The decision not to dress up on Halloween night for some people may owe to a lack of faith in their imaginations, as if a costume somehow requires a witty conceptual satire on the order of a pregnant nun or a monk in chaps. A few come up with promising ideas, but get bogged down in the details: My friend Cindy threatens every year to go out as a transplant-delivery agent equipped with a cooler full of organ meats, but she never finds the time to gather props. Others are just embarrassed by the idea of a Halloween costume.

I have never been deterred. It seems to me that if Western middle-class culture offers grown-ups one day a year to look weird, we ought to take advantage of it. This year, I painted myself, from hair to toenails, in glittery silver, put on a standard-issue black evening dress and went to Hal Wilner’s “Closed on Account of Rabies” (better known as “that Poe thing”) at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

The costumed people were in the minority: A handful wore white mime face or fluorescent wigs, one elegant woman wore angel wings on her flowing dress, and a bereaved Ramones fan fixed himself up like Joey. But the bulk of the audience wore regular clothes.

Many in the crowd were generally delighted with the anomalies among them. One woman wanted to know if I was in pain (no); another wanted to touch me; someone else demanded to know the details of the process (a sponge and a bottle of Kryola, a talc-and-glycerin mix available for $24 at Image Exclusives on Melrose). My date informed me that most people were smiling, but then said, “Some of them are giving you the evil eye.” I encountered a colleague and her boyfriend who looked bewildered and kept the conversation with me short. But if anyone winced, I quickly dismissed it, confident of my Halloween privilege, which I try hard never to justify or defend.

Any lingering self-consciousness disappeared with the show, which was, to me, a wonderful thing, a four-hour stretch in which to meditate on Edgar Allan: Did his conscience torture him? Did depression make him violent (as Edith Wharton hinted)? And how did the drugs he took affect his dreams?

Performers seemed perversely matched to their pieces: Saturday Night Live’s Chris Parnell, who is a short man, found spectacularly credible characters in his diminutive self to animate Poe’s vindicating saga of little people, “Hop-Frog”; Syd Straw’s heart-shredding howls made her telling of “Morella” chill your skin; Eric Roberts narrated “The Black Cat” with an escalating intensity that might, we speculate, come from having visited some of the same demons of violent depression. After the band Antony and the Johnsons closed out the first act with their otherworldly “I Fell in Love With a Dead Boy,” I became preoccupied with the big-eyed blond soprano called Antony (“Shouldn’t we have heard of him?” we all kept saying), and I forgot that I looked different from anyone else. But at intermission, it all came back to me. “What are you supposed to be?” asked a man who passed me cream for my coffee. “Someone from Star Trek?”

When pressed, I explained I was a magnet, but in fact the concept was low, at best a brief rebellion against robust Homo sapiens skin fashion plus a little vanity: I actually like myself in silver paint, despite the way it accentuates wrinkles and pores. Having spent the last 10 Halloweens at parties where my minimalist disguises were never terribly conspicuous, I got a kick out of being the only silver body in a sea of plain flesh. I hadn’t merited this much attention since I’d had the nerve to drink Budweiser in my box seat at the Hollywood Bowl.

People drifted out of Royce in the show’s last hour, but we stayed, savoring Chloe Webb’s emotional incantation of “The Bells,” which took my breath away with its sheer newness, and a lovely, dirgelike setting of “Annabel Lee” by the New York–based band Elysian Fields. At the party after the show, where a man in a latex mask and I were the only ones to acknowledge the holiday, I introduced myself to Antony, who’d been described to me as shy and reluctant to meet people. A silver woman, apparently, didn’t bother him at all. “I love your costume,” he offered, and slipped me a copy of his new CD.

Fright Nights: Firefighters and Princesses

What does the world look like right now to kids who are too young to understand what happened on September 11?

Gendered, for starters. Parked uneasily between sorrow and anger, my 3-year-old tomboy wants to know why the lads who can’t keep up with her on the monkey bars are suddenly shutting her out on the grounds that they are valiant firefighters, while she’s nothing but a lousy princess.


The gender stuff we can deal with — today’s child-rearing manuals are full of tips on the care and feeding of girls’ self-esteem. But there’s nothing in the books about how to respond to the more topical questions parents are suddenly fielding from inquiring toddler minds. Like why the cars around us on the drive to preschool have sprouted American flags, but ours hasn’t. Or why, at the birthday party we went to in the Valley last weekend, American flags beat dinosaurs in the Top 10 of face-painting options. My daughter is too young, thank God, for a discussion of patriotism. To her, America means the odd shape on the globe someone gave her, or the map she plays hopscotch on in the schoolyard. Given my own discomfort about all the flag-waving, I’m happy to leave it at that for now. It may also be too early for a chat about pluralism and tolerance.

