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Entertainment

Quite Contrary

Mary Ping tackles designer identity, loses money.
December 1, 2003, 12:00am

Photo by Isabel Asha Penzlien.

Queens-born designer Mary Ping recently took every Bottega Veneta, Dior, Hermès, Balenciaga, Gucci, and Chanel handbag she could find and tore them apart piece by piece. She then took a deep breath and quietly recrafted all of their signature bags in stark white canvas, thus rendering each one about a million times cooler and over $1,000 less pricey. (Her bags retail for only $100.) Mary politely blows away the smoke and mirrors of logomania for us. “Look, all you really need to make a ‘Chanel’ bag is the quilted pattern and the gold chain,” says Ping, who is well aware that the devil lives inside the details. “I made these bags because I was interested in designer identity. What, besides the name, makes these objects so great?” And far from being iconoclastic, Mary’s versions show us that there really is a fundamental formal elegance to these designer bags, an elusive something you just won’t be getting at T.J. Maxx. Though we’re too post-post-postmodernist to resist her knockoffs, we’re not scoffing at the fancy bags they’re based on. Ping works out of a studio in the building she lived in until she was ten, and she makes an eponymous line of refined and sexy clothes (her backless dress of gray sweatshirt material should be the required uniform of girlfriends everywhere). She somehow also finds time to make an ancillary line called Slow and Steady Wins the Race. “Slow and Steady is about how the fashion system works,” she says. “I want to address one really simple aspect of clothing each time. So far I’ve done things like seams, prints, pockets. And the knockoff bags are a Slow and Steady edition.” For the brand-new installment of S&S, Ping has used T-shirts to explore color. It’s a box of ten simply colored T-shirts, each one with a very revealing hole in it. Combining elements of strip poker, Jenga, and psychological color tests, Ping’s wide-open tees are the best parlor game we’ve seen in years. TIERNEY WILLIAMS