Wednesday, April 30, 2008

White Shoes for Spring and Beyond

For the last month or two I’ve been secretly thinking about white(ish) shoes.

I typically avoid white shoes because they remind me of weddings (and you know how I feel about traditional wedding clothes) or little girls at Easter time (and I’m a little too grown up for that last scenario).

But thanks to LLG, who wears these fantastic shoes with black tights (see them at the end of her post) and Thumbelina Fashionista, who posted about these beautiful Missoni shoes, I’ve taken the plunge and ordered the above creamy white(ish) Nanette Lepore shoes.

Although they’re open toe, they could be worn with some swank black opaque stockings well after Labor Day, and sans tights all summer. And they’re four inches high(!) but decidedly do not invoke the Currin shoe (as I now call it) of yesterday’s post.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Currin and Fashion, encore une fois

Once again, art and fashion intersect, and once again, I’m surprised to locate artist John Currin at the center of this moment.

This time, he’s not explicitly involved, in that there’s no deliberate interpretation of his work. But the minute I saw Gwyneth Paltrow in these sky-high heels,

I thought of another Currin image, this one, below, that doesn’t even involve any shoes.

But when you juxtapose the photo of Gwynnie with the portrait of this buxom duo, their equally disproportionate body halves—bottom and top—unexpectedly balance each other, creating one conflated image of a terribly distorted representation of femininity.

To my eye, in these heels, Gwyneth looks like a John Currin portrait, without the irony.

Her long frame seems literally stuffed into the shoes and, indeed, the shoes dictate how she carries her body. Her posture—the soft curve of her back—her too-short skirt revealing her powerful legs going soft, her soft curls and winsome expression all suggest a hyperfemininity, and, more problematically, a helplessness, a certain vulnerability.

I love high heels. This week I wore a pair of four-inch heels for the first time, and felt powerful—when planted securely in one place. But add any more unnatural height, and I’d start to feel like a caricature.

I’d like to consign the exaggerated Currin woman to the gallery walls, where she can be studied, deconstructed, even admired. But not emulated, please.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Random Acts of Quirkiness

Enc and The Thoughtful Dresser have independently invited me to share six quirky/random things about myself, so here goes:

1. Vogue magazine once told me I was “too intellectual” to work there.

2. I never wear my engagement and wedding rings together; I wear one or the other.

3. I won’t eat a mushroom knowingly.

4. When I was 8 I won a medal for drawing a picture of the Queen at a performance of Anne of Green Gables.

5. In Iceland I was mistaken for a native.

6. I once thought my epitaph might read, “Dated the sons of famous Canadian authors.”

I’d like to tag the following bloggers: PVE Design; Disneyrollergirl; The Cherry Blossom Girl (j’aime pratiqué le francais, and, yes, I need lots of practice); Miss White; and My Marrakesh. My sixth choice is that international man of philosophy, style, and wit: Manolo the Shoeblogger.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Springtime in Paris Cinema

One of my sartorial pleasures is watching French new wave—and other—films.

Perhaps my three favorites, for color, line, and hair, are Breathless, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and Cleo from 5 to 7.

Breathless, for its clean lines on Jean Seberg, who can rock a tight t-shirt and cropped cigarette pants, who can make a shirt-dress shockingly sexy, and whose boy-crop and cat’s eye glasses are iconic.

Cherbourg, for its psychological use of color—note how the wallpaper and clothing complement each other—and for some of the best maternity frocks on film (Rosemary’s Baby boasts an equally delightful maternity wardrobe—in direct counterpoint to the film’s theme, obviously).

Cleo, for its va va voom clothes and sculptural hair confections that never seem self-conscious, despite their self-consciousness.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

John Currin in Harper's Bazaar? Of Corse-t!

I’m enraptured by many of John Currin’s images. I particularly like the way he layers paint in the style of the “Old Masters,” creating cherubic, glowing faces à la Vermeer or Rembrandt with decidedly postmodern bodies and attitudes.