What I really don’t want to do right now is talk to a 3-year-old about security and mistrust. A couple of weeks ago — and I have no idea where she got this from, unless it’s her sharp ear for my phone conversations — she asked if we could walk to see Grandma and Grandpa in London, instead of going on a big plane. For better and worse, she’s growing up into a very different world than my generation, which bounced safely around the streets after dark without supervision. That hasn’t been an option in urban America for a while, but right now we’re not as unsafe as we think we are. My kid and her annual Halloween date couldn’t care less why the turnout on our local trick-or-treating street this year was less than a third of its normal hordes. For the two of them, the unnatural hush just meant more candy in the stash. We, their parents, on the other hand, were asking ourselves why so few families had shown up for one of the most kid-friendly nights of the year; what on earth there was to be afraid of from people who so generously continue to open their front doors to strangers in funny outfits; and what sort of message it’s sending to our nation’s children when their parents are so freaked by current events that they can’t say boo to a wicked witch, let alone to anthrax hysteria.

—Ella Taylor

Seamless Spring:
Ron Athey Takes On Fashion Week

From left to right: Tree, Michelle Mason, Jared Gold, Cornell CollinsPhotos by Jack Gould

In recent years, L.A. designers have shown off a more experimental edge. And last season, it seemed that the locals had finally shaken the retro references and were playing with no rules, which made for some thrillingly low-tech assemblages. This season, unfortunately, the past is back, with variations of the peasant look — recycled from the ’70s or the ’90s, does it matter? — popping up in more than one line. Overall, the spring 2001 collections were lacking fresh ideas and, in some cases, coherency, but there were enough visionary pieces to keep the shows lively.

L.A. Fashion Week’s biggest corporate-sponsored event kicked off at noon last Friday at Tibbitz Creative Stages in Hollywood, and attracted media representatives from The New York Times, Fox News, Vogue, Movieline and the Style channel, among others, as well as the likes of Angelica Huston, Kelly Lynch, Jasmine Guy, Melissa Rivers and Suzanne Sommers. The seven-hour marathon featured six of L.A.’s more established designers.

Anticipation was high for Jared Gold’s show (he’s a particular fave of New York buyers). A sophisticated duet with John Contreras on cello and Dame Darcy bowing a bent saw set a demented tone, topped only when Gold and his mother, Susie, played Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto in D-Flat Major in a two-piano arrangement. Gold’s spring line wrestled between precious Victoriana and mental-institution punk, with some pieces looking like recycled hospital-scrub tops. Silky skirts with three or four very large polka dots were Gold at his best — taking a detail and blowing it up. Among many ill-fitted pieces, a stunningly constructed peacock-leather corset top with calyx voile bag skirt also stood out.

Another showman was Cornell Collins, who boosted expectations with what he called his “Nellie Olsen-inspired” line (yes, from Little House on the Prairie). However, the regrettable program note that concluded “She is an exquisite porcelain doll on the threshold of an exquisite nervous breakdown” reflected what seemed to be a misogynistic view of style. Take, for example, the symbolic doll face garishly created with white greasepaint around the forehead and temples of the models. And then there was the mix of calico, structured ruffles and sculptural pleats all in one outfit. But one curiously shaped dress did create a magnificent effect with pheasant feathers floating between taffeta and organza layers. Now that’s a frock for a lady.


Getting away from heavy-handed romantics, PetroZillia offered a large, loud, fast 31-piece show of more miss-than-hit deconstruction with odd color choices such as salmon and lime. Eduardo Lucero’s perfectly tailored dresses — some with thigh-high slits, some with Copacabana high-low hemlines — were very luxurious Havana chic. Tree avoided outrageous runway pieces, going for sexy functional with intricate detailing: Models walked to T. Rex in layered slip dresses and not-so-naughty baby dolls. David Cardona’s high-end line was — even with such features as shoulder cutouts — the equivalent of the ’80s padded suit jacket, while his use of leather, suede and houndstooth all screamed power bitch.

Saturday night, Michelle Mason’s show was monumental, although that was more a result of the setting — the former St. Vibiana’s Cathedral — than it was of her line. An appropriately somber group of media, stylists, scenesters and celebs lined up in the dark courtyard, waiting to be let in. The mid-19th-century cathedral exuded ritualistic drama, but the show itself verged on dull. The models maintained a grueling, funereal pace, and most of the clothes were not as impressive as her fall line, although she had a few bias skirts and wool jackets that lived up to the hype. When Mason’s bride stepped out wearing a white-and-cream-leather form-fitting dress with Victorian button-hooks down the back from neck to train, it clicked with the space.

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