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That Time I Had to Wear Real Clothes

Howdy, hi, hello. Welcome to Engine Failure, a culture newsletter that dives into what the fuck is really going on in Formula 1. It’s written by me, Lily Herman.

*Jonathan Van Ness voice* CAN YOU BELIEVE that this is the 60th issue of Engine Failure?! LMAO WHAT???? To honor that, I did something very hilarious within the context of this newsletter and my general stance on F1 media: I went to AlphaTauri’s combo livery launch/New York Fashion Week event.

On the topic of the 60 issues, I'll address one thing I get a lot of questions about: There isn't currently an official archive for all things EF; I just have the auto-generated Mailchimp one that only goes back a certain number of emails. There are things in the works (both a short-term fix and a long-term solution), but they'll take some time considering how far-reaching EF is. That said, every email includes links to the previous three newsletters, so I know people have sort of found their way back through that. Anyway, I don’t have much else in terms of EF announcements and housekeeping this week, so let’s jump into the ~evening of intrigue~.

Let’s Talk About the AlphaTauri Livery Launch

Before we begin, I need to make one thing clear: I did not crash this launch; I have far too much social anxiety for that and zero ability to blend in. Make no mistake: AlphaTauri INVITED ME (yes, me!) to join them on ~this journey~.

For those of you who are just coming into the world of Engine Failure and/or need a refresher, I penned a very long newsletter in January about the state of F1 media access and how I don’t really think getting into all of these various venues (paddocks, launches, etc.) is particularly important most of the time — especially not for my purposes.

Of particular note, however, was this fun little aside I included in the midst of that diatribe: “In that vein, people have asked if I’m gonna be at the AlphaTauri livery unveiling in New York this February. I haven’t been invited to any sort of launch event, and it’s a hard sell for me to stand out in the cold during my least favorite month of the year, particularly if it’s in the middle of the workday. But hey, maybe some stars will align and I’ll do some fun on-the-ground reporting. That said, I personally find livery announcements dull, and I’m also afraid that Helmut Marko will be there and try to suck out my young, spry Millennial blood with his slimy fanged tentacles. You can never be too careful in Eric Adams’ New York.”

So of course, it was incredibly funny (diabolical, even!) to see an email from AlphaTauri a few weeks later inviting me to the exact livery launch and New York Fashion Week event in question. I don’t know which one of you fuckers was like, “I’m gonna pull A Teehee™ and get AT to invite Lily to this!!!!” but thank you. In all seriousness, it’s very kind of them to include me, and I will say it bodes well that at least one person within the AlphaTauri and/or Red Bull org (or within F1 at large) sees the value of what I write and extends the offer for people like me to tag along. 

That said, as I’ve always maintained, I’m not loyal to these institutions nor do I care about towing the party line, which means this will likely be my first and last invite to one of these shindigs once they read the rest of this email. It’s fine, I’ll live; I interviewed Channing Tatum two years ago, so my career has already peaked, and I've had plenty of time to accept that. Anyway, I’m here to serve The People™ by giving the real scoop on this nonsense!!!! I’m no Brock Colyar, but I’ll try to make reporting on this as painless as possible.

So anyway, there I was cosplaying as a person who hasn’t talked mad shit about the Red Bull org in a silly little email newsletter and separate podcast for the past year and a half. (To be fair, I’ve been generally nice about AlphaTauri's racing, and I love Yuki “Katrina Caliente” Tsunoda and Nyck “Mr. Clean” de Vries). 

But let me set the scene of the evening. The weather? A balmy 46 degrees Fahrenheit. (That’s seven degrees Celsius for all of the non-Americans.) The location? The Appel Room at Lincoln Center right on Columbus Circle, a part of the city I haven’t frequented in any capacity since before the pandemic. (The nearby Museum of Art and Design has a lovely Queer Maximalism x Machine Dazzle exhibit I’ve been meaning to go to though! It ends this weekend on February 19th!) The outfit? A very old dark green Zara dress, lots of gold jewelry, and an Abercrombie dad coat. (I also wore a pistachio-scented DS & Durga fragrance. It was limited edition and they brought it back in stock permanently; I got it for free because my rancid capitalist ass ordered this fucking $70 pasta water-scented candle.This is what happens when three different freelancer checks from 2022 hit my bank account on the same day!!!!!!)

