The Lion, the Critic and the Wardrobe

If a food critic can find comfort in the same old restaurant, can we do the same with our clothes?


Oh, sure. We’re pretty fond of each other, but the truth is you all are our favorite contributors to The Man Repeller. Really! We’ve formalized that fact with “Let’s Talk About It.” This weekly column is a forum for conversation, communication, and complete distraction from the jobs you’re supposed to be doing right now. So get involved. We promise we won’t tell your bosses.

According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2010 was the Year of the Tiger. But I’ll always remember it as Year of The Lion, because roughly halfway through those 365 days, famed restaurateur John DeLucie debuted his so-named eatery in Manhattan’s West Village. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one paying attention.

Anna Wintour gave the upscale watering hole her stamp of approval. Baz Luhrmann and Blake Lively graced its low-lit dining room. So did Madonna and Anne Hathaway and Jim Carrey. DeLucie himself appeared on Jimmy Fallon that spring to herald The Lion’s opening. And in the summer after its official ribbon cutting, reservations became the stuff of myth. Even if by some stroke of luck or pulled string you did manage to secure one, you were unlikely to return. To score a single seating, you could call in a favor. For two? Well, it’s called “destination” dining for a reason, isn’t it? You can’t possibly “arrive” more than once.

At the time, The Lion’s oh-so-stylish roar seemed inescapable. Reports of its pork chops were omnipresent. Its jarful of cheesecake was deemed, “everything!” But, inevitably, such effusions eventually quieted. By the following year, at least half a dozen newer, shinier restaurants would successively command the city’s notoriously short attention span. Remember Kenmare? It was the place to be seen, yet it’s no longer open. And what came first, Miss Lily’s or Acme? Now, it’s The General, Lafayette and Cole’s.

Just keeping track of the ever-lengthening list is exhausting, which is why former New York Times’ restaurant critic Frank Bruni is basically refusing to. Last week, Bruni denounced what he called “the fashionable script for today’s food maven” and expounded on the joys of becoming a “regular” at several just-plain-delicious local establishments.

As far as Bruni is concerned, “what you have with a restaurant that you visit once or twice is a transaction. What you have with a restaurant that you visit over and over is a relationship.” Later, the contributing editor goes on to extoll the “pleasures of intimacy” and “the virtues of staying put” that come with the familiarity he so lovingly describes.

His stance is perhaps a foreign one to many in the fashion industry. Some might go so far as to call it antithetical to the trade. After all, fashion folk are notoriously fickle and style necessarily evolves. Season after season, editors anoint a fresh talent—or ten. They declare a new it-bag. They crown their latest muse. And when these tastemakers invariably go out, they always, always pick the buzziest restaurant at which to fete.

Similar to hopping from one hot culinary spot to the next, we’ve come to share a taste for the kind of street-style dressing that demands a dozen brands be included in a single outfit. Surely, Bruni would not approve.

And frankly, I’m tempted to revolt alongside him.

I’m tired of tracking this fall’s “must-have accessory,” of sloppily mixing Zara with a four-digit-designer. Shouldn’t there be something admirable about supporting tried-and-true fashion houses? Better yet: shouldn’t there be something laudable about wearing a head-to-toe outfit designed by only one of them–to have a relationship, as Bruni put it–with one brand? Even if that brand is Gap. Does reliability, as Bruni claims, “breed content,” or does building a wardrobe based on just a handful of labels feel ludicrously uninspired?

“I’m a regular for the solace,” Bruni writes of his culinary habits. “The peace.” The question is: should we be shopping accordingly? If we could, would we want to?

Take a seat. Settle in. Let’s talk about it.

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  • Fishmonkey

    There is a fairly significant difference there though: restaurants are intimate places — you go in, you are seen by and see the same servers, greeters, chefs… you know their faces and they know yours. Fashion houses are more like sports teams — the loyalty only goes one, and it is hardly a relationship, it’s fandom. I can see building a relationship with a small emerging designer in one’s city, or – more likely — with a specific boutique, which is usually similar to a restaurant in the level of interaction. Both are small businesses that need their loyal clientele, and they can offer loyalty and recognition back. With big brands and design houses, it’s more like franchises — you know them but do they know you? IMO, they should, if we are to call it a relationship.

    • Alex Poirier

      That analogy is spot on. Although I’d argue that even sports teams are more accessible. I can tweet some players, and even the teams “official twitter”. You can go to games and get behind the team, and cheer on with your fellow fans. I’ll never be invited to a runway showing though.

