Monthly Archives: May 2017

T-shirt new fashion trend in Libya’s Benghazi

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Browsing through the racks of printed T-shirts and scarves, a handful of shoppers inspect the latest designs in what has become one of the most popular clothing stores in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

One of them, Ali, a student, holds up a T-shirt printed with a popular Libyan expression “Grab what is new before it becomes old”, one of the many catchphrases that adorn the designs in Boza, a small shop in an upmarket neighborhood.

“I always bought clothes with English writing on them but now for the first time, I am buying a T-shirt with Arabic print,” he said. “I am so happy.”

Ali is one of the hundreds of Libyans who have flocked to Boza since it opened a few months ago, eager to get their hands on designs that have become a talking point among the youth in Benghazi’s popular coffee shops.

Its name meaning “stylish”, the store – the first of its kind in Libya according to its owners – sells T-shirts, bags, head and neck scarves printed with “Made in Libya”, “Walk like a Libyan” or a jumble of letters spelling out Benghazi.

Some T-shirts are printed with “I love Cyrenaica”, referring to Libya’s eastern province where calls for more regional autonomy have heightened since Muammar Gaddafi’s ouster in 2011.

Benghazi was the cradle of the Libyan revolt and discontent has mounted over continued neglect from Tripoli. Easterners say their oil-rich region was starved of cash under Gaddafi.

Other colorful T-shirts carry portraits of King Idris, whom Gaddafi ousted in his 1969 coup.

“Our designs have political messages, it is difficult to separate daily life from politics,” Ahmed Benmussa, a 32-year old oil engineer and Boza co-owner, said.

“We take inspiration from Libyan heritage because we have a rich culture. Reviving history is one of our aims.”

Some of the T-shirts tackle the serious issues plaguing post-war Libya – the mass of weapons on its streets and the armed militias which have hobbled governance.

“Better the devil you know” reads the message on one T-shirt accompanied by the drawing of a knife.

“Some of the messages are critical, perhaps in a more humorous way,” Benmussa said. “This is how we express ourselves, unlike those who actually use weapons.”


The shop itself is a mix between old and new. An old record player lies idle in the middle of the store while a large television screen beams Boza’s latest designs.

Importing blank T-shirts and scarves from Turkey, its designers use a small printing machine to decorate the clothes and accessories. Customers can also personalize goods or propose new designs on a “suggestion wall” in the store.

Boza’s T-shirts, which sell for around 50 Libyan dinars ($40), are popular among Benghazi’s youth who say the designs allow them to express themselves – a still relatively new freedom after Gaddafi’s 42-year iron-fisted rule.

“This is a great way in which you can express yourself in a modern and fashionable manner,” Alaa al-Baba, a 24-year old engineer, said. “It would be great if everybody could do that.”

Boza’s owners use social media site Facebook to promote the store, both at home and abroad, posting pictures of the owners’ friends wearing designs around town like professional models.

“We have sent T-shirts to customers in Saudi Arabia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, United States, Qatar, Ireland, France, Egypt and Spain,” Benmussa said.

Capitalizing on Boza’s success in Benghazi, plans are now under way to open a branch in the capital.

“There will be a Boza in Tripoli in coming days,” he said.

Choose fashion trends for your body confidence

Twice a year, New York Fashion Week turns media attention to runways, bright lights, style heavy-hitters and of course, to-die-for collections.

And twice a year, the underlying story of these events is how those models manage to stay so thin, and whether their size is a reasonable idea of beauty.

My philosophy around taking care of my own body is pretty simple: I believe in eating more vegetables than French fries overall, drinking lots of water and sweating for at least 30 minutes a day, whether it’s from running or scrubbing the bathroom floor. I do not believe in consuming hard drugs or munching on cotton balls to curb hunger, two tactics of many that were described to fashion reporters this week.