But Currin can be a challenging sell to mainstream America, so I was surprised to see him included in a dress-up portfolio in the latest Harper’s Bazaar. The cover girl, Julianne Moore, and the photographer, Peter Lindbergh, reproduced various iconic portraits of women—Singer Sargent’s Madame X; Degas’s ballerinas, for example. (BTW, Ballerina Moore reminded me of Zelda Fitzgerald, who took up ballet seriously in her thirties: I admire Moore’s chutzpah, but there was a tinge of Baby Jane [Davis, not Holzer] to these pictures.)

My favorite pairing was Moore as Currin’s provocatively named “Cripple” portrait. The title of the piece recalls for me an essay by Nancy Mairs, “On Being a Cripple,” in which the author, who has lived with MS for a number of years, explains why she calls herself that un-PC term: “as a cripple I swagger,” she writes. The term, she argues, is “brutally honest,” and thus suits her, though she admits that she would never use it to describe anyone other than herself.

In Currin and Moore’s portraits, one’s eye is drawn first to the radiant beauty in each woman’s face, then down the body to her flesh-colored corset, then finally to the surprise of the white cane. The harsh title of the painting seemingly contradicts what the eye sees, and thus calls into question the term itself.

Or is Currin suggesting that a woman can be psychologically crippled by the pressure to conform a societal conception of beautiful, and literally crippled (or deformed) by the physical bondage represented in her corset? What “brutal honesty” is he working with?

In any case, this is perhaps the most edgy photo I’ve ever seen in Harper’s Bazaar. But do the editors know what they’re doing with it?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Forecast: A Brief Interlude, or Intermittent Posts

As the end of the semester approaches quickly, I find that I must turn my time toward other kinds of writing—a paper for an international conference in June, for instance.

So my presence may be diminished these next few weeks, though I’ll do my best to add a quick post or comment when I can.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Raised with a Silver Shoe on Her Foot

For summer, I’m loving the idea of silver as a neutral.

To wit: I’ve just ordered these sandals. They’re Sigerson Morrison, but more versatile (for me) than the darker woven ones I was fond of awhile ago.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A "Little" Blow-Drying Incident

Bear with me a minute and think of Meg March, the “pretty but vain” oldest sister in Alcott’s Little Women.

Do you recall the scene in the book when Jo (the incurable tomboy/author[!]) is curling Meg’s hair for a ball? And Jo applies the curling iron for too long and burns off a lock of Meg’s hair?

Something similar happened to me this weekend. The maddening part is that I can’t place the incident, but I have the singed hair on my head for evidence.

It’s just right of center, a square centimeter of burnt fringe along my hairline on the other side of my part. I’ve been blow drying my hair for many a decade now (with the proper nozzle on the dryer), and I literally can’t imagine how this happened. And as I said, I didn’t know it had until I pulled my hair back into a ponytail.

Do you think it’s because of my new, chemically enhanced hair (just when I’m ready for a touch-up)? Or do I need a new blow dryer? Or better blow-drying skillz?

A mystery indeed.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Things She Carried, Part Deux

A recent post by The Thoughtful Dresser reminded me of a small but significant element (to me) in the Great Handbag Debate.

In New York Magazine this spring Carine Roitfeld remarked, “I do not wear handbags,” which sent the fashion world into a tizzy—would handbags survive once the famed editor of French Vogue declared their very species unattractive?

I was also ruffled (I have a vexed relationship with bags, which you can read about here), but for a different reason: Roitfeld used the verb “wear” instead of “carry.”

It’s not a matter of ESL; indeed, I’ve seen bags described as something “worn” instead of “carried” in other places, perhaps even in the blogs of my esteemed fashionista pals.
Rather, Roitfeld has unwittingly raised a philosophical issue: does one wear or carry a bag? And what’s the difference?

To me, the notion of “wearing” a bag conjures the image of building an outfit—of consciously thinking through which piece goes with the other—and I try never to seem thought-out in my clothes. (If something “matches,” then that’s a cue to change the offending item, pronto!)