      I can be a fan of Alexander Wang and own something he designed, like I can own a reprint of Vincent Van Gogh, or own an album by Kanye. Do we have a relationship? No. But on some deep level I feel connected to these artists because I like and can relate to what they have done.

      It’s a one-way personal relationship, haha. Which is just fandom, like you said.

      • Fishmonkey

        Oh, I’m by no means knocking brand loyalty: I do love me some Alexander Wang and Phillip Lim, but that’s on a different level than those few designers who are still small enough to interact with their clients. TBH, if I am to drop some serious money on an item, it will most likely be VanHongo or Titania Inglis or Mandarin&General because I feel a deeper connection to them, they feel more.. intimate, more boutique, and they actually write back, you know? Same with restaurants: if it’s a neighborhood place where I know everyone, I don’t mind paying more than in a big chain. I agree with the original post, incidentally, in that building a relationship is better than chasing new things; I just think it is important though to recognize the difference in the level of the relationship, and invest accordingly. The art analogy is a great one: you can feel connection to a famous artist’s work, sure, but isn’t it also thrilling to meet some unknown artist and recognize how great they are? And isn’t it even more special?

        • Alex Poirier

          I agree. Living in the middle of nowhere makes having any kind of relationship with almost any label impossible. Luckily social media does provide the ability to connect with brands you love (smaller ones at least). It is definitely more thrilling to be apart of and support smaller brands.

          It’s so easy to be completely disconnected from anything you buy nowadays with online shopping, especially living so far from any fashion relevant city. I think small boutiques have become great at creating loyalty and a great customer experience, bridging the gap between actual design houses and the customers.

  • Quite an intriguing topic … I am all for sticking to the One (or maybe two), if an occasional fling with Others is allowed 🙂

    Food: there’s this Indian restaurant 100 or so km away that we’ve been visiting sporadically for 12 years … It has moved from an old house to a new one, nearer to where the students are, but the food has been unchangingly delicious … What is more: they haven’t succumbed to the cliché “foreign food means garlicked food” 🙂 so far, so you only get garlic if you want to, but not sneaked in (my tummy dies a bit every time there’s garlic hidden somewhere. Or raw onions).
    After all these years, I’ve come to hope they’ll never change 🙂

    On the other hand, I do try new things at home. Last week, I made a tomato sauce with beetroot and red cabbage: it looked like red velvet, but was totally atrocious as to the taste 🙂 (bleurgh). Still, one can eat at the same restaurant only if one tries something else in between.

    Clothes: I still cannot forget those Bangladeshi workers that have dies so tragically (I have seen the pictures and I suffer every time I think of them), yet I also still shop at H&M. I have done that ever since I moved to Germany and even though I’d never do anything like confessing my undying love for them, they simply always have something I covet. (that Isabel Marant jacket – the white one with red frills and all – is haunting me right now)
    And then there’s clothing made in fair working conditions and of organic materials (no problem here, not even the prices) … A few weeks ago I read scientist were measuring brain impulses to find out how people react to textiles … My guess is my brain is flooded with happy hormones whenever I put on organic cotton or similar – it simply feels so much better and I have never expected that. So I also stick to my organic clothing shop and buy regularly from them. And that’s all, all other purchases are coincidental, but not too often.
    Again: it is OK to stick to the Few.

    I don’t think this is an age thing 🙂 Good things (things we personally love, not good things per se) are not spread so evenly that we may chance upon them everywhere without effort.

  • Building a relationship with a restaurant is building relationships with not just food, but potentially the people who make it. They become acquaintances who know enough about you to clue you in when something you really love is in season, or recommend things they are sure you’ll like, even if it’s new to the menu.

    With fashion, it’s incredibly rare to have that relationship with the people who make your clothing. Sure, it’s great to wear Prada…but does the person making it know that you have love handles and should/should not wear certain things? Not really. Can the designer make recommendations to you that they feel you will love? Only in the rarest of cases.

    I like the idea of sticking with what works. I’m not a size 2, and I’m not much over 5’3″. So when I find clothing that fits me, I feel confident in, and is comfortable? Sign me up for one in every color. I couldn’t care less what brand it is – I want to be happy with my style in the same way that I’m happy with my food. I’ve even jumped ship with certain brands because they stopped fitting me, or fitting my style.

    We are totally capable of being just as fickle with fashion as we are with restaurants. One bad experience and you may well have lost us for life. One great experience and you may get us for life.

