Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mood Indigo: Dosa, J Crew, and an 80s Flashback Photo

In the mid 1980s, when I worked for Sarah Clothes on a hiatus from university, one of my favourite items from that designer was an indigo, collarless shirt. Actually, I didn't like it when I bought it, because the indigo was a deep, midnight blue, and the shirt felt stiff.  But after months of wearing and washing, the shirt faded to a soft blue in both colour and feel. and I loved it. Eventually I wore the shirt to shreds, quite literally, and still miss its easy presence in my wardrobe.

When I saw this dress for Dosa's Spring/summer 2015 collection, I was immediately brought back to that glorious mood indigo. This dress has the simplest, most utilitarian lines, and I love it for that. I'd wear it with a patterned canvas sneaker (how I wish I had known about last spring's Liberty of London Strawberry Thief edition of Vans before they sold out in my size) and run all over town.

Perhaps indigo is the technique du saison, because J Crew is singing the blues as well, with its "faded adire" print. I like this one too, but balk at the obviously too-sheer sweater front.The beauty of indigo is that it shouldn't need a cami underneath; its glorious colors and patterns should speak for themselves.

And speaking for myself, tonight I opened my precious Crabtree and Evelyn wooden treasure chest (a display item I purchased in the 1980s and in which I store all my photos from that era) and found this mug shot of myself, taken old-school style--holding a camera backward and hoping for the best (but coming up with glare). But even with that glaring flaw, there's the indigo shirt, mid fade . . .

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Pattern Perfect: Valentino (and Miss C) in Selvedge 63

I don't think there could be anything more lovely than a Selvedge magazine cover. And when that cover is devoted to pattern, its charm multiplies.

This issue contains my story on Valentino's spring/summer collection, which is full of gorgeously rustic patterns--a nod to the Grand Tour taken by European aristocrats. I see a postmodern Lucy Honeychurch (who took her own Grand Tour in A Room with a View) in these clothes and, truth be told, I'd like to see myself in them too!

My story includes a quote from the always spot-on Maryam Montague, designer and curator at M Montague and proprietor of Peacock Pavillions, who knows a thing or two about pattern (have you seen her stencilled walls and staircases?).

My favourite dress (gown) for now is the one on the far left, the multi-tiered ankle-grazing beauty. Its perfectly mismatched patterns (two to each tier!) recall table linens and dining al fresco. I could eat it up.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Agnes Towler and Her Perfect Work Uniform

Instead of sleeping in this weekend, I've awakened both mornings at 6 a.m. so I could have the lit Christmas tree--and the television--all to myself.

You see, I'm about three-quarters of the way through Mr Selfridge, and am absolutely smitten.  Even the store itself--and I truly dislike shopping--holds an allure, with its beautifully lit glass cases and displays. I'm even craving some Yardley, which I haven't thought about since I was a wee lass.

 There are some lovely clothes shown in the series and, to me, the loveliest of all are worn in Season Two by Agnes Towler. I absolutely love her long, fitted black vest-dresses over sumptuously embroidered or patterned shirts. 

It's a perfect uniform, and I plan to carry my lipstick-red Liberty-embossed Ianthe notebook around in the new year, as Miss Towler does a similar book.

Perhaps an even more engaging accessory than the book, though, is Henri Le Clair and his pine-green velvet jacket. (My French teacher from Paris [in boarding school] always wore velvet jackets by Le Chateau.)

 At the moment, Mr. LeClair is languishing in jail on charges of theft from the United States. I remember during Season One when he gave Agnes that salmon scarf and said he'd pay for it the next day. That may have been a harbinger of things to come.  But going against the nap of that famous pine-green velvet, it's too strong to say I'm pining for him, but I do hope that he and Agnes can strike a tableau in the future, even if it's to congratulate her at her wedding to Victor.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Miss Cavendish Talks with Jenny King, Master Embroiderer, for Selvedge

One of my favorite stories I've written is about Jenny King, an extraordinary embroiderer whose collaborations with Mary Katrantzou, Vivienne Westwood and Erdem have been transforming the ways in which embroidery is used in fashion.

