New Yorkers have been complaining about gentrification forever, but the pace of change during the past several years in downtown, especially on the West Side, has been startling… well, to be honest, it’s almost deplorable. The saddest thing to see is the way the meatpacking district has changed in the past few years. It’s easier to spot celebrities than a rat these days, and it’s been a while since we have lost sight of transsexual hookers on Washington Street.
My best friend T used to say “You got to have germs to make art.” The city, like underdeveloped countries, is still filled with all kinds of infectious germs, but the species that T used to mention, the kinds that nourished art, are almost extinct. I miss the days when artists, hookers and drug dealers were all under the same roof. It was thrilling, and art was much more powerful back then.
It’s ironic to think something positive about this change when it’s making me feel like a fish trapped in a drying pond, but if there is one good thing that has come out of this horrendous gentrification, it is that the city has become a nice place for kids to grow up in. My biggest dilemma these days … I want germs for myself, but not for my kids. Having a family is not simple.
(Here is another irony. T, who was homeless and couldn’t tell the difference between a shooting gallery and an art gallery when we used to hang out together, is now a professor at one of the ivys, and his two kids go to one of the best private schools in the city.)
Speaking of Bijin-Hakumei, perhaps none fits the bill better than this one.
She was phenomenal. Kanebo’s ad campaign in 1977 turned Masako Natusme (夏目雅子) into an instant household name in Japan, and many of us realized that a torso of a Japanese woman could be sexy and beautiful (most models in Japanese ads were Caucasians). She was possessed of a healthy charm. Her beauty was a blend of traditional and new. If the human being is a creature of age, Masako Natsume was the perfect icon of Japanese women during the height of the nation’s economic growth. So it came as a huge shock to most Japanese when she suddenly passed away in 1985 due to acute leukemia at the age of 27.
The image on the left was probably taken more than two decades ago. The one on the right was taken a few years ago.
Who is she?
– Her name is Sayoko Yamaguchi (山口小夜子).
– Sayoko was the first and maybe the only supermodel from Japan. Newsweek magazine named her one of the world’s top six fashion models in 1977.
– Sayoko Mannequin manufactured in ’77 by a British company was displayed all over the world through the ’80s. Fashion designer Anna Sui still owns two of these vintage mannequins and uses them in her shop.
– According to Yoshiharu Fukuhara, Shiseido’s Honorary Chairman and the grandson of the company’s founder, Sayoko was Shiseido’s liaison with Serge Lutens who often had done makeup for Sayoko.
– Sayoko was the face of Shiseido for many years. She had a very Japanese-looking face, but her physique was not (ie. tall height, long legs). She didn’t really make a great model for a kimono because of her not-so-Japanese-looking body, but here is Sayoko in a kimono in one of Shiseido’s commercials.
The word “bi-jin” literally means a beautiful person and mostly used for women. “Haku-mei” denotes ‘thin life’ which translates to short life. It illustrates the Japanese worldview of beautiful things being frail and grieving such frailness. Sayoko Yamaguchi died two months ago at age of 57. Sayoko’s life was almost 30 years short of reaching the average lifespan of Japanese women today. Her life exemplified this idiom.
Her death brought back to me an almost forgotten memory. One fall afternoon, when I was about 17, I was waiting for a local train at Yokohama station to go to Tokyo. When I looked over at the platform for the express trains to Tokyo on the other side of the track, I saw a pair of long legs in yellow boots stretched out below a short skirt moving in elegant strides. They belonged to a very tall young woman with long black hair whom I recognized from glossy fashion magazines. No sooner had I realized it was Sayoko Yamaguchi than I dashed up the stairs of an overpass to get to the other platform where she was. An express train came in before I could get close to her. I kept my eyes on Sayoko Yamaguchi in the distance to remember the car she was getting aboard till I got on the rear car of the train. I walked through the aisles towards Green Cars (the first-class coaches in Japan) as the train headed to Tokyo. When I reached one of the Green Cars I felt so lucky to find her alone, there was nobody else in the car. I probably felt as I was going up to Heaven. I don’t remember how I introduced myself or how I left the car half an hour later. I only remember that I stayed in the car sitting next to her until I got off the train at one of the stops in Tokyo. We chatted about fashion in general, about Issey and Kenzo.
Although she must have been at the height of her modeling career then, the tall, striking woman I met on that cloudy autumn day was extremely gentle and pleasant… far from what we imagine today’s supermodels to be.
In a recent article in Travel + Leisure, Lynn Yaeger writes: “Five minutes after you arrive in Tokyo, you’re struck by it: this is the most stylish city you’ve ever been in, a place where fashion is taken so seriously that many of its women and men are themselves veritable works of art.”
I’m not sure if fashion victims in Tokyo are works of art, but it is an interesting angle to view the phenomenon. For decades, Tokyo has been the place where the cutting edge of fashion can be found all over the city. If you live there and care about fashion, life could become expensive and tiring. (This is one of the reasons I fled to New York almost 20 years ago. New York is crude, and people here are not as chic as people in Paris, not as stylish as people in Tokyo. Things are quite casual and relaxed in New York City.)
My kid brother no longer belongs to the hip, young generation of Tokyo, but I was curious to check what he was wearing during a recent stay in Japan. Like any fashion conscience person, young men in Tokyo are very picky about their shoes. To tell the truth, I couldn’t completely comprehend the trend in men’s shoes this time… In one occasion, my brother was wearing ‘red enamel shoes’ which were kind of a visual assault on my senses (my eyes can only stand looking at a red Ferrari or a red Valentino Garavani dress) and couldn’t remember what kind of clothes he was wearing that day. The only thing I could understand about the men’s shoes in Tokyo was making a strong statement with a pair of shoes. They were more or less the same in shape, but varied in colors, materials and patterns (crocodile, snake, leopard…).
On the last day in Tokyo, we got together at Omotesando after his meeting with clients. He appeared in shoes which seemed to be a pair of Tod’s and a nice Dolce & Gabbana suit. It was a relief to me.
The image has nothing to do with this post, but it’s a common scene in Tokyo.
South View from the Meatpacking District – September 11, 2001
Our older son is about to turn six. It’s been six years already…
My girlfriend and I were living in West Chelsea around that time, and whenever we opened the door of the south-facing terrace in our apartment we could smell a strange burning smell coming from the Financial District. The smell kept coming in our apartment for at least 3 or 4 months while the smoke was still rising from the massive debris. It was probably the most surreal smell that I have ever experienced.
– Gassho –
The correct answer of the last week’s quiz is D – The Mother of Contemporary Perfumery. The winners are Octavian and socalsocool. Congratulations. The prize will be a new fragrance by Sophia Grojsman to be released in September.
I strongly believe Sophia’s best of the best is yet to come, and the coming years are going to be really interesting. Go Sophia go !!!
Several weeks ago I promised to offer a limited number of samples of fragrance which was born from a collaboration between perfumer Dominique Ropion and photographer Terry Richardson. I apologize for the delay. Let’s say it’s not easy to bring back a fragrance which is no longer in production… but it’s coming. Thanks for your patience!