Monday, March 31, 2008

"Night Gallery" and the downtown LA arts scene

I was involved in co-producing another event at the old Regent Theater in downtown LA this past weekend. An old burlesque theater and last seen as an adult film house, it was an ideal setting for the muti-media, multi-sensory 'Night Gallery'. A perfect venue for the art-goth/dark romantic sounds of David J (of Bauhaus and Love&Rockets lore), and Black Cat, a performance by 'ElectrOpera', art and photography from Timothy Williams (working exclusively with found objects), Joel Daavid, Jennifer Hart, and the hand-made fashion stylings of Iceland's own Stella Dottir.
I chose to participate under the EcoNouveau banner because I feel very strongly about branching out from the predictable 'green' events and delve deeply into art, fashion, music and film communities who want to be a part of the 'sustainable planet' movement but aren't necessarily bought into the current monotone vibe and message. I look for communities that have a strong do-it-yourself mentality and are passionate about their art and artists.
The art-goth scene is a powerful collective where both of these tenets ring true. There is probably more 'eco-fashion' at one of these type of gatherings than most green focused events that I've attended as recycled, repurposed, hand-made, thrift store chic rules the day here.
For many a music lover, David J's band Bauhaus was an incredibly influential act breathing life and inspiration to the post-punk world. They even named themselves after the german movement meaning "House of Building" that combined crafts and the fine arts. Bauhaus style became one of the most persuasive currents in Modernist architecture and modern design. The Bauhaus movement had a profound influence upon subsequent developments in art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design and typography.
You see where I'm going with this eco-enthusiasts? Fusing 'green' ideals with artists beyond the usual suspect communities is imperative. These artists and their supporters are the essential champions, ambassadors and next wave front-liners who will communicate (and further) the mission we are on to implement a truly sustainable planet. Look at what underground art legend Shepard Fairey is doing in the social and political landscapes these days for a spot on example of this.
If you live in LA or are visiting, make sure that you dive into the incredibly robust art scene that is going on here. In my humble opinion, it is one of the biggest reasons why Downtown LA may finally be on the rise again.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Gold diggin'

I really dug Utah's own Jared Gold's, open-to-the-general-public Los Angeles Fashion Week show at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles last Friday night. It was my favorite show during Fashion Week because it was fun --full disclosure--I bypassed Smashbox altogether this year including the Green Initiative Humanitarian Show which seems to be improving each year. Regardless, 1,000 plus pretty-freakin'-fashionable people attended Jared's show including eclectic talents Mark Ryden, Samantha Mathis, Billy Zane and Tarina Tarantino. It also featured a performance by Miss Derringer led by the multi-talented Liz McGrath after the runway show.

Underground maven Clint Catalyst hosted the show called 'Czarina' which was like an edwardian, neo-goth, surrealist cirque-berzerk. You have to love Jared Gold's ability to execute on his creative impulses, his art direction and the throngs that he attracts.

Gold utilized a motley crew of internet, reality t.v., and underground 'celeb's' as runway models which was quite brilliant as these people are well networked and each bring an audience to the table. Love or hate this new-found level of celebrity making (did PT Barnum have any idea what 15 minutes would look like today???) it is undoubtedly fascinating. Being out of that loop, the only one that I ever heard of was old-school ex-porn queen Traci Lords.

Gold also had the foresight to include a pop-up store at the show where you could slurp down an 'earth friendly vodka' while purchasing current and past wares including the uber eco-luxe jeweled Giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroach, known affectionately as the 'roach broach'.

What's 'eco-conscious' about all of this aside from live jewelry? Well, Gold uses a lot of recycled and repurposed fabrics and is certainly a D.I.Y. genius. Most importantly though, he is a strong personality who doesn't care about the fashion industry and its pretensions, refusing to show at Smashbox again or sell-out to Project Runway. He is vigilantly focused on his vision and serving the people that love him most. Eco-fashion peeps take note!!!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Natural Products Exponential

