Throwback Thursday with Tim Blanks / Yohji Yamamoto’s Transformative Wedding Collection
Feeling a bit under the weather today, probably because I’ve spent too much time outside lately. Loading up on ramen and tea never felt so good.
Chromatics - Camera
Suppose a woman suffering a headache blames it on a car accident she had. Her story is plausible at first, but on closer examination it has flaws. She says the car accident happened four weeks ago, rather than the six weeks when it actually occurred. Plus she recalls her headache coming on sooner than it actually did. Steven Novella, a neurology professor at Yale University, says it’s an honest mistake. Novella’s patients frequently manipulate time, he says, something made clear by comparing their stories to their medical records. “People are horrible historians,” Novella says. “Human memory is a malleable subjective story that we tell ourselves.”
We tend to think that coffee makes us alert and pills soothe our aches faster than they actually do, for the same reason that a patient might move their accident closer in time to their headache. In our inner narratives, less time passes between perceived causes and effects than between unrelated events. Such mistakes, called temporal binding, slip into the conjectures we make when connecting the scenes of our lives. Like photos in an album, the causal links between them must be inferred. And we do that, in part, by considering their sequence and the minutes, days, or years that pass between them. Perceptions of time and causality each lean on the other, transforming reality into an unreliable swirl.
An example of this circular reasoning might go as follows: If you see a red billiard ball collide with a blue one, and the blue one immediately shoots forward, your past experience would lead you to assume that the red ball’s slamming against the blue one caused it to move. If the blue ball rolls before the red ball hits it, or if it rolls a minute later, you throw out the supposed connection between the two. However, the next twist in this decision process is that it can also work in reverse: Judgments of causality can influence the perception of time.
In 1999, Patrick Haggard, a cognitive neuroscientist at University College London, demonstrated this subjective time warp with an experiment in which subjects watched a clock on a computer screen, and were asked to note when they pressed a button, and when a tone sounded. When the button press was followed by a tone 250 milliseconds later, participants said their button press happened 15 milliseconds later than when no tone sounded. Similarly, they estimated the tone to happen 46 milliseconds earlier when they had pressed the button, than when they hadn’t. In essence, “causing” the tone with the button reduced the perceived time between the two events.
Haggard called the effect “intentional binding” because the conscious act of pressing the button appeared to trigger the phenomenon. Since he and his colleagues published these results in 2002, multiple other experiments have corroborated it. “Intentional binding is the first effect I’ve studied where every experiment I did worked,” says Andre Cravo at the Federal University of ABC in Santo Andre, Brazil.
More recent studies have shown that temporal binding can occur even when the subject is not directly involved with the action, removing the role of intentionality. Instead, all it takes is the perception that one thing caused another. For example, people shown causally related pairs of historical events—such as Russia’s putting Sputnik in orbit and America’s landing on the moon—underestimated the time between the events by a third. Meanwhile, they overestimated the time between unrelated events, like Sputnik and Woodstock, by half.
Haggard and James Moore, a neuroscientist at Goldsmiths, University of London have also found that temporal binding can result from the anticipation of events that have not yet occurred. In their experiments, subjects delayed their perception of a key press when they expected to hear a tone—even if it never sounded. In another study, David Faro, a professor of marketing at London Business School, found that participants who more strongly believed that chewing gum would enhance their alertness experienced its placebo effect sooner. Temporal binding makes us more likely to delay an action until right before we need its effects. That’s not good when it means your coffee doesn’t kick in until halfway through your sleepy drive home, or you underestimate how long an assignment will take and miss a deadline.
Explaining the influence of prediction in temporal binding is tricky, however, because we don’t fully understand time perception. The most popular model of time perception describes an internal clock comprising a pacemaker that emits “ticks”—collective bursts in neural firing—and an accumulator that collects them. The number of ticks gathered over a given span is then compared to some reference in memory. Predicting an outcome might distract us from some ticks, and fewer collected ticks mean less perceived time. For the same reason, tasks that require attention cause time to appear to speed up. Recall the proverb: Time flies when you’re having fun.
Although the pacemaker model is useful, no one has identified the corresponding structures in the brain. If they exist, psychologists say they may be distributed throughout different areas, including the cerebellum and an outer layer of the brain near the midline called the pre-supplementary motor area. Similarly, a locale for temporal binding remains a matter of conjecture. “In terms of neural mechanisms, it’s still pretty much a mystery,” says Moore.
