“CONTRAST & OTHER FLIGHTS OF FANCY” was originally posted to HAUTE-MIND ON 4.22.13

There are various thoughts relating to opposites and the dynamics that arise when they engage each other. The color wheel teaches artists to see opposites as complementary. A romantic might believe that difference results in fated attraction. Subjects of great debate often get heated to the point of combustion and Alan Watts has suggested that polarities are entanglements that have been long misunderstood.

“The mistake in the beginning was to think of solids and space as two different things, instead of two aspects of the same thing. The point is that they are different but inseparable, like the front and rear end of a cat…As the Chinese say, the various features of a situation ‘arise mutually’ or imply one another as back implies front.”

      -Alan Watts from The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

But regardless of a person’s school of thinking, all would have to agree that the world we live in is dominated by the opposable force.

Lord and Taylor window 3 copy

These forces manifest as relationships, whether interpersonal, parasitic, or symbiotic, and provide the conditions by which comparisons are made. We notice similarities and contrasts alike. There is a tendency towards singularity, but it is the uncommon ground that gives sentient experiences its dimension and size. We would be nothing and have nothing without it. We forget such things in the midst of divergent extremes, feeling as though we have to choose. Unfortunately, the adult world is filled with the tedium borne of unyielding absolutes. We are constantly being bombarded by either or scenarios, to be a Republican or Democrat, to follow passion or settle for security. There is the expectation that there can only be one factor that motivates behavior: nurture vs. nature or the more popular good vs. evil. We must adhere to roles that are predetermined, male or female, plebain or patrician, with conflict as the inevitable conclusion, promoting intolerance between dueling sides.

Sibling Rivalry Film Strip copy

Not only is contrast fundamental to human experience, but to our expression of it as well. Photographers, architects, and filmmakers, must consider figure vs. ground, light exposure or deprivation, form vs. open space.  Most things have been done before so what makes for an interesting composition can often be a purposeful arrangement of recognizable parts. While some designers are masters of invention, most are expert mixologists, synthesizing fabric, silhouette, and construction details, into a final work whose value exceeds the sum of its cost. Within the last few seasons, this has meant the juxtaposition of two different or opposing concepts into a single form to create something entirely new. It is a theme that is woven throughout many of the current trends: Black & White, Masculine / Feminine, High / Low, Soft Structure, Fit & Flare, Role Reversal, Fabric Mixing, East to West and Tribe Meets the Western World.

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What is great about using Contrast as a concept to get dressed by is that it is open to interpretation by the individual. It does not attempt to force whole sections of the population into something that is unflattering. It also promotes the recognition and acceptance of our counterparts, whether we respect or loathe them, because what would the world be like without their challenging influence?


Black & White : While color is exciting and stimulating for the senses, Black and White are grounding, palette cleansers for the recent invasion of color. They are also timeless and can transcend the in/out game that the trend machine likes to play.

Black White Floral

Stripes, Contoured Seaming & Bondage:

stripe jacket


High / Low : While the shift from high to low is usually more gradual, the sudden and dramatic plunge makes this one of the more successful interpretations of this look.

high low copy

Fit / Flare : Controlled volume enables a woman to accentuate her assets and minimize problem areas, shown here as a peplum.

fit flare

Masculine vs. Feminine : Women are still navigating the tricky terrain of gender equality in a male structured world. As much as some people try to pretend otherwise, men and women are different, mistaking equality for sameness. But despite the different roles we play, we may not need to try so hard to understand the opposite sex. According to psychiatrist Carl Jung, one of the many levels of consciousness is host to an inner personality called the anima/animus and it is always of the opposite gender. It may be a much smaller voice than the one we are normally accustomed to hearing but still wants to be acknowledged nonetheless. So while I appreciate ruffles and lace, I like to offset their overt femininity with darker colors and masculine tailoring.

masculine fem rev

Soft Structure : There was a time when a career jacket had to have a notch collar and lapel but that time has passed. Unless a woman is a lawyer or working in finance, chances are she has never had to wear a suit to work, which is echoed by the decline of the whole category. Even the buttons are now optional on this career essential, which has softened up over the last few seasons.

beaded vest

soft mixed media jacket copy


Just like the dating world, hardened fast rules no longer apply. White can be worn after labor day and the division between night and daywear has been blurred to the point where it is practically unrecognizable. You can wear sequins to the office and jeans at a cocktail party, the only limitation being the ones we impose on ourselves. Fabrics have followed suit and they too are now playing with our expectations. Lazercutting on leather softens a material typically reserved for outerwear, and the proliferation of lace has inspired some to use it as a pattern on more durable fabrics.

Lazer-Cut Leather

lazer cut leather skirt reduced

Lace Patterned Jacquard

HN25088 blush

Comfortable Opulence

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Dressed Up Denim

dress up denim


Origins: Color-blocking made its first appearance in the sixties with Mod fashion which also drew inspiration from the painting style of Piet Mondrian. Within the last few seasons it has been experiencing a resurgence which began when Kate Winslet wore Stella McCartney’s “optical illusion” dress in September of 2011. It was genius for its simplicity: a form fitting dress with black framing the sides of the garment which gave Kate the illusion of a slimmer physique. In May of 2012, I took this photo of a party-goer at MoMA’s annual “Party in the Garden” whose dress also incorporates the black frame.

bathroom colorblock

2ND WIND : Designers at every level have expanded on the concept, but instead of showing just contrast of color, this new wave is more about mixing fabrics, textures and patterns.

Pattern / Solid

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Matte / Shine

sequin solid 2

Opaque / Sheer

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Smooth vs. Texture

NFP Felted Silk Dress


collage pant

Pop Color

pop color reduced copy


Asian: I have never been to China and yet it is a country that has a profound impact on the way I live my life. As a designer I communicate with our factories daily, the goods I consume are made there and as a person who values more holistic methods of healing, I prefer acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. But the relationship is not one-sided, we look to them and they are looking back. We have grown dependent on their manufacturing capabilities and they are increasingly concerned with emulating the lifestyle of the upwardly mobile. After Chinese New Year, their annual holiday in February, the number of workers that returned to the factories continued to shrink as an increasing number of the population moved into more urban settings. It seems that outsourcing labor was a temporary fix for more complex problems. But before our world’s collided, the Chinese had a rich cultural history where they valued the earth, craftsmanship and a soft robe.

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Velvet Lace Kimono style jacket by Willow & Clay

Tribal: Tribal motifs are modernized into functional fashion. Zig-zags are a common theme throughout African art and other cultures with shamanic traditions. It is how they document and share what they experience on their journeys to the spirit world.

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Zara Printed Jean

tribe meets world purse


Florals & Mirror Image Prints






Printed Leggings

patterned leggings