Saturday, May 31, 2008

In Which Miss Cavendish Explains Why She Will Not Be Watching the "Sex and the City" Feature Film

From Sunset Boulevard:

Joe Gillis: “You used to be big.”

Norma Desmond: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

Chris Noth is Big and he used to be big, back when Sex and the City was a mega hit on the small screen.

The small screen worked for the actresses, too, none of whom, with the exception of Cynthia Nixon, truly possessed acting chops; it worked for the clothes, which ran the gamut from boring business (Miranda) to expensive skank (Samantha), from uptight prep (Charlotte) to urban boho (Carrie); it worked for the locations—the restaurants, the bars, the shops, which filled the screen with energy.

To riff on Norma Desmond, this is a picture that should have stayed small.

On the small screen, the clothes wouldn’t have to feel like props—the gigantic scrunchie Carrie wears across her body, for instance, or the gigantic flower she pins to her dress.

Indeed, even the length of this film is extreme (2 hours 22 minutes), desperately calling attention to its “big” ness.

But like that maddening oversized scrunchie (remember when regular scrunchies were once a delicious plot point on SATC?), this film smacks of a pretty fabric exterior with an elastic center, one that’s been stretched too far to make it fit the big screen.

When Big was small, he was big. When this picture was small, it was big. Now that it’s big, I suspect it will be, well, empty.

**Smart and gentle readers: please feel free to disagree; Miss Cavendish may still be feeling punchy, but she is open to dialogue!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lost City: Fabrics to Find

Just look at these gorgeous fabrics!

Their designer, Afshan Durrani, is standing in front of them. Go now and read the NYT story about her and her extraordinary fabric company, Lost City!

Their large-scale embellished beauty gives my perennial favorite, Liberty, a real run for (my) money . . .

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Literary Fashion: Mod Madame Bovary

Have you read Gemma Bovary, the 2005 graphic novel by Posy Simmonds?

I’m reading the—ahem—original Madame Bovary as I write this and am, comme toujours, seduced and repelled by Emma’s desperate passion for beauty and refinement.

Gemma’s an update, with a heroine who’s equally urgent as Emma, with a bad case of postmodern ennui.

But this post concerns literary fashion, so here is Charles Bovary’s first glimpse of Emma:

“A young woman, in a blue merino-wool dress with three flounces, came to the door of the house. . . . Charles was surprised at the whiteness of her nails. They were lusterous, tapering, more highly polished than Dieppe ivories, and cut into an almond shape.”

Perhaps the image above could be Emma and Gemma’s middle sister, Maud. ("Madame Bovary--c'est Maud! [with apologies to Flaubert].)


The more I consider the palette of this film, well, the more I consider it.

I’m currently infatuated with this shade I’m calling “rouge,” which means, to me, a faded genteel red/pink.

It’s especially beautiful in the poster for the film, and you can see it in the initial moments of the film, as Jean-Do slowly brings his eyes into focus, through the end.

I’m seeing it against the cool aquas of the therapists’ jackets, the blue of the sea, and the snippet of Emmanuelle Seigner’s dress in this photo.

But right now, I really want a lipstick in this shade.

It’s got real charm.

Any recommendations?

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Product Placement

For a long-weekend treat, last evening I screened Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

I loved the director’s palette, soft aquas with moments of faded rose. The muted reds remind me of a vase full of dried old pink roses that I saw in an antique store vitrine on the flat of Beacon Hill; the decaying pinks were so romantic that they trumped the fancy furniture.

But I digress.

Interestingly, for a film about the former editor of French ELLE (that qualification may be redundant for some readers), there was strikingly little about the fashion world. But for his glimpse into that oeuvre, Schnabel made a good choice: Azzedine Alaia pinning a model (Lenny Kravitz added a little rock-star glitz too).

Yet fashion was indeed a part of the film, and here’s where Miss Cavendish dons her critical hat.
As he has in the past, Schnabel cast his lovely wife and linen designer Olatz in the film: she played a speech therapist who visited the hero in his hospital room. And while in his hospital bed, the hero wore some luxurious pyjamas designed by Olatz and sold in her New York shop. If my eyes didn’t deceive me, I’d say that her sheets appeared on the bed too—pink edged in chocolate brown.

It’s this kind of product placement that annoys me, especially in a film that involves fashion.

As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I think Olatz’s linens and bed clothes are absolutely lovely, but seeing them in the film (while she plays a hospital employee) smacks of too much Schnabel; the viewer cannot suspend her disbelief and enter the film when the designer of the very products on screen is pretending to be something else.

