Friday, February 29, 2008

DVF: A *What* of One's Own?

Last week the New York Times Style Magazine, Women’s Fashion, spring 2008, ran a brief feature on designers who use themselves as their muse. Accompanying the image of each designer in his/her own design was a blurb that connected the designer’s personal style to the clothes he/she made.

Diane Von Furstenberg was one of the featured designers, and her blurb reads as follows:

"Proof that you can have it all, she puts femininity, aristocratic glamour and empowerment in one lioness-maned package. Her aura imbues dresses with the promise of a Barry Diller of one’s own (my emphasis)."

What exactly is a Barry Diller of one’s own?

The journalist here draws on the language of Virginia Woolf, who famously stated in 1929 that if a woman is to be creative, she needs £500, perhaps given to her by an aunt, and a room of one’s own.

Woolf was arguing that women could not express their creativity unless they were financially independent from the drudgery of hard work, unless they were free from the demands of children and husbands. A room of one’s own thus symbolizes the financial and social freedom that women need if they are to turn their minds to being creative.

In invoking this classic phrase, the New York Times turns it on its head: a Barry Diller of one’s own is an excessively wealthy husband who has the financial and social clout to finance his wife’s collection. In short, he’s a sugar daddy.

Is this, then, the path for the wonderfully smart women in the world—to find a rich husband who will enable their creativity? Or might women use their own considerable skills to make a different sort of business deal—one that involves handshakes at the boardroom table instead of pillow talk?

Woolf, in 1929, suggested that financial independence come from a matrilineal line of women helping women. It’s ironic that some 80 years later, we’re being directed to find a rich guy.

Let’s follow Jane Austen, and marry for love, but do business where it should be done: at the office.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Literary Fashion? "Faerie Queene" Villains

Introducing Sans-a-heel (as coined by Manolo the Shoeblogger),
younger sibling to Sansabelt,
both heirs to the evil legacy of Edmund Spenser’s
Faerie Queene henchmen—
Sansjoy, Sansfoy, and Sansloy.

Bird on a Wire

When I select a piece of jewelry, I have a few rules: it should be eccentric, not cute; bold, not dainty; elegant, yet not formal; and white gold, silver, or platinum, as I prefer not to wear yellow gold.

In Palo Alto, the delightful Bloom Butik had just what I didn’t know I was looking for.

There (where I also bought my Jane Austen-in-LA dress) I discovered the glamorous Los Angeles designer Pade Vavra (pictured here) and her whimsical/smart jewelry collection.

Pade takes her inspiration from nature, and produces cunning pieces such as a gem-encrusted seahorse twinkling on a chain; a gold “leaf” cuff; and my prized find: a little yellow-gold-vermeil sparrow dangling from a silver hoop.

I love these earrings because they’re difficult to place. They remind me of Hero, on whose fantastic boots sparrows perched; of the Renaissance; of Marie Antoinette; of Josephine Baker in Zouzou.

I feel transported to a different era and culture every time I put them on, whether I’m skulking about in dark jeans and cashmere or floating in a silk dress.

They represent possibility; I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Gaultier et son Peau d'Ane

Do you remember Peau d’Ane, the 1970 collaboration between Jacques Demy and Catherine Deneuve that retells Charles Perrault’s classic but creepy fairy tale?

It’s a gorgeously costumed film, in which the designers created elaborate princess dresses that mirror the color of the sun, the moon, or the sky.

The heroine however, spends much of her time clad in a donkey skin, which is, in a still from the film, rendered strangely beautiful, not unlike a vintage Sheila Metzner photograph.

This ensemble from Jean Paul Gaultier’s latest collection reminded me of la belle Catherine, bundled up in a postmodern peau d’ane.

Although Gaultier’s homage may be utterly unintentional, last year Valerie Lamontagne, a Montreal artist, exhibited three dresses based on this film.