And speaking of fashion…

A Brief NYFW Aside

It’s not an EF newsletter without an aside, so let’s semi-briefly discuss the first (and only other) time I attended a New York Fashion Week event. Feel free to skip the next few paragraphs if you hate fun and despise tales of self-important barely-celebrities acting ridiculous.

The year was 2016 (pre-election aka A Different Time™ in our country), and for a variety of reasons I won’t go into because it’d take forever, I was invited to the Rebecca Minkoff NYFW runway show. (This particular show was ~important~ because several big-name fashion bloggers and early Instagram influencers modeled in it. This was a huge deal at the time but seems quaint by today’s standards.) The whole setup ended up being Not Great™ because it was a 90-degree day (32 degrees Celsius, non-Americans!!!!!) in September, and it was an outdoor event (on bleachers, no less!!!!) that took place on the streets of SoHo right outside of RM’s retail storefront. (She was trying to ~get back to her roots~, according to the fashion show materials, which I still have due to my Commitment to the Bit™.) 

Something to know about any Fashion Week show (whether it’s in New York or any of the world’s other fashion capitals) is that these brands pretty much always sit all of the Famous People™ together if they can, largely because this makes it much easier logistically when capturing photos and videos. (This is how you get iconic images of random trios like Julia Stiles, Quinta Brunson, and Lindsay Lohan together at Christian Siriano's latest show.) And then for another variety of #reasons I won’t get into, my assigned seat was directly behind the celebrity section.

The famous people in attendance that day: Camila Alves (aka Matthew Matthew McConaughey’s wife), supermodel Coco Rocha, Louise Roe (an English TV presenter I didn’t know until I looked her up for this EF issue), and a certain former star of the ill-fated show The City (not Whitney Port!), whom I won't directly name in this newsletter, though this entire story centers on her. (However, it only takes a few click-y clicks on any of the links in this paragraph to see who I'm talking about.) Photographers mulled about to take photos, and right before the show was supposed to begin, young Millennial Nickelodeon royalty Victoria Justice breezed in very late with friends in tow. Rebecca Minkoff’s PR people were in a bit of a rush at that point, so they asked Victoria to sit at the end with all of the other famous people in order for the photographers to quickly get a bunch of content. The celebs were asked to all squeeze in a little bit, and Victoria lightly put her hand on Not Whitney Port's (NWP) shoulder. NWP whipped (and I mean WHIIIIPPED) her head around and loudly snapped, “DON’T. TOUCH. ME!!!!!!” at Victoria, who then quickly moved her arm back and looked over at her friends like, "WTF???" Everybody in the general vicinity acted like this was normal behavior except for myself and the editor I was with. (I very clearly remember her leaning towards me and muttering, “Did that just happen?!?!?”) Also if you don’t believe this entire setup, just look at the first photo in this article of them (again, click-y click!) sitting next to each other after The Incident™; NWP very much turned away to ignore Victoria for the rest of the show too. Lastly, if you want a real artifact of 2016 style, here’s what NWP was wearing that day. *shudders*

It was definitely...a very specific time in my life. Also, while I obviously love fashion, sometimes it’s important to remember that everything is low-key fake and we’re all gonna end up six feet under at some point. Anyway! That’s enough nihilism for this issue!!!!

Back to the AlphaTauri Livery Launch

With all of that established, here I am at this livery launch that has been additionally billed as a ~NYFW event~. The Rebecca Minkoff debacle set the bar high for me in terms of the shenanigans I expect from this sort of shindig. I knew shit was going to be fun when the woman in front of me in the check-in line was carrying an OFF-WHITE (aka Virgil Abloh) purse and getting fussy whenver anyone got too close to it.