I’m also quite aware that Schnabel’s first wife. Jacqueline, has a long relationship with Mr. Alaia; she used to sell his clothes in her NYC boutique in the 1990s. But Alaia gave the film an injection of authenticity and cool, whereas the Olatz pyjamas simply made me think of merchandizing.

For me, this gratuitous flash of Schnabel self-promotion lessened the film; I was alert waiting for the second pyjama bottom to drop, so to speak.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

An (E)Toile in the Making

I found fashion inspiration in the unlikeliest of places for me: the Home and Design section of the NYT. While I certainly admire a well-styled home, I don’t put any pressure on myself to follow suit, with a just-turned-three-year-old lad and two lassies under nine chez moi.

However, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about something I saw on Thursday.

The Times did a brief profile of Richard Saja, a textile designer who has, in the words of the NYT, been “interfering with toile for years” (that sounds so naughty, doesn’t it?).

In a nutshell, Saja embroiders whimsical designs on the veddy serious toile figures; he puts fur on humans, clown costumes on people, and bugs on flowers. His bug-on-flower pillows were seen in the Bill Murray film Broken Flowers.

As I just happen to have, in my reddish-pink fireplace room, three ten-footish-tall narrow windows, all adorned in red-on-white toile, I now have a new project.

I can see embroidering romantic rose vines on the rope swing that one comely lass is sitting on. And then, to punk it up, I’d give one of her companion sheep a sleek yellow head and a purple French-knotted body. Maybe green hooves.

I’ll do only a couple of images on each curtain, as I think less is more in this case. But this will be fun, and a great way to postmodernize my ladylike curtains.

Wouldn’t a formal ballgown be cool if it were customized in this manner?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Comment Contest Winners!

As I’m back in blogging action, it’s time to check out the clever comments on the contest images I posted—eek; too much unintended alliteration there.

I've vetted the comments, and thought that the following entries were most in the spirit of the contest.

Image One:
"Why on EARTH did I think wearing this dress would be a good idea when I knew I'd be traipsing through the moors?" --enc

Image Two:

"I was thinking it was half 'chicken-dance' (tacky dance done at Oz weddings) half The Mission! Maybe I need to get out more often!" --Imelda Matt

"Practicing my scarecrow jettés on the dirt is difficult. I wish I had a decent field of corn to work with." --enc

It seems unfair to judge between these two lively commenters, so if enc and Imelda Matt would each care to email me their snail mail coordinates, I'll send them each a Miss Cavendish tiny cake. Note that I will be making these from scratch, so to speak, so there may be a bit of a wait . . .

Valli Girl Redux

Giambattista Valli is one of my favorite designers for his glorious use of color and texture. Perusing the images of his fall 2008 RTW collection, I fell in love with the following:

This floral bodice and stiff poof evoke an enticing mix of innocence and knowledge.

I like the powder-puff vintage feel of this dress and the gentle shade of beige-y pink.

If the bodice were a little more fitted, I'd really like this dress.

But there were some looks that I wanted to like but couldn’t quite.

This one, for instance, reminds me of that giant scrunchie SJP wears across her body in the new SATC film, though, obviously, it’s a much more luxe version.

And this one seemingly invokes a coral reef, but somehow ends up looking more like an uncomfortable fungus . . .

This look reminds me of a sea anemone, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Valli has a wonderful talent, but he’s a little too gimmicky in this collection for me.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Chipped Nails, Anyone?

The New York Times Thursday Styles section ran an article on how chipped nail polish (on the fingers only, please) is the hot new look for women under 35.

Artfully worn with a $5000 handbag in tow, chipped nail polish (in a dark, plummy color), apparently says that the wearer is so financially and stylistically secure that she can break some grooming rules—or set some new ones.

I’m a devotée of boho chic; indeed, there’s nothing that makes me squirm more than feeling matchy-matchy, but I think that this look would work on very, very few women.

Remember a young Helena Christensen with Chris Isaak in the gorgeous Herb Ritts “Wicked Game” video? She wore ragged nail polish mixed with granules of sand and looked utterly alluring. Of course Helena’s natural beauty made the chipped nails cool, much like the expensive bag tries to do for those mortals who don’t look like Ms. Christensen.

But there’s a fine line between alluring and skanky here, and I’m not sure if the money bag offsets the trashiness of the nails.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a proper manicure. When I worked in Toronto, I used to treat myself to a mani-pedi at Mira Linder’s Spa in the City (is it still there, TO readers?), where motherly, round European women would vigorously massage and refine my digits.

And in New York I’d eschew the smaller joints (and am glad I did after reading in New York Magazine about the working conditions for the immigrant women) for Frederic Fekkai’s oasis in the Chanel building.