Might French fairy tales be the inspiration for FW08?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Louis, Liberty, Lingerie

It’s not hyperbole when I state that Louis Vuitton’s spring 2007 lingerie is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

My very favorite is not this set in pale pink Liberty fabric—it’s the same set in Liberty blues, oranges, and reds. You can see an image if you go to Tabitha Simmons’ “Runway to Reality” archives and click through the slide show.

You’ll know the set when you see it: quilted cups in a red rose Liberty print, the rest in a vibrant blue/orange Tatum Liberty print. It takes my breath away every time. Here’s a muted version, produced by scanning a printout.

As the set costs some $580 (it’s probably no longer available), I did the next best thing: I purchased enough Liberty fabric to make my own mini version, purely for display. I haven’t begun cutting the fabric yet, but I have the sketch completed, the cunningly tiny buttons, and, of course, the glory of the Liberty fabric.

And now that I’ve announced my intentions publicly, I’ll be sure to follow through!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Puritan Dressing: in Paris; on the Cape

On one hand, “Puritan dressing” calls to mind the pilgrim-buckle shoe, beautifully designed by Roger Vivier and worn with perfect ennui by Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour. I think this shoe is a perfect accompaniment to ankle-length skinny black trousers and a boat-neck navy sweater.

But speaking of boats, there’s a famous vessel called the Mayflower that also has a good deal to do with Puritan style. I’ve been to Plymouth, MA, have seen the historical clothes at the living museum there, and can attest that Puritan dressing also has a great deal to do with sobriety and steadfastness.

(Although there’s often a Hester Prynne in every crowd, with her gorgeously embroidered letter A.)

Puritan dressing today, however, evokes more than bored Parisian housewives and faithful (and not so faithful) pilgrims. One of my favorite summer stops is Puritan of Cape Cod, an elegant women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing store that has been in business for over eighty years.

It’s been run by the same family for three generations, and offers clothing that looks and feels perfect on the Cape—cool pastels and patterns from Vineyard Vines; classic Lilly Pulitzer florals; Sperry Top-Siders; and madras galore.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I don’t go all out in one style, but love some well-chosen accents: vibrant green and pink Lacoste golf socks (but not for golfing—I had my fill coming from a line of champion Canadian women golfers); a sea-blue running cap from Vineyard Vines; anything in Nantucket red.

I can’t wait to get back to the beach, where all the above colors look so right in the light. And then to PJ's for lobster rolls and ice cream, of course.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

My Curated Closet; or, the Clothes What I Wore

The lovely K-Line has tagged me to talk about my dressing philosophy—what the staples of my wardrobe are.

I find that I’m quite a minimalist—with a few extravagant details thrown into the mix. One half of my closet is thus spare, with clean, classic lines; the other half a riot of Liberty prints and sequins (on day wear), that I like to mix up.

My one style rule is that there are no collars on my shirts or dresses. I find collars unflattering—precisely because they are flattering in a certain sense. For my roots are firmly in WASP-y ground, by way of Scotland and Denmark, and I can easily embody that preppy fashion—polo shirts, pearls, etc. But because those looks work too well, I don’t wear them, except when I’m summering on the Cape and everyone is doing the same (OK; I don’t wear pearls even then—I’m very contrary by nature). I don’t like to fit in, so I’ll always try to have something a little “off.”

Collars on a jacket or coat are a different story. My philosophy also includes wearing pieces year after year, if they’re timeless and flattering, and my Prada navy blue collared seat-belt-buckle tech-fabric jacket fits that bill. If I recall, Prada outfitted a police department in Italy with a similar jacket, it’s just that authoritative. The collar is perfectly face-framing; it works when the jacket is buttoned up sans or avec scarf. I will wear this jacket through my 100th decade.

My typical choices are crew-neck, boat-neck, or turtle-neck, fitted cashmere t-shirts. I often buy these from J Crew, since the quality has greatly improved in the last couple of years. And I love wearing color, which is a staple of the Crew’s collection.