My interview and article will appear in the January/February Selvedge, and here's a sneak peek!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Of Chintz, Stella McCartney, and Adrienne Vittadini

I used to audition for certain musicals with "Consider Yourself," from Oliver!, sometimes in full Cockney:

Consider yourself at home
Consider yourself part of the furniture . . .

Those lines came racing back today while I paged through an "auld" magazine as my nine-year-old lad got a fauxhawk for basketball season.

Why? because I saw a print from Stella McCartney's Resort 2013 collection that I absolutely adored--we might call it genteelly faded floral wallpaper. I've loved that chintz-y look since I was an undergrad.

Back then, somehow I managed to qualify for a Holt Renfrew charge card (why, HR, when my only employment was teaching aerobics a few mights a week?) and one of my prized purchases was an Adrienne Vittadini wallpaper-y floral linen dress on cream. It had a scoop neck, short sleeves, fabric belt with buckle, and a proper tulip skirt.

Rachel Williams in Vittadini ad, 1985
That summer I was working as a proofreader at a fancy schmancy law firm in Toronto and, as I was riding the elevator to my floor, one of the younger, handsome male lawyers remarked that his parents used to have a chesterfield just like my dress.  His bon mots didn't go over how he would have liked--seriously, is that the way to introduce one's self in good favour?--so he invited me to lunch to make up for it.

A week or so later we went to Dan Aykroyd's restaurant downtown, which was, if I recall, a grungy hole in the wall (albeit a large hole) and I learned quickly that well-dressed young lawyers with fancy jobs may have excellent taste in summer student employees, but that was it.

I reupholstered my impression of the lawyer luncher but haven't yet tired of wallpaper-y floral fabrics.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Where Journalism Imitates Art: Amazing Amy, a Vogue Cover, and Gone Girl

About two years ago, around the Thanksgiving Break from school, I devoured Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl in a day.

I remember recoiling a bit at the opening words--"Tra and la!"--finding them annoyingly perky and jaunty.  I immediately imagined the actress Amy Adams, based on her work in Junebug, for instance, of being capable of uttering them without any hint of irony. Would Amy A play Amy D?

And then, this month, Amy Adams turned up on the cover of Vogue with the accompanying headline AMAZING AMY.  I may have looked bemused for a moment because, as readers of Gone Girl will know, Amy D's parents write a series of YA novels about Amazing Amy, an idealized version of their own dear but imperfect daughter.

So Amy A did not play Amy D, yet language associated with Amy D has been publicly connected with Amy A.

So what was Vogue's copywriter thinking? I'd like to hear her/his side . . .

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Annual Thanksgiving Post: Of Treacy and the Trilby

American Thanksgiving is a time for thanks and hats.  Just go to your local elementary school this week and you’ll see children decked out in Pilgrim hats, playing with their fellow Indians in homemade headdresses. 

I’ve always been a hat girl, growing up on Prince Edward Island, Canada, where the ocean breeze kept a chill in the air.  There, my Scottish grandmother would bundle me in coarse tam o’shanters, made from scratchy undyed wool.      During my university years in bilingual Ottawa, I graduated to French berets in jet noir; loden festooned with a raccoon’s tail (what was I thinking?); creamy cupcake pink.

On bitter days, and there were many, I’d pull the beret over my brow, slap on a pair of ear muffs, and ice-skate down the Rideau Canal toward my campus.  I’d share the ice with various Members of Parliament (Parliament Hill was just beyond the university), their long winterized trench coats parachuting around them, their briefcases somehow not throwing them off balance.  During her lunch break one senior MP would don a racing suit and make slow, steady strokes up and down the canal, stopping later at the stands selling deep-fried beaver tails, a Canadian winter delicacy.

I wore berets throughout my undergraduate and graduate education, from Ottawa to the United States.  They were functional, fit my large-ish head, and, I liked to think, marked me as “other” in my new home: a beret was a subtle symbol of Canadian pride.

But this steady relationship was rattled when I went to New York City to visit my husband’s family one Christmas.  After visiting the requisite art galleries, I always ducked into my favorite store, Bergdorf Goodman, to check out some living art—the impeccably dressed patrons who glided through the corridors—and, of course, the fantastic displays of merchandise.  Getting somewhat lost among the mirrored walls on the accessories level, I took a turn and found myself gazing at a hat:  a Philip Treacy design.  To be exact, an asymmetrical trilby, with navy cotton exterior, pewter satin lining, silver unicorn logo on the brand, provenance England.  I was smitten.

