Saturday, November 29, 2014

Of Chintz, Stella McCartney, and Adrienne Vittadini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Annual Thanksgiving Post: Of Treacy and the Trilby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

Toeing the Line? Hose with (Open-Toe) Heels

If a recent post sang the praises of slouchy socks in heels, this entry will assert that hose/nylons/tights/stockings--whatever they're called--should never slouch.

Imagining one's hosiery puddling around the ankle is not a pretty thought, so please delete it immediately. I've done half the work for you, there.

When I was in boarding school (yet another sartorial reference from those academic days) we had a formal dinner every night in the dining hall. And we dressed for the occasion.  During the summer I'd go to Fiesta, the newly opened boutique for chic adults with my hard-earned teenage cash in hand and buy what were then and probably still are exquisitely colored heels--robin's egg blue slingback pumps, dusky pink strappy sandals. And a midnight blue velvet collarless dinner jacket from Suttles and Seawinds (I went to school with the designer's son).

But back to the shoes.  (Eventually.)

My accommodations were an old house just off the more traditional dormitory (we responsible lassies had a little more freedom), so for dinner I'd run over in my boots and then put on my delicate shoes. The best part of this situation was the possibility of wearing open-toe heels all year long, as the dining hall was toasty. But we were in Atlantic Canada, so nylons were still necessary.

And here's my confession: we all wore nylons with open-toe heels.

I would not do this now, unless the nylons were, say, shocking purple and probably opaque. But I've seen photos of women who should know a thing or two about open-toe shoes, such as Christie Brinkley, wearing nude hose with them and not looking the least dowdy.

And the image at the very top, from (encore une fois) this month's Porter Magazine, even celebrates the look.

So I'll put it out to you gentle readers: open- or closed-toe shoes with hose?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

No Comment

For some mysterious and distressing technological reason, I cannot leave comments on some gentle writers' blogs.

And I have been trying!

I use the Foxfire browser and would be grateful if any tech-savvy reader might offer advice . . .

Slouchy Socks in Heels

I've always loved wearing skirts with socks in unexpected shoes. 

To personalize our boarding school uniforms, we wore slouchy blue socks over our navy tights and tunic until the headmaster passed a decree forbidding that particular self-expression.

In graduate school, I went full-on grunge via long, romantic floral dresses and gray woolen socks stuffed into my Doc Martens.

And as an undergraduate, I inherited my grandmother's absolutely gorgeous Bandolino shoes, with which I wore skinny, slouchy black socks with long lean black column dresses.

This was the mid 1980s, and how can I express the joy these shoes gave to a teenager who was famished for style, having grown up on a tiny island. The shoes were patent navy, with a low heel and deep V vamp. The vamp was made out of a basketweave in red, yellow, and navy leather, which truly was lovely and unusual for the time and place. 

My column dress was actually an ankle-length jersey jumper, also with a deep V neck (reaching almost to the waist), which I wore backwards. Continuing the backwards theme, I topped it off with a vintage red, bracelet sleeve, raw silk collarless top with covered buttons on the back that I turned around and wore as a jacket.

I'd wear this out at the clubs till 2 (in Quebec!) and all day besides.

Looking at the photographs in this month's Porter magazine (a lovely publication, by the way), I was struck by an editorial that featured slouchy socks in heels. These socks are Hermes, and I could either buy them or three pairs of Doc Martens, but truly, Hermes is not required for this look; indeed, it will fly with a sock that's more grounded in price.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

On not Inviting Jian Ghomeshi to Visit

Sometimes when I want to blog about something beautiful, I can't get past something unbeautiful that consumes my thoughts, so I have to write about it before I move on.

Since it broke, I've been following the disturbing news about Jian Ghomeshi, the once-celebrated Canadian founder and host of the radio program Q, whose fall from grace has been swift and, from what I have read, deserved.

I teach journalism, and, for the last few years, when we learn about interviewing, I show my students the video of Ghomeshi's live interview with Billy Bob Thornton and his band The Boxcars, during which Billy Bob is alternately silent, sulky, petulant, and indignant, all because Ghomeshi contextualized him as an actor and screenwriter instead of a musician, unmodified.

I really liked how the Canadian kid (whose youthful looks disguised the fact that the 40-something host wasn't a kid at all) handled Billy Bob in a calm manner, talking him down from his anger and eventually getting the interview back on track. I liked his style so much that last November I emailed his agent to see whether Ghomeshi would care to cross the border to address my students on journalism.

On November 18 his agent responded, wondering what fee we might offer and what other public figures had spoken in the same venue.  I was about to pull out my impeccable (really) Canadian literary credentials, including links to the Giller Prize; an important book imprint; friendships with celebrated publishing figures, both authors and editors.  But I didn't, and, after reading this week's news, I am very glad that I didn't bring Ghomeshi here.

I think of the women who had been temporarily charmed by the radio host's celebrity. Their stories sound familiar. When I was in graduate school, I went to hear an alumnus, who was a well-connected journalist for a hip American magazine. I misread him during his talk, having thought him gay, so when I saw him downtown the next day, I pulled my bike over and introduced myself. (I wasn't in the habit of introducing myself to men because they would more often than not misread me and think I was flirting.) Anyway, the famous journalist invited me to a party, I went, we had a witty, intellectual chat, and, to my dismay, I soon found myself declining his advances. I was successful in extricating myself without any harm done, but I did have a "why did he have to go and spoil our fledgling friendship?" reaction.  That and a bit of "Ewww."

 So why am I writing this? Because I understand the young women who were impressed by Ghomeshi's celebrity and who weren't expecting or desiring his subsequent violence. And because I am so relieved that he did not meet my students, my friends, or me. I'll be finding another example of a "bad interview" to show in class.