Friday, March 19, 2010

This week was a great week to be a service member in uniform in New York City. The Grand Marshall of the 249th St. Patrick's Day Parade was none other than NYC Police Commissioner and retired Marine Corps Colonel, the Honorable Raymond W. Kelly, and boy did the Marines strut their stuff as they marched up 5th Avenue in honor of the commissioner, the City and the luck o'the Irish. Observing the parade from the crowd lining the streets, my deputy and I must have returned at least a zillion salutes from the oft rambunctious and sprightly clad parade goers in green.

That same morning, when I stopped by my local Starbucks dressed in my service dress blues to grab a tall decaf, the woman behind the counter said to me simply yet assertively, "On the house, it's on the house today." That was the best tasting coffee I've had all week.

And finally, yesterday I had the absolute privilege to speak to the Women's Studies group at CUNY's Lehman College in the Bronx. I talked about women serving in the military, or rather one specific woman who served, in honor of Women's History Month. The woman I spoke about was fellow public affairs officer, U.S. Marine Corps Major Megan McClung, the first female Marine officer to be killed in the Iraq war and the first female graduate of my alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy, to be killed in action since the school was founded in 1845. It was an honor to tell the women and men of Lehman about Megan during this St. Patrick's week.

Yes, the sun shone warm upon New York's face this week. You can bet your lucky charms on that.
(U.S. Marine photo by Sgt. Randall A. Clinton)

Friday, February 19, 2010

In my ongoing quest to absorb every ounce of New York culture I possibly can in this, my third and potentially final year in NYC, last night I shifted gears from the glitz and glamour of New York Fashion Week and indulged in a rather primitive form of entertainment by experiencing The Moth StorySLAM. I use "experience" because that's really the only word that properly describes this forum of raw, brave amateur storytelling, as "an experience" to behold. Hosted by the Housingworks Bookstore Cafe, I was forewarned of the packed crowd this event brings in night after night, and last night's performance was no exception.

But before I get to the performance details, an observation on what I've grown to accept as a fact of living in a city of 8 million: any event that is 1) inexpensive (admission is a mere $7); 2) reputed by word-of-mouth; and 3) hailed by a NY pub such as TONY, The Village Voice or New York Mag (the kiss-of-death, as I like to refer to it) is going to attract such a hoard of people that it generally isn't worth the bother to attend the event in the first place (Note: I cannot overstate, this is a part of City living that I loath). Not so for The Moth StorySLAM.

The premise is this -- 10 amateur storytellers are brought onstage to an open mic and allowed 5 mins to spin a yarn around a predetermined subject. Three panels of judges then rate the performances, and the top scorer wins best storyteller for the evening. Hosted by an MC who offers humorous interludes between stories to allow time for judging and introduce each participant, the event's only flourishes include the sales of beer and wine, again at modest prices and in plastic cups or PBR cans, which the MC enthusiastically endorses. Sounds simple enough, right? But what is so captivating about this performance is exactly that -- it's simplicity, the art of storytelling, in its purest form. In a world full of conveniences like Netflix, iPhone apps and on-demand everything, something as simple and pure as storytelling as a form of communication is so riveting and fresh and ... new.

Last night's subject was "tradition." Fitting, especially because in today's instant communication information age, it's particularly worthwhile to slow down for an evening to experience the tradition of storytelling. Even if it comes with traditional New York crowds included.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Fashion's New Fever: Bloggers in Spotlight As They Aim for Fame -

Fashion's New Fever: Bloggers in Spotlight As They Aim for Fame -
This being the first time I've attempted to observe New York Fashion Week in the two years I've lived in NYC, I'm amazed by the similarities between the Fashion Industry and the U.S. military in how slow they've been to adopt the power of social media. Like scared twin ostriches with heads buried in the sand, the oddly paired organizations share nothing if a traditional top-down hierarchical structure. And yet, either both failed to recognize the staying power of the collaborative Web 2.0 information sharing environment, or they felt the rules of engagement -- that is, social media engagement -- didn't apply to them.

To the military's defense, I can see how adopting social media into an overall communication strategy presented somewhat of a conundrum. When operational and information securities are always of the utmost importance, especially in the development of plans and policy, I can see why professional military communicators, myself among them, may have had some initial resistance and even scepticism toward adopting collaborative social media tools as part of a broader communication plan. But as we, as a nation, have become more and more adept at not only using social media tools that have emerged over the years -- Facebook, Twitter and Blogger, to name but a few -- but also at understanding their power and far reach, it's become painstakingly clear that if the military chooses not to engage in social media, then someone else will fill the void and speak for (and against) it. When the issue became forced, either by illegitimate voices acting on the military's behalf or even by way of media attention covering the subject, the military became more receptive to accepting social media as not only a legitimate but potentially powerful platform from which to execute its communication plan.

What I don't understand is why the fashion industry allowed itself to become a slow adopter and instead didn't immediately embrace social media, falling victim to its own protective ivory tower persona. Unlike the tax-funded military, the fashion industry falls squarely in the realm of capitalism where consumer culture intersects commercial industry -- it had only revenue to lose by ignoring social media marketing trends. With fashion-hungry, at-home style bloggers an inexpensive (i.e. free) resource to tap into, every designer should have been live-streaming their fashion shows years ago instead of banking on the old, out-dated model where fashion critics, media photographers and paparazzi are given exclusive access to shows, and they in turn distribute their distilled observations, imagery and commentary to the general public. With decreased costs in technology these days, what, other than a sense of exclusivity and self-importance, is keeping more designers from bringing their products to the masses real-time?

This fashion week, at least, two conferences dedicated to fashion bloggers and purveyors of social media took place, perhaps an indicator the tide's turning and fashion's finally coming around. Who says a zebra can't change its stripes?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I consider myself extremely fortunate that I had an opportunity to observe some New York culture firsthand by attending the Fashion for Relief Haiti benefit fashion show last night. Not only was it for a good cause, to raise money for CARE, which it did to the tune of a very respectable $100,000 in ticket sales (see exhibit A below), but it also occurred during NYFW's final stint at the indelible Bryant Park before it moves permanently to Lincoln Center next fall. Hosted by Sarah Ferguson, the Dutchess of York, and super model Naomi Campbell, the event most definitely fulfilled my every expectation, and then some. Yes, I may have had to pay my own way into this insider's glimpse of the New York fashion industry, but in doing so I am very proud to have supported CARE, a humanitarian organization dedicated expressly to assist women and children.

Like most, I am drawn to the pageantry that surrounds and is New York Fashion Week. Below I offer my insight-by-way-of-photo essay on this extraordinary part of New York culture. All photos (except one) by NYCNavygirl.

Exhibit A: Proof I had a legitimate seat at the event! And for a good cause.

It was kind of crazy outside the main tent at BP just before the show.

Robin and I inside the main tent. I'm wearing my first designer label dress ever, a Roberto Cavalli consignment find. This is the photo not by NYCNavygirl, but by the nice lady who sat in section A, row 10, seat 8.

One of the women of the evening, Sarah Ferguson, the Dutchess of York. She kicked-off the show with a message of why we were there, to support CARE through Fashion for Relief Haiti.

Fran Lebowitz. I didn't find her comments particularly memorable, but maybe that's just me.

My best action shot of the runway all evening.

And the other woman of the evening, Naomi Campbell.

This model fell on the runway not once, but twice on her very first pass. I later learned that she was famous "It" model Agyness Deyn.

Donna Karan. Lovely.

My favorite moment of the show, when the American matriarchs of the fashion world strutted their stuff. DVF passes DK ... priceless!

This woman was the most entertaining to watch, she walked down the catwalk backward!

With that head of hair, how could she not have fun?

She's still at it ... with style.

Salute to Alexander McQueen.

End of show, appropriately in FFRH tees.

A side note: Twice that night I was asked for my photo by members of the paparazzi, once while standing outside the BP main tent and once during the preshow cocktail reception just inside the entrance. On both occasions I was caught completely off-guard and felt utterly ill-prepared to "strike a pose," the second photographer even offered me subtle instruction by coming out from behind the lens and emphatically jutting his hip, hand in place. I was so surprised I found myself struggling to stifle a smile because I didn't know what else to do (isn't smiling in such situations not cool?). I have yet to see either image emerge on the web, so I'm guessing that tactic didn't serve me well.

Living in New York, I certainly have been randomly asked for my picture before, but only while in uniform and even then only during Fleet Week (oh look, there's a girl one! I remember one overzealous tourist shout from across the street before rushing up to me and asking for a photo with her husband last year). This, however, was completely different, because I was being asked for my photograph for the personal choices I had made in getting dressed for the evening and not for the novelty of the uniform. Yes, next year when I am out of the Navy I know that, to an extent, I will miss that novelty. But for now at least, I am still a woman in uniform, and I cannot even begin to describe what a huge compliment it was for me to be asked for a snapshot while in my "civvies."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Searching for Lee McQueen

By now the tragic news of Lee Alexander McQueen's death has saturated the fashion world and even mainstream media the globe over. Being a neophyte to haute couture myself, I had certainly heard of Alexander McQueen, but wasn't savvy enough to recognize his trademark creations as they permeated into pop culture, more specifically by way of Lady Gaga wearing McQueen chess crowns and armadillo heels in her raucous "Bad Romance" video.

As is often the case after an unexpected artist or celebrity death, it provides a moment of pause for retrospection on that person's life's work (I like this piece from the Times). For me, what is different about McQueen is that after reviewing image upon image of his masterful craft I realize that we will continue to see his work for years to come, whether it be in the form of his own creations or the influence he will have on current and future artists. His clothes are the reflection of a visionary in every sense of the word, and we are extremely lucky to have had his talent grace our presence for the disappointingly short time he spent on Earth.

Lee, I hardly knew ye. But I have a suspicion your influence will be with us for some time to come.