinRocks View Post
Don't we have a thread about Fashion Critic ?
We do ... so I merged them. Thanks.

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08-10-2012
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With the amount of attention fashion critics have been getting recently, namely Cathy Horyn and Oscar de la Renta/Hedi Slimane, I figured it was a good time to bump this thread.

One question I always ponder is, aside from the fact that there are critics who are very well respected, how important are they in terms of a designers career? I can understand how a negative review for an unknown designer could kill their career, but for someone like Oscar or Hedi at Saint Laurent, is what they say even relevant?

For example, with Hedi - so many critics had less than positive things to say, but the retailers were overjoyed. At the end of the day, do they really affect a designer's bottom line if they say they had a bad season, or is it really up to the retailers to decide. Clearly in this instance, for a major brand even a negative review, or three, didn't deter major retailers from placing orders.

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08-10-2012
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^I'd say critics are only relevant if sales follow the criticism. Like with movies, it doesn't matter if a movie is panned by the critics as long as it does well commercially. Fashion, movies, etc. might be creative businesses but the bottom line is always what count the most.

Consumers and critics don't always agree. The buyers clearly think that Slimane's collection can sell. However, the buyers are not the end-consumers so the real test of success is not only how well it sells to retailers.

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08-10-2012
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In the case of someone like Oscar (or earlier, Armani) I don't think what Cathy had to say will make a tiny bit of difference and she knows it too. They are way too established and pretty much beyond the destructive powers of editors and stylists. People who like/dislike their clothes and images will continue to do so UNLESS the designer himself does something radical... a la Oscar's outburst towards Mrs. Obama, but that really had nothing to do w/ Cathy's actions.

I suspect it's quite a bit different w/ younger designers that are far less established than an Oscar or Armani tho. I used to be a far bigger reader of her stuff than I am now, but I know that some of her reviews rattled the designers themselves (see Marc Jacobs), not to mention their fans. I'm almost certain that her taking a side in the Sarah-Jessica Parker vs Olivier Theyskens kerfuffle (over a dress for her premiere for one of the Sex films) ultimately did him in at Nina Ricci...or was at least the last straw. I wouldn't underestimate her influence because lots of people read her and take her quite seriously. She rarely goes there, but when she does it always makes a splash.

As for Slimane, Cathy is known to have a very strong PoV about designers (she favors conceptualists and individualists), quality of merch/fabrics/design, and she has very little time for people she sees as "hot dogging" therefore when she feels someone is trying to BS her, she states so. I don't know what affect that will have on Slimane, but nobody should be surprised that his antics have gotten up her nose. That's just how she is and that makes her voice one that's pretty singular out there these days.

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08-10-2012
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I remember when Marc Jacobs did that collection especially for Suzy Menkes ... IMO it was quite awful. I think many designers take the critics too seriously. I have seen even very good critics just not 'get' a collection before.

We all know here that a collection takes time to sink in, but critics have to get their reviews out quickly. It may be an educated opinion, and it may be published in an important newspaper, but it's still one opinion, and there's nothing infallible about it. It should be informed and interesting and provide perspective, that's what I expect from a review. Probably there is something any one of them would like to take back ...

I wish designers would take it all with a big rock of salt, and give those giant egos a break. I guess they feel like they're being graded, and they want to argue about it. But why respond? Let your success speak for itself. I have a straight pin right here that I'd be willing to loan any designer needing to deflate anything ...

I think they are so unused to any straight up criticism at all that it just freaks them out. Stop surrounding yourself with sycophants and it will all come as so much less of a shock :p

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08-10-2012
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^ I agree with a lot of what you are saying, especially the part about designers' egos needing to be deflated. I suppose (and this goes for anyone who is presenting something) at the end of the day you want your work to be liked. Simple as that. Whether you are releasing an album, a movie, or sending your collection down a runway, it is like a baby of sorts. Something you have seen from the the initial concept to the birth, if you will.

In the end, it is how they react (or do not react) to the reactions other people have to their work.

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I think people need to read fashion reviews like reviews of any other products. Will it affect their next purchase (assuming they're that well off to afford high fashion)? As previously mentioned, some of these brands are so well established, the answer would be no. But more importantly, they do the work for you. You want a buy a new car - you'd have to find out the equipment each model of the car comes with, you'd have to compare it with competing cars, etc. A car review will do that for you. But unlike fashion, the reviews for other products are more...honest. And this is why people like Cathy are important. Not because they're just honest reviews, they're honest reviews in a sea of fluff. You want someone to restore your sanity when you've seen something like a dress made out of chicken wings and every other review you've read says it's "beautiful" "gorgeous" "genius" or any of the other cliched adjectives used by such fluff reviews.

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