We have a running joke in our office about someday publishing the Johns Hopkins Magazine swimsuit issue. If you know us, know the magazine, and know the school, you grasp the irony, or perhaps the absurdity, on several levels. There is not much that could be classed as unlikelier. But a candidate would be Notre Dame Magazine putting out a special style issue.
For years, Notre Dame has been many wonderful things, but style conscious, style attentive, stylish . . . no. The magazine has reflected its boss, Kerry Temple, and its staff: deeply smart, thoughtful, sober, concerned with matters of mind, heart, and spirit, respectful of what endures and unafraid to question what, perhaps, ought not to endure. I like seriousness when it is in league with an active mind, and that’s how I think of Notre Dame. So even though I’d been tipped that something different was on its way from South Bend—my whisperers are everywhere—when I dug the spring 2012 issue out of my mailbox, I still laughed in surprise.
Starting with the cover, the special issue was brilliantly executed. The cover expertly mimics the fashion magazines that find their way into my house (courtesy of my glamourpuss wife): design, typography, tightly cropped portrait of London Vale, a Notre Dame alumna now working as an actress and model. The TOC lists 18 stories in the feature well, and they range from Kerry Temple’s opening essay, which is typically fine work from him and scores points for employing the word “galoot” and the phrase “a budding boy immersed in puissant femininity”, to Liam Farrell’s reporting on Notre Dame grads working at GQ, to a nicely pointed note from vice president and associate provost Daniel J. Myers about the sartorial shortcomings of university faculty, to a “live” report from fashion week by Arienne Thompson. Interspersed are pictures of Notre Dame students wearing their clothes.
I sent editor Temple a note asking him about the issue, and he replied, “In the past couple of years, I’ve enjoyed a couple of cable TV shows, Project Runway and What Not to Wear, which I watch with my wife, of course. So one evening I was talking with Arienne Thompson, the Notre Dame grad who writes about fashion for USA Today, and we got to talking about those shows and clothes and what she writes about. And we talked about her writing a piece for us, with the working title, ‘You Are What You Wear.’
“Then, one day early last fall, I was talking into the office, thinking about that, and the phrase jumped into my head: ‘Notre Dame Magazine‘s First Annual Fashion Issue.’ Like Sports Illustrated‘s swimsuit issue or ESPN‘s body issue. The juxtaposition of Notre Dame Magazine and fashion just made me smile. Preposterous.
“So at our next weekly staff meeting, I put it to the staff and talked about how the executive editor of GQ is an alumnus, then about Linda [Przybyszewski’s] book about fashion, and what Arienne Thompson might write, and what I wanted to say, and it all rolled out from there. Pieces kept falling into place, the momentum got going, we thought it’d be fun to spoof fashion magazine covers, then mimic iconic clothing ads, and we just kept laughing and saying, ‘Let’s do it.'”
(Ed. note: Because I know you’re all wondering, Linda Przybyszewski’s name is pronounced LIN-duh.)
A sampling of the good bits, for me, would include this from Paige Wiser’s essay “An Embarrassment of Clothes”:
Sure, you could blame the ’70s. But when are parents going to step up and take some responsibility? Why don’t they just admit it? “When we dress our kids, we don’t always have their best interests at heart.”
I wasn’t the only fashion victim. Look closely at a photo of any small child dressed up in a sailor suit or reindeer antlers, and you’ll see an unmistakable message in their eyes:
And this from screenwriter Jamie Reidy, about the suit he bought from Macy’s for the premiere of his first movie:
Then I felt the tightness in the lower back of my suit jacket. I tried to poof it, like a concert pianist prior to sitting down on his bench. But my jacket did not budge. This would have been fine if it had no vents. But it did. Standing on Hollywood Boulevard, merely two first downs from the media lights and red carpet, Jenn [Reidy’s girlfriend at the time] confirmed that two strings crisscrossed the bottom of the jacket flaps: an X marking the spot of my fashion fiasco.
She didn’t need to say the words: That wouldn’t have happened at Neiman Marcus.
And this, from Daniel Myer’s list of 20 popular faculty styles:
[Style #3]: Why tuck in my shirt? I’ll just have to do it again tomorrow.
[Style #7]: That hole burned by 18 molar hydrochloric acid isn’t that bad. Why waste a perfectly functional pair of pants?
Temple ended his note to me about the issue, “I think we responded to an initial fun idea and so intuitively welcomed the departure from our typical heaviness, earnest examinations, and institutional duty that it got us going, kind of gave us wings. Notre Dame takes itself very seriously and the magazine reflects that, we’d been through some internal ordeals, but the time was right for us to throw open the windows and let a gust of fresh air blow through the house. And it did.”