I recognize that my commitment to exclusively external use of cotton balls might mean I don’t look awesome in every trend, and that’s fine. It’s also fine that even though I accept my body for what it is and encourage everyone else to do the same, I still don’t want two enormous pouches of fabric on the sides of a pencil skirt making my hips look bigger than they actually are.

We all have body qualms, even people who are naturally very thin. And we all have that one fashion trend haunting our shopping trips, the thing that accentuates the body issue we’re trying to ignore. I’ve laid out a few common culprits below and some alternatives that you’ll be more confident wearing, because great style is not reserved for people with “ideal” bodies, whatever that means.

This week I read an article from Refinery 29 on Ikram Goldman, owner of the upscale Chicago boutique Ikram, who’s kind of a big deal in the fashion world. She had this to say about personal style: “Be comfortable in your own skin, and your style will come out. You’ll be fabulous in whatever you’re wearing.”

The body qualm: You’re not all that keen on calling attention to your hips and butt.

The problem trend: Peplum skirts

The fix: Peplum shirts

Naturally, I’m starting with one that I can relate to. In fact, I related to it two days ago when I tried on a sheath dress in Target that had ruffle around the waist of truly unfortunate placement and length. I actually thought to myself, “This IS a brand new Target…maybe there used to be an amusement park in here and this particular mirror is leftover from the funhouse?” The somewhat more likely explanation, though, is that a peplum skirt just doesn’t do what I want it to do for my body. Enter the peplum shirt, which appears to be overtaking the peplum skirt in popularity this season anyway. You can go with a structured choice in a thicker fabric, or a more laid-back, subtler peplum top like the lace one from Anthropologie. I love the boatneck and three-quarter sleeves, both of which are slimming and balance out the added volume on the bottom half.

The body qualm: Your thighs aren’t as toned as they could be.

The problem trend: Colored jeans

The fix: Colored trousers or printed jeans

Colored jeans are often made of a thinner, more stretchy denim, which makes some wearers’ legs look “lumpy,” even if the jeans fit. To add insult to injury, they tend to run small, and nobody’s fond of not being able to squeeze into her regular size in the dressing room. With colored, cropped trousers, the fabric is thicker and the fit slightly looser. If you’re set on denim, try darker printed jeans, perhaps navy with white polka dots or a fall floral.

The body qualm: You’re nearly a foot shorter than a runway model.

The problem trend: Maxi skirts

The fix: High-low skirts

This is a fairly self-explanatory problem, and one that there’s not much of a solution to except buying petite if you can or getting a maxi skirt hemmed. If both of these seem like too much work, a hem that’s short in the front and long in the back is trendy this season and more likely to accommodate your frame.

The body qualm: You want to tone down your large chest, just a little – the grass is always greener.

The problem trend: Peter Pan collar

The fix: Embellished or embroidered necklines

This is no more than a feat of optical illusion. A Peter Pan collar is very dainty, so when it sits right above your chest, it’s likely to make it look that much bigger in contrast. Embellishments or embroidery on sweaters, on the other hand, typically reach from shoulder to shoulder. When your focal point is wider, your chest looks smaller.

Using PC Lenses in Fashion and Portrait Photography

Perspective Control lenses for SLR cameras were developed primarily for architecture, interior, and still-life photography applications. PC lenses simulate some of the movements and control that photographers can get from a view camera. They are great for keeping lines parallel and subjects in focus. Just as PC lenses allow photographers to control what is in focus, they also allow you to control what goes out of focus and how quickly it does that. Fashion and portrait photos with enhanced bokeh or selective focus create dreamy blur and guide attention to the areas remaining in focus.

PC lenses or tilt and shift lenses have been around in various forms since the 1970. The Fuji GX-680 made a big splash in the 1980s as a medium format camera system with built-in bellows that could accommodate tilt and shift movements. Some fashion and portrait photographers jumped at the opportunity to play with selective focus. Both Nikon and Canon have recently made waves by announcing ultra-wide PC lenses, but it was the Canon TS-E 90mm and the Nikon 85mm PC-E lenses that brought tilt and shift to focal lengths more favorable to portrait and fashion photographers.

