Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Black dandy, when a pocket square is much more

Kia Chenelle, The Waiting Man I, 2013. Archival pigment print. Courtesy of the artist.

I always thrill at a flash of j'ne sais quoi; whether it's the angle of a hat, a splash of pocket square or a dramatic and unexpected color worn with confidence. The traveling exhibition, Dandy Lion: (Re)Articulating Black Masculine Identity, at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco until September 18, offers that thrill with sociological impact and meaning. 

Through photographs and film, curator Shantrelle P. Lewis shows us images of black men from around the world who assert their presence through their conscious use of dashing, elegant and stereotype-challenging mode of dress. The show defines a Black dandy as "self-fashioned gentleman who intentionally assimilates classical European fashion with African Diasporian aesthetics and sensibilities."

A sampling of the sharp style from the show:

Sara Shamsavari, Cal ‘Caligraphist’ Librea, London, 2014. Archival pigment print. 
Courtesy of the artist.

Sara Shamsavari, Terrence Lathan, London, 2013. Archival pigment print. 
Courtesy of the artist.

Radcliffe Roye, Untitled No. Two, 2011. Archival pigment print. Courtesy of the artist.

Hanif Abdur-Rahim, Ubiquitous SWAG, 2010. C–Print. Courtesy of the artist.

I'm reading a book I bought at the MoAD gift store, Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity by Monica L. Miller. This is a part of cultural history I didn't know about and there is so much to the story. She begins in the 18th century when African slaves were brought to England, America and the West Indies with nothing, really nothing, naked. They were issued clothes that they often modified. The Black dandy modified European dress in ways that played with social hierarchies, using elements from the perceived higher class.

In the book Miller says, "As a form of cultural resistance, Black dandyism functions as a kind of fashionable weapon of the weak, an everyday form of resistance...the enslaved and marginalized use to comment on their relationship to authority."

Time and thought spent on fashion and personal style is often seen as frivolous and inconsequential; but I learned from the show and book that historically for the Black dandy, the expression of personal style could be a matter of presence or oblivion. Or even life or death. Black dandy style is life affirming and provides a way to resist and survive. This is personal style with extreme meaning.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Seeking beauty: goodbye to Bill Cunningham

Sadly, I'll be adding Bill Cunningham's photo to my Day of the Dead altar this year. The New York Times has the details here.

The above photo of Bill was taken by a friend on September 10, 2012. Bill has his holy trinity of accoutrements: blue French workman's jacket, bike and camera.With those three simple things, he documented the personal styles and fashion of New York City people and showed the world how powerful and fabulous it is to share yourself by dressing creatively and expressively. He loved his "peacocks" and that love can be felt in every one of his photos.

In the 2011 documentary Bill Cunningham New York, I was moved by the kindness and honesty of the man. I wrote about it here.

In the film Bill says, "Everyone has taste, but they don’t have the daring to be creative" and "It’s as true today as it ever was, he who seeks beauty will find it." My friend Debra pondered that and commented on BV: "So it's about creativity, and seeking, and beauty...all with meaning. I'll continue to think about this because I think it's profound. Seeking beauty in our own adornment is an act of courage, even rebellion!"

Isn't that a wonderful thing to think about?

Goodbye Bill, I'll miss seeing the pizazz of personal style through your lens.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Baubles, Bubbles and Beauties

There's more to shopping than just buying stuff. There's the pleasure of looking, touching and trying. Just because I love it, doesn't mean I have to own it. That's what I told myself as I ogled the diamonds, gems and jewels ranging in the 4, 5 and 6 digit range at Tiffany & Co. on Wednesday night. Usually, I'm a 2 to 3 digit girl. 

And there was more to see than jewels at this toast to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the people watching was fabulous.

Beautiful women, Elizabeth Harker of SFMOMA with PR, social media and style consultant Khuyen Do.

I met and chatted with darling Jon who has worked at Tiffany's for over twenty years. He looked so dapper that I complimented him on the gold bee pin on his lapel. I learned it isn't just an accessory, it's a memory of his mother who was nicknamed Bee and had a collection of Tiffany bee pins that Jon had given her.

Even in the midst of the festive crowd, he had a hint of tear as he told me the story, so of course, I did too.

My photo does not do justice to the gorgeous sparkle of this Oscar de la Renta dress that Kamal Shah wears so well. And I love how her friend doesn't have a skimpy pocket square, but a full blown Pucci scarf in his pocket.

