“Looks For Less” Blogger Fashion Challenge: Some Romper Saved My Life Tonight

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Photos by Lydia Vilt

My mission, and of course I chose to accept it, was to create an outfit from any combination of stores at the Asheville Outlets for $100 or less and then shake my blog thing about it. Oh hello, some kinda dream come true. Let’s jam.

I knew immediately what kind of look I would go for: a sassy concert ensemble (duh!) with enough versatility to adjust to the impending weather changes. What I didn’t realize when narrowing my focus was that I was perhaps up against an even greater challenge; I had cornered myself into a relatively small market at the outlets, that of chic nighttime attire for a woman about town. But I remained optimistic because with so many fresh shows coming up this fall, there really is no other type of gear on my mind right now. I basically work, play, eat, and sleep in band t-shirts, so I’m all set on other fashion fronts.

Now, there are a few things I take into serious consideration when shopping for concert wear: a striking aesthetic presence as well as comfort. This is key. There’s nothing worse than being at, say, an electronic show and cursing the shoes you’re stuck in or constantly adjusting a skirt that rides up. It ain’t attractive and you’ll miss a good show! Furthermore, I tend toward classic styles and try to tune out most trends, as I know by now what shapes and materials flatter my body and what nonsense simply does not.

I started in Express. An instinctive animal mind takes over when I enter a boutique; I am suddenly on the hunt. Instead of just seeing the displays, I’m feeling them, sniffing out what I may not know I’m even after. After 20 minutes or so of fondling racks of bedazzled tanks, peplum tops and pencil skirts, their small section of clubwear found me. And there it was: a chiffon romper in classic black, 30% off.

The crazy thing about this moment is that I have honestly never owned a romper or jumpsuit before. It is a rare one-piece that fits both halves of my body, but this was my rare gem: a strapless top with grip lining and side zipper to keep me squeezed in, shorts that fall to just the right length, and a pretty piece of extra material that cascades down the center and over one leg. And the fact that it’s black means the possibilities for accessorizing are endless. Silver, gold, turquoise, wood: you can literally do anything to this thing but throw up on it and it’ll be fabulous. Bam.

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I knew my next piece would have to be shoes in order to determine what style jacket and jewelry I would go for. I headed to Rack Room Shoes, where they’re doing a buy one get the second pair half off sale. After a quick run-through, I found just one pair I would possibly buy (I am very picky). They were blingin’ black and gold peep toe platform stilettos, and while I am in desperate need of a new pair of major heels, they still weren’t quite right. My toes pinched on both sides, my heel popped ever so slightly out with each step, and I knew those issues would only get worse with wear. That’s when, out of nowhere, I saw the real winners.

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Black peep toe wedges with a summery, psychedelic heel design and ballerina wrap-around strap = YES. But it’s what’s inside the shoe that counts, so I strapped myself in and took ‘em for a spin around the store. Three times. Any pinching, slip-n-sliding or heel wobbling, and I would have dropped them like a one night stand. But the heavens opened up, and a wave of warm euphoria fell over me. They belonged to me. I even took them dancing downtown Saturday night, and I didn’t trip once.

The romper and shoes make a complete outfit on their own, but when it’s nearing the end of summer and we’re dealing with shorts and wedge sandals here, a girl needs options for the weather. This is where jackets and/or scarves come in. I’m a big fan of pashminas (big scarves), the many variations of draping and wrapping perfect for these chilly nights.

 

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Rainbow pashmina by local festival vendor, Turnip the Beets

A light three-quarter sleeved jacket would look great with this, too. Color and pattern options are, again, limitless. I happened to snag a classic black (faux) leather jacket at Forever 21. Maybe it’s trendy all over again, but I’ve never had one, and I don’t believe it ever really has gone out of style. Whatever flips your skirt, I say.

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Forever 21 black bomber jacket + power teal tights. Rock ‘n roll, baby.