Skirts are pencil, with or without a fishtail, somewhere in the vicinity of the knee; I’m not that particular. I love the Hitchcock heroine’s silhouette, rendered fresh with some eccentric shoes—Te Casan, Anthropologie, Tootsi Plohound, for instance. And a tall, lean boot works too.

My skirts are usually some gentle check, plaid, or pinstripe—all the better to mix with my Liberty print shirts. But my Liberty shirts are not classic blouses; rather, I get them from Pronk, an online boutique run by the thoughtful Susannah, who takes Liberty and Kaffe Fassett fabrics and has them done up in romantic, feminine looks, complete with giddy ruffles and embroidery. Now I am not a ruffly person AT ALL, but I will wear Pronk’s, as long as I can render them a little edgy with a mismatched skirt and high, bold heels.

So that’s it: a little classic, a little eccentric, always on the edge.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Literary Fashion: Chaucer's Prioresse

Ful semely hir wimpel pinched was,
Hir nose tretys, hir eyen greye as glas,
Hir mouth ful small, and therto softe and reed.
But sikerly she hadde a fair forheed—
It was almost a spanne brood, I trowe—
For hardily she was nat undergrowe.

—Geoffrey Chaucer, General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

Short Cuts to Style

The New York Times is singing the praises of Agyness Deyn (and joining the ranks of media everywhere), remarking that her short, platinum tresses are now the rage in London.

Will women in America be similarly inspired? I’ve always loved women who can pull off a boy cut: Mia Farrow, Jean Seberg, Edie Sedgwick, and, more recently, Michelle Williams, all blonde, all pixie-ish in features.

But of course, there was also Linda Evangelista’s famous, career-making brunette crop, debuted under a newsboy cap on the cover of Vogue.

However, I think that women in London will be more likely to cut their hair than women in the States. Flowing locks seem to me an integral ingredient of American style, in part because they represent a societal construction of femininity; in part because they offer the option of pulling one’s hair back.

What do you think of the “new” short look?

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Punctuation of Style

After the busiest two days I’ve had in a long time, I’m able to return to the blogosphere.

I was inspired by a post made by The Thoughtful Dresser on Feb 21 about the semi-colon, which immediately made me think of how the semi-colon can be a metaphor for style.

For in writing, a semi-colon is something vaguely dangerous, an element that people are actually afraid to use, for fear of getting it wrong (I have ten years of student comments supporting this fact).

Indeed, wielding a semi-colon correctly makes a statement: this author is confident in his/her writing and claims a certain authority. But use a semi-colon instead of, say, a colon, and your statement loses some of its punch.

Style’s like that too. Who’s confident enough to wear a semi-colon? Does the semi-colon properly punctuate your look or render it ungrammatical?

But then another issue arises: Are you a sentence-fragment sort of woman or a complex-sentence lass? Who’s to say the semi-colon is “correct,” anyway?

Ahh . . . something new for grammarians to puzzle over: the punctuation of style.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Of Fonts and Fashion

In the editing class I teach, we focus on newspapers, so it’s always a treat when I can bring in a fashion magazine. Last week we were analyzing fonts, and how fonts are carefully chosen to appeal to a certain audience; indeed, to resemble that audience in each letter.

One of the magazines I selected was Harper’s Bazaar, which has undergone two significant redesigns in the not-so-distant past.

We considered Bazaar’s Alexey Brodovitch–designed nameplate, as presented on a Liz Tilberis–edited cover. We discussed the serif on the letters, the weight of the letters, their height, and agreed that this Bazaar was designed for an elegant, slender lady.

And Tilberis did a fantastic job, from her first cover with Linda Evangelista, through her December cover with Kate Moss and a snow globe, if I remember correctly, and beyond, applying her keen editorial eye to fashion and written stories.

But then, when Kate Betts took over after Tilberis’s untimely death, I was in thrall, from the change in font on the nameplate to the relocation of the folio—page numbers now appeared on the sides of the pages, which I thought were much easier to find.