Regardless of how it occurs, some scientists suspect that temporal binding is more than just a mental quirk, but is instead a beneficial evolutionary adaptation that increases our sense of control over our environment and ourselves. For example, if you consciously think about lifting your arm and then you lift it, temporal binding will make the interceding gap seem shorter than it is. This tightened event coupling might then amplify the feeling of responsibility you experience when lifting the arm, making it clear that it wasn’t another person, outside force, or psychic spell that lifted it for you. Causal perception informs temporal perception; temporal perception informs causal perception. Through this positive feedback loop, binding heightens your feeling of responsibility.
That is, your sense of agency and free will. “This sense of agency,” Moore says, “is cognitively and socially important.” Temporal binding may encourage intelligent, intentional behaviors by lending us the confidence to feel that we can drive change. “All human societies require that their members are held responsible for their actions,” Moore says. “A sense of agency therefore is performing quite a useful social function.” In fact, binding serves as a good measure of perceived agency. In tests where subjects weren’t sure whether they or someone else triggered a sound, being told that someone else was responsible weakened the binding effect, even if the subject was indeed responsible. In another study, participants who played a virtual coin-slot game estimated the time between when they pressed a button, and when they won or lost. On losing turns, they thought more time passed, reflecting a desire to avoid responsibility for the loss. For similar reasons, binding between a key press and a cry of fear or disgust is weaker than that between a key press and a positive or neutral sound.
Moore is now using temporal binding to evaluate human-computer interfaces. If clicking on one type of button rather than another increases temporal binding between the click and the effect, that’s an indication that it increased the perception of agency. “This is quite important,” Moore says, “because when people are designing user interfaces, one of the golden rules is to foster a sense of agency, a feeling that the user is in control.”
People tell tales about sickness, healing, growing up, growing old, following our dreams. Even consciousness itself is a story, with ourselves as the protagonist, wielding free will. Research on temporal binding implies that these stories are more important to us than an accurate internal clock. Perhaps our faulty perception of time is not a fault at all, but rather a tool. Without it we might lose some of the cohesion that connects the moments of our lives. Our starring role might dim.
Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots
Directed by Aitor Throup
It seems like my gear list of ‘what to buy’ for alpine climbing just keeps getting longer. Can it be climbing season already?
Adrian Joffe, 60, may have the hardest job in fashion. Not because, as president of Comme des Garçons International, he is in charge of all the foreign operations of a Japan-based business with annual sales of $220m but because, if there is “a cult of Comme”, the iconoclastic and hugely influential label founded by Rei Kawakubo in Tokyo in 1969, then he is its high priest. Habitually dressed in a black Comme suit and white Comme shirt, he even has the ascetic style of a disciple, complete with shaven head and skinny frame.
It is Joffe, who is also Kawakubo’s husband, who acts as the bridge and the translator between the designer and the rest of the world. It will be Joffe standing backstage next to the designer after her menswear show in Paris this evening, relaying Kawabuko’s gnomic utterances to the waiting journalists and retailers. At last womenswear season, for instance, Kawakubo, speaking through Joffe, explained the genesis of her storm-cloud-meets-astronaut sartorial constructions by announcing, “I felt the only way to do something new was to try not to make clothes.” (Try saying that with a straight face during fashion week.)
All of which makes Joffe’s choice of Manhattan’s Russian Tea Room, an over-the-top crimson-and-gold Fabergé egg of a restaurant, stuffed with caviar and high-calorie blinis, a bit counterintuitive. “But I love this place,” he says with a smile, shuffling across a deep red banquette as I arrive for our lunch. “In my previous existence, I used to come all the time,” he says, talking not about reincarnation but referring to a former job.
Though Joffe may have chosen to meet in an environment that reeks of kitschy, tsarist decadence, he clearly doesn’t feel under pressure to overindulge. He orders the business express lunch: borscht and vareniki, a kind of Russian ravioli. I choose a beet salad and gravlax from the appetiser side of the menu.
This kind of confounding of expectations is not atypical of Joffe, who has studied and practises Zen Buddhism. On the one hand, he says he feels an affinity for simplicity, on the other, he runs a high-fashion company – high fashion being for many the epitome of the decoratively unnecessary. He insists there is more congruency between the two disciplines than my raised eyebrows suggest.
“My Zen training is pretty integral to me surviving in this business,” he says. “It’s a way of understanding the world, the constantly changing nature of fashion, and how interdependent everything is.” This may sound like after-the-fact rationalisation but Joffe is entirely serious. When he is not translating for Kawakubo, he speaks quietly and hesitantly, deliberating over his words. There’s no spiel.
It is true, in any case, that while Comme des Garçons’ fashion is largely about unbalancing people – making them question their expectations of clothes and beauty – its business is balanced on a broad base of more accessible lines. These include Play, a “non-fashion” line of T-shirts and basics that is one of its bestselling collections, and Shirt, made in France, and largely based on shirts. “The main line is the engine of the company, the inspiration,” explains Joffe, “but we know it is not for everyone.”
