Saturday, May 9, 2015

Auntie style on Mother's Day

Aunt Caryl, Aunt Mary Ellen et moi. Photo taken in New Orleans last month. 

Mothers can take many shapes and forms. If you don't have your mother with you, for whatever reason life throws at you, there are other options. And I am eternally grateful for that. Your mother can be an older friend, cousin, mentor -- whoever gives you inspiration, love and TLC. In my case it is my two closest Aunties.

My mother died in 1966, she was 36 and I was 8. Tender ages, both.

And because I had my grandmother, Bootsie, and my mother's sister, Auntie Caryl, I had two women who exemplified love, fun and the expression of personal style.

Add to that my triple luck of having my glamorous Aunt Mary Ellen, Aunt Caryl's sister-in-law. Which means we are not related by blood. But we are related in our love of culture, style and fashion.

Aunt Caryl has always been the icon of fabulous, bohemian, California hippie, ultra cool style.

Aunt Mary Ellen has always been the icon of fabulous, classic, Hollywood style.

I love and adore you both. Happy Mother's Day! XOXO.

Friday, May 1, 2015

High style and flights of fancy

Tree ball gown, Charles James, 1955, Metropolitan Museum of Art

About a month ago, I spent the afternoon alone in museum rooms with Charles James, Schiaparelli, Givenchy, Coco Chanel, Dior, Jeanne Lanvin and other European and American history-making fashion designers. I was invited to attend the press preview for High Style: Twentieth-Century Masterworks from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. It was a little bit of heaven.

One of my main fashion heros, Harold Koda, was there with the curator and author of the show catalog, Jan Glier Reeder to take us through the exhibit. They are both so modest, knowledgeable and somewhat dishy about fashion history, I would love to spend the day with them just listening to stories. When the Met formed a partnership with the Brooklyn Museum in 2009, it was Jan's job to examine and photograph every fashion item. What a dream job!

After the tour, everyone left and I stayed with the exhibit. It was just me, the clothes and the patient security guards. Taking my time and these photos, I leaned in to study sequin and bead encrusted surfaces; I imagined life traveling with a handmade trunk filled with bespoke lace shoes and I compared the sparkle of flapper dresses with the subdued post WWII practical suits. I lingered as long as I could indulging in flights of fancy: What would it feel like to wear that fitted bodice? What does the swish of a Charles James faille dress and underskirts sound like? And how fun it would be to have a conversation with Schiap. Tin insects on a necklace? A butterfly net wrap? Why not?

And who wore these amazing creations? Where there is a fabulous dress, there's usually a fabulous woman wearing it. I learned about Rita de Acosta Lydig, born in 1875. She was considered a great beauty and style setter. Known as the Alabaster Lady, she shocked society by wearing a backless gown to the opera in 1910. Koda told us, "Imagine the frisson of excitement that went through the audience. She was not wearing a corset. She was naked under her dress!"

Here's a peek at the show, on view until July 19. If you are in San Francisco, I encourage you to go and relish the beauty and fashion history.

Worn by Rita de Acosta Lydig. She was bohemian and shocking in pants. Evening ensemble designed by Callot Soeurs, about 1910.

Evening dress by Schiaparelli, 1937. Surreal in that Schiap represented the butterflies realistically like a lepidopterist and she used a butterfly net to emphasize that.

Jan Glier Reeder told us that this is one of fashion history's most important items. Designed by Schiaparelli in 1938, an early plastic called Rhodoid forms the foundation decorated with tin insects.

Dinner ensemble, Schiaparelli, 1933-35. Gorgeous dress of a custom textile designed to resemble a wood grain motif, transforming the body into a tree. You can't see it in this photo, but the dress has  exposed industrial zippers going up the sleeve. So cool for 1933 and even now.

Designed by the Italian Fontana sisters, this dress was created for Ava Gardner in the 1954 film The Barefoot Contessa. According to Reeder, the actress used the cape and high collar to great dramatic effect.

On the left, "Refrain" cocktail dress, 1958, by Yves Saint Laurent for the Trapeze collection, his first for Dior. The show was such a success the Paris papers headline was "Saint Laurent Saves Paris" . On the right, a dress by Balenciaga, 1957.

A stroll through American designs from a 1944 Greek inspired gown by Madame Eta Hentz to a 1975 Halston tie-dyed caftan.

Fab bouffant evening ensemble, 1961 and incredible walking field of poppies, 1983. Both by Arnold Scaasi.

Close-up of a Charles James ball gown, 1947. He was a master of technique and construction.

Sexy "La Sirene" evening dress by Charles James, 1939. Worn by Gypsy Rose Lee. 

Charles James sketch of "Balloon" design. Circa 1955. 