The somewhat futuristic font that Betts’s designer employed announced a new Bazaar (and indeed, the word Harper’s was greatly reduced to running inside the “B”), one that was more youthful and energetic. Betts filled her pages with bold photography and thoughtful articles that I really wanted to read—not puff pieces.

Of course, not everyone shared my opinion, and Betts’s tenure at Bazaar was disappointingly short.

Now the original font is back, and has been for many a year. One of the early pieces in the new old Bazaar had Joan Collins reminiscing vacuously about fashion; I couldn’t take it. I cancelled my subscription, deeming Bazaar worthy of a peek only at the doctor’s office or for browsing in a bookstore.

I miss the substance, the sense of daring that both Tilberis and Betts brought, each in her own way. I like to read magazines that are in dialogue with each other, and right now, aside from grudgingly buying Vogue each month (I am so tired of actresses being heralded as design inspirations), I read British publications: Vogue, Harper’s UK, Selvedge.

I think it’s time that U.S. Vogue had a formidable competitor again. What do you think?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Absolutely Fabulous

Since I linked to Aquascutum earlier today, I thought I’d best pay a proper visit myself.

And—oh my—this venerable house is not just about trenches and Granny’s checked cashmere scarf any more.

I am so infatuated with these two coats—one for spring, the other for fall—that I can barely think. Pure bliss.

Of Indoor and Outdoor Scarves

Growing up in Prince Edward Island, we knew winter well. We’d regularly have snow reaching up to the bottoms of our window sills and my father would “plug in the car” overnight, a fact that baffles many an American friend.

I love winter, not in the least because it enables me to wear winter scarves. Once I learned (a good number of years back) how to wear one properly (pull through the loop), I was all set.

Some of my favorite scarves are a pale fawn-colored silk pleated/crinkled scarf from Calvin Klein, a boisterous Oilily Fair-Isle-via-Sweden wool knit, and my grandmother’s lady-like Aquascutum cashmere check.

It’s my indoor scarves that I have a difficult time with. I quite like one way to wear an oversized square: Make it into a long column by folding it on the diagonal, then, beginning from the back, wrap it around your throat, twist in front, and tie it behind.

However, my silk scarves seem too bulky for this. I have a 1960s vintage Emilio Pucci in blues and aquas that is calling to be worn this spring, but I don’t want to feel as if I have a curtain (in terms of weight) around my neck. I do the wrap-and-twist with slender scarves that are already in a column, but my Pucci sits on a shelf, year after year.

(On a side note, how I loved the jewel-box Pucci shop on Madison Avenue, with its old world salesladies and chairs upholstered in the signature prints. I’d go there to get my fill of colorful luxury and then buy a hot dog from a street vendor. High and low mix well, you know.)

When I worked in New York, I decided to design some indoor neckwear to fill my sartorial gap, so I’d spend my lunch hours in the Garment District looking for fabric.

My goal was to design a scarf that didn’t require folding or fussing, one that used unexpected fabric (some gorgeous cotton sateen I found in a going-out-of-business European shop). I edged a pink-and-green sateen in burgundy velvet (too heavy but pretty); a printed cotton voile in lavender silk (ditto). A yellowish-gold-and-dove-gray sateen called out for green velvet, but I haven’t made the cut—yet.

I still have those fabrics, some ten years later. Perhaps it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

In the meantime, does anyone have any advice on wearing a silk twill square in a youthful, elegant manner?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Beautiful Shoes

When All the Best posted an entry on Hetty Rose shoes, I couldn’t point and click fast enough to get to the shoemaker’s Web site.

I adore eccentric, elegant shoes. One of my favorite pairs comes from Manuela Filipovic for Te Casan, four-inch teal leather and suede open-toe d’Orsays, with a grosgrain ribbon tie.

And as a quiltmaker (see A Strawberry Quilt; or, a Suzani for Susannah), I love the dialogue between and among patterned textiles. So Hetty Rose bespoke shoes, which use antique Japanese kimono fabric, were a delight to behold.