The tilt function of PC lenses allows a photographer to alter or tilt the plane of focus and decide which part of a scene they choose that plane to fall. For comparison, a traditional lens has a focus plane that is parallel to the film or digital sensor in the camera. The amount of depth of field is determined by the aperture of the lens and will give the image clear range focus 1/3 in front and 2/3s behind the exact point of focus. But when you alter the plane of focus using a PC lens away from parallel with the film or sensor, the area in focus can dramatically change.

The pair of images at top shows the same scene shot with two different lenses. The left image was shot with the Nikon 70-200mm zoom set at 100mm while the image on the right was shot with the Nikon 85mm PC-E. The right image and the image above show the effect of tilting the plane of focus on a horizontal axis leaving only the eyes in sharp focus. Since the current PC lenses are not made using bellows systems, they only tilt on a single axis as opposed to view cameras, but they can be rotated to accommodate a horizontal, vertical, or even diagonal axis.

Shifting the plane of focus on a vertical axis can also produce dreamy effects. As the focus plane shifts relative to the image plane, part of the focus plane draws closer to the camera while the other part shifts away from the camera. This has the effect of compressing the area in sharp focus of a standing subject, which is great to isolate attention on the face or eyes. However, that shift of plane might also have the unfavorable effect of rendering a background or foreground element in sharp focus that might compete for attention. It helps to envision how the new plane of focus cuts through a composition and what is added or subtracted from the focus.

These images show the same model shot at f/5.6 one with a traditional 105mm lens on left, and the 85mm PC-E lens on the right with vertical axis tilt which leaves a vertical zone of sharp focus on the model’s face and front of her dress, while her arms go quickly out of focus. By shifting the plane of focus clockwise to bring the right side of plane closer to the camera and the left side further, the background on the right side of the background falls to soft focus while the left side actually gains more focus than is see with the traditional lens shot.

As with any creative effect, a little can go a long way. I tend to prefer a moderate amount of tilt of the focus plane on my fashion shots. I have been able to incorporate this effect into several fashion shoots, but unfortunately not all attempts have made it in to the final product. The rapid shift of critical focus can obscure details on a garment that can be important to my clients. My favorite uses of the effect bring the audience attention to the face while creating a soft and dreamy feeling to the overall image. This effect can be simulated to a great degree in post processing with blur and bokeh filters, but I do like the control that comes from seeing the effect directly in a viewfinder.

It’s Top Backdrop Painter Sarah Oliphant

From Vanity Fair covers to designer fashion shows and theater stages, artist Sarah Oliphant has painted her way into the fabric of fashion by creating beautiful canvases worthy of framing on a scale large enough to become the industry’s leading backdrop painter. Oliphant Studio has been creating scenic backdrops for photographers, film producers, fashion designers, architects, and interior designers since 1978. Along the way, Oliphant has collaborated with the top level of fashion and editorial portrait photographers including Annie Leibovitz, Steven Meisel, Patrick Demarchelier, Albert Watson, Mark Seliger, Norman Jean Roy, and Sue Bryce while also providing an inventory of backdrops available for rent to photographers beginning and advanced.

Oliphant Studio’s work can be see behind some of the most famous faces and top-flight models on magazine covers for Vogue, Rolling Stone, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, GQ, Newsweek, and The New York Times, in advertising for Victoria’s Secret, Anthropologie, The Gap, Aveda, Lancome, J Crew, and Guess, and painted backdrops and runways for designers like Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger. The studio has an inventory of about 2,000 canvases as large as 12′ x 24′ and muslin backdrops even larger available for rental from their Brooklyn, NY studio.

