New Articles of Interest? What A Luxury
Avery Trufelman takes us behind the scenes of the new season, all about fashion, glamour, and luxury
Articles of Interest is a limited-run podcast series about fashion, housed inside the Radiotopia podcast 99% Invisible. Today, Articles of Interest returns for a second season, exploring the idea of luxury and our collectively held ideas of glamour. As host and producer, Avery Trufelman brings her microphone along to buy handbags on Canal Street, watch diamonds grow in a laboratory outside of Chicago, and smell a workshop full of ingredients for designer perfumes.
This new season features recurring themes and threads that examine the ways we signal success and authenticity in America. So, we asked Avery about how this season came to be, how her reporting changed her views on the worldwide fascination with luxury, and how unexpected quarantine impacted the look of the season.
What made you want to deep dive into the idea of luxury for Articles of Interest season 2?
I definitely didn’t start out thinking about the luxury framing. It mostly started as, “Oh shit, I have to make another season.” So I did the thing I always do, which is sort of sniff around and see what comes my way. Season one opened a lot of doors and opportunities. Like, I got an email from someone who I used to work within a cafe in my hometown. It turns out she was working for a lab diamond company and wanted to send me some diamonds in the mail. That intrigued me. I just felt like that story was getting pushed in my lap. Similarly, a wedding dress designer had also reached out to me and we did a casual interview when she was passing through Oakland.
Initially, I thought this season would be about “things we’re afraid of.” Or, just articles that are more intimidating than the ones covered in season one. I initially had done interviews about bathing suits, sizes, hijabs, and other “intimidating” topics that tend to be polarizing. But as the months wore on, it seemed like a lot of these themes seemed to coalesce around expensive items that you might buy only once or twice in your life. That’s part of what makes them so intimidating.
Luxury is almost sublime in the Kantian sense. There’s great beauty and great risk associated with them.
What can listeners expect to be similar to the first season of Articles of Interest? What’s different, and why did you make those changes?
This season is more capital “F” Fashion, as people might traditionally think of it. Dealing more with big-name fashion brands and trends. Still, I hope I’ve done it in a way that’s accessible and interesting! I just think I have less to prove this time. The people who are into it are into it, and I’m not as scared of alienating listeners who think they don’t care.
Also, this season has a lot more human stories, which I usually don’t do. A lot of these stories, especially the first two, about the fantasy of fashion traveling exhibit and knockoffs, revolve around characters who go on a journey. It’s funny, that’s pretty standard storytelling fare, but it’s still new and challenging to me.
Your episode photos for this season have an interesting backstory. Do tell about the process of that photoshoot!
Well, originally I had planned a photoshoot with my brilliant friend Matty Lynn Barnes, who did all the photography for season one. That first season used mannequins in this kind of cheeky way that I loved, and we were going to replicate it to keep it consistent. But then… we all had to shelter in place.
We couldn’t rent mannequins, get the clothes or equipment we need or even go to the studio or even work together. That kind of broke my heart. But then I remembered that my neighbors across the hall in my building, Austin Hobart and Talia St Clair, are actually photographers. I hadn’t really spoken to them much, except in passing. So I just knocked on their door and asked them if they’d want to do an impromptu social distance photoshoot. They were game, but the funny thing was, they only had their analog equipment with them. We shot it all on film and Austin had to develop all the photos in his bathroom. Austin was also kind enough to model his own suit for the story about suits.
I was also supposed to borrow some knockoff handbags to photograph for the story about knockoffs, but I couldn’t do that. So I just drew Louis Vuitton logos all over a paper bag. We decided to go with black and white because some of the images we didn’t take. Like the picture of the wedding dress is a photo from my colleague Vivian Le’s actual wedding (thanks Vivian!) and putting everything in black and white made it all look somehow luxe and consistent. It was all just this kind of ragtag jumble we pulled together and tried to make it look fancy. I get a kick out of it.
What was the most memorable fact or story you learned in your reporting?
That’s so hard to choose! I suppose the biggest takeaway was something Dapper Dan told me in episode two about knockoffs that didn’t make it into the piece. I used to be really judgy about knockoffs and brand names. This is extremely privileged, but I thought visible brand names and labels were kind of gauche. Dapper Dan pointed out that these luxury logos and brand names were just a continuation of a fascination that humans have always had with symbols. People have always paid a premium, in some form or another, to have sacred insignia on their bodies. Whether that was an ankh or a hamsa or a scarab or interlocking G’s. It’s really deeply human. There’s something almost mystical about the power we imbue these symbols with.
Talk about the music throughout this season: how does it play into the storytelling?
Ah, the music! I always love this part. I worked with my friend, the composer Rhae Royal. They really had a lot of fun with this season. Like for the Dapper Dan story, I was like, “Can you make a podcast version of a 90s club song?” For the last episode about wedding dresses, they’re recording an organist, my friend Jason Jia, and they’re going to sample it into something “podcasty.” Something rhythmic and driving, but un-intrusive. I think Rhae’s music is so singular and — this is going to sound backhanded but I love this — it’s not manipulative. I think there are some composers who really want to make your heart soar or make you cry, and I love that. But Rhae provides this kind of propulsive background for words that allow you to feel whatever you want to feel, without getting your heartstrings tugged. Oh man, I’m so excited to get that wedding music now. Every time they send new songs it feels like Christmas.
How do the stories you tell make you think differently about your clothes, your style, and how you interact with the fashion industry at large?
I was prepared to come in blazing with judgment. But then, every single time, my point of view got turned around. Now I am really into knockoffs. I’m really into perfume. I’m really into wedding dresses (and I’m nowhere close to married). I’m really into suits. Every story opens up my eyes. The way I put it is this: season one made me very upset with the terrible history and unjust present of the fashion industry. After season one I pretty much stopped shopping, and fashion left a terrible taste in my mouth.
Season two helped me fall in love with clothing again. These stories all talk about how powerful fashion, and it’s associated branches, like scent, can truly be.
Luxury was already so unattainable for me, but this season taught me to be less resentful (or judgmental) of other people’s tastes and just enjoy the stories behind them. I mean, here in isolation that’s all we have anyway. Now I watch high-end perfume advertisements for fun, like an anthropologist.
What’s your number one fashion tip or piece of advice for listeners?
Buy second hand! It’s the greenest and most interesting way to dress. Any time I experience that pang of desire for something new, I try to see if I can find something similar on eBay first, or on a second-hand fashion selling website. Although I do have to admit, in quarantine I actually bought some sweatpants. Which is unprecedented for me. It turns out… I love them.
After creating these two seasons, what’s your #1 “article of interest,” or piece of clothing, accessory, etc?
This is going to sound so cheesy. But the takeaway is you can really wear anything you want. So much of style is just dressing with confidence. I just interviewed this fashion designer who was just like, “literally you can button two shirts together to make a skirt.” There are no rules at all. As long as you can “pull it off,” aka learn to feel comfortable in your skin. And that’s much easier said than done. So, honestly? Oof this is so embarrassing. But for me, actually, it’s been yoga. Learning to meditate and exercise, which manifests in more confidence and helps me hold my head higher, whether I’m wearing some off-the-wall jeans my friend covered with embroidery… or those sweatpants I just got. I know, this sounds like a cop-out! But that’s the thing about cliches. They’re cliches for a reason. And you have to do a lot of work and thinking to circle back and realize how true they are.