The San Francisco Tiffany's is under renovation right now and this is one of the new rooms. It's like being inside an elegant jewelry box.

Great style all around!

 Vanessa Getty with Gina Peterson, Event Chair for the SFMOMA Modern Ball this May.

Gorgeous richly embroidered and sequined coat on philanthrophist and art collector Norah Stone.

I had a great time chatting with charming Alexandre Alesandrini in the Patek Philippe room. Our conversation went from luxury watches to classic race cars to bespoke shoes. He has George Cleverley shoes shipped from London. First I've heard of them and this needs further research. We also shared our passion for a well-shined shoe and he gave me such great info, I plan to do a post on shoe shining.

Alexandre let me try on a romantic Patek watch with a mother-of-pearl dial showing the phases of the moon. I didn't look at the price, I just enjoyed the moment with a sip of Veuve Clicquot.

It was a lovely event. But wait there's more!

Such a delicious evening of luxurious gorgeousness. Right next door to Tiffany's, Saks Fifth Avenue has their windows filled with Oscar de la Renta designs in honor of the retrospective at the de Young Museum. Look for a story on that soon!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Dear All, Gone shopping...Love, Wilkes

 The Michael Schwab portrait of Wilkes Bashford on the memorial program.

It was on a cold and rainy day at the end of January that I climbed the steep steps to Grace Cathedral for the memorial service of San Francisco icon and refined clothier Wilkes Bashford. He died on January 16th and his eponymous luxury store had just celebrated its 50th anniversary. The store has been a landmark for me since I first moved to San Francisco in the 80's. While it was too expensive for my freelance writer's pay, no one seemed to mind me indulging in going from floor-to-floor and soaking up the beauty of the clothes and examining designer items that I had seen in posh magazines. When I finally did have enough money, I headed straight to the shoe department which had fabulous sales and over the years I bought Jimmy Choo boots and heels, Manolos, Louboutin kitten heels, Lambertson Truex boots and Gravatti boots and shoes. Still expensive at half off, but of such quality that I will wear them for years.

Mounted police stood watch in front of Grace Cathedral to greet the over 900 elegantly attired attendees. They were a wide cross section of socialites, political powerhouses, artists and fashion devotees. From the altar,  Charlotte Schultz spoke of his "sprightly step" and "glistening cufflinks, all understated perfection." She said that although his eyeglasses were tinted blue, they were rose colored on the other side. He often asked, "Isn't life great?" And when he asked "How ya doin'?" "What's going on?" he really stopped and listened. The memorial was a celebration of Wilkes and the classic San Francisco that he personified.

His friend of 50 years, Willie Brown, said he was the most decent human being he has ever known. Known for his sharp Italian suits and fine fedoras, Brown talked about buying his first Brioni suit from Wilkes and when they first met, how they connected through a discussion of fabrics and cut.

Kamala Harris, would lunch on Saturdays with Wilkes at the classic San Francisco restaurant , Le Central, just a quick down the hill from his store. They would sit at his table near the window and Wilkes would smile at the passersby and wave vigorously at anyone carrying a Wilkes Bashford shopping bag.  Harris said he was fiercely passionate about a number of philanthropic causes for animal rights, the arts and stopping domestic violence.

Tyler Mitchell, a co-owner of the store said that Wilkes taught him that being a gentleman was cool. He showed Tyler the power of holding doors, pulling out chairs and giving two kisses to ladies. Tyler said the best compliment that would make his day was when Wilkes would look him up and down and say, "You look as chic as shit!" All of us in the pews turned to one another to confirm that we heard what we thought we heard. Apparently, it was a huge compliment from Wilkes.

Mr. Bashford was remembered in the store window with his chair, his old typewriter holding an imagined farewell letter and a silhouette of his beloved dachshund Duchess.

A collage of the social whirl of bon vivant Wilkes Bashford. He worked six days a week and reportedly went out seven nights a week for civic appearances, parties and events.

When I leave the store carrying one of their bright orange shopping bags, 
I practically skip down Sutter Street.

 Portrait by Elaine Badgley Arnoux, published in  
The People of San Francisco: Lives of Accomplishment, 1985

My artist friend Elaine Badgley Arnoux and I attended the service together. Wilkes was a great supporter of her and her art, introducing her with glowing praise to San Francisco movers and shakers. Over the last thirty years Elaine has drawn several hundred portraits of the people who give San Francisco its distinct character. Mr. Bashford was definitely one.