I “carry” a bag, which to me connotes a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. The bag is neither a part of me, nor of my ensemble; it simply carries my essentials inside it. And lest you worry that I carry something that is dissonant rather than harmonious with my clothes, fear not: if it doesn’t work, I go without. But then, I might add, I do like an attractive dose of dissonance.

So my query is this: do you “wear” or “carry” a bag? And remember, that’s not a grammar question—there’s no correct or incorrect answer!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

In Which Miss Cavendish Dumpster Dives for a Fashionable Cause

This post may be a little out of the ordinary, but I suspect that some fashionistas out there—especially those of you with children—may find it amusing.

Tomorrow (Sunday) is the dress rehearsal for the cultural event of the season in our home: my daughters’ dance recital.

I have two daughters (ages five and eight) and three dance routines between them. So tomorrow they will show up at the theatre in full faces of stage makeup (!), and three costumes consisting of variations on sequins, spangles, tulle, and lycra. They will dance on stage; they will pose for group and individual photos.

My eight-year-old lass knows to keep her costumes in their plastic shopping bags, tucked away in her closet. My five-year-old darling keeps her costume in its plastic bag too, but it’s hanging on the back of her dining-table chair. I’m fine with that; we both know where it is at all times.

Earlier this week I was preparing to welcome two delightful and legendary scholars to my home and went on a cleaning blitz. Bags were filled with bits of crayons, torn paper, an occasional juice box and the like, and immediately dispatched to our large garbage can by the garage. The house was tidy; I was happy.

Tonight, as I was organizing clothes for tomorrow’s recital, I couldn’t find my five-year-old’s costume. I looked in her closet, in the dress-up box, in the kitchen. Where could it be?


I frantically did a mental survey of when the garbage was last picked up and the timeline looked in my favor. So off I went, at dusk, to the bottom of our considerable outdoor garbage can, hoping no raccoons would join me, and opened and sifted and opened and sifted until . . . a white shopping bag, its flaps neatly tied in a bow, appeared, intact.

The show will go on.

**image is from a vintage paint-by-number kit

Winter in April; or, Redwork with a Twist

A magazine I adore is one that’s difficult to find where I live. It’s known for its gorgeous photographs of textiles—many, many of them clothing—and its equally beautiful ads.

The magazine is Selvedge, which is published in the UK and is produced every two months. It’s printed on sturdy stock, and is a collector’s item for those of us who love color, pattern, and line. (I’d love to help out with the copyediting, though.)

In Selvedge you’ll learn about wonderfully eccentric designers, such as knitter Sandra Backlund, whose redwork is shown here.

I realize that everyone’s thoughts are turning to lawn and linen dresses, but I wanted to show you these works of art—just to contemplate.

A New Look at Hat Hair

While I return time and again to my trusty beret in winter, I like something more glamorous for summer.

The milliner Kokin makes some beautiful shapes for every season (his buckets especially remind me of Audrey’s in Funny Face), and this spring I’m smitten with his Fortissimo Hollywood.

I love a hat that doubles as hair (!), not with faux locks dangling, silly, but a hat with a generous, well—enormous—brim that gently cascades down one’s back like les cheveux.

This hat frames the face, the shoulders, beautifully. You could even give it an insouciant toss—just like your hair.

It’s available on Vivre, an online and paper catalogue that’s the source of many an hour lost in dreams.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Spring Dressing: Color Blocking

Today was the first truly warm, spring-y day of the season.

And so, I attempted to dress for the weather.

A Boden dress, in a muted shade of yellow that works—I wouldn’t want a bright primary yellow from head to toe.

A J Crew summer-weight cashmere cardi (though mine is a deeper, duskier blue, not nearly so innocent as this one).