When I see such colors and patterns, though, I always remind myself to proceed with caution. It would be very easy for me to dress like a harlequin every day, tassels, patterns, and colors flying, because I so love a bohemian mix.

I try to remember Diana Vreeland’s words: “Elegance is refusal”—advice I’m not entirely sure she followed herself, if you’ve ever seen her famous red parlor outfitted in chintz and Chinoiserie (photo from The Thoughtful Dresser). And I’ve felt the discomfort of being over-upholstered, if you will, on occasion, when a sparer silhouette would have been in order.

So I’d order the Hetty Rose shoes, but take care to wear them with a more neutral skirt, perhaps a red cashmere t-shirt.

What are your favorite fashion eccentricities?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

My Favorite Model

On Thursday the New York Times put its fashion coverage to the sidebar and highlighted instead a new group of beauties: the comely canines in Westminster’s annual Kennel Club Show.

They’re good-looking dogs, to be sure, but this fashion/beauty writer has a certain bias.

I’d like to share a photo of Marilla Moormaiden Aprilsdottir, a glamour gal if ever there were one. Her appellation bespeaks of her literary lineage—her first name a character from Anne of Green Gables, her middle name evoking the landscape of Wuthering Heights (and this lassie would have loved to frolic on the moors, charming even the most cantankerous ghosts), her last name in the Icelandic tradition with a twist: she’s named after her mother April.

Neither long nor svelte, Marilla could nevertheless command any sidewalk, park, or veterinarian’s waiting room with her physical grace and flirtatious nature. Who could resist a brindle bullgirl sidling up to them in full wiggle, her sturdy Robert Lee Morris collar-with-a-heart around her considerable neck, a mischievous glint in her eye?

This photo captures her in her grand dame phase, at the dignified age of ten. And although she passed away later in her tenth year, Marilla shows here how she could still call on her inner coquette when a camera was around.

She’s my very favorite model.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Radley Bags: Yay or Nay?

What’s the word from the UK re: Radley bags?

Are they Orla Kiely funky-cool or too-cute-to-purchase?

I have my eye on this Radley yellow Cuba bag. I’d remove the Scottie dog (too much for me) but like the otherwise hand-crafted feel.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Red, She Said

I don’t like to receive presents. Or perhaps I should clarify: I don’t like to receive gifts on expected days: my birthday, my wedding, Christmas, Valentine’s Day.

I’d rather a gift were spontaneous, given out of impulse as opposed to a national mandate. Your comments are that sort of gift--totally unexpected, thoughtful, wise, witty, and absolutely delightful to receive.

So, for my internet readers: here, from the heart, is a perfect Valentine’s red from Marchesa, made out of suede(!) I love the high neckline (are covered necks the new clavicle)?

And the puffed sleeves? For this Anne of Green Gables reader, well, they’re perfect.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Eclectic Knits with Wit

I know it’s Fashion Week in London, but my thoughts are in Montreal.

Specifically, the above catsuit from British designer Louise Goldin brought back a memory of when I was taking a break from my undergraduate education, living in Montreal, doing some modeling there, and almost bought a catsuit from Naf Naf. I should have while I still had the chance to wear it.

Even if catsuits aren’t on your fashion radar any more, Goldin makes beautiful knit pieces that can be integrated into a wardrobe.

The jacket with fur trim reminds me of my Josephine Peary photo (see Arctic Style).

And this blue mini dress has shades of D’Arcy Moses (see Mr. Darcy in Canada).

The fur-with-tails look combines the two, with a dash of Tait & Style.

And the blue sweater/leggings combo is simply a "cool girl" look that I love.

It reminds me, curiously enough, of some beloved Nike running tights from the late 1980s, with a little Gees Bend patchwork added to the mix. These are too precious for running, though. These are for strutting.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Jane Austen by Night

This dress by Marchesa would be the perfect evening complement to the Jane Austen-inspired day dress that I already own (see Jane Austen in LA, below). But when, oh when, will there be a ball at Netherfield so I can wear it?