Let us not forget those bare legs! Throw some tights or leggings on under those shorts, and you’ll be killin’ it. Color accenting in a primarily black outfit is one of my favorite things in life.

The necklace I selected is the only unfortunate part of the story. Jewelry is hard enough to buy, especially costume jewelry with its endlessly stimulating selections of colored beads and chain types. Shoppers become junkies at the displays, sweat beading on our foreheads, hearts palpitating at the slightest hint of some other bitch crowding us out as we try to possibly choose one or two pieces. I want them all. I NEED them all. If I wear this one I could be a ‘30s movie star, this one an African queen! This mentality is not unique to me, and it’s not an accident. Fashion marketing is a brilliant thing, really. Scary, but brilliant.

I finally chose an uncluttered silver Y-chain with two turquoise beads from Maurice’s. It was more expensive than those of the other shops I visited, and I assumed that factor combined with its simplicity would reduce the risk of breakage. But I was wrong. Six hours after my purchase, the bottom link up and fell off. I was driving. Come. On. For now, I’m going to chalk this up to a bad batch, return it (or exchange it for a stack of bangles), and play with the necklaces I’ve already got and can count on. No harm done; I can pair anything with my new romper.

Asheville Outlets pro tip: If you are 95% in love with an article of clothing but are still a little unsure how it will look and feel outside the store, tour other stores and try it on in different dressing rooms. I tried the romper on everywhere I went after buying it and paired it with a variety of jackets under a variety of lighting situations. If you still like it, that piece is for you. If you don’t, jump ship and return it. It’s okay to admit when something just doesn’t work; you’ll be grateful you held onto the money in order to let the right thing in.

What I Spent:

Express, black chiffon romper: $29.95

Rack Room Shoes, black peep toe wedges: $26.74

Forever 21, black bomber jacket: $22.47

Maurice’s, silver Y-necklace: $17.12

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Total: $96.28

Asheville’s First Ever Fashion Week: This is Why We Can Totally Have Nice Things

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Meeoww! KatDog Couture represent! Photo by Pete Zamplas

The music is booming, the soundsystem in The Millroom pleasingly righteous. But I’m not here for a gig or to have drinks with some hot drummer I just met. It’s Asheville’s nascent Fashion Week, four days of runway shows representing a select group of local couturiers. If ya didn’t know it, I like clothes, too.

The term “Asheville fashion” could bring to mind any number of things: hippie clothes, for one, from the incense-scented Deadhead threads found in the touristy import shops to the truly skilled leather- and lace work held down by the fine foxes of Royal Peasantry. For all the slick professionals who can afford $100 blouses, the Lexington Ave boutiques got you, but most of that stuff isn’t designed or manufactured locally (Royal Peasantry excluded!). And then of course there’s that amusing upcycled thing, but let’s not pretend that it’s particularly wearable to most of us.

It is clear upon entering the venue Friday night that the sponsor of the events, Gage Models and Talent, isn’t messing around. Based in Knoxville (with potential plans to expand to Asheville), the established and respected talent agency represents a high artistic caliber, a concept that the cultural infrastructure of Asheville doesn’t yet totally support. In other words, they’ve got money. You won’t find any pants made out of garbage bags here.

And yet Gage doesn’t appear to be riding on waves of pretension or superfluous glamour. The runway set-up is unique yet practical, built into a zig-zag so it crosses aesthetically from one corner of the venue to another. A projection screen displaying the designers’ logos rightly serves as the backdrop. Every seat in the house is filled, the DJ’s bass thuds with anticipation. Most of the photographers are posted up at the end of the runway, their flashes peppering the room.

I am thankful to the gods of time and space when KatDog Couture is announced shortly after I arrive (I’d only missed half of Diamond Brand’s power-outdoor collection). KatDog designer Kati Foster has been on my radar recently, photos of her uniquely Asheville-inspired designs tickling my Facebook feed all year. This all thanks to my friend Aubrey Huntley, who has been one of her key models of feminine badassery for months. I’m stoked to see her walk this collection tonight.