But now I favor the au naturel look for my hands, primarily because I don’t have the vigilance to keep polish neat, what with three children, etc., etc. So perhaps I should cheer the new chipped look, since neatness is now a moot point.

Chipped nail polish wouldn’t work for me, though, because it would come across as collateral damage caused by my very full, hectic life. Indeed, I think it’s those who have leisurely lives who can pull off such a look; the chipped nails can then represent an ironic beauty instead of being a mark of someone who is unable to get her grooming act together.

So what do you think? Anyone going to wear chipped polish by design—or by accident?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Feathers Encore Une Fois

And for a gorgeously grown-up feathered look, here's this stunning hat from Yves Saint Laurent, photographed by David Seidner, whose short-lived career was marked by portraits of exquisite detail and style.
*p.s. I became reacquainted with Seidner's work through Paul Pincus's smart blog.

Plunge into Plumage

There’s been a good deal of squawking about the feathered hair piece that Carrie Bradshaw wears to her “wedding” in the Sex and the City film.

It’s an antique bird that stylist Patricia Field sourced and kept, waiting for the right place to put it. And so it ended up on the side of Ms. Bradshaw’s head, adding a feathered edge to her wedding finery.

My verdict is out until I can see a proper 360º image, but I must say, I’ve never been one to shy away (fly away?) from feathers.

That said, it’s a bit of a challenge to carry off (ahem) a bird on one’s head. I don't do novelty, so I'd have to tread a careful line between irony and dignity. Below are two examples from Buddug that might launch the uninitiated into flight.

These kissing birds would require a properly eccentric or dramatically austere ensemble.

But this little silver hummingbird might be easier to try.

Any birds of a feather out there? Or is this a bird-brained scheme? (The puns are far too easy to come by, which means, of course, that they’re lame. Lame duck? Lamé duck?)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pastels and the Man

When I was last in London, several years ago, all the business-y lads accessorized their gray suits with exquisite lavender- and orchid-colored neckties.

I do love a well-placed punch of pastel on a man. What say you?

Literary Fashion: Girls Will Be Boys; or, Write Like a Man

Today I purchased a novel on the strength of an NPR interview with newly named Pen/Faulkner award–winning author Kate Christensen. Titled The Great Man, this novel intrigued me because it addresses the sexuality of a woman in her seventh decade, something that many authors—with the exception of Carol Shields—don’t explore.

Per usual, I read the blurb on the front cover—one peppered with ellipses from the NYT—and turned the book over to read the back. There perched a blurb from O, The Oprah Magazine, which said, in part: “Christensen’s writing is clear-eyed, muscular, bitingly funny, and supremely caustic . . .”

Muscular, huh? It seems to me that this adjective is male-identified, perhaps to separate this novel from the curlicue genre of “chick lit.” Its toughness suggests that yes, fellows can read this work without having their masculinity questioned.

Indeed, this blurb brings a whiff of respectability to the idea of a WOMAN winning the Pen/Faulkner award for a novel about—gasp—an OLDER woman’s sexuality. Women winners of this award are nothing new—check out this list—but as they are in the company of such former winners as Philip Roth, John Updike, E. L. Doctorow, and Richard Ford, it’s interesting how the book is marketed. (I realize that the jacket was printed before Christensen won the award; still, the marketing seems to court male readers. And even Christensen, in her interview linnked above, mentions only two of the men who previously won the award, not the women.)

Some number of years ago, Anita Brookner won the Booker prize for her slim novel Hotel du Lac, about a mother and her daughter. Critical outcry was great then, as if the subject—an older woman and her girl child—didn’t deserve national merit. In fact, the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins famously characterized writing as a profoundly male act.

And it strikes me, in these days of literary hoaxes, that readers are quick to judge. Take the case of Laura Albert, aka JT LeRoy, boy hustler and author. In an interview with the Paris Review, Albert talked about how she composed her stories of abuse from the perspective of a male persona because it was a safe way to distance herself from what she had actually endured growing up. She also makes clear that JT LeRoy's works were not published as memoir, but as fiction.

Think also of S. E. Hinton, who wrote the terrific teen novel The Outsiders about boy gangs. I remember being shocked when I learned this author was a “Susan,” not a “Sam.” And it’s no accident that J. K. Rowling’s name was presented like so on her book covers. Would there have been an initial readership for a book about a boy wizard by someone named Joanne?

There’s a long history of women authors adopting androgyny for publishing reasons—think of Currer, Acton, and Ellis Bell, for instance. But do we really have to characterize a woman’s prose as “muscular” (not that women can’t have muscles!!) in order to render it legitimate, literary?