As far as the car reveal itself, that part was low-key goofy. The presentation started with some music right out of the iconic lo-fi hip-hop beats YouTube account (I can’t believe we almost lost her!!!) mixed with a series of new age-y videos showing the ~quality~ of AlphaTauri's clothing and car while trying to connect them to the hustle and bustle of New York City. (I think???) Honestly, the whole thing gave me Zoolander energy. Then the curtain dropped and there were Nyck and Yuki (along with half a dozen models who looked like bored mannequins), though no one except me and another woman cheered when this happened (???????).

After that, the drivers, team principal Franz Tost, and AT clothing line maestro Ahmet Mercan tried to find new ways to say, “Yeah our car sucked last year, but have you seen our impressive line of unisex knits?” between the four of them for about five minutes. And then…the “presentation” ended and we were left with an open bar, a step ‘n’ repeat, and vibes.

It’s no secret that I believe AlphaTauri’s clothing line is just overpriced, less well-fitted Uniqlo (because I have…literally called it that in at least 97% of EF issues), and the latest collection (which is available in the U.S. starting in July 2023) appears to follow that trend.

Of course, I want to be fair to AT’s apparel since I'm occasionally a nice person, so here’s the word salad the company sent me via a (lightly typo-ridden) press release: “AlphaTauri presents a curated selection of the Fall/Winter 2023 collection with a focus on the brand's core competencies: 3D-Knit, Taurobran® and outerwear. AlphaTauri 3D knitwear is manufactured using the 3D knitting machine from Japanese company Shima Seiki. In addition to a more sustainable production approach, 3D knitting technology offers a variety of product and design benefits, including a seamless finish and better freedom of movement. Taurobran® is a proprietary and innovative 3-layer membrane that is waterproof yet breathable. It is not only used for outerwear, but also for mid-layers and accessories. In terms of outerwear, the iconic technical parkas "KOOV" and "KAAV" will be presented in New York. They combine more than 12 different innovations and features: from ingenious packable systems to Taurobran® to perforations on the hood, through which environmental noise can be better heard.”

Anyway, that was your literary iceberg lettuce for the day. Hope you enjoyed it.

Things about this affair that were ~on point~:

  • Alcohol: I didn’t have one of the signature cocktails (I know, I’m a bad journalist for not getting the full scoop myself) but everyone else said they were good. The champagne was also readily flowing. (Semi-related: One of the inadvertently funniest parts of the night was when this British F1-adjacent PR person was like, “Oh, I’m going with some people to SoHo House after this,” to which my friends and I replied, “We’re going to any Italian restaurant we see within two blocks of here that serves any form of bread slathered in garlic butter.” The two genders!!!!)

  • Setting: The Appel Room features a massive floor-to-ceiling window wall that overlooks Columbus Circle. I definitely had a “literally what the fuck is this life?????” moment. Very meta! It made me feel like I vanquished my enemies! (Also, on my way to the space — which required going up a special set of elevators — one of the Shops at Columbus Circle event staff was bitching to his co-worker about their supervisor and said she sounded like a Muppet. Ah, I love gossip that has no bearing on my life in any way, shape, or form.)

  • Car: It looked fine. Y’all have seen the pictures and videos. They added red to the livery, and apparently that’s supposed to impress us and make us believe that AT won't be a shit show again this year. Works for me!

  • Models: All of them ripped off their balaclavas roughly 30 minutes after the presentation ended, which was kinda funny. They seemed really hot (as in temperature-wise, though they were aesthetically pleasing too) wearing full multi-layer drip under those overhead lights.

  • Feel: Tbh, the Red Bull livery launch sounded like a bit of An Affair™ from everyone I know who went, whereas this was relatively laidback and chill. Nyck and Yuki mulled about the space, so if you really want a photo or just to chat with them, it wasn’t absurdly difficult in the sense that AlphaTauri wasn’t blocking access to them. Nyck passed by me toward the end of the night, I can confirm he is tiny, tan, and compact. Meanwhile, I need Yuki to drop his skincare routine because look at the final photo in this slideshow and ask alongside me, WHAT IN THE GLASS SKIN TIKTOK TREND IS THIS????

Overall though, for a girly who writes a lil’ email about everything adjacent to F1 cars (and very occasionally the cars themselves), I believe it was a successful night.