I would rock that little white number so hard. Photo by Pete Zamplas

Foster shows over 25 pieces, a thrilling ride through her current inspiration. Picture it: strapless mini dresses act as the base layer, embellished with an exciting variety of draped, cinched and side-slit skirts, hoods, and capes. From tulle-wrapped, clubby ballerina looks to earth-toned festy forest fairies, the collection is made to be extremely versatile, for wherever you want to look fly and feel comfortable. Most could reasonably be worn for three days straight at a music festival, others would be happy as conversation pieces over low-key drinks on Haywood. There are at least a couple I’d try to seduce you in. If Little Red Riding Hood lived in Montford and her hobbies included sexy acid-fuelled cemetery adventures, her closet would be filled with KatDog. I just want all the dresses. THEY HAVE ALL THE THINGS!

After the show, Aubrey introduces me to Kati (whose humble nature I suspect is overwhelmed by my new sense of fashion groupiedom) and another young designer, Tasha Lief, whose showcase I unfortunately missed on Thursday. Twenty-one-year-old Miss Tasha studies design in Paris like a boss and is probably my favorite new person. I meet some other models and ask barrel-loads of annoying questions, but it’s fascinating to be in a different artistic arena for a change, the exchanges of admiration and of course juicy gossip not unlike that of the music industry.

The week’s finale event takes place Saturday at the Renaissance Hotel. It’s an all-day thing starting at 3pm, but I, typically, don’t make it until 8:30 for the final walk. I see new material from House of Fabrics, Scott McFarland, Southern Charm, Charles Josef, and Angela Kim. Tonight I find model-watching to be the most fun, the range of body types, skin tones, hairstyles and number of tattoos appropriately representative of Asheville people.

There are some models though that look absolutely miserable up there. There’s a difference between a serious runway look and “I can’t stand this and am going to kill every single one of you.” Don’t even get me started on the walks! Ladies, I say this because I love you. If you really are going to pursue modeling you must practice wearing high heels more often. This rough shuffle in reasonable stilettos is awkward and unfair to both you and the shoes. At the same time there is knockout talent up there, and it’s refreshing to see it shine in a city with such relaxed fashion & beauty standards.

I hear later on that a bunch of models didn’t even show up (classy), and the backstage area for a time succumbed to chaos, designers plucking models from other designers, clothes and attitudes flying everywhere. Classic! Mad props to the models who walked two or three times in the same collection and the designers who made it fuckin’ work. You are fierce.

At the end of our first ever Fashion Week, “Asheville fashion” brings to mind new images for me: from swimsuit to bridal, well-crafted, cutting-edge, comfortable attire that reflects and delights the wide range of lifestyles rocking this collective land, sans the pompous price tag. Sock it to me, baby.

Just Trying to Commission Peter Gabriel Remixes is All

peter gabrielI love Peter Gabriel. I listen to and think a lot about him. I just finished his biography Without Frontiers: The Life and Music of Peter Gabriel. What a brain-tickling babe.

For a couple years now I’ve been keeping my ear out for great PG remixes. Just found this dark, synthy version of “Mercy Street” by Virgin Magnetic Material via Soundcloud, which pleases me. I just don’t want to stop at his most well-known songs. I want to go deeper.

Of all his beautiful material, he’s got this song I can’t shake called “No Way Out” from his 2002 album Up. From first listen I envisioned this minimally powerful song remixed into a dance track. That guitar riff, that chorus! That’s all you need. Now I suppose this is what a DJ feels when s/he makes a remix. But I don’t do that. I do this.

I want one of you internet musicians to remix this song. Who’s up to the challenge? There’s a lot of Backstage Sass blog love in it for you. And probably hugs and kisses if you’re local.

