Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas Quilting

During the Christmas Break I tucked in to complete a quilt I'd begun a year ago or so. 

An annoying neck injury prevented me from making any progress for the last five months, but as I have seemed to recover, I took full advantage of the break from scholarly computer activities to luxuriate in fabric.

Details: the front is a full-cloth Nani Iro watercolour print; the back a shot-cotton apricot by Kaffe Fassett; the binding my hand-made Liberty of London "Tatum."  All fabric was purchased at Purl Soho.

I quilted around each flower, leaf, and bird using an ivory embroidery floss and comfortable stitches; I cheerfully bid adieu to the teeny-tiny needlework that characterized my precise 20-something quilts. (That's in terms of age, not quilt quantity, BTW.)

Letting go of those meticulous stitches has freed me and, I like to think, lends a more artisan quality to my quilts (apologies to those for whom that adjective evokes the same kind of fury articulated by Annette Bening in The Kids Are Alright over "heirloom" tomatoes).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Moonrise Kingdom" and Salt-Water Heroines

My first challenge is getting the film's name correct; I want to call it "Moonlit Pavillion," for no good reason.  I saw Moonrise Kingdom last night, and while the plot did not hold my attention, the set, costumes, and a good bit of the acting did. 

Suzy Bishop, above, on her little island, reminds me of this painting by Alex Colville, To Prince Edward Island, painted back when one *had* to approach my little island by ferry (if not by plane):

Like any island heroine worth her salt (water), Suzy likes to read novels.

One of her favourites, The Francine Odysseys, was turned into a clutch by Olympia Le-Tan:

Here is the "library" from which Suzy stole her novels: 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

"What Not to" v. "Why Don't You": A Mini Analysis of the Politics of Style in "Brave"

 Last night my daughters and I watched Brave. SPOILER ALERT NEXT and THROUGHOUT

On one hand, I didn't know what the big deal was; my daughters turn me into a bear on a daily basis.

But on the other hand, I couldn't help notice the remarkable physical similarity between Queen Elinor and Stacy London, our favourite makeover guru.  See the long, lusturous black hair punctuated by the chic white streak?

The connections go deeper than hair, though; indeed, Queen Elinor CONSTANTLY tells her wild-at-heart daughter WHAT TO DO and WHAT NOT TO DO.  The princess Merida wants to wear her hair tangled and free; her mother wants to tuck it neath a snug head wrap.  Merida wants to shoot arrows all day; her mother wants her to be a lady. Merida wants her freedom; her mother wants her to marry one of three unacceptable suitors from local clans.

The list goes on, and at one point Merida erupts in anger, yelling at her mother about the tyranny of this "what not to" set of rules. Sound familiar?

(And, in a tangentially connected subplot, Merida's triplet little brothers--the boys--are forever chasing after their nursemaid Maudie's cookies, or should we say that the boys chase the girls, a la London parlance?)

Anyhoo, both Merida and her mum find it unbearable to be a member of the clan Ursidae and, in a streak of epiphanies, Queen Mother Bear realizes that her daughter was right: she grants her child the freedom to marry whom and when she chooses.

In terms of style, we might see this film as a showdown between two outspoken editors: Stacy London of "What not to" and Diana Vreeland of "Why don't you." 

So is this film dissing Stacy London's rules in favour of the more eccentric Vreeland's vision? (Why don't you tie black tulle bows on your wrists?  Why don't you wear violet velvet mittens with everything?  Why don't you rinse your blond child's hair in dead champagne to keep it gold?)

Perhaps, but it doesn't hurt that Merida is utterly gorgeous and competent in her unkempt state. Rather, I'd say that the film seeks a balance.  In order to turn her mother back into a human being, Merida must stitch up a rent in a tapestry image of her family, a wound in the fabric that Merida made out of anger.  The mended tapestry eventually is used to clothe the Queen as she transforms from bear to human; it was originally something NOT TO WEAR but the Queen is certainly grateful for the cover it offers. Both mother and daughter learn not to criticize each other.