There’s a lot more to say on this topic, hence the parenthetical qualifications throughout this post, but, if we’re judging a book by its cover—author’s name, promotional blurbs—maybe we might think again, and just read the book. Just read it!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Vanity Sizing Smells Fishy **Update below

While reading enc’s provocative post about vanity sizes—how size 4 can ironically be considered a “plus” size—I began to reflect on the other end of the size spectrum: the women who wear a size zero.

A size 0 means, quite literally, that the woman doesn’t “matter”—or materialize; there’s nothing to clothe.

I wonder how this can be a point of pride, to have a body that does not matter. For if one does not matter physically, then one does not matter socially, professionally, politically, either.

To be a zero is a double-edged sword: first, there’s the dubiously positive message that the woman’s body is fashionably good; it’s small and slender.

But there’s the flip side too: if one’s body is a zero, then what becomes of the person? Does she have any cultural weight? Or does her bodily lack also negate her presence and authority?

Philosophical dilemmas aside, it must be difficult to clothe a size 0 body. Where does the woman purchase her clothes? In the teen department?

And if so, what does that say about her status as a woman? She’s become culturally diminished once more; whereas her age and experience indicate she’s an adult, vanity sizes tell her she’s a child.

I once knew a man who wanted to design underwear for women. His “brilliant” twist was that they would be in the shape of diapers. He thought they’d be cute; I see nothing appealing about infantilizing women.

To be a “zero,” a “nought,” a “nothing,” stunts women’s personal and professional growth. On a scale of 1 through 10, I rate vanity sizing a big, fat zero.

Update: Check out this link for a lad's take on size Zero!

Friday, May 16, 2008

I Heart Marni

Marni’s fall 2008 collection didn’t receive a whole lot of love from Sarah Mower, but no matter—I’m happy to offer heaps.

I don’t care whether Consuelo has done this all before—the silhouettes, textures, and colors are mostly perfect (I’m showing some of my favorites).

I would, however, have chosen different models; the glum pout on this mannequin below does nothing for her glorious ensemble.

Anyone else adore Marni?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Afternoons at Tiffany

For an antidote to my more academic readings, I’ve been enjoying the frothy but charming Summer at Tiffany, about two Midwestern college students who are the first “girls” to work on the “floor” of that venerable jewelry house.

My very, very favorite detail is the aqua silk shirtwaist dress from Bonwit Teller that the girls wore as their “uniform.”

How romantic it would be to wear a floaty silk dress in that distinctive Tiffany shade on the gray-and-limestone-colored avenues of New York. The book also contains some lovely riffs on the in-store and home-made fashions, from rhinestone-embellished turbans to pink sharkskin dresses that make this a sweet summer read.

In a bizarre way, this little book reminds me of other New York “behind-the-scenes” stories of young women, like Joyce Johnson’s Minor Characters, a memoir following her romance with Jack Kerouac, as well as Suze Rotolo’s forthcoming autobiography about her life with and without Bob Dylan.

Like Kerouac and Dylan, who wrote poetry and music with the emotional and sometimes financial support of their girlfriends, Tiffany was a man’s company, where there were only salesmen on the jewelry floor, men who were supported by the female staff.

But these heroines aren’t bitter; rather, they sparkle with starry-eyed excitement at their good fortune: to be young, pretty, living in New York, and working at Tiffany. The feeling’s contagious.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Punk'd and Steamed

I am indeed a little steamed. For I am late to the party, having just learned, via the New York Times, that one of my favorite looks—postmodern-techno-Victorian—is an official subculture called steampunk.

In the winter I like nothing better to wear my ankle-length Cossack/Edwardian (I know I’m mixing genres here) coat and stomp around in riding boots, wearing my imaginary Amelia Earhart leather flying cap.

If I had a Woody wagon, I’d hop in it, warm my perforated-leather-gloved hands on the navy velvet-covered steering wheel, and plug in to my metallic pink iPod, its pure girliness concealed within its faux brass carrying case. Cyborg Victorian at its best.

But now I wouldn’t want to do so, knowing that I’d be an official steampunk; for me, the minute a label sticks, it’s time to change looks.

I do, however, love that the James Gang, a super-talented African American vaudeville troupe that performs at NYC’s The Box, is opening a “steampunk” customizing shop. You can bring in your TVs and have them wrapped in a more tactile, less techno material for a neo-Victorian feel.

And I especially love that one of the James Gang members calls himself The Great Gatsby. Many people probably think it’s ironic, since Robert Redford, in all his blue-eyed blonde iconicity, portrayed Jay Gatsby on film.