Charles James sketch for an evening dress. Circa 1942. 

Clover Leaf ball gown by Charles James, 1953. He considered it his master work. Weighing ten pounds, it is constructed so well the "skirt floats and lilts while dancing."

The Tigress evening ensemble, 1949, by Gilbert Adrian. 

Rita de Acosta Lydig's custom trunk of custom shoes when traveling. The shoes, 1914-1919, are by Italian designer, Pietro Yantorny. He billed himself as the maker of the most expensive shoes in the world. The shoe trees are purported to be made of violin wood. The conservators at the Legion plan to Xray them to determine what they are made of and possibly debunk the myth. I like the myth.

A photo of Charles James with his masterpiece dress, The Clover Leaf. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

I am that certain age, I think

Joan Didion, modeling at eighty years old. 

Age, age, age. Lately, it's been constantly on the back of my mind. I'm going to a new yoga studio where I'm nearly twice the age of the instructors and the attendees. I find myself feeling like an outsider in this tribe of young hot yoga nymphs (hot class temperature and hot cute factor). I wonder, what do they think when they see me? How old do they think I am? Why do I care? Why is it so hard to stop thinking these questions? Here I am in a yoga class de-centering myself with self-critical thoughts. 

How old am I? I've been trained by my auntie to never reveal my age. She looks a lot younger than her actual age and I'm sworn to secrecy to never reveal the number. I'm told I look younger too. If the question comes up, I just smile and move on. And now that I'm of a certain age, I find myself reflecting on what I once looked like and where I could be headed. And what is a certain age? It's the age when you hesitate to reveal how old you are. I think I'm there. 

The fashion magazines I so avidly read don't help. Only the super young and skinny appear modeling the latest, making it more difficult to relate to or discern what looks would work for me. As much as I love scanning, scouring and tearing into my monthly fashion magazines, it's a challenge as I study the models and the outfits deciding what I could wear. Models have always been many inches taller and thinner but now they are also many years younger. The mental gymnastics for me to imagine myself in a certain look can get exhausting. 

Where are the ideas and inspiration about what the cool women around my age and older are wearing?

Perhaps there's hope. Perhaps there is a glimmer. In the last few months, there's been a mass media trend of using older women as "the face" for a few fashion and beauty brands. It definitely works to get attention. I hope that it becomes more than a flavor-of-the-month. We don't have expiration dates stamped on our foreheads, maybe this is the beginning of the end of that notion. Maybe this is the beginning of a democratization of who we see in the fashion pages; all ages, sizes, shapes and colors. And always expressing great style and panache. Wouldn't that be fun? 

Most recently, 80-year-old Joan Didion is in ads for Celine's Spring campaign. While she definitely looks like an older person, she also looks cool, hip and sophisticated.

One of my top style icons, Charlotte Rampling, is now the face for NARS. She is sixty-nine years old and she has eyes with a million stories to tell.

Jessica Lange is modeling for Marc Jacobs Beauty and she'll be sixty-six in April. 

Tilda Swinton is her own fabulous unidentifiable creature, but even she has birthdays. Swinton is the face of Nars' spring campaign and she is fifty-four. 

Joni Mitchell is seventy-one and is modeling for Saint Laurent's 2015 ad campaign. 

And the indefatigable fantastic fashion peacock, ninety-three-year-old Iris Apfel, is modeling for Alexis Bittar. And she does it so well. I remember in 1996 when Isabella Rossellini was fired as the face of Lancome. At forty-four, she was considered too old. Today, she would be the youngest of the older models. All these women are thoughtful, intellectual and beautiful in multi-dimensional ways. They are not just selling the look. They each have qualities that inspire me to be and look as strong and bold as I dare, no matter what age. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

All the way from London

There's not much that can beat the excitement of finding a new favorite clothing item. And when it's on sale, well, that's the best. Last Friday I was at work on a deadline when I received an email from my Auntie with a link to an Isabel Marant blouse. I immediately stopped what I was doing to see it for myself. The link took me to Matches Fashion showing my current fav blouse in a different colorway and on sale. 

The site was new to me, but after this swell experience, I plan to be a loyal customer. In less than ten minutes, I ordered the blouse (at 60% off!), used the free shipping promo code, paid and hit submit. I got back to my work project with renewed energy, flush with a giddy frisson of having made a great buy. 

On Saturday morning, I got this tracking information. Imagine! My new blouse was already at Heathrow and scheduled to be on my doorstep on February 3rd. Much faster than I expected. And I have to mention it again, the shipping was free. 

When I got home from work last night, this box was waiting for me, a day early. Opening the package was a lovely experience. The outer brown shipping box was lined with a beautiful marbleized printed paper and the blouse was in this gorgeous marbleized keepsake box with a magnetic closure. 