Monday, February 11, 2008

House Dressing?

I really liked this Tory Burch dress when I saw it at Bergdorf Goodman, but I've been questioning my judgment. Was it because the dress so closely resembled one of my favorite home decorating fabrics, Amy Butler’s Forest (above)?

It’s one thing to cover your chair in this fabric, but how about yourself?

Blake, Incarcerated

I know my mind should be elsewhere, but it keeps returning to Amy Winehouse's plaintive shout out to her husband and to the pretty roses in her hair. Well done.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Julie Christie's Coat

All this chilly weather coupled with the imminent Academy Awards has me thinking once again about cold-weather dressing. Specifically, I’ve been musing on Canadian Sarah Polley’s beautiful film Away from Her, starring Rowdyman Gordon Pinsent and the luminous Julie Christie.

I love Christie’s cross-country skiing garb in this film—her jacket with the belted waist, her funky hat that reminds me of the Balenciaga scarf—but all that snow and Christie inevitably call to mind another fashionable film: Dr. Zhivago.

Some fifteen years ago, I purchased a Cossack coat a la Dr. Zhivago—from Laura Ashley, of all places. It was on a deep, deep sale (I believe I paid about $50 for it) and even then I wondered whether it was a rash decision (I was still a graduate student).

But every year I pull it out of my closet and remember exactly why I bought it.

The coat is navy blue, fitted from shoulder to waist. From there it swirls out and down, close to my ankles, but not long enough to drag in the snow and slush. It has a generous dark brown faux fur collar, which lies flat or can be turned up to cuddle my neck and throat in very cold weather. There are two pockets in front, which I’ve never cut open, because I don’t want to wreck the line (sometimes pockets can sag).

I wear it with my navy beret and black riding boots and feel “dressed” no matter what city or town I’m in.

Do you have any clothes that have stood the test of time and trends?

Hair, Apparent?

I’ve worn my hair up every day in some sort of topknot for nine years now. In that time I’ve had three children, and my silhouette—both during and après pregnancy—needed a lift, so up went my hair.

I’ve only recently begun wearing it down again—long layers, well past my clavicle—because the line seems right again.

But I still love to put my hair up, and I love pretty images of messy updos. This recent Poetry cover, for instance, celebrates the nape of a woman’s neck, an area than can be both sensuous and regal. Poetry indeed.

Are you an updo or a hair-down kind of woman?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Let Them Eat . . .

During my daily blog visits today I paused a bit on girlandthecity’s site. She had recently posted a photo of this pretty cupcake in this pretty box, and it reminded me of the day I discovered the Cupcake Café in New York.

I’ve always had a sweet tooth, and my publishing colleagues must have noticed it, for one of them told me to visit the aforementioned café. Always up for an adventure involving cake, I set my compass for 9th Street, between 39th and 40st Streets, the area charmingly known as Hell’s Kitchen.

Was I out of my mind? I was going to check out cupcakes in Hell!

The bakery itself was nondescript, but the cupcakes, lined up in the glass display case, were works of art. Exquisitely rendered flowers—singles, pairs, bunches—in brights and pastels adorned each tiny cake. Indeed, eating one seemed a sacrilege, so I ate two; they wouldn’t have kept on my desk. (And I shared a box with my colleagues.)

The image above is a full-size cake, from the Cupcake Café, but it shows off the beautiful detail on the flowers.

Is it fashion? Well, the cake rather reminds me of Marie’s—err—Hero’s shoes from an earlier post.

And didn’t one of those fashionable women know something about eating cake?

Mr. Darcy in Canada

With an Austen marathon on PBS and Pride and Prejudice in my college classroom, it’s all I can do not to think of Elizabeth and Darcy.

But there’s another Mr. Darcy who’s been creeping into my thoughts lately.

I first learned of D’Arcy Moses in the late 1980s, when I saw his work in Flare, Canada’s fashionable little sister to Chatelaine, the grand dame of Canadian fashion writing. A First Nations designer, this Mr. D’Arcy captured my imagination with a totem pole dress.