  • Daphne

    I don’t understand how wearing one designer head to toe is a similar analogy. Do explain. Wouldn’t a better comparison be to keep a well edited closet and reach for the same tees, dresses, and pumps month after month? Wear the same items until we’ve worn them to shreds?

    • Mattie Kahn

      Oh, I don’t think the two analogies are mutually exclusive at all. And I totally appreciate maintaining a well-edited closet, but here’s the analogy I had in mind with regard to single-brand dressing: I’ve been buying “systems” of shampoo and conditioner for as long as I can remember. For better or for worse, I’ll never mix a Pantene and a Garnier, because I somehow believe that Pantene shampoo and conditioner are designed to “work” together. I wonder, I guess, whether we might start to “buy into” shopping the same way. Like: if a designer designed a dress and jacket to go together, why shouldn’t we believe that those items “work” better together than they would apart.

      • Daphne

        Ah! That makes sense and I now understand where you’re coming from. Interesting point. And I appreciate the clarification.

  • Paperstarz

    Its definitely possible to feel “connected” and loyal to a designer, or brand. Perhaps you’ll not speak directly to one multimillion designer, but to their customer service or sales department; and a bond can be formed.
    Which reminds me of my never-ending love affair with J.Crew. I primarily wore their clothes for yrs. Spoke to their store stylist and online reps on a weekly basis and had packages coming every single week.
    A relationship was built and sure enough Christmas would roll around and they would send me a gift. It made me feel appreciated and valued, which only enforced my loyalty.
    Alas, it is a long distance relationship and often felt neglected. Not being able to feel and touch every garment. I’ve ventured into the arms of new designers recently. My newest passion is Stone Cold Fox, but you never forget your first true love.

  • Amelia Diamond

    I find so much comfort in limiting my shopping to the same few stores, much like I eat at the same few restaurants. (But I have love and respect for the multitude of brands out there, just like I’ve eaten and many of the “cool places” that someone in our industry is expected to have tried at least once. Usually I do so because at some point I get sick of wide eyed shock when I say that I haven’t been to XYZ yet).

    And there are definitely brands I feel I have a “relationship” with (though I am intrigued by those who have commented that it’s not a two-way relationship with the designer, more of a fan-dom, since they don’t technically know you–at least in many cases). So perhaps my relationship with brands boarders on delusional…however, I most definitely feel a relationship to certain brands if not necessarily because of the brands themselves, but because of other things/people/and places that I associate brands with.

    For example–I feel like I’m always talking about my grandfather on here it’s just that his style rules–he always wore a particular brand of dress shirt. I buy my white oxfords from there and because of him feel a relationship with the brand…

    I also find another commenter’s point very interesting (Daphne) who pointed out another analogy is the idea of a very edited closet. Having a truly edited closet where I can close my eyes, reach in and know I’ll grab something I love– now that is the dream.

    I must say though, that like it or not, my favorite brand is very much in a relationship with me.

  • Aubrey Green

    Kate Moss is a great example of (staying true, or staying with what works) in the model to fashion realm of it.

  • Mattie Kahn

    Here’s what I’m thinking (and feel free to disagree!) as far as the “relationship” aspect that Bruni describes here is concerned.

    Bruni acknowledges how nice it is to know the people who make your food. He even describes the perks that a “regular” at a restaurant can sometimes enjoy. But his point goes deeper than just that familiarity. For him, it’s not just about the human interaction that comes with returning to the same restaurant again and again. What he really seems to love is literally digging into the same plate of food–namely, Barbuto’s roast chicken–time after time. He likes its dependability the way you and I might like, say, our dad’s spaghetti and meatballs. He takes comfort in knowing what he’s going to get and knowing that it’s going to be just plain good.

    The designers I love, Barbuto style, are the ones who can promise me the same. Who can show me, season after season, outfits that are just going to work. Designers whose wares will make me feel good without my having to do much of anything at all. That will make me look good without a slew of accessories or an abundance of mixing and matching. I don’t think (and I didn’t mean to make) a total one-to-one comparison between restaurants and fashion houses. What I meant was to spark a conversation about how we buy clothing and whether it’s even satisfying to obsessively track “the next best thing” when what we already know and loves feels so damn good.

    • Charlotte Fassler

      I definitely think it is difficult for me to see that when I have such a clouded perception of what I want at the moment clothing wise. It is easy to impulsively want that new exciting ticket item, but I find that old reliables never disappoint….and maybe that comes with the point of having an edited closet (which would be the dream, but alas I am sort of a hoarder…) but over the years as I continuously give things away, my old reliable items have stood by my side which is a good reminder for when I invest in new pieces.

