Monday, July 20, 2015

Beauty, inspiration and debauchery, in that order

Fashion films and documentaries are like rare jewels. Sparkly and beautiful they appear infrequently and when they do I look forward to seeing them with unabashed excitement. And some I have watched many times, such as Bill Cunningham New York or Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. I relish the behind-the-scenes glamour and the inspiration I get from these fabulous colorful and creative people.

At this bountiful moment there are three fashion films showing and I recommend seeing all of them for various reasons.

This movie documents the arrival of Raf Simons as the new artistic director of the Christian Dior fashion house and follows him as he creates his first Dior haute couture collection in the Spring of 2012. Simons has only eight weeks until the day his designs walk down the runway. And he has to prove himself. Since he is known for his minimal design, many wonder if Simons is the correct choice for Dior.

The vulnerability of Simons is sensitively shown by film director, Frédéric Tcheng. Tcheng also wrote and directed the excellent Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel and edited Valentino: The Last Emperor. 

It's curious, who is the "I" of "Dior and I"? It is the man himself, Christian Dior, and it is Simons. During the film, a voiceover reads from Dior's 1957 biography, "Christian Dior and I". Dior sees himself as two people, the private person and the famous designer. Simons begins reading the biography as he starts to design his first collection, but the similarities between his experiences and Dior's are so close, he has to put the book down and focus on the collection.  

With a critical and worried eye, Simons studies his designs as they come to life. 

And the talented people I admire so much, the "petite mains" in the workroom. They are the women and men who bring the sketches to life with great mastery.

When getting dressed in the morning I make an effort at a bit of self-expression. I’ll add an oversized silk flower to my lapel, wear a mix of prints or a piece of heirloom jewelry. But all that seems feeble and pale now that I’ve seen the powerhouse of original style, Iris Apel, in this documentary. 

There are few people with her joy for self-expression, intense esthetic pleasure of dressing  and sheer life force energy.  All this is fed by her hunting and gathering clothing and accessories from all over the world. She shops everywhere on the fashion spectrum from the heights of couture to a discount shop on a side street in New York.

Iris Apfel in IRIS, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo credit: © Bruce Weber

If you go to the official site for the film, click on the trailer to get an idea of the fabulousness of Iris and this documentary. Iris has her 94th birthday this August 29th. And I just had a great idea.  Wouldn't it be fun to celebrate Iris and the expression of one's personal style by having a dress like Iris day on her birthday? Let's do it!

Here are a few of her pizzazz-packed quotes:

"It’s better to be happy than well-dressed."
"I like to do things as if I am playing jazz."
"Life is gray and dull; you might as well have a little fun when you dress."
"I’m not pretty and I’ll never be pretty, but it doesn’t matter. I have something much better. I have style."
"More is more and less is a bore."

And my favorite:
"When you don’t dress like everyone else, you don’t have to think like everyone else."

And now for something totally different. Not to be confused with the film Yves Saint Laurent that came out last year, this is not a feel-good movie. See it if you have a passion for the designer and to get a glimpse of glamorous and decadent Paris of the '70's. But be prepared for some depressing scenes of Yves getting too deeply involved with drugs and alcohol. There are some fabulous individual views in the atelier and on the runway, but the movie as a whole is long and feels emotionally empty. And beware, if you are a dog lover, there is a heartbreaking scene with his bulldog, Moujik. 

Saint Laurent is too much about the designer's excesses. Yves Saint Laurent featured his original creations, but the film feels stiff with minimal style. I suppose that's the downfall of fashion biopics. They often feel forced without the depth that I imagine the featured person would have. For that reason I prefer documentaries. If you are interested in Yves Saint Laurent, I recommend His Life and Times and 5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

There's a sucker born every minute

And two weeks ago I was one. Feeling sassy after just having my brows tinted and shaped (free because it was my birthday week!) at the Benefit Cosmetics store on Sutter Street in San Francisco, I rounded the corner on Grant Avenue and a nice-looking guy stepped towards me and offered a sample packet of hand lotion. He smiled, I smiled back and accepted the sample. Before I knew it, I was sitting on a stool looking at a mirror as he applied eye cream to my face.

Had this happened at the San Francisco Centre mall, I would’ve had my radar up for those aggressive kiosk sales-type people. When I see them, I make a wide berth and no eye contact. This downtown encounter caught me off guard. Grant Avenue has high-end luxury shops like Anne Fontaine, Prada and Hermès and I was not prepared for huckster tactics.

He talked quickly, interspersing descriptions of the wondrous qualities of Adore Cosmetics with too many personal questions; Did I just get off work? Where did I work? What did I do for a living? Was I married? My first internal alarm went off, I was not comfortable with all the questions. And as he dished the compliments, alarm number two rang -- my eyes were beautiful, my skin looked great. He wanted to guess my age. I would be celebrating my 57th in two days and I looked at him with trepidation holding my breath as he guessed 40. In a split second my voice of reason said that must mean he thought I looked 50 and said 10 years younger to be flattering. But my voice of vanity said Yes, bring it on! He said I needed just a little something more and began to apply layers of lotions to my face and neck. Alarm number three, he was getting a little too familiar with my neck. Holding up a mirror he said "See! Look at the instant change!" My skin did look more glowy and hydrated, but I could’ve put on Jergens and in that quick moment I would’ve had the same results.

I think it was the fast talking and the pumping house music that scrambled my clarity. Then the wheeling and dealing with the prices. The eye cream is normally $589.95 for a small jar. But for me, it was only $99! And then I must try the eye serum, then the neck cream, then the neck serum! Each one around $600, but for me (as he got out the calculator, alarm number four!) I could get all four for only $400! And he would give me for free the “Golden Touch 24K Techno-dermis facial mask”. It’s the same mask George Clooney uses before big events! At the name dropping, alarm number five sounded, but it was a whisper compared to his sales patter. He assured me the product was completely organic. And to seal the deal, he said that if the products were unopened, I could bring it all back.

Amazing how easy it was to ignore all my inner alarms. I handed him my credit card, signed the slip for $435 and before I could catch my breath I was back on the sidewalk carrying a shopping bag full of new products. I didn’t make it a half block before dread and regret engulfed me. I stopped to do a quick mobile check about Adore Cosmetics and found a long string of bad reviews. I read comments such as "SCAM! Stay away." "DON'T EVER BUY ADORE PRODUCTS! FRAUDULENT SALES PRACTICES! FRAUDULENT PRODUCT CLAIMS!" I read this as I was on the subway going home, my heart sinking deeper every minute. And then I saw on the bottom of the receipt "No refunds, exchanges only."

Oh! How could I be such a dope? I kicked myself and barely slept that night, distressed that I allowed myself to say yes when my instinct was saying NO! The next day I called Visa to see what recourse I had. The Visa guy could not have been nicer or more empathetic having had a similar experience with the mall kiosk sales people.  He said "I'm a guy, I don't even use cosmetics and they talked me into buying stuff." He did give me several options where Visa could help. I now had hope, but my first step was to go back and ask for a refund. 

After I made three polite but insistent calls and two visits to the store, I got results. The store manager agreed to refund my money. He offered me a free large tube of hand and body lotion "for my trouble" and I shook my head no, afraid to say yes to anything in that store. 

Products that needs that hard of a sell and where the price of one jar of goo can fluctuate between $600 and $99, I'm beyond skeptical. And I don't believe the organic claim, I could find nothing on the website with specifics about the products being organic. 

Vanity sucked me in, and perseverance got me out. Note to self!

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!