For a Philip Treacy hat n’est pas un chapeau.  Rather, it is an idea.  Picture Treacy’s former muse Isabella Blow wearing a large orange acrylic disk that overwhelms her face, a slender wedge of pie extracted for her mouth and nose, or a model wearing a sculpture—a representation of a gently askew tophat spelling out h-a-t in lissome, sky-scraping letters. But this Irish-born, London-bred milliner known as the mad Hatter for his confections also makes wearable fantasies; hence the—no, my—assymetrical trilby.

Reader, I bought it.  What else could I do?  And I carried it down Fifth Avenue in its glistening silvery BG hatbox, feeling, perhaps for the first time, like a lady rather than the feminist scholar that I am.  I, who critique Sister Carrie’s seduction by the snug little jackets in a Chicago department store, fell prey to the same siren song.  And like Hortense, in another Dreiser novel, I wanted the hat so badly that my lack of cash didn’t stop me; whereas Hortense lures her boyfriend into purchasing her a coat with vague promises of  affection, I used my BG charge card, with half-hearted assurances to myself that I’d pay if off in no time.
Geography, though, was the wild card I hadn’t counted on.  Although my eccentric new navy asymmetrical trilby didn’t stand out on the fashionable streets of New York, it practically screamed “Outsider” when I returned to the Midwest farmland where I then lived and taught college.  In the Midwest, where people pride themselves on four-post homes, three square meals a day, and unwavering moral values, asymmetry isn’t exactly a virtue.  Rather, it makes people suspicious of you. 

Usually I tend to court my outside status.  I quite like to be contrary, and have ever since I was a teenager, when, yearning for the black velvet pants and pastel pink satin blouse that all my friends had, my chic grandmother returned from Montreal with forest green velvet trousers and a burgundy satin shirt.  I wasn’t immediately sure about this combination, but quickly saw how one could work within a fashion concept while executing your own take on it.  Couldn’t my asymmetrical trilby coexist with the John Deere farming caps and the German Baptist bonnets?  After all, I’d worn a beret for many a year and the Midwest wasn’t exactly a bastion of French style.

But whereas my beret was looked on with grudging acceptance, my trilby was more a source of humor.  Noone actually said anything directly, but locals would talk to my hat instead of my face, colleagues would be overly smiley when I’d stalk around campus.  I felt self-conscious and soon found myself wearing my trilby only at home, happy to catch surprise glimpses of my reflection in the windows as I’d go about my evening.  And eventually I put it away, nestled inside its hatbox, which sat at the bottom of my armoire, as I gradually forgot about it.

Until, that is, last November, when, in a burst of enthusiasm for cleaning out my closets via eBay, I rediscovered the box and its contents.  I listed the hat on eBay, enjoyed a mild bidding war, and prepared to ship the trilby and box to its new owner, known to me only by her excellent feedback rating.  But when I received the eBay-generated message containing the winner’s email and home address, a different kind of feedback quickly flashed in my mind.  For the new owner of my Philip Treacy trilby was a Famous New York Personality of TV and Movies, she of the high cheekbones, sassy persona, and megawatt smile. 

A celebrity bought my London-via-Bergdorf’s hat. A beautiful, edgy New York celebrity.  We must be soul sisters!  We could bond over our love of Philip Treacy hats!  She would totally “get” me; we could chat over email like fashion insiders; we could meet, even, when I returned to New York on my twice-yearly pilgrimages!  We’d go hat shopping together and she could show me how she sports my—our—no, her hat in the city and makes it her own. 
Or I could mail her the hat with a note saying that I hope she wears it in the best of health.  Which I did.

Like Chaucer sending his “littel book” out into the world, I sent my hat back to New York, where it is meant to be, with its citified asymmetrical attitude.  Perhaps it will go dancing, to a movie premiere, to a little bistro. Perhaps one night it will even get tipsy (umm—symmetrical).  And I am thankful that it is with its rightful owner, someone who can literally take the hat out of her closet, who can enjoy it out in public.  And I can enjoy it too, from the distance of my imagination.

It’s not chilly enough here yet for my beret.  But it will be soon.