      On another note, maybe the relationship we speak of isn’t between us and the brands, but us and that specific article of clothing. Every time Bruni orders chicken at Barbuto he knows he will have a pleasant meal. He associates that meal with specific feelings of comfort and satisfaction. I have certain articles of clothing that I associate particular feelings with. For example, I have this 7 year old simple H&M dress that has never failed me when I’ve worn it. I have a superstitious attachment to this dress and feel a certain level of comfort each time I wear it.

      Perhaps it is relationships like these which breed those sensations rather than fandom of a particular brand.

  • Jéuru

    I definitely love variety! Having said that, I take great pride in trying different fashion houses each season. But I must say I am starting to find comfort in being able to pick my favorite brands on one hand. Being able to do so allows me to have such steaming anticipation for what that fashion house might conjure up the next season. For instance, Acne has been my favorite brand for three years now and I await the new collection with such high hopes and they never disappoint. Every once in a while though, I like to venture out into Rick Owens or Saint Laurent to see what kind of new attitude I will get to display that season.

    Having a particular wardrobe is kinda hard when you’re my age (19) you’re always on the cusp of style evolution so I say, if you find comfort in a fashion house stick with it! But like restaurants, I think trying different things sometimes can lead to many personal style discoveries. Who would have known Topman mashed up with Phillip Lim would look so great? Mixing the high and the low’s baby, the high and the low’s.

  • rach xoxo

    I agree that there is nothing wrong with sticking to a designer and building a relationship. Of course to me that means one or two. And then a few pieces here and there from other designers. I feel like the comparison of the restaurant to the clothing industry is a valid one.
    Both have a general value and vision behind them. They tend to change a little here and there, but the things we love about them are always there. Even though you can go to a restaurant and there is that closeness to it, I feel that way shopping in the store of my favorite designer. I know they have what I want. The clothing rack is the menu, and even though the flavors might change I can guarantee it belongs there and is cohesive to the tastes I’ve come to enjoy.
    I know that in a restaurant you can be close to the people making your food, but to those who enjoy VERY small designers, that closeness can be had. I love Emerson Fry and Heidi Merrick, both of which has personally answered my emails about their clothing. I feel like I have a true relationship with those designers and their clothing. I don’t think that it’s a matter of should we shop like that. I think that if you choose to, you shouldn’t be looked at as not fashionable just because you don’t jump on every new “it” bandwagon and like to stick with the designers you feel “peace” with.

  • Greta Nolan

    I think there’s something to be said for ‘reverse coolness’- isn’t that kind of what the Man Repeller is about (well, at least eschewing standard ideals of beauty and fashion)? Everyone loves to feel like they belong/matter or are ‘regulars’, and this is something that can’t properly be achieved at whatever restaurant is de riguer in your city at the time, unless you’re a fan of constantly working for a table! And, at the heart of it, fashion is very much the same (at least for me)- and it explains why Chanel tweed will be worn by well-heeled ladies for years to come, and Doc Martins will be broken in by generations of angsty teens; they’re familiar, regular, and fulfill a style expectation.
    Sure, we stray from what we love and know, but at the end of the day I think most of us have a ‘local’ outfit we visit regularly, always feel good in, and will constantly revisit in some form or another for as long as we are interested! Visit my blog-

  • I think the only thing about wearing head to toe of one brand (well for me anyway) is the fear that you’re trying to emulate the catalogs or lookbooks. My point is, it’s really hard to mix it up and for some reason it does get a bit boring. Even if people mix outfits up, i notice that many still have their favorite designers that they have a relationship with by buying something nice ora basic from each season IMO.

  • Uniqlo is my one stop shop for everything. They have great quality at affordable price points.

  • Shawnee Rajala

    OMG Amen. I completely agree. As much as I am head-over-heels for fashion, I absolutely despise trends. I’ll take personal style everyday. But, I still love fashion. Maybe it’s because I don’t like anyone telling me what to wear or when to wear it; I’ll where whatever I want to thankyouverymuch.

  • Lou

    I agree with @fishmonkey:disqus I think that your taste of fashion houses can change depending on the season. My self for example -despite not being able to afford such luxuries- as my only glance in to the fashion world is through magazines and blogs I often find myself changing my TOP 5 brands from season to season depending on the collection– which I see as more of a fling with the brand rather than a relationship. Besides if you develop a relationship with a certain small boutique you are more likely to find one off delights or vintage gems– which can only serve to help you stand out of the crowd surely?

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