Let WAGs Do Their Sponcon in Peace

 A small other mention: Last week, F1 fans on some of the chats and Discords I frequent started freaking out quite a bit about the fact that Pierre Gasly’s girlfriend Kika Gomes had removed her birthday post about him from her profile. Did it mean anything???

The next day, Kika posted a screenshot showing that Instagram had twice removed the post after it was reported for inappropriate content. A day later, she put up a statement on Instagram Stories, which read, “My account got blocked due to constant (and obviously unjustified) reports. I'm saddened and frustrated to see that, despite always trying to be respectful towards my followers and community, mean people managed to get to me by shutting down my account. This affects both my personal and professional life, and although I was able to sort this issue with Instagram's support, I still don't understand how this can be the best use of someone's time. Apologies to all of you that support me and give me love, and thanks for understanding!” I don’t really think it requires too much space for me to say that it is VERY weird to go around trying to get people removed from platforms simply because they’re dating a famous person. That's gross. Critical analysis of WAG culture in connection to the sport and society at large? I’m all for it. Doing unnecessary shit like this? Noooooo fucking thanks.

Hours after posting her message, Kika was finally able to move on with her life and promote a Dyson hair product, as the sponcon gods intended. But hey, at least she had the option to decide whether or not to do that! (Oh, and you know who also did similar sponcon a day later? Lando Norris’ ex-girlfriend Luisa Barosa Oliveira, who’s signed with the same modeling agency as Kika.)

Like what you see? Check out other recent Engine Failure issues, check out the EF website, join EF’s Patreon, and then forward this newsletter to a friend because you're a nice person who wants to see me ~succeed~:

And if you have tips, suggestions, theories, intel, gossip, or questions, tweet me, DM me, send me an email, or use EF’s anonymous tip box.

Friends, rarely do I get to truly gloat about being 100% right about something, but a year ago, I started yelling on Instagram Stories about how Abercrombie is the perfect brand to partner with F1 teams on merch. They’ve already created some great NBA and NFL collections that were trendy, and even more importantly for the purposes of this newsletter, they were featured on both the men's and women's sections.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I received word over the weekend that the company was doing a McLaren collaboration. I went to check the site and…found that the three shirts available were all only in the men’s section and only came in men’s sizing. (We'll get to why I'm not linking to said merch in a second, because y'all know I'm normally a Citations Bitch™.)

Before I go on a very classic EF rant ‘n’ analysis combo, let me dive into a slightly lengthy history of Abercrombie & Fitch, a brand that sends shivers down the spines of Millennial American women who are still recovering from the body dysmorphia and eating disorders given to them by The Culture of the Aughts™. (I still can’t believe the media tried to convince us back then that Jessica Simpson was fat during this appearance. Fuck everyone involved with that travesty.)

Anyway, in the pantheon of trendy shit for preteens and teens in the 2000s, Abercrombie & Fitch was at the top of the food chain. Back then, the org had 18-pack-abbed models standing outside some locations to take photos with customers, absurdly expensive prices, the strong smell of an Axe-ridden locker room (except it was whatever Abercrombie’s signature scent was), clothes that only fit people who had B-cup boobs at most, and workers who acted like they were paid to ignore you. Oh, and it had a total asshat as its CEO. Simply put, Abercrombie was inaccessible on purpose, like many pre-recession 2000s brands in America; it aimed for its prime customer to be the popular kid, and it wanted non-popular kids (hello, me!) to think that wearing this clothing would somehow make them cooler; Abercrombie also simultaneously made everything so ill-fitting on 95% of bodies that they served as a reminder that you'd never be That Girl™ no matter how hard you tried.

Of course, this POV on the American teen consumer didn’t work forever. A&F eventually started to tank as styles and preferences changed; values shifted among younger consumers. (Also, if you really want to learn more about all of this, there’s a whole Netflix documentary on it.)

As such, the brand has spent the past several years trying to redefine its style, customer profile, and overall vibe. Abercrombie now aims for a slightly older consumer (I once read the current CEO describe it as trying to create the perfect wardrobe for a young woman going away for a long weekend), and clothes are more about elevated, timeless basics. It expanded its size ranges (to a certain extent) and let out its seams a little bit, though like many companies in the industry, there’s soooooo much room for improvement. But all of these slow pivots have paid off: The brand has a lot of fans on platforms like TikTok (beloved F1 WAG Lily He even wore one of its viral dresses to a Grand Prix last year), and anecdotally speaking, many women I know in their late twenties and well into their thirties curse the fact that A&F's CurveLove jeans are so damn comfortable.