Wilkes and his darling Duchess. Even she was at the memorial, wearing a black satin ribbon.

From Mr. Bashford's memorial, I learned that although it is sad to say goodbye, when the honored person has lived a full and kind life, a memorial service is life affirming and inspiring. And in Mr. Bashford's case, I left inspired to do more to help others with a smile and a listening ear and to dress elegantly while doing it. His was a well-dressed life well lived.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Pommade Divine: 17th century It-Girl beauty secret

I'm a real goo girl. Give me a lotion, potion, ointment or cream and I will happily smear it on. I have such an assortment of skin products that hubby Matt refers to them collectively as "Girl Goo". He's even counted the layers of goo I apply in the morning. It's about six at minimum: body lotion, face cream, eye cream, neck cream, sunscreen, foundation. Then there's arnica for bumps and bruises and China Gel for over-yoga'd muscles. It might be a placebo, but cuts, scratches and bumps feel instantly better when I rub in a little something.

One of my favorite places to try high-quality skin care products is Ayla Beauty, based in San Francisco, they ship everywhere and they are wonderfully generous about sending samples to try. I recently got an email from them about a product new to me, Pommade Divine. When I read that it was Marie Antoinette's Great-Grandmother's beauty secret, I had to get to the Ayla shop ASAP to buy a jar.

Known at Versailles as "Liselotte", Princess Elisabeth Charlotte, born in 1652, was a fan of Pommade Divine. Isn't that a fabulous dress? The exaggerated corset-like bodice is similar 
to designs John Galliano did for Dior. 

Bavarian Princess Elisabeth Charlotte, Great Grandmother of Marie Antoinette and sister-in-law to King Louis XIV, makes the first mention of Pommade Divine in a letter dated February 4, 1720:

"You won't believe, dear Louise, what a good thing this pommade divine (is); for this reason, am I sending you a box, so that you can carry it with you in your bag at all times. Another thing: this pommade is good for; if you have burned yourself badly with sealing wax and treat it immediately with the pommade, it reduces the pain. I don't know how one could not like the smell of the pommade divine."

Called divine because it was originally made by Medieval monks, this ointment has survived through the centuries. It nearly disappeared in the late 1980's, but was it resurrected and is now attracting a new audience.

The packaging is clean and contemporary and the stamped metal lid gives it a European apothecary feel. With a combination of spices, essential oils and resins, it has a nice slightly medicinal light spicy pear scent. For the last month, I've kept the jar on my desk and use it on my cuticles, lips and around my eyes. While I don't get many sealing wax burns, I do love using something that has such a rich history.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

My Dior

For the last couple of months, I've immersed myself in the enchanting world of Dior. I've read the autobiography Christian Dior and I; I've reverently turned the pages of the mighty tome Dior published by Assouline and I've watched Christian Dior: the Man Behind the Myth and Dior and I.

Little did I imagine that one day I could legitimately use the phrase "my Dior." I've never had a glimmer of a thought that I would ever own a dress by Dior. But now I do.

My lifelong friend, Holly, inherited a collection of couture clothes from her mother-in-law, Marjorie Stern. Most of the collection was donated to the San Francisco de Young Museum, but recently Holly and I were chatting and she mentioned there was one dress the museum didn't take and that I was the only person she thought it might fit. We set a date to meet at her textile studio in Sausalito for me to take a look at the dress and try it on. I had a restless night before our meeting. I envisioned one of the earlier Dior's from the 50's, when women wore heavy foundations to achieve the wasp waist and I worried that my waist would not wasp. But I reasoned with myself, even if it didn't fit, at least I would have the thrill of being up close and personal with a Dior dress. 

But as soon as Holly lifted the protective covering, I was thrilled to see that the dress might actually fit.   I stepped in to the dress and happily the zipper zipped without me having to suck it in too much!

Since it's from 1964, the dress was designed by Marc Bohan. Christian Dior died in 1957 and Yves Saint Laurent was appointed artistic director, but only for two years. He was drafted and due to a mental collapse was placed in a military hospital. In 1960, while Saint Laurent was in the hospital, Bohan was appointed artistic director. Bohan remained the artistic director for the next thirty years, until 1989.