Brave, written and produced by women, rejects the rules, instead offering girls--and women--the opportunity to do what they want, while looking like they want, within reason. Even the queen, by the end of the film, has loosened her tightly bound plaits and is galloping away on horseback with her daughter. Really, it's a story about the relationships between mother and daughter.  Daughters don't need a mother who represents London or Vreeland in the extreme.

What do they need? I'm still figuring it out myself, but the film encourages me not to wear my symbolic bear ensemble, for today, at least.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ball Skirts, Boots, and Blondie

UPDATE: Received the boots for Christmas, but determined that they were A) too short; B) too bucket-y (unflattering when combined with too short); C) way too tight across the instep.  So the perfect boots, ball skirt, and Blondie-tee combo is still eluding me.

Do you remember 1994, when Isaac Mizrahi had the cheeky good taste to pair voluminous ballskirts with simple white t-shirts and chubbies?

How about 1991, when Peter Lindbergh famously photographed what Vogue called "Wild at Heart" but I call "Models in the Hood," a bunch of supes hanging out in a foggy alley wearing Chanel ball skirts and leather?

Detail in gritty b&w

I loved that look of Edith Wharton on bottom, Brando on top, and a recent pair of boots by Coach, of all labels, has sparked my imagination.

The boots:

Engineer boots from a collaboration between Coach and Frye.  Ocelot print calf hair.

The ball skirt:

Lots of possibilities here.  I once blogged about the two J Crew beauties above, but they might be more for Carolina Herrera chic; you know--the white, buttoned sleek shirt:

I want something a little more patterned that I can clash with the ocelot and . . .

a Blondie T!

The one above is "new";

And this one above is vintage.

A little sleuthing on Etsy shows that one can order a custom-made ball skirt, and I quite like these awning stripes:

Even the chevron stripe had me at attention (I was once a sergeant in the Black Watch cadet corps mentioned in my previous post):

You can order the ball skirts here

This gorgeous vintage stripey ball skirt from the 1980s by Albert Capraro would also go nicely with Ms. Harry:

Skirt can be purchased here

I can imagine happily swanning about in the printed skirt and a rock tee (I know, I know, "The Clash" would be an unironic choice for this otherwise ironic ensemble).

And what about those ocelot engineer boots?  How much do I like them?

An ocel lot.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Queen of Hearts, She Wore Some . . .

Tartan, actually.  Or Black Watch, to be specific.

I wore some tartan myself, during my boarding school years in Canada.  Our school was part of the Black Watch Cadet Corps, so we were automatically enlisted and, when we went on parade, decked ourselves in Full Highland Dress, complete with a heavy, scratchy Black Watch kilt.

Black Watch did not make a stylish statement for me back then, but when I moved to Ottawa for university, I bought a Black Watch winter scarf from Roots and l.o.v.e.d. how it brought a touch of Scottish moor to my Robe di Kappa down jacket (essential for skating to class every day on the Rideau Canal).

I've gone on to buy a Black watch shirt from J Crew, which couldn't be more opposite of my original kilt.  It's made of the thinnest cotton that I'm positive will rip with every move.  So far, so good, though.

I was contemplating a Black Watch purchase just the other week; in fact, I bookmarked the shoe below at Saks, a McQ patent monk-strap with a BW inlay.  There were three sizes left, and mine was one of them. What stopped me? The *sale* price, which seemed excessive.

But I kept going back to visit, thinking I might splurge for a Christmas gift (and I could use a gift right now, as a very expensive and well-loved bag was stolen from me last week).

Then Kate wore her McQueen tartan dress to St. Andrews, bloggers blogged about McQ's other tartan items, and likethat! the shoe disappeared in my size. It's easier to mourn a loss when it wasn't yours to begin with.

Still, the shoe is available in one size up.  One does not want to flop about in sloppy monk-straps, but I wonder whether McQ shoes just might run small. Or maybe I should just eat a tart.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tap Your Troubles Away

Last week my teen and I were browsing through a new boutique when we had a markedly different reaction to a piece we found on the dress rail: it was a pair of midnight silk tap pants edged in mossy-brown lace.