All in all, Abercrombie has been making strides. It has its issues and a previous reputation that’ll likely never quite go away, but it’s proven that it’s able to listen to customers (at least some of the time) and adapt.

Now that we understand why this A&F matters, I’m ready to talk about these “only F1 shirts in the men’s section that then sold out in 0.1 seconds” shenanigans.

First of all, gender binaries in fashion (and in life, let's be honest) are bullshit, so we didn’t even need the whole “men’s” and “women’s” apparel thing in the first place. Plenty of other outlets have already discussed the phenomenon at large, so I don’t feel the need to dive too far into it here. Like, you're telling me that Abercrombie couldn't sell unisex T-shirts or something at the very least? Really?

But on top of that, the idea that Abercrombie and McLaren thought to only produce merch for the men’s section of the website is absurd in The Year of Our Lord 2023. Abercrombie — as well as McLaren — were in a truly excellent position to capitalize on the sport’s bevy of female fans (both long-time ones and newer ones). The merch was cute ‘n’ simple! You could easily dress it up or down depending on what you wanted to wear with it! It’s faux-vintage in the way people like nowadays! But instead, the company clearly signaled (like so many other brands) that it believes only men are interested in Cars Going Vroom™. Talk about embarrassing.

Plus, McLaren is still desperately trying to peace out from its latest villain era, especially post-Daniel Ricciardo exit and post-Zak Brown musical chairs fuckery, and the team's partnerships division could’ve really used a win here. They would’ve looked cool (in a very basic capitalist way, of course) amid all of the sport's sexist bullshit.

Maybe there’s a women’s collection in the works and/or the supply-chain side of things hit a snag. Perhaps this was McLaren’s choice and Abercrombie simply went along for the ride — or vice versa. We don’t know the specifics; we just see as consumers that it was avoidable and disappointing. And to make matters more UGH, I got an email about 24 hours after placing my order saying that the McLaren items I purchased were on backorder and they couldn't guarantee I'd ever get them (I can, of course, cancel for a refund if I want); considering I've already heard from more than a few other people who had the same problem, it appears that Abercrombie and McLaren somehow drastically underestimated how popular this collab would be and what the rollout should look like. 

In a surprise to almost no one, all three McLaren T-shirt listings have already been removed, at least on the U.S. side of the equation. It’s clear people wanted this merch really badly, and I guarantee you that women made up a large swath of consumers who bought it even if the company's antiquated gendered delineations tried to suggest it wasn’t for them. Overall, it never ceases to be (cynically) hilarious to me how badly Formula 1 needed these demographics (women, and in this case, Americans, though the line was also reportedly available in Europe) to grow and yet continues to be wholly unprepared for us now that we've arrived.

Anyway, it appears that F1 is dedicated to filling my disillusionment quota before the season even kicks off. Mission accomplished!

All of this Abercrombie nonsense aside, let’s give it up for Dior boi Zhou Guanyu and crown jewel of the WAGs grid Carmen Montero Mundt for keeping us sartorially satiated this week. Bless! (And let's all thank the best CMM style account on Instagram for finding Carmen's Mango satin shirt and funky Maje Paris bag, though the latter is no longer available in pink on the website.)

This isn’t related to the actual Carlos Sainz Denim Watch (since that can only take place during race weekends), but think of this as a B-side: Carlos did a Puma ad with Charles ahead of the season and incredibly interesting pose.

I have no real commentary to give, but y’all tell me all the time that you miss CSDW (no idea why considering how anxiety-inducing it is), and I’m fascinated by the gray denim. Also, since people keep asking for an update: There will be yet another refresher on how this whole theory works before the season starts!