The Natural Products Expo held annually in Anaheim is a 'who's who' of the Natural/Organic product and service world. Food, supplements, health & beauty products, apparel, packaging and even pets are covered in this massive convention. 1,800 booths in all showcasing their wares and I'd imagine that they came close to reaching 50,000 attendees this year. Not surprisingly, there is good and bad news in all of this. The good news is that this industry is growing and made up of very passionate and enthusiastic folks many of whom aim to put much more intelligent, well conceived (and less toxic) products into the marketplace. On the downside, opportunism and false claims are clearly present and a side effect of the rapid growth. The LA Times wrote a piece about some sketchy claims by some of the companies in attendance here.
One of the events that I attended at the Expo was the "Think Vitality Fashion Show", a fund-raiser for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (although they never mentioned how much was raised, which always gives me pause). As a creator/producer of fashion events such as EcoNouveau, I am always game to see what others are doing. Overall, the show was decent, although I felt like the designers were secondary to self-promotion of Think Vitality. I actually saw TV's founder Lizanne Falsetto being escorted by a slew of bodyguards to the afterparty. 'Nuff said...
High points for me were the energy of the room, a celebration of breast cancer survivors who paraded down the runway, and collections by Under the Canopy and Linda Loudermilk. It's nice to see UTC taking more chances and Linda's line's always have some daring pieces. I was also pleased to see the more casual lines of Livity and Indigenous Designs showing great progress merging sustainable textiles and a much improved eye for style. Koi Swimwear had some great suits although as was the case with every piece in the entire show, there was nary a mention of what any of the garments were made out of.
Overall, I still think 'eco-fashion' has a way to go to really penetrate a very cynical fashion marketplace and more importantly, get designers and their customers to understand why it's important to care about. Continued improvements in design, style and to me the weakest offering, presentation (venue, models, message, branding etc.) really must accelerate for trendsetters and culture makers to take it seriously enough to wear and promote the apparel. Otherwise, it stays fringe and in my book, that is a tragedy of epic proportions. I didn't see much press coverage beyond the usual 'green' suspects and for as much money that was spent on the event, that's also problematic.
So, what to make of NPE? It's exciting that there is so much interest in a more ethical marketplace. I suspect many of these companies are gearing themselves to be bought by the Hain/Heinz, Colgate-Palmolives and other consumer giants looking to capitalize on the growth of the the natural/organic products world (although I think many of them need much better brand positioning and distribution strategies). Competition appears stiff as long as we are playing the capitalist game comprised of ROI and exit strategies...
One strong piece of advise for New Hope, the company that runs NPE--please recycle! It was truly disconcerting that a convention that claims a more 'earth friendly' way of operating allows for the level of waste that I saw amidst the sampling/giveaways that almost every booth offered. I ended up bringing all of the water and energy drink giveaways that I drank during the course of the day to my bin at home because there were no recycling containers provided by the host. Come on people!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Shopping our way to safety

A new book by Andrew Szasz that looks at  'conscious consumerism'.  From Amazon:

Many Americans today rightly fear that they are constantly exposed to dangerous toxins in their immediate environment: tap water is contaminated with chemicals; foods contain pesticide residues, hormones, and antibiotics; even the air we breathe, outside and indoors, carries invisible poisons. Yet we have responded not by pushing for governmental regulation, but instead by shopping. What accounts for this swift and dramatic response?  And what are its unintended consequences?

Andrew Szasz examines this phenomenon in Shopping Our Way to Safety. Within a couple of decades, he reveals, bottled water and water filters, organic food, “green” household cleaners and personal hygiene products, and “natural” bedding and clothing have gone from being marginal, niche commodities to becoming mass consumer items. Szasz sees these fatalistic, individual responses to collective environmental threats as an inverted form of quarantine, aiming to shut the healthy individual in and the threatening world out. 

Sharply critiquing these products’ effectiveness as well as the unforeseen political consequences of relying on them to keep us safe from harm, Szasz argues that when consumers believe that they are indeed buying a defense from environmental hazards, they feel less urgency to actually do something to fix them.  To achieve real protection, real security, he concludes, we must give up the illusion of individual solutions and together seek substantive reform.

I have been thinking along the same lines for awhile, as well.  Filling our overly consumerist troughs with 'eco-friendly' products will ultimately not amount to much (except for more stuff).  It seems to me like a methadone treatment for a heroin addiction.  It can be useful, but it's not a viable long-term solution.  I still think that we are utilizing a collective, unspoken strategy of 'solving the problem at the level of intelligence that the problem was created' and really need to look to innovators, artists, philosophers, entrepreneurs who are able to effectively dissect our addiction to 'stuff' and show it to us in a way that can help us understand how deeply embedded we are to consumerist culture.  In terms of tangible and viable solutions, I feel that this is where the younger generation is crucial in aiding to the development of a more sophisticated way of being that recognizes the depth of the ecological problems we face and commits to creating an infrastructure that supports human development during this very tenuous phase of the evolution of our species.  Teens and twenty's have less exposure and habit in the consumerist trenches and frankly more to lose long term especially when it comes to the 'quality of life' category.
It's a daunting thought, yet completely exhilarating especially when you consider the opportunity at hand to re-create the human existence on the planet...