My newish Cole Haan slingbacks in patent claret. I bought these a couple of months ago, but kept them in their box because I wasn’t completely sold. I tend to gravitate toward more eccentric shoes, and wasn’t sure whether these were too ladylike for me. But there are days when a ladylike shoe (in patent claret!) can ground a colorful, youthful mix above. And lo and behold, I received compliments on them, so there you go.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Butterflies are free . . .

but this perfect Bottega Veneta butterfly bag will cost you almost a cool $3000.

Get out your nets(!) (?)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The "Real Housewives": What Not To Wear

Late to the party, I’ve just discovered “The Real Housewives of New York City.”

Oh my.

I know they’re on a rival network, but can someone please call Stacy and Clinton stat?!

The suede coat-pantsuit, the pink sequined dress, the animal prints, the makeup, the attitude, the mini-dissertations on who’s the classiest—it’s all too, too much.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

All Dolled Up

Although I enjoy seeing my daughters play with their dolls, I don’t consider myself a “doll person” as an adult.
But last year (late to the party) I discovered Blythe and the amazing community of fashionistas who design for her. I even bought two Blythes (blonde and red) in hope of styling them, though I quickly realized that I’d much rather look at photos than make their tiny clothes. (I sold them on eBay.)

I do like a doll with a certain look, however, like the one in these photos from Bazaar UK. I love the nineteenth-century quality to them—the painted socks and shoes, the slick of hair, and the pastel fabrics they’re wearing.

In fact, I like looking at these dolls more than at Karen Elson, who comes across as a sort of misfit toy herself.

Here’s Karen sans doll from the same shoot, wearing a pink frothy concoction.

And here’s Ellowyne Wilde, the goth girl who suffers from ennui, by Robert Tonner. In this “tatters” incarnation, she reminds me of Karen in the previous photo.

Living doll, doll-face, you’re a doll, all dolled up—hellooo Dolly.

Monday, April 14, 2008

. . . To a T

I declare that T, the NYT fashion magazine, is rapidly becoming the intellectual fashionista’s magazine of choice.

Its photos, features, and even its ads (Vera Wang from my previous post) are feasts for the eye and the mind.

However, I could have done without multiple photos of Marc Jacobs gazing hungrily? longingly? lustily? at enceinte Elodie Bouchez’s cleavage.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sunday Blues

For anyone who has been feeling a little low about returning to work tomorrow, here’s the kind of Sunday blues I like.

This Vera Wang beauty combines the delicateness of origami with thick arts-and-crafts stitching, aqua and robin’s-egg hues with a sturdy-but-thin wrapped belt.

LOVE this look. It’s a rhapsody in blue.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Anti-Anti-Aspirational Style

I do like it when I hear of a new term—or a term that’s new to me—so I lapped up Cathy Horyn’s NYT article on Juergen Teller’s ads for Marc Jacobs.

Full disclosure first: I’m not a fan of Marc Jacobs’s signature line or his diffusion label, though an occasional shoe appeals (when the heel is traditional). I do routinely love Jacobs’s collections for Louis Vuitton, however, as well as the LV advertising campaign.

But back to the term in question: in Horyn’s article Jacobs noted that his Jacobs/Teller photos are not “aspirational pictures . . . . You wouldn’t look at them and say, ‘Oh mmm, that dress is so attractive’" (my italics).

Anti-aspirational pictures. . . . Anti-aspirational style. . . . hmmm.

Sure, Jacobs may be the king of anti-aspiration, when you consider his grunge collection that got him fired from Perry Ellis way back when. Those were genuinely ugly clothes, and in the recent ads—from 2003 onward—the clothes also appear unattractive, as do the models.

Consider Winona Ryder in a hotel room, freshly postShopliftgate, holding up a Jacobs sweater with unrestrained glee. Or Teller in those too-small silver shorts, flopped over a willing Charlotte Rampling in bed. Or Kristen McMenamy, first in the grunge campaign with bleached-out brows and a red bowl cut, now with long blond locks, vacant stare, and garish long red dress. It’s always a shock when I see a photo of her looking beautiful, so hard does she work to cultivate an anti-aspirational career.