My gorgeous new blouse was carefully swathed in tissue with a card stating that it was packed by Alida. Thank you Alida and Matches Fashion for the luxurious online shopping experience. I look forward to more!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Shall I wear my blouse untucked? Dare I ship it back?

Happy 2015! We're already three-and-a-half weeks into the start of a new year. The beginning of the year always gives me a sense of excitement because of the fresh start and possiblities. I’m even thinking it’s possible to get back to writing for my blog. It’s been my longest hiatus and it wasn’t intentional. I let work, travel and the holidays disrupt my routine. Maybe I needed a break. It’s an interesting test to see how I feel not posting to Bien Vestido. Story ideas still pop in my head daily and I’m not even looking for them. And I realize I miss having a reason to write and shoot photographs while exploring my thoughts and feelings about clothes and personal style. I constantly carry a little black Moleskine notebook and write down random ideas and inspirations for stories. Sometimes I'm not sure what I was thinking. Such as "fashion photos interspersed w/ J. Alfred Prufrock". Perhaps trousers with rolled cuffs? The point is, I have fun with all of that and I want to keep doing it. 

My current favorite top by Isabel Marant Etoile. I love the color, the print, the loose, casual quality and because of the sheer fabric it shows I still have a shape under there. 

What’s on my mind for early in the New Year? Being true to what clothing works for me.  Last November I was in Austin, TX for work and visited a gorgeous and sophisticated dress shop on South Congress called By George.  An Isabel Marant Etoile top caught my eye. It was love at first sight, the sales woman was very nice and clever and also brought me a pair of Frame Le Garcon cropped jeans to try with it. The top and jeans combined to make my favorite kind of outfit - cool, casual, flattering and easy to wear.  Not inexpensive, but affordable. And since then, it’s been my go-to outfit, the cost-per-wear (CPW) is decreasing weekly.

I’m now on their mailing list for notification when a new shipment of Isabel Marant arrives. I got an email last week and this embroidered blouse caught my eye. I immediately called and spoke with darling Bethany. She sent it to me promptly, beautifully wrapped in tissue with a friendly note.

I immediately tried it on. I tried it untucked but it was too smocky and gave me no shape. 

I tried it tucked and it was too poofy. I tried it partially untucked and it still did nothing for me. I tried and tried every which way because I wanted it to work! 

But when it's that difficult to make something work, that's the antithesis of cool and easy chic. Even from the back, it was kind of droopy. This is where photography helps me to see the truth. In a mirror I can imagine I'm seeing what I want to see. But a photo tells all. Seeing the truth, I quickly ended my love affair with this embroidered top and shipped it back to Austin. 

I called Bethany to break the news and she graciously said not to worry, another new shipment of Isabel Marant was arriving soon!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

September 2014 issues: more than six chickens

Above are most of the magazines we surveyed. 

September issue mania ensued chez moi last Saturday with BFFF* Karen. In a highly productive four hours, we visually consumed and discussed fifteen different September fashion magazines. Our selection weighed in over thirty pounds for a total of over five thousand pages of ads, trends, fashion editorial, do's and don'ts and proclamations of what's in and what's out. We learned our lesson from our first session two years ago and did preparatory homework by dividing up the issues a week before and bookmarking what we liked and compiling our discussion points before we got together. We take this seriously. Seriously.

What follows is our take on looks we thought would be possible to affordably add to our wardrobes, what looks we could create with what we already have, what we loved just because and even a little DIY (Karen is very crafty). The trends we noticed: fur, feathers and fringe. One could add a lot or a little. But a touch of any of the three f's looks new. And there are lots tailored looks with ladylike details such a top-handled bags, silk flower corsages and gloves. And flats! After a few years of four-inch plus heels, flat shoes are on the models. (However, just because a shoe is flat, does not mean it is urban-street worthy). And coats, which is great for San Francisco. Lots of coats in bright solid colors, bold prints, double-breasted or bathrobe style. A cool looking coat adds instant dash.

Long and lean looks good for Fall. In the right proportion, it could work on anyone.

The sleeveless coat is a new option. Again, it's a long, lean and tailored look. 

Prada and Max Mara showed skinny scarves which is an easy look to duplicate. 
In fact, all the scarves featured for Fall are a little smaller. 

Beautiful leather gloves in great colors.

 Here's a DIY look that caught Karen's eye: fake fur muff. 

Another DIY idea, a silk flower collar adds a pretty detail to an outfit.

Our favorite fashion spread was in Vogue, "Dark Horse" shot in Peru by Mario Testino and edited by Tonne Goodman. The above is not an outfit that either of us could wear, but we sure do love it. 