I'm fascinated by the stamped model number on the label, 124646. I contacted the Textile Arts Council at the de Young museum to see if they had more information. I wondered if each dress has a unique number and if it's possible to track the background of a dress. They responded quickly, suggesting that I contact the company directly. Last Friday, I popped into the Christian Dior Boutique and explained my story to the very attentive and understanding manager. He is a wealth of Dior knowledge and offered a couple theories; before ready-to-wear was so available, high-end department stores would buy the patterns from couture designers and have the dresses made for their clients, so it could be the stores model number, or, it could be a customer number specific to Mrs. Stern and her measurements. The manager offered to send the photos of the label and dress to another Dior contact to get their ideas. I'll let you know what I find out.

Marc Bohan with his models, 1966, copyright RDA/Rue des Archives. 
From Dior by Farid Chenoune and Laziz Hamani

The dress is quite wearable, the wool is soft and airy and completely lined in silk. There's an additional silk lining, so the dress easily slips on and hangs effortlessly with a beautiful drape. And I adore that it has pockets - large and deep silk lined pockets that are completely invisible on the exterior.

Adding to the significance of my Dior dress, I admire the woman who wore it. Marjorie Stern is known for her philanthropic work in San Francisco, especially as one of the founders of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, an organization I've supported as a donor and volunteer for years. Now that's what I call dressing with personal style and meaning.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"Cheap Chic": own this book and own your style

My original copy (40 years old!) and my brand-new copy.

What a thrill to have Cheap Chic available again and I wholeheartedly recommend that you buy a copy for yourself. I received my first copy when it was initially published in 1975. In all my various apartments and homes, it has been front and center on my bookshelf ever since, continually providing style inspiration. I first wrote about it here. The book has been out of print for years and used copies were offered online for up to $300. Now, on it’s 40th anniversary, it’s been reissued, preserved in it’s original form with the very appropriate addition of a forward by Tim Gunn. Warm and wise Professor Gunn says "I love this book!"

Written by Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy, both journalists, photographers and friends of fashion insiders, they didn't waste time documenting the trends. They looked at the heart and soul of style. In the introduction they write, "The basic concept of Cheap Chic for both men and women is to have a few clothes that make you feel good rather than a closet full of mismatched fashions. Find the clothes that suit you best, that make you feel comfortable, confident, sexy, good looking and happy...then hang onto them like old friends." By the photographing and interviewing of people who follow this mantra, the reader realizes that personal style is as varied as the people they present. Style is suddenly seen as very democratic. With some thought, care and creativity, anyone can express their authentic self by how they dress. There is great power in that.

The cover reads "Hundreds of money saving hints to create your own great look," but the practicality of that description belies the mystery and exoticism within. Like opening a book of magic potions, it describes all the ingredients for creating your own great style by using inspiration from around the world, movies, historical eras and most of all, it features people who are proudly, fiercely and resourcefully inventive and original with their style. 

 In one chapter, Ingeborg Day describes her "Cost Per Wear" method of shopping, a technique that I still use today. If something costs $300, but you wear it 100 times, it's only $3 a wearing. But if you buy something on sale for $20 and only wear it once, it becomes much more expensive than the $300 item. Remembering the CPW factor in the dressing room has stopped me from a number of buying mistakes. She advised wearing a work uniform, black in winter and white in summer. Rather stringent, but the trim all-black outfit with a black T, pearls and Guatemalan bag Day wears in the photo above would be just as chic today. A strange side note, I just looked up Day to learn what she's currently doing and read this disturbing and fascinating story.

What’s magic about Cheap Chic is that it so purely captured the zeitgeist right when a fashion revolution was just bubbling to the surface. Up until then, dressing rules were rigid; wear white only between Easter and Labor Day, no sequins or sparkles until night and no black to weddings. And shocking to remember, but due to strict rules, I wasn't allowed to wear pants to school until 1973! Consequently, in 1975 when I saw these stylish, smart and independent women featured in the book I saw another world of possibility and it was a world I wanted to be a part of.

What was revelatory back then is gratifying today. Forty years later, so many of the looks are still relevant and timeless. 

Inspiration for personal style is not limited to fashion magazines and definitely not shopping malls. It can be found everywhere.

I realize that even though my old copy is always within an arm's reach at my desk, I haven't really read it for years. I thumb through, glance at the photos, grab an idea here and there (wide-legged trousers are suddenly looking very appealing again!) and put it back on the shelf. But now I'm re-reading it and it's like the pleasure of running into an old friend and the conversation is like no time has passed. Cheap Chic and I still have lots to say to each other.