 

Even Divas Get the Groupie Chills

So I’m flipping through a book Bette Midler wrote about her first world tour in 1980. In it there is a page entitled “Dear Diary,” in which she discusses her initial discomfort with her groupies (in this case, a pair of young sisters from Idaho) and ultimately her realization that the relationship is a symbiotic one, one that is necessary for her as a performer and a person:

“I guess it’s always troubling to be faced with that kind of devotion. Like most performers, I deal with intense adulation from the multitudes, but as soon as it comes from a focused source…well, that’s another matter altogether. Maybe that’s why so many performer friends of mine refuse to have any dealings with even their most ardent fans…But in some strange way, they give–to me–meaning. I always feel more solid, more real when they’re around. They make me think that maybe there is more to me than I know.”

 

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Resurrecting the Groupie: A Quick Note on the Reviled “G Word”

One of my first childhood memories is dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” in front of the living room TV with my older sister. As he did most people on the planet, he rocked me. I suppose other things about being a four-year-old got me going, like baby dolls and birthday cake and my mommy, but even then I knew there was something special about the relationship I had with this music man; my baby cheeks flushed at his voice, my feet moved with his pulse. I studied his 1991 album Dangerous faithfully; I ran my fingers over the glossy liner pages daily and developed my reading skills in order to discern the lyrics. By the time I was five or six and had learned a thing or two from Disney movies about romance, I was certain Michael was my boyfriend and any day now he would come knocking on my door to marry me. It’s probably best that dream didn’t come true, but it opened the door to a long and beautiful relationship with the power of music and the people who make it.

It wasn’t until I purposefully heard Abbey Road for the first time, sprawled on the floor of my 14-year-old bedroom, that I made the transition into full-blown music obsessive. I listened to every Beatles song, read every book, watched every video countless times. Their emotional language electrified me beyond reason. I poured my devotion into studying everything about them and their cultural impact. While other kids in my high school entertained future career ideas like nurse or chef, I saw myself as a rock ‘n roll historian. Or Paul McCartney’s next wife.

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High school era Sass. I carried that book everywhere for about two years.

At that point in my adolescence it wasn’t just pictures of the classic rock gods that decorated the walls of my bedroom and my heart, but also their goddesses. I became fascinated by the glamorous women by their sides, the muses who, for better and for worse, inspired the most beautiful, aching, electrifying pieces of sound of the day. I worshipped women like Patti Boyd, wife of George Harrison and then Eric Clapton, whose demure beauty galvanized some of the most evocative love songs in history (“Something,” “Layla,” “Wonderful Tonight”). Soon I discovered the bold, business-minded women like Cherry Vanilla and Chris O’Dell who held invaluable inner-circle music careers while getting whatever and whomever they wanted. Those women to me were the ultimate groupies.

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Cherry Vanilla with Mick Ronson. As David Bowie’s PR queen she helped make him one of the most enigmatic personas in rock. You think he did that shit on his own? Puh-lease

The word “groupie” evokes intense responses. It brings to mind sinful women who will do anything to be near someone famous or passionless socialites who use their musical conquests as social leverage. The riotous days of ‘80s metal and salacious stories of basic bitches blowing roadies for backstage passes doesn’t help things, but that is just one aspect of a music culture whose roots lie in sexual expression. It’s not the only way.

I hold the idea of a sacred relationship between those who create art and those who receive it, who religiously dance, laugh, cry, and scream to the tune of their truth. A super-groupie is a super-fan, one who has a spiritual and/or primal desire to reflect, celebrate, and nurture the source of the art. At its core, the creator(-trix) of the music and the one who truly loves it burn as twin flames.

That relationship still exists, though it looks different now that major artists are harder to access and too many independent artists are too exhausted creating, distributing, and marketing themselves to connect intimately with their fans. A new generation of groupies is growing, so let them back in. With modern skills, discernible taste, and hearts on fire, they won’t stay in the dark much longer anyway.

Bonus: they’re a really good indicator of whether your band rocks or sucks. Weeee