It is also true that Joffe’s life is about achieving a similar balance: between work and home; Europe and Japan; the imperatives of commerce and creativity, and being part of a company that, as he puts it, “breaks all the rules – but also is part of the industry”. Not that any of it was planned. “I thought I would be a diplomat,” he says, as our first course arrives. “Or an academic.” He swirls his soup. “I don’t know if I can eat,” he mumbles. “I get nervous talking about myself.” He is, after all, part of a company that has built some of its reputation on opacity.
Joffe says that one of the things Kawakubo has taught him is: “Never answer a question directly.” Or, rather, to answer any question “the way you want”, which is to say: not necessarily in a way that responds to what was asked. And even though I know we are talking theoretically, this makes me pause with a piece of beetroot halfway to my mouth.
Adrian Joffe was born in South Africa in 1953 and raised in Johannesburg along with his older sister, Rose. His father was a pharmacist and the family moved to London when Adrian was eight. After school, he attended the School of Oriental and African Studies and majored in Oriental studies, focusing on Tibet, but “I was the only student, and when Margaret Thatcher came to power, she decided that was inefficient” and the department was closed. He thought about going to study in California, or of travelling around India but ended up in Japan. “I just immediately felt at home,” he says. By then his sister had started her own small knitwear company, Rose Joffe, and was looking for distribution in Japan. Joffe began helping her, licensing the business.
“I didn’t have a vocation,” he says, looking down at his soup. “So I thought, ‘Why not? Do I really want to end up a professor of Tibetan in a place like Melbourne?’ I just let things happen. I believe in karma.”
But, I ask, did he have any idea of what he was doing in business? “No,” he says, as the waiter arrives to clear Joffe’s half-eaten bowl of soup. “Sometimes I still think I should go back to school and do an MBA but then I think it’s too late. But, you know, Rei is also an untrained designer. I think sometimes it’s easier to break the rules if you don’t know what they are.” He pauses. “We break our own rules all the time.”
Before he worked at Comme, Joffe knew Kawakubo, or at least her work. “I used to see her walking her dog in the street in Tokyo,” he says, “but I never spoke to her. I also used to buy a lot of Comme. I would take all the money I made from the licensing deal and buy clothes.”
Kawakubo was already a legend at that point, having been part of the Japanese “invasion” of Paris Fashion Week in 1981. She had a profound impact on the industry, jolting it out of a focus on prettiness and challenging the status quo with dark, unfamiliar clothes. However, her business was almost entirely based in Japan and she knew she would have to break Europe to grow. “She is focused on creative first but business is a very close second,” says Joffe. “Because otherwise, what is the point?”
In 1987, a mutual friend mentioned that Comme des Garçons was looking for a commercial director in Europe and asked if Joffe was interested. “It felt like karma again,” he says, and though he was still working with his sister, he said he was interested. “Then I had to meet Rei, and they didn’t want to scare me, so they told me I would be translating. But, really, she was sizing me up the whole time.” Joffe got the job and moved to Paris. He became president in 1993.
Although Comme des Garçons International has become profitable independent of the company’s headquarters in Japan, the symbiosis between the centre and the outposts is clear. From Tokyo, Kawakubo continues to exert creative control over every element of her empire, with the directive that whatever it does, it must do in a new way. For Joffe in Paris this means having “creative business ideas”.
Before he can explain what that means, at least in Comme’s terms, the waiter delivers the next course, which in Joffe’s case consists of about three small raviolis, while I get a plate of six or seven large rosettes of salmon, arranged like a bouquet. “That’s funny,” Joffe says. “You ordered an appetiser but it’s much bigger than my main course.” I go back to the meat of our conversation, asking him to expand on what he means by “creative business ideas”.
“For me,” he says, eating his ravioli, “it’s how can we sell in a new way? The guerrilla stores, for example.” These were a series of early pop-up shops, operating between 2004 and 2011, for which Joffe “gave” dead stock from his warehouse to fans in cities where there were no existing Comme des Garçons stores. He also gave the fans a few rules: they could not spend more than $2,000 on a shop, the stores could not be run by fashion people, and they could only stay open for a year. “I mean, I really had nothing to lose, right?” he says. “I had this stock sitting around doing nothing. This way, if it worked, it was almost all upside.” Largely, it did work. In total, 37 stores, requiring almost no investment, popped up in cities from Berlin to Singapore and Reykjavik. The guerrilla store concept ended when others started to copy it.