This kind of anti-aspirational style is also hard at work on television. Consider Ugly Betty, whose promotional tag from the show’s Web site is: Ugly is the New Pretty.

But does anti-aspirational style appeal to the consumer—both the visual and the financial consumer of these images? When Prada unveiled her lime greens and mushroom brown seventies patterns in the 1990s, they too were ugly, but in more of a jolie laide manner. I would have worn any of those early looks, but I wouldn’t choose Marc Jacobs.

His clothing and ads recall a garment with a large button: it’s making a statement, but the wrong one.

I don’t even look at Jacobs’ ads any more (except for researching this post, of course!); I’d rather find something to aspire toward. How about the graceful curve of a woman’s back, the nape of a gentle neck, the crocheted pouf of a sleeve?

I "get" Jacobs and Teller, but I don't like what they're doing. To rewrite Browning encore un fois, a woman’s reach must exceed her grasp, or what’s a fashion magazine for?

Friday, April 11, 2008


A very popular sandal look this season is this one, as demonstrated by Valentino: a single strap from ankle to toe.

However, this style might actually be a glamorous flip flop traveling incognito.

While I like this look very much on paper (or on the Web), it doesn’t work for me in “real life.” I think this sandal style would be more flattering with the addition of a slender bit across the width of the foot.

Consider the humble J Crew sandal below. It’s still delicate, but will stay on the foot more securely and will provide a more “finished” look.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Textured Style

One of my favorite plays with texture is white on white (or a subtle variation of it). As we move toward summer, white (or light) always feels right, and I think that these three images confirm that notion.

The first is from an older Saks catalogue, and it pictures an Issey Miyake jacket. It’s got signature pleats, but they’re accomplished in a seeming homage to Alabama Chanin, (formerly Project Alabama), with the contradictory luxe flour-sack feel of this garment.

I also appreciate how the pleats aren’t uniform, but are random gathers held together by criss-crossing raw lace.

Above is a recent image of a folded/gathered duvet cover from Anthropologie. I’m tempted to order this just to see how the the work is done! I wonder whether one exceptionally large piece of fabric is used or whether the gathering is completed in segments. In either case, the ivory “origami-like folds” (lovely idea!) are appealing.

Always the editor, though, I’d use an ivory shell button instead of a brown wooden one throughout.

This final image isn’t recent, nor is it white, but I adore the smocking on this very adult dress from Bottega Veneta. It’s not easy or even desirable to wear smocking beyond the age of six—my eight-year-old fashionista disdains it—but this dress would be mine in an instant, were it available. Tomas Maier is my absolute favorite designer for feminine day dresses.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

And To All A Good Night

I’m a fan from afar of Olatz Schnabel’s linens and night wear (as in garments to don for bedtime).

Now that winter finally seems to be over, it’s lovely to think not of warmth—flannels, duvets—but of beautiful night clothes that would inspire sweet dreams in even the grouchiest of wearers.

Although it’s an unusual silhouette for sleeping in, this 1930’s-style nightgown (above) is a quirky stunner. Add a little wave to your hair and suddenly you’re a film noir femme fatale, conjuring some diabolical but clever plan to ensnare your

And this deep pink, long silk slip conveys just the right mix of innocence and knowledge. In fact, it’s perfect for living in a pink house, one with gracefully arched windows, high ceilings, and art work everywhere.

When your husband wears his PJs all day, why not join him?

In Which Miss Cavendish Is Tricked (She Thinks)

Some years ago Vogue printed an excerpt from Jacqueline and Lee Bouvier’s youthful diary of their travels in Europe. Called One Special Summer, the diary was made as a gift to the girls’ mother: Jacqueline wrote the text while Lee added cunning and humorous illustrations.

Inevitably, the book was published in 1974—and re-released by Rizzoli not too long ago.

