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Reading About Fashion in the Buff

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Photograph courtesy of La Photographie Nashville

Photograph courtesy of La Photographie Nashville

Nudity, like extreme cold, can be shocking if you are unaccustomed to it. But once you realize that it’s only human flesh, or snow, the shock slowly erodes into acceptance and possibly joy.

Last Friday night June 12, I attended a reading on fashion as part of the series Naked Girls Reading series.  When a friend invited me, I didn’t hesitate to accept., With a name like Naked Girls Reading, I was intrigued.  Before attending, I had to do some research. What exactly was Naked Girls Reading? When I learned that it was exactly what it said, naked women reading from books on a given topic, I knew I had made the right decision as this was truth in advertising if I had ever seen it. The theme for the reading was Passion for Fashion, yet another reason to attend, due to my personal passion for fashion.

We arrived a bit before the start time of 7:00 p.m. with a bottle of Malbec in hand. The events are BYOB and take place in Studio L’amour, a space in one of those loft buildings on Ravenswood just north of Irving Park Rd.  Studio L’amour hosts the Naked Girls Reading series as well as being home to a burlesque instruction school.  Michelle L’amour and Franky Vivid, hostess and host of the evening, began Naked Girls Reading in Chicago back in 2009. The series, which has since spread to 24 cities worldwide, has been called “the world’s most provocative literary salon” by the Toronto Globe and Mail.

When guests enter the space, the sensual nature of the evening immediately begins to unfold as the first room is a lady’s boudoir.  From there, the salon awaits. It is a decently sized space. Floor to ceiling mirrors line one wall, about four rows of chairs are lined up towards the back of the room, and four tables are located towards the front where the stage is.  There is a bar at the entrance, where you can pick up cups for your beverage or open your wine bottles.

We sat at one of the tables next to two gentlemen, shortly after which Franky Vivid came out onto the stage, which consists of a platform with four decadent chairs for the girls who would be reading. One of the chairs happened to be on a slightly more elevated platform. That is where the queen bee, Michelle L’amour, would sit. Those of us sitting at tables were advised to move our chairs slightly to make room for the ladies entering. Vivid announced there would be a fashion show. The theme was, of course, Passion for Fashion. RuPaul’s song, Supermodel (You Better Work) welcomed the ladies who worked it, sashay(ing) and shante(ing) all the way up to the stage.

The fashion show entrance was organized in a sophisticated and intelligent manner; this was a literary salon after all.  The four women walked in wearing sheer robes and hats designed by Sarah Haley, a local milliner and designer. The robes were quickly disposed of and the women were left to their nude bodies, hats, high heels, and long, dangling necklaces. The women, Michelle L’amour, Honey Halfpint, Greta Layne, and Lady Ginger, were a variety of shapes and sizes. The one unfortunate aspect of the entire evening was the lack of diversity in the spectrum of pubic hair; they all had the mandatory landing strip. Where did the freedom of the bush go? With a variety of body shapes, hair colors and the like, I had hoped to see these liberated women echo varying degrees of bush management. Alas, I was disappointed.

Fortunately, this is the only critique I have of  Naked Girls Reading. The readings were amusing, sad, witty, and informative. The girls reading were articulate, elegant, and amusing.  The audience consisted of 40 people, the majority were men, and many were couples. My friend and I were perhaps the only two single women there.  At the beginning, I was too enthralled by the nude bodies before me to remember what the first book was that Michelle L’amour read from, but later I was able to keep note.

While watching, I couldn’t stop thinking of my first experience at the King Spa, a Korean spa and sauna in the suburb of Niles. At first, I was a bit uneasy with all of the nude women around, then I grew comfortable, and later joyful at the fact that, in the space of this spa, I had free reign to prance around naked from pool to pool and be massaged and scrubbed down alongside other naked women. At the end of that day, I decided it was a bit what a piece of meat must feel like getting marinated and prepared for cooking.

It was the same with the Naked Girls Reading. I grew accustomed to seeing their bodies and enjoyed watching them. They became like the women, myself included, at the King Spa: folded skin, spots, hair, bone, and flesh.  The difference was that these women were engaged in an intellectual activity, reading, instead of the communal activity of cleansing and healing.

The choice of texts was excellent and varied. During the first act, Honey Halfpint read excerpts from The Fashion Encyclopedia , while Lady Ginger read from The Beautiful Fall, a novel about the rivalry between Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent.

For the second act, the women walked in the same way as before, with their sheer robes floating behind them, but this time there was one small difference. Much of the audience didn’t notice it until Michelle L’amour pointed out, “Our hats are different.”  Laughs could be heard from the audience, as most hadn’t been looking at their heads to notice the change in hats.

Hilarity ensued during the second act when Greta Layne read from a book of mean and biting quotes by Karl Lagerfeld.  Honey Halfpint brought some insightfulness into the reading with a recent article from The Atlantic, “The Neurological Pleasures of Fast Fashion.”  Lady Ginger’s reading from Crystal Renn’s Hungry was the most disturbing and moving of the evening.  Other books read from were Tim Gunn’s Gunn’s Golden Rules and Nina Garcia’s Little Black Book of Style.

A quote from Chanel ended the evening. “I don’t care what you think about me, I don’t think about you at all.” This, to me, sums up the Naked Girls Reading series. If you don’t think too much about the nudity and simply enjoy the beauty of the female form, both physical and cerebral, you might learn a thing or two.  The next event is on July 10, when the Naked Girls Reading present Tales, Tails, and Cocktails.


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