Those lucky enough to visit the studio are generally surprised to find that the large scale backdrops begin life as fabric tacked to the floor with the artist walking over them applying paint with implements from paintbrushes affixed to 3′ extensions, to garden watering cans, to bristle brooms to create detailed realistic scenes or swirling abstract textures. The pallet of colors for a composition is contained in a series of buckets rather than dabs on a traditional slab of wood. Oliphant and her assistants paint, pour, and spray colors onto fabric with the swagger of sign painters but with precision of a pointillist.

Those skills serve her well working with photographers creating backdrops both working with them on unique collaborations and anticipating trends creating her stock of rental canvas and muslin paintings. “It is all about communication. I am solving my client’s artistic problem and the more information I get from that client, the more successful I will be at solving the problem,” Oliphant says. “After all these years of working, of communicating with so many different photographers, designers, producers. I can cut to the chase quite quickly now.”

 Sometimes known for her richly painted and smoothly textured canvases, her backdrops frequently appear in fashion and portrait images by long time client and collaborator Leibovitz and other photographers who occasionally frame images to include the edges and roll of a backdrop within the composition. The studio’s rental inventory also includes numerous detailed scenics, cityscapes, skies, interiors, and specialty creations. Set designers and art directors frequently use the studio’s website which displays the inventory when designing sets or creating a concept for a shoot. “For commissioning custom backdrops, we work closely with each client to ensure the backdrop is a collaboration. Each custom backdrop is painted as a unique piece, based on our client’s needs. We can paint anything from a chevron floor or scenic forest to a classic grey portrait drop,” says studio manager Munmun O’Neill, who is also Sarah’s oldest daughter.
“I have had some incredible experiences painting for photographers that know what they want but aren’t afraid to experiment in the process of getting there. Sometimes you have to just go for it using crazy techniques and unusual materials,” Oliphant says. Like other artists, the painter is less comfortable isolating what the current trends are for backdrops in terms of color or style. “This is a difficult question to answer. Yes, there are trends and color palettes that are popular, and we see that in the jobs we are asked to do. The success of a painted backdrop has a lot to do with an artistic aesthetic which is often ineffable and timeless.”
“The largest backdrops we have painted were probably for the Marc Jacobs 2015 Runway show. They were painted to resemble Diane Vreeland’s living room, and had a beautiful luxurious quality to them,” says O’Neill. Oliphant got her start painting large theatrical sets before turning her attention to photographic backdrops and enjoys working on a mammoth scale. “Working as a scenic artist in the theater trained me to work large scale to and paint with confidence under great deadlines. I have a great time collaborating on huge projects. Fashion Week is very exciting for us. I love the feeling of looming catastrophe, then everyone coming together to pull it off,” she says.
The larger the project, the larger the piece of fabric needed to paint. O’Neill couldn’t estimate how much canvas and muslin the studio goes through each year, but added, “We have Rosebrand on speed dial!” Many of the canvas backdrops are rolled on 10′ or 12′ tubes and can measure over 20′ long to provide both a wall and a floor for a sweeping photographic background. Painted canvas backgrounds can be quite heavy. A 12’x20′ backdrop can easily weigh more than 40lbs and require sturdy support to hang for use. Muslin backdrops are lighter weight and more flexible and can be stuffed into bags.
My first encounter with Sarah and Oliphant Studio was as a next door neighbor when we both housed our studios on 20th Street in the Flatiron neighborhood of Manhattan, which was formerly known as the Photo District. Among the many eccentricities of having a studio in New York City is sharing a freight elevator which in our case was located inside Oliphant Studio. On numerous times I found myself tip-toeing along the edge of a freshly painted backdrop making my way to or from the freight elevator. The studio itself was a combination of a painting space for the large scale canvases, muslins, and other materials while at the same time being the storage space for Oliphant’s incredible inventory of rental backgrounds. I enjoyed the unique privilege of having almost immediate access to Oliphant backdrops for my shoots, for a rental fee, when the need arose as well as having a frequent peek into the creative chaos that goes into painting the industry’s leading backdrops.