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Vivienne Tam Yokes Fashion and Yoga: A Foray into Spiritual Materialism

in Business of Yoga, YD News

by Alexandra Moga

At the crossroads of fashion and yoga is the newest member of the style set to venture into mat-wear: Vivienne Tam.

The Chinese designer launched her LI-NING x Vivienne Tam “Fashion Yoga Collection” Tuesday during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week here in New York with an outdoor public display of yoga. Oh, my.

A yoga practitioner herself, Tam was inspired by a desire for “athletic apparel in fashionable styles and colors that [she] could wear to the yoga studio and then to the office.” Tam presented her manifestation with an outdoor “Live Sculpture Garden” at Lincoln Center, a free show of sorts for passersby. Picture 20 female yogis moving through a choreographed performance (aka a yoga class), with conductors Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee at the helm.

The scene played out with the usual flurry of logo-strewn backdrops, press and photographers edging in for snapshots and sound bites, and, of course, celebrity drop-ins of support. Petra Nemcova popped in for a double-kiss and pic as did Russell’s niece Angela Simmons. Pretty standard, superficial stuff. Hardly meditative, really.

One stand-out character caught my eye in particular: a barefooted, staff-carrying, turban-topped, bearded ‘guru’. As far as image goes, he was seemingly the only authentically ‘yogic’ apple in the bunch. Image, however much weight it bears in fashion and in our world at large, ultimately has the ability to deceive. And though clothes, like yoga, connect us to our bodies and deliver a sense of self, a facet of identity, they also cause a deep rift when popular dictates trump honest inquiry, self-worth and self-reflection in forming our beliefs, actions and relationships.

Speaking to this character, who goes by the name of Kumaré, proved rather predictable, or so I thought. Prompted for his opinion, he called the day’s yoga performance a “mind show” and noted how value needs a large price tag. His accent-tinged reflections aligned with an aura of deep presence and were delivered accompanied by a piercing gaze. I gave his assistant my card and later that evening received an email from one Vikram Gandhi.

He wrote: “Kumaré is not real but an illusion, a character that I’ve created as the center of a social experiment about spirituality and the authenticity of spiritual leaders…Kumaré is featured in a film of the same name, which will open theatrically nationwide early next year. The film, which has both garnered controversy and much support, explains my life and experience being a spiritual leader (‘fake’ or ‘real’) and the philosophical idea of The Mirror.” Ding.

Kumare observes, Rodney Yee adjusts a model at the Vivienne Tam Yoga fashion show

His email unraveled the spectacle and then quickly nailed the looming skepticism I’ve been carrying around an ever-materialistic spirituality, the yoga-performances of this growing movement, at once an antidote to and part of popular culture. It begs an inquiry, incites a slew of questions on authenticity, blind faith, the role of the teacher (him/herself a student), the spiritual materialism of an ego-driven, oft-fragmented adaptation of the body of work known as yoga and the spirituality inherent in this body, be it acknowledge or not. These performances spotlight and literally place at center stage the West’s shifting mental, spiritual, and emotional relationship to the physical body via this ancient practice. A practice which, operating in our modern world, ultimately serves us by tempering those samskaric, unnatural elements we’ve accumulated through time and technology. That is, when the practice is lived directly.

As an image-based society, though far inwards this journey might take some, on the outside, it is tied to the media of today; a web of opinions, ‘experts’ and ‘gurus’, v-logs and b-logs, a sea of shared experiences each with its own gratifying return of ingestion. Because, when you’ve got something to give, there’s nothing better than someone there to take it. And when it’s heart-felt, and financially viable, all the better.

In the context of a highly disposable, ever-fickle fashion industry, yoga has carved out a booming market share, giving designers like Tam the opportunity to serve the modern women who want to have their yoga and pay top dollar to look cute too. Women “who travel the world and embrace the values of yoga.” Who knew fashion was a yogic value?

Says Rodney Yee: “One of the great things about the 21st century is we’re bringing the inside world to the outside world. We’re not creating that division anymore. So the clothes should begin to express that. That really, we’re bringing our spirituality to our everyday walk and our everyday walk to our spirituality. So, let’s breakdown that wall.”

Seeking genuine, first-hand insights as to the material realities of these clothes, I flagged down a few yogis between their three acts of asana. How did the clothes feel? How did the practice feel? Keeping in line with those yogic values, some satya reveals want for better fit. And if these samples have anything to say of the final product’s quality, we couldn’t help but notice the gaping hole in one yogi’s leggings, a seam gone split. Perhaps some R&D with R&C wouldn’t hurt. While the collection is made of “high quality natural Chinese hemp” fabric, “selected by LI-NING for outstanding qualities of moisture wicking” it lacked the discreet sweat pick-up that more synthetic materials seem to have aced. A case of wanting it all, green + pristine?