But if you read Gatsby carefully (with Walter Benn Michael’s smart essay “The Souls of White Folk” on the side), you’ll see that Gatsby is, in fact, symbolically “not white.” Genius move on the James Gang member’s part. Any steampunks out there?

**Photo by Kat Bret

Friday, May 9, 2008

Life Cycle of a Shoe-Sale Purchase; or, No! Nooo! Nanette!!!

This has happened to me one too many times:

I see that a pair of shoes I had been coveting online has gone on sale.

My size (8.5) is still available!

I order shoes and wait in fevered anticipation.

I blog about how pretty the shoes are.

Shoes arrive.

I realize why they are on sale and why my size (a very popular one) is still in stock.

Shoes are very difficult to put on! Sideways contorting involved!

Even when on, shoes do not feel like they are on because of the terrible fit! (Toes are not meant to engage in origami-like folding.)

Shoes have terrible construction! Thick asymmetrical elastic banding on shoes is actually ripped where it joins to the sole.

Package up shoes and demand (um—nicely request) shipping refund from Saks.

Sulk for a second.

Vent on blog and immediately feel better.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Urban Medieval Chic for Fall

It’s a rainy, cool day here, so my thoughts have turned to fall. Perhaps it’s because I read extensively in early English literature for my master’s degree, but I love anything that reeks of urban medieval chic.

Take Abaeté fall 2008, for instance. I found the spring offerings completely underwhelming but think that fall has a stunning combination of armor, femininity, and street savvy.

I love the paillettes, the assymetrical cuts, the medieval-style hoods, the booties with the short skirts, the embellished jumper, the colors, the skirt lengths, the everything.

This is a line I’ll seriously be checking out when it reaches the shops.

Image Two

Monday, May 5, 2008

Image One

Miss Cavendish's Contest

I have officially entered crunch time—final essays to grade, final exams to design and then grade—so I thought I’d use a time-honored professor’s strategy on my blog: group work.

I’ll post some of my favorite images but won’t provide a text. You, the gentle reader, are welcome to use the comments section to add remarks—context, dialogue, analysis, quips . . . whatever works for you.

Think of this as the New Yorker’s cartoon contest page, but with (I hope) evocative images of fashion.

Do I need a prize, then?

After we make it through the crunch, I’ll post a poll--or figure out something similar. You vote for your favorite combination of image/comment, and I’ll mail the winner a tiny cake, handmade by Miss Cavendish.

And as I’m known for breaking a rule or two, don’t be surprised if I actually do post an image with prose; I’m just waiting for my muse.

Next post: image only!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Racing Silks? You Bet!

When I bet on horses, I don’t take into account their history of winning, the records of their jockeys, or the credentials of their trainers.

I look for the racing silks I like best and go from there.

Although I wasn’t at the Kentucky Derby in person today, I did watch it on television, and was struck by the pink-and-aqua silks worn by contender Denis of Cork’s jockey. So my virtual money was happily on him as he ran into third place.

The silks remind me of Gianbattista Valli’s gorgeous colors (which I’ve shown before but bear another viewing here).

On a more serious note, I do sincerely hope that if there is a horse heaven, brave Eight Belles, who came in second but was immediately euthanized due to two compound fractures in her front legs, will find plenty of floral horseshoes, sweet-smelling hay, crisp carrots, and cool water to drink as she pads about the meadow.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Liberty and Leather: Sneakerhead Alert

I couldn’t be considered a sneakerhead even in my wildest imagination. First of all, for casual wear they’re too hot, and are neither uptown nor downtown enough for this shoe lover.

I wear runners only to run (which I do a good deal), but I do run only in Nike (so there’s some sort of fetish/brand loyalty there). (Actually, Nikes are the only shoes that work with my very high arch.)

I happen to have a mad, mad passion for Liberty fabric, however, as some of my early posts will indicate. So: what to do when Nike comes out with high and low Dunks that incorporate leather and Liberty?

Full disclosure: I saw the pink/red high tops today on LLG’s blog and immediately scoured the Web until I found these acid yellow/Liberty floral lows. (There are also some Dunks available in lavender prints).

After the initial adrenaline wore off, I admitted that I wouldn’t actually wear the high tops (again, too hot, not the right silhouette for me), but I do indeed enjoy looking at them. I might try the lows, but only in the least self-conscious manner possible.

Back in the day (the early 1990s, natch), I used to rock long floral fitted dresses with my trusty black Doc Martens. Why not try the reverse: neutral dark clothes (t-shirt, cigarette pants) on the body, punctuated with Nike/Liberty Dunks? Or not.

If you were to wear these, how would you style them? And would you wear these?