If memory serves, the dress was strapless, orange, and embellished like a traditional totem pole—it was thrilling, innovative, and absolutely beautiful. Some years ago Isaac Mizrahi did something similar, but D’Arcy Moses was the true original.

My Mr. D’Arcy left the fashion world of New York to return to Fort Simpson, where he worked with First Nations people to produce parkas, as well as other garments, and also created a fur collection.

He’s been honored by Canada’s Governor General and is a true national treasure. Apparently he’s now in Paris making a collection.

By the way, if any readers can locate an image of either totem pole dress, I’d love to see them—I haven’t had any luck with my online sleuthing.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Jane Austen in LA

Sure, there have been sightings of Jane Austen in LA, but mainly she’s been striking Hollywood deals with agents, wearing her shades as she reclines by the Beverly Hills Hotel pool.

I see her a little differently. When I was in Palo Alto a couple of summers ago, I bought this dress, partly because it reminded me of Austen.

Designed by LA-by-way-of-Long Island native Todd Magill for his label Wyeth, this dress, with its scoop neck, empire waist, gently ruched bodice and sleeves, and flowing knee-length silk fabric, evokes Jane Austen in the twenty-first century, a young writer skipping down the streets of LA, in search of a custom-blended juice.

And although Magill cites the artist Andrew Wyeth as his inspiration, I like to think there’s a little of Austen in this dress too.

Literary Fashion: Hero's Shoes

Buskins of shells all silvered, used she,
And branched with blushing coral to the knee;
Where sparrowes perched, of hollow pearle and gold,
Such as the world would wonder to behold:
Those with sweete water oft her handmaid fills,
Which as she went would chirrup through the bills.

--Christopher Marlowe, Hero and Leander
**Yes, I know that buskins are boots and that these shoes are for Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. But I think they evoke the playful spirit of Hero's buskins, hence their picture here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A Corner of Bryant Park

I’ve read fashion magazines ever since I was ten, when my aunt gave me my first copy of Seventeen. At first I didn’t know how to read it—all the advertisements were confusing for this book-loving girl, but I soon got in the swing of it.

Indeed, the advertisements soon became text, with their engaging appeals for Lane hope chests, Bass Weejuns, Bonne Bell LipSmackers, and Famolare shoes. Before models were “personalities,” I followed the career of Jayne Modean; I once brought in a Seventeen cover of Micaela Sundholm to have my bangs cut just like hers

Then as the years went on, I’d devour whatever I could: short-lived magazines like Taxi and Mirabella; once-edgy publications like Interview and W; and classics like Vogue. (Bazaar lost this reader when Kate Betts left; I thought she was the perfect heir to Liz Tilberis.)

The only time I stopped reading fashion magazines was when I worked in New York City.

In New York, I found that I didn’t want to read about fashion, I wanted to be fashion. But I didn’t want to shop; I wanted to be immersed in, surrounded by fashion, not the act of purchasing clothes. The two are really quite different, you know.

So I’d take a lunchtime train to the Village and soak up some NYU style chic; I’d order an espresso in a SoHo café and drink in my fellow patrons. I’d hang out in the garment district, patting textiles and getting a good vibe from young designers.

My office was directly across the street from Bryant Park, where I’d often eat lunch and have an occasional New York Moment. Who knew that a chance encounter over embroidery (I’d embroider for dessert) would mean a wonderful friendship with the copyeditor of a magazine I really wanted to work for?

But Bryant Park also meant Fashion Week, when our grassy expanse dwindled to a concrete corner, when the tents would go up and press and models and designers would descend.

Strangely enough, I never enjoyed Fashion Week the way I thought I should have. Of course, I didn’t have invitations to any shows, but even if I had, I wonder whether my experience would have been like Dorothy’s meeting Oz.