Williams doesn’t miss Nicholas Latifi(‘s money). Ford is getting back into F1 to sell its electric vehicles. A refresher on engine and gearbox penalties. Christian Horner says the U.S. needs an American Max Verstappen. Lewis Hamilton’s stylist Law Roach discusses working with actress Priyanka Chopra. We finally know who Alfa Romeo’s new team principal is — though he won’t be called a team principal. I can’t believe POPSUGAR is covering the F1 WAGs nowadays. Williams explains how an F1 livery is created. Awww, Zhou Guanyu helped Nyck de Vries get his suit off after Monza ‘cause his lil’ shoulders were in pain. The worst Formula 1 cars to win a Grand Prix.

Thank you to everyone who wrote into last issue’s Conspiracy Corner question: You suddenly find yourself in a post-apocalyptic world a la The Last of Us and have to go on a cross-country quest with a 2023 F1 driver to save humanity. Who would you least want to be stuck with on this journey and why?

I live in fear of our society being destroyed by a mutated fungus purely because all of these hypothetical scenarios are terrifying:

  • Justin: OK, he's not on the 2023 grid, but can you imagine being stuck with Nikita Mazepin? Not only is he an unrepentant asshole, but he'd probably veer off and crash every 50 yards or so.

  • Tim: After a week of adventuring, Fernando and I come across survivors who have turned the infield of an abandoned dirt oval into a small fortified encampment. Fernando is overtaken by an irresistible urge to not only reinstate racing on the oval, but ruthlessly dominate all aspects of it. The encampment descends into civil war thanks to his political machinations and I am forced to flee in the middle of the night. Disappointed in Fernando's complete abandonment of our quest, I travel to the next town, find Valtteri, and save humanity.

  • Ashling: George Russell, ‘cause he would just compliment himself constantly while taking no blame for any problems he caused.

  • Lauren: Max, who refuses to help when I fall behind and when asked why says, "I gave my reasons and I stand by it." He also decides to not save humanity, also because he gave his reasons and stands by it. (Namely, humanity includes Checo and Lewis.)

  • Hannah: Logan. I’m sorry, hun, I’m sure you’re a nice person, but faced with a cross-country test with a 22-year-old privileged FLORIDA white boy and cage-wrestling 15 zombies...I choose the zombies. The perfect road trip partner has to have a redeeming feature, whether it be killer instinct (Fernando, Max), likability/comic relief (Yuki, Lando), or potential love interest [energy], which for me is Carlos, Lewis, and George. I think this lends itself to a bigger issue, which is Americans in F1 aren’t interesting! I’ve done a parade with a Logan type, and I don’t think we would last five miles.

  • Sal: Alonso. He'd sell me to Satan for a single corn chip.

  • Elaine: Oh gosh. Has to be Lance Stroll. Even if we didn't know that His Dad Bought Him An F1 Team™, you can tell within the first 15 seconds that boy has never seen dirt in his life. Not a single survival skill. Also, I feel strongly that his fighting technique would consist solely of slapping. Also guarantee he is whiny.

  • Tone: Nico Hulkenberg. He seems to have the personality of an empty cereal box (All-Bran, not Cocoa Puffs), and if I'm going on a quest, at least let me have some fun while doing it!

  • Cait: I would not want to be stuck with Lando, because Lando would literally get me bitten by the zombies in a day at least. He has no coordination, but most of all I don’t get his humor!! I would NEVER be entertained and I don’t think he’d put me in a good mood either. We are very different people and he would not be able to keep me calm in a stressful situation. I don’t think he knows how to hold his own in the barest of places; not that I do, but he would definitely not be able to. He can’t really cook, so I doubt he could like forage or hunt, but would be able to eat tree bark, I reckon. I think he’d just irritate me, not gonna lie. This was a personal attack (sorry Lando, I love you) but I cannot stomach the thought of this happening!!

Today’s question: You have the opportunity to make a scented candle for your favorite driver. What does it smell like and why?

Submit your answer here.

This issue was published on February 14, 2023. Photo credits: AlphaTauri, Rebecca Minkoff, Victoria Justice, Kika Gomes, Abercrombie & Fitch, Zhou Guanyu, Carmen Montero Mundt, and Puma.
Copyright © 2023 Engine Failure, All rights reserved.

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