And I do love this Bottega Veneta skirt. Black turtleneck, great flattering skirt, boots and bold cuff? I could do that! Interesting to note that most of the looks we ripped out to save came from trusty Vogue

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

You can trust your inner eye

I'm inspired by a one-page intro to a fashion spread in the February 1950 issue of Flair, a long ago and short-lived magazine. I've written about it before here and here. This paricular article was written sixty-four years ago I find the  sentiments true today. It's about the doubt we all experience when trying on clothes and seeing ourselves in the dressing room mirror. It's about telling ourselves to let go of the self-doubt and trust our inner eye. Reading this article makes me conscious of the internal conversation I have when trying on something new and looking at myself in the mirror and I realize my thinking is more complex than I realized. In fact, there are a few categories:

The imaginary life:
"I can see myself wearing these flats to a cafe in Paris. Even though they are velvet with rhinestones and not practical for travel, I would be in Paris so I would make them work. And they are on sale! (These shoes have never left the shoebox, much less visited Paris.)

The impossible outfit:
"All I have to do is find the perfect top, shoes and belt and this skirt would be perfect. And it's on sale! (With sighs of regret and relief, months later these impossible items end up in the donation bag.)

The sales person knows best:
"I'm not sure, but the cute sales person says this looks great on me, so it must." Or "The cute sales person didn't say anything, I like it, but maybe it's not right."

The bandwagon:
"This is so great on other women, it will be great on me too." (Something I've told myself since I was seven and wanted a pair of white go-go boots because everybody else had them.)

But what is the "inner eye"? We all have it. But it does take some conscious effort to clear the static of outside influences. Think about three outfits that you've worn and that you felt great in. Ask yourself why. Is it color? Style? Fit? Do a quick search through magazines or online and save photos of clothing items that reflect the qualities that suit you best. Take these with you the next time you go shopping. It's a bit of extra work to begin with, but it will save time and give you focus when shopping. And with all the distracting choices now, developing your inner eye and having focus are great tools to arm yourself with at the stores and online shopping.

The Flair article follows. It's got quaint and old-fashioned writing, but it's a good reminder that we can rely on our own eye and feelings when shopping. And it helps to have a trusted friend to shop with to remind you of that and even be the best of your eyes for you. You are a lucky person if you can count even one friend like that!

From Flair, February 1950:

You will find her, the brooding and uncertain woman opposite, wherever a dress may be bought. The scene might the Place Vendôme, a New York store, a small-town dress shop. Maybe she hasn't even bothered to ask the price; or she might have scrimped for months to allow herself this one purchase, Whoever she may be, whatever her purse, she is a soul in misery - a fact the men in her life would never suspect. Probably she could not tell them why. The unwelcome presence of other customers may have contributed. The most casual glance she interprets as a hard scrutiny, and her pleasant suit suddenly appears faded, worn. The sales girl may have held up one dress too insistently and aroused the cringing suspicion that some impossible thing is being palmed off on an easy victim. Or, worse mischance of all, this unhappy woman may have faced the mirror and found in it sly depths an unfamiliar reflection, so that every secret doubt she has ever had as to her looks and desirability now furiously possesses her. At last she has decided; she is free to lift herself from her chair. How could she be so uncertain, so confused? Yet often she has reached the street before she regains her normal self-possession and sees, sees with her own eyes, again.

What causes this temporary blindness? Not too little; perhaps too much. Ironically, as far as American women are concerned, this symptom of insecurity may be all the greater because fashion has never given them a wider choice nor made the work of the finest designers available to so many. The public is familiar as never before with significant trends and important names in fashion - a result highly praiseworthy in all respects but one. Fashion has ceased to be personal. In choosing a dress, the American woman is aware of many eyes upon her, and in turn she tries to judge what is before her by every high standard she knows...except her own.

Fashion is an eye. Every woman's eye. Your eye. And inevitably, fashion begins with the inner eye, with self-awareness, with understanding of all your powers, physical, mental, spiritual. It must calmly estimate all that you may claim as potentials for beauty. It demands the fullest expression of your own nature. It insists that you absorb the influences, the knowledges, the disciplines that will be permanently useful to you. It gives mature direction to the outer eye, guiding it to those possessions that are rightfully yours. It forbids you from seeking refuge in those eccentricities of taste that reveal an insecurity far more destructive than the most slavish acceptance of the usual arbitrary norms. It allows you to contemplate the fashions that Flair will report for you, to claim only those that are your own. Serene and sure, your eye will no longer waver from the image of beauty you have set for yourself. You will then be free to communicate your gaiety, your warmth, your self-confidence.