I swooned and my teen sneered till I told her about the garment's heritage--these little shorts were named for the tap dancers who would practice in them.

As my daughter's a tapper (shameless namedropping: she had a dance class with the Rockettes this summer as a birthday gift), her grim look softened, but not enough that I could purchase the tap pants for her.

I, however, LOVE the look of tap pants and remember when, in my twenties, I went to a chic little lingerie boutique in Montreal and bought a few sets pour moi. 

Now, alas, clothing styles are engineered more for Spanx than a lacy shot of fluttery silk, but I'll bet that these tap pants would still be perfect underneath an A-line skirt, or over a pair of tights, worn with the right sweater and heels.

Or in the summer, on their own, with a smile and a pair of tap shoes, a la Gilda Radner in this routine from The Muppet Show.  As the curtain opens, Ms. Radner is stuck to Beaker via glue from a lab experiment gone awry.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Annual Thanksgiving Post on Treacy's Trilby

I'm admiring what I'm calling rabbit ears.
 (And to think I almost wrote a new post before remembering!  Here is my annual Thanksgiving post on Philip Treacy's magical headpieces.)

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.

Monday, November 19, 2012

I Think I Khan: Contemplating Jemima's Hair

Do you know Jemima Khan's hair?

Her hair is lovely in its untamed English manner, with fringe reaching that just-perfectly in-the-eyes length, the rest extending well beyond her collarbones.

It's Ms. Khan's signature, as it has stood the test of time. through her wedding photos, not quite upstaged by that glamourous hat,

through her life in Pakistan, where, I recall reading, it was sometimes challenging to shampoo,

through her return to London.

Tres glam, though I prefer her more undone looks

And she's never changed its hue . . . well . . . maybe once.  (Sorry, Hugh Grant; I couldn't resist).

My hair used to be long, but for the last decade it's hovered around my clavicle, via regular visits to my stylist. But this fall various elements have conspired to keep me out of the salon chair, so I've been dashing into the powder room at stolen hours for quick trims on a lark. As a result, my fringe reaches my eyes, and the rest of my length is tentatively stretching out.

Now there's a fine line between Jemima Khan's glorious locks and Real Housewives' girlish 'dos, and I know not to cross it.  But for now, I'll play The Little Engine that Could, and encourage myself (I think I Khan) until I really Khan't.

Ralph Lauren's Buffalo Stance

The Ralph Lauren looks I love are the ones from the 1980s, when he burst onto the scene with dreamy Bruce Weber photographs of Clotilde in her Native American-inspired clothes.

He's bringing back that ambiance, a time of comforting blanket-wrap jackets, swashbuckling western leather dusters, and lots of Big 80s money to spend on them in his new vintage collection.

I checked (pre-pun groan) it out today and went directly to the buffalo check skirt, the strong colors of which remind me not only of a favourite Hudson's Bay blanket, but of paging through magazines as a teen, imprinting every model's gesture, every silhouette upon my memory.

The skirt's sold out already, but that's OK, because my 80s recall is strong, as was the hairspray we used to add height to our hair.

But every morning I'd pull my locks into a ponytail and go for a long run, listening to my yellow Walkwoman.

This song by Nenah Cherry was on one of my mix tapes, so here's a little "Buffalo Stance" while contemplating buffalo checks.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Winter Break Reading List

It's not yet Thanksgiving, but I have my reading list ready for the Winter Break in late December.

I'm especially looking forward to seeing images from Coddington's life as a model and her early shoots as a stylist.

I sneaked a peek in the bookstore. Did you know that Fassett's family owned a gorgeously rustic restaurant atop a cliff in Big Sur, complete with a deck where performers would dance? I want to read more.

The book to accompany the documentary.  I adore oral histories (a la Edie) and, though this may or may not be one, it will have enough images and ecclectic voices to immerse this reader into DV's colourful world.