Aesthetically speaking, there were a few stand-out pieces. Notably, a pair of black harem pants, loose enough for freedom of movement, combining silk trim at the waistline and soft fabric throughout. Racer-back tanks were silk-screened with the collection’s definitive graphic, an amorphous cloud-like shape resonating outwards: sound synthesized. Tam designed the collection’s logo as a take on OM, with a rippling circle peaking to reference the gassho of the hands (aka Anjali mudra).

What will endure of our consumerist, capitalism-driven paradigm as material resources and realities challenge our choices into the future remains to be seen. Perhaps with more focus on the person behind the personality, the performance over the publicity, we will come to a place where, regardless of image, style, or rotating beliefs, enduring presence and integrity will underpin our thoughts, choices, actions, and interactions; setting the right balance between materialism and spirituality, a show and true experience, temporal vanity and timeless beauty: one that goes with the flow, and laughs at the show.

FYI: The line will be available online spring 2012, and the prices will range from $65 to $210, www.viviennetam.com

Alexandra Moga has been practicing yoga for over 11 years and was introduced to the Sahaja Yoga method of meditation and kundalini breathing at a young age. After 4 years at a Culinary Arts Academy and 5 years of life and art studies in Paris, she sought to deepen her knowledge of yoga with the goal of sharing the practice of her path, and completed the Yoga Society of New York 200 hour teacher training at Ananda Ashram. She is currently working with Bent on Learning to bring yoga and meditation to New York City public schools and teaches Vinyasa yoga at various locations in New York, including the first of its kind, not-for-profit studio, Hosh. A dedication to providing rich education which includes the arts has also lead her to work with the charity Guitars in the Classroom, enabling music integration in schools around the country and locally. In her time off the mat, she is passionate about music, writing, poetry and painting and loves to cook and bake. She gives thanks for this charmed and churning life.
You can find more of her unique syntheses in words at www.thetopofmymind.com or on twitter @thetopofmymind



16 comments… add one
  • Hmmm…There is something ironic about combining fashion week with yoga. I can’t decide how I feel about it.

  • this is the best coverage i have read about this crazy event. the encounter with Kumaré sounds surreal and perfect. i also love the detail about the hole in the leggings. nicely done, thanks!

  • David D

    I’m not sure what offices would allow that kind of attire. I know mine wouldn’t.

  • Says Rodney Yee: “One of the great things about the 21st century is we’re bringing the inside world to the outside world. We’re not creating that division anymore. So the clothes should begin to express that. That really, we’re bringing our spirituality to our everyday walk and our everyday walk to our spirituality. So, let’s breakdown that wall.”

    seriously? what a bunch of new age BS.

    let’s see the designer donate some of her clothes to women in DV or homeless shelters that have yoga programs — uh, like where I teach…call me, Vivienne Tam, my yoga ladies need some nice clothes!

    then again, real yoga doesn’t need fancy yoga clothes.

    • David D

      “what a bunch of new age BS.” Unfortunately, sloppy, new-agey thinking passes for spiritual or intellectual depth in many circles.

    • Ryan

      I need more Linda in my life.

      • Ryan! find me on Facebook, dude! 🙂

        amazing what my blog stats lead me to….

  • Alex,
    Your thoughtful essay has my mind churning with the paradoxes inherent in this event. We are definitely swimming in tricky waters here – spirituality, expensive yoga fashion…
    This Kumare fellow, is he related to Borat?
    Reality, illusion… where does it all lead?
    So many questions!


  • Dayita

    Cuts right to the heart of some of my own misgivings/struggles with “yoga culture”. I’ve come into the yoga kula (but not drunk the kool-aid) after 20-odd years of hard-core spiritual discipline through a different tradition, and, while I love Patanjali and all the rest, I do worry how the rise of popular awareness of yoga distorts the practice.

    Thanks for a great bit of writing. Alexandra & Yogadork

  • Blissboy

    How sad that such a great teacher like Rodney Yee would stoop so low as to help sell yoga clothing. I also know that one of the models invited to fitting call, a very great and popular teacher, was not accepted as a model for being too old and not fitting the ” look”.
    True yogis need to boycott all these yoga money grabbing brands like lululemon and the new gap yoga brand, I would even boycott yoga teachers who mentioned these brands in their class.

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