When I saw the cover to the new edition—perhaps previewed in Vanity Fair or somesuch—I was captivated. The cover illustration was of two swans (I’m using Truman Capote’s terminology here) standing on deck of a steamer as the Eiffel Tower either appears or disappears in the distance. It was, to my eyes, a delightful, enchanting image and I wanted to see more.

I special-ordered the book, gazed lovingly at the cover, and opened it up. Inside was indeed the facsimile diary in Jacqueline’s sweeping hand and the clever illustrations by Lee, but the cover illustration had been done by someone else, and it was that illustrator who had compelled me to order the book. Indeed, a gentle reader could easily assume that the cover sketch had been drawn by Lee’s tender hand, as this book was promoted as an illustrated treasure from the two sisters

I felt irritated at best, duped at worst, for I had indeed judged an illustrated book by its cover. I returned the book and vowed always to take a peek inside the covers before purchasing a book like this again.

Monday, April 7, 2008

I Hoped You Were Coming, so I

baked a cake! More than one, really.

It seems to be a tradition in the blogosphere to celebrate various milestones, so here’s something sweet to commemorate my 100th post.

I made these tiny cakes last month and you can see my “miss cavendish” label peeking out from some of them.

Do let me know what you think; I'm contemplating a bake sale on Etsy.

Now: enough sugary content! More trenchant cultural/style critiques coming soon!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Fashion Blogging = Bad Health?

Is fashion blogging hazardous to your health? The New York Times published a story today about how technical bloggers are suffering coronaries—two out of three men died recently.

The article speaks to the massive levels of stress faced by these bloggers: sitting at a computer sometimes all night to get a current idea, eating poorly while at said computer, enjoying no or very infrequent exercise, and being spurred on by the postmodern version of piecework—the number of hits per page, which translates into salary and bonuses at some sites, such as Gawker.

While I do love reading daily updates from my cadre of blogging fashionistas, I’m also content if we take a day or two off. The concept of being a “desperate blogger” isn’t attractive, and I, for one, prefer my blog reading and writing to be a source of great pleasure, not anxiety.

I do admit to being distracted sometimes during the day as I think up a posting idea, but it’s a healthy kind of thought, something I truly enjoy rather than a dark shadow interrupting my “life.” Rather, it's a welcome part of my life. Fashion/style blogging is a wonderful outlet for all those things I’ve been thinking, seeing, and imagining. I’ll bet it even makes me a more content person.

So what impels you to blog about fashion and style?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Illustrated Woman; or, Fashionistas in Red

I do love how an image can complement words. The day after I passed my qualifying examinations in graduate school (five-hour written; two-hour oral!), I repaired to the fabric shop, where I bought cottons in all hues and taught myself to quilt. I hadn’t realized that I was famished for color and design, having focused on words exclusively for so long.

In the literary world, illustrations used to grace novels all the time—see early editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Anne of Green Gables—but the art nowadays tends to be confined to the book jacket (with the exception of graphic novels, of course).

It was with delight, then, that I discovered Nina Garcia’s Little Black Book of Style, sitting on a well-curated table of fashion books at Kirna Zabete. I did not buy it, so you’ll have to comment here with your reviews, but I did appreciate Ruben Toledo’s whimsical illustrations of stylish women throughout.

The book reminded me of two things: a Kate Spade leather organizer I bought many years ago on the strength of its insert pages. My most recent one (from 2003!) has “twelve American cities” as its theme and includes tiny, cunning watercolors on each page of something lovely and appropriate to that city.

I also thought of when Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte was serialized in the Sunday NYT Magazine and delightfully illustrated by Izak. His large-eyed gamines pay a bit of homage to Margaret Keane’s girls from the 1960s (see below), but are thoroughly modernized and confident.

The image at the top left of this entry is an Izak, the one to the right, an Alex Katz portrait of Ada. Katz’s painting reminds me of both the Izak and the wonderful I.M. Pei-designed art museum at my graduate school, where I first saw the Katz exhibit.