Another creative idea is the “partial licence” for Comme des Garçons perfume owned by Spanish beauty group Puig. “They came to me,” Joffe says, “and said they wanted to license the perfume. And I said no, but I would grant them a partial licence. And they said, ‘There is no such thing.’ ” So Joffe created two companies, Comme des Garçons Parfums, which owned the rights to the second fragrance he made, and Comme des Garçons Parfums Parfums, which owned all the others. He licensed the former to Puig and now, he says, “they sell to department stores, and we sell to everyone else, and it works really well.” The perfume business is responsible for revenues of about $10m a year.
Then there are the Dover Street Markets, Comme des Garçons-owned emporiums in Tokyo, London and, as of last month, New York. Unlike traditional single brand stores, DSM mixes big and emerging names to create the equivalent of high-end market stalls under one roof. The end result is not so much about Comme des Garçons products as the brand’s point of view. Each DSM is slightly different; the New York store, for example, is 20,000 sq ft over seven floors – selling everything from the Comme brands to Prada (for the first time), Thom Browne, Jil Sander and Nike – and featuring freestanding dressing rooms and a great glass elevator like something straight out of Roald Dahl. Like the guerrilla stores, it is well off the beaten retail track, a long way down Lexington Avenue in a neighbourhood otherwise populated by inexpensive Indian restaurants.
“We like the idea of ‘poor luxury,’ ” says Joffe. “Plus we can’t afford Madison or Fifth or SoHo; the prices have gone berserk. This was an old Jewish college. It has some humility and history. Rei always says that we can’t copy ourselves.”
Joffe refers to his wife and boss often in conversation, quoting her almost like a catechism: “Rei always says, ‘We need luxury brands, we need H&M [with whom Comme collaborated in 2008], everything has a purpose, even if their way is not our way’”; “One of Rei’s favourite words is ‘common sense’ ”; “Rei said I could do perfume if we did a new one every year.”
They became personally involved in 1991, and were married in Paris in 1992. “I think the people in the company were surprised but they were also happy for us,” Joffe says. The couple decided early on to keep work and private life as separate as possible – “we are very strict about that” – and not just when it comes to themselves. “Rei encourages everyone to leave their personal problems at home,” he says, adding that families tend to stay out of the office.
Joffe is based in Paris and Kawakubo in Tokyo but he says he goes to Japan about 10 times a year, and she comes to Europe four or five times. “It has its advantages and disadvantages,” he says. “Our life together is never mundane except when we are on vacation.” They talk “about 10 times a day”. They both like biographies and travel, and have been to Ukraine and Yemen together on holiday. In addition, Joffe boxes to stay in shape with a trainer. “I love it. It’s physical, emotional, about multitasking, defence, attack . . . ”
Isn’t that very non-Buddhist? “No, I don’t think so,” he answers, and laughs. “Buddhists are always whacking the table when they debate.” He whacks the table, too, to demonstrate. A waiter looks over, alarmed. Joffe is wearing a Cartier ring that Kawakubo gave him in the shape of a nail – she has a matching one.
He says there is no question that at work Kawakubo is his boss and he is her employee. After all, she does own almost the entire company; he says this also means she owns the “risk”. The way he sees it, he’s protected.
“I have a tendency to want to make people like me,” he says. “Rei is very direct, and has very little patience with false compliments, which has been a good example for me.” Especially, he acknowledges, because a large part of his job is about saying ‘no’, and “I hate disappointing people.” People sometimes try to use him to get to her but “she has very good intuition about that”.
The waiter comes to take our plates – all the ravioli has disappeared – and asks if we want dessert. Joffe says: “Oh dear, no, I couldn’t eat another bite,” but when I say I might have some fruit, he orders an espresso. “You know,” he says, “Rei likes people with a point of view. It doesn’t have to be her point of view. Caroline Kennedy [the new US ambassador to Japan] came to the store in Tokyo, and Rei was very happy. Caroline Kennedy has her own style, and Rei likes that.”
As I eat and he drinks, I ask if he thinks he has a hard job, being pulled between his wife and what the outside world thinks, or assumes, about her. “No, not at all,” he says. “It’s just what I know. But I also can’t imagine working anywhere else.” He pauses, as I ask for the bill, and then adds: “Not that I’ve ever been headhunted for anywhere else.”
We both consider the possibility. Joffe laughs. “We have our own special place in the system,” he says. “Can you imagine a world where there was only Comme des Garçons? It would be terrible. We all have our role to play.” It’s a benediction of sorts, I suppose.
Love in the Afternoon (1972)
Kirsten Owen in Must Be The Season Of The Witch shot by Christopher Wahe for The Look Canada, Fall 2002
Yohji Yamamoto A/W 14
Signed up for a half marathon + new running shoes and gear. No turning back now.