For I experience fashion as something creative, individual, and highly, highly personal. To be in New York and to sit with a group of qualified people and assess a garment as it is presented in the designer’s vision does not appeal; rather, I’d prefer to discover it on the street a week later, in the mix of someone’s own style.

However, when I’m in the Midwest, I’m the opposite. I pore over magazines and Web sites, wanting to know everything about a particular seam or color or cut of a garment. I want to know about the designer, his/her influences, and where he/she trained.

Perhaps it’s just my contrary nature: when I’m in the fashion mix I cultivate my eccentricity, my outsider-fashion persona. Then I want fashion to be effortless, unselfconscious, a natural representation of style. But when I’m in the fashion hinterlands, I’ll study it ferociously, but quietly, to absorb it for my next trip to the fashionable streets of New York or London.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

In the Navy

For me, navy is the perfect neutral: elegant, intelligent, and much more flattering than black against my skin.

As you might recall, in a previous post I mentioned that I had wanted to get married in a navy Chanel dress.

Were I to renew my vows, I think one of these would be just perfect: the bow dress from Dior or the flared dress from YSL.

Fine Feathers Indeed

I love Anna Trzebinski’s designs with their whimsical details—flamingo feathers on pashmina scarves, for instance—and strong colors.

Trzebinski first came to my attention in a Vanity Fair article that reported on the murder of her husband, artist Tonio Trzebinski, outside their home in Africa. British-educated Anna grew up in Africa, and there she stayed, channeling her grief into beauty, working with local women to produce clothing and accessories that borrow African beading techniques, that are inspired by the environment.

She famously married Loyaban Lemarti, a Samburu tribesman, last year, and has built a beautiful home in Nairobi that houses her design and production studio.

To my knowledge, Trzebinski’s designs are not available in the United States, and they're difficult to locate on the Web, but you can find them at Paul Smith and Browns in London.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Literary Textiles: Alice Walker

After dinner Dee (Wangero) went to the trunk at the foot of my bed and started rifling through it. Maggie hung back in the kitchen over the dishpan. Out came Wangero with two quilts. They had been pieced by Grandma Dee and then Big Dee and me had hung them on the quilt frames on the front porch and quilted them. One was in the Lone Star pattern. The other was Walk Around the Mountain. In both of them were scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty and more years ago. Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jarrell’s Paisley shirts. And one teeny faded blue piece, about the size of a penny matchbox, that was from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform that he wore during the Civil War.

--Alice Walker, “Everyday Use”

Halston, Giorgio, Bijan!

The news that Halston is being reintroduced yet again prompted a stroll down memory lane—but not for clothes.

Rather, I’ve been thinking of the Halston perfume, launched in 1975. When I was at boarding school, a glamorous peer had her very own bottle and when she’d borrow a dress for dinner (formal dining every night!) it would come back smelling sophisticated and somewhat dangerous—far from the clean-scrubbed image the school was promoting.

At some point I owned my own bottle of Halston, but I never did purchase Giorgio Beverly Hills. In the early eighties, those iconic yellow-and-white awning stripes and Giorgio's strong, distinctive scent were everywhere. Taking a propeller plane from Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island, we passengers were overpowered by Giorgio as the lone flight attendant marched up and down the tiny aisle, doing her work, of course, but leaving a waft of fragrance with each pass.

A cousin to Giorgio was Bijan!, the perfume whose creator’s laughing face, and, briefly, that of his wife Tracy, graced many a magazine page. I liked what I thought of as his doughnut-shaped bottle, though I’m sure a fried dessert was not his inspiration.

I rarely wear a fragrance, having been scented naturally by milky babies for six years, but I do love En Passant by Frederic Malle. I have a sample whenever I’m near Barneys, and that holds me over until the next visit.

Giorgio and Bijan! still produce their fragrances; maybe it’s time for a comeback in the media as well.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Literary Fashion: An Early Spring

She seem’d a part of joyous Spring:
A gown of grass-green silk she wore,
Buckled with golden clasps before;
A light-green tuft of plumes she bore
Closed in a golden ring.

--Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere