Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Modern Minimalism: Tina Chow and Beyond

Dearest Third Cousin,

This is my article for this months Motley Magazine:

 “Yes I’ve been naughty” was Tina Chow’s response to questions of her battle with HIV; she never hid her illness nor the fling with notorious bi-sexual playboy Kim D’estainville during which she contracted the disease. She became the first well known hetro-sexual woman to die from AIDS and her death like her life could be seen to defy stereotype. She was an androgynous beauty who throughout the 70’s and 80’s was both personally and sartorially progressive. She has become known for her gender bending personal style and her stunning design aesthetic.

Bettina Louise Lutz aka Tina Chow was born in Ohio in 1951 to a Japanese mother and German- American father. The Lutz family moved to Japan in the 1960’s. Both Tina and her sister Bonnie became successful models, they became the faces’ of Shiseidio, Tina in particular went on to become the muse of many including Karl Lagerfeld, Issey Miyake and Andy Warhol. It was Warhol who encouraged her to design, he considered her an equal and much more than just a muse, he recognised her creative vision and introduced her to healing crystals. Healing Crystals along with Bamboo were the main two materials she used in her work. Her parents were obsessed with collecting bamboo and her childhood home was filled both inside and out with it. Her work was deeply personal blending her Japanese Heritage and her personal experiences of Pop culture in New York.

Tina blended the formal aesthetics’ and cultural nuances of both east and west to create a beautifully progressive and enduringly modern design vision. She was the antithesis of the 80’s that we all have come to know, she rejected garish colours and metals and embraced crystals, brass and bamboo Chow summed up her design aesthetic and personal style by saying “I like the idea of wearing very personal jewellery and not much decoration”. Her jewellery design incorporated traditional Japanese basket weaving techniques and uncut healing crystals. Tina refused to cut the stones saying “uncut stones are so wonderful why muddle with them”. While Chow was and still is a widely respected designer her personal style was equally inspiring “Tina had an innate elegance and never needed any designer to do anything for her. In fact she did a lot for us” said Giorgio Armani about the style icon.

Her personal style was a blend of minimalism, masculine tailoring and elegance all actuated with statement jewellery. She played with the idea of borrowing from your boyfriend before anyone else; she was often seen wearing menswear and had a particular love of black Kenzo trousers which she had remade every season. Her uniform was typically a plain white t-shirt, tailored trousers, a masculine cardigan and a few pieces from her extensive designer jewellery collection. She also collected Haute Couture clothing; she was especially fond of Balenciaga, Dior, Vionnet and Fortuny, all of which was auctioned after her death. Tina was so respected as a style Icon that when a fashion magazine (either Vogue or Harper’s the details are unclear) asked ten designers to pick a muse to be photographed with eight out ten picked Chow! There’s a really great anecdote that emphasises her popularity in 1980’s New York: She created a craze amongst gay men to side-part their hair and don her uniform of white- Tee’s, a grey Cardigan, flat-ironed Kenzo Trousers and ballet flats and exclaim “Today I’m Tina Chow”.

While during the 1980’s it may have been mainly gay man recreating her style today fashion houses like Martin Maison Margiela and Alexis Bittar borrow a lot from her. Margiela is especially topically as they are collaborating with H&M in a much anticipated de-fusion line which is set to launch on November 15th. The line promises to include both clothing and Jewellery and if some of the most recent MMM collections are anything to go by there will be huge inspiration sought from Tina. The now retired Martin Margiela is considered one of the most innovative and progressive designers of the past 20 years. He is also an enigma within the fashion industry, he has never been photographed or interviewed much to the annoyance of fashion journalists. He like Tina Chow never followed trends, his collections were conceptual and included frayed materials, ice cube jewels (which melted to discolour the clothing they were paired with), exaggerated shoulders and trompe l'oeil effects. Margiela like Chow is a designer with a distinct vision and strong conviction of design, who clearly admires Chow’s designs. His collections often feature Chow inspired Jewellery from Lucite bangles, minimalist cuffs and neck-pieces adorned with crystals. The creative direction of his label is now managed by a design team.

What will be their take on Margiela for H&M? “We are very happy to present Martin Maison Margiela pieces with H&M, offering a new interpretation of our vision. The democracy of our fashion has always been at the centre of our creativity, and the collaboration with H&M allows us to push this instinct further. We will bring together the contrasting universes of the two houses in ways that will surprise all” said an official spokesperson. The pieces from the H&M collection will not be hitting Cork stores so bar a trek to Dublin or joining the hordes who will inevitably crash the high street store’s website how can you achieve Tina’s look?
Online retailers offer a wide range of Jewellery that I think Tina would approve of and unlike the originals have a price point that is student friendly. Some of my favourite finds are these multipack of cuffs (1) (16.94) and a stunning three stone cuff from Free People (2) (19.76) both available from ASOS. Etsy is an online haven of independent designers and once off finds, simply searching “crystal necklace” produces 100’s of results including this stunning raw crystal necklace (3) (10.31).  Street style blogs like (Stockholm street offer hundreds of images showcasing contemporary minimalism in a very accessible manner. Some of favourite looks include boyfriend jeans, a well cut blazer and a plain white t-shirt so simple chic and affordable. I recently picked up a pair of Boyfriend jeans in T.K Maxx for 11 euro! Folkster also stocks great vintage Levi’s that would be perfect for the look. However I recommend investing in a great Blazer it’s a Wardrobe staple that will never leave you down.

 Tina’s look may seem very accessible in 2012 but Tina was one of the first to experiment with “minimal chic” so much so Karl Lagerfeld credits her with inventing  it, he claimed that “nobody looked better in it” and I think he’s definitely correct.

(If your around Cork make sure to might up copy of Motley it should be in any student good household or all over UCC)

Your Third Cousin


  1. awesome post on such an interesting woman x

  2. thanks so much! I'm kinda obsessed with her after writing it!

  3. Such a great post. I'm dying to find out more about her! Gonna spend the rest of the night googling her. :)


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