Sunday, March 16, 2014

Push it

You've probably seen this photo of Pharrell Williams at this year's Grammy Awards. 
Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage.

Sometimes I enjoy pushing my look a bit by wearing shapes, patterns or colors that are a little exaggerated and unexpected. I do this intentionally because I like to think it gives people pleasure to see something that's more visually exciting than the norm. And it adds fun to my day. Especially since I work in a corporate office, it doesn't take much and it adds some spark to my day to play with that. Most of the time the reactions are positive and if they're not, that's fine too.

I love to see other people pushing the style envelope. Like Pharrell when he wore the Vivienne Westwood hat to the Grammy's. At first glance, it is a bit ludicrous. But when looking closer, one can see that the shape and proportions were created by an expert designer. And Pharrell wears it with such aplomb that he makes it work. It caused a huge social media reaction, crashing the site. Isn't that funny, that today when we see so many images of celebrities wearing extreme Lady Gaga styles that a hat, just an artistic and sculptural hat, can cause such a flurry? I like that.

These Balenciaga shoes cause a reaction everytime I wear them. I fell in love with them when I saw them on the sale shelves at Barney's.  Nicolas Ghesquiére took a basic black pump and arted it up with a swath of textured leather and added a sculptural detail to the heel. When I wear them, someone usually asks if they can try them on. When I'm not wearing them, I like to keep them out on a shelf because I enjoy looking at them. And that's a big point. When wearing something extreme, it needs to be something that you sincerely love and that makes you feel good wearing it.

On a foggy San Francisco day, wearing this coat makes me happy and the smiles I see on people as I pass them on the street leads me to believe that it makes them happy too. When I first wore it to work, my UK-born boss, looked up from her desk and said, "My, that's a jolly jacket!" Which made me laugh and now that's it's official name. Because the pattern is so bold and memorable, I don't wear it that often. But I have fun with when I do. And I always think, since we have to wear clothes everyday, we might as well have some fun with what we wear and give others a little fun too.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Falling in love with the Petra

For at least a year, I've been casually looking for an elegant, practical and understated tote bag. One that I can use everyday when going to work and that adds to my outfit instead of detracting from it. I end up hauling so much stuff back and forth to work: healthy lunches and snacks to keep me from eating sugary fat office treats, a couple of files of current projects and workout clothes. 

In my search for the perfect tote, I felt a little like Goldilocks; it was either too big, too small, too expensive or too cheap. I was on the lookout for something that was just right. And I found it. In the December 30 issue of WWD, I read an article about a bag by a company called Everlane. The simplicity of the featured tote  caught my attention. Turns out it's a San Francisco company founded in 2010 by the then 25-year-old Michael Preysman. Their claim-to-fame is a good-quality, thoughtfully-made $15 T shirt. Recently, they've started offering more luxurious items.

Initially, I skimmed their website to find the bag. But then I found myself really studying the "About" page and even reading their mission statement:

"Our mission: Radical Transparency. We believe customers should know where their products come from and how much they cost to make. That's why we show the processes behind product creation, visit and document our factories, and publish infographics revealing the true cost of each product we make."

That statement is appealing. It's important to know where our clothes came from, especially now that there is so much information about horrible and tragic working conditions in many clothing manufacturing factories.

And I appreciate knowing the cost to make the product. According to WWD the Petra bag costs $190 - $210 to produce. The bag that I was interested in, the Petra Magazine bag, is $325 which is less than twice the cost to produce. 

And with photos of the factory, it doesn't get more transparent than that. The photos show a modern, airy, state-of-the-art looking place in Vicenza, outside of Venice. I like knowing exactly what I am getting, where it was made and why it costs what it does. $325 is not inexpensive, but I felt there was real value. 

But who is the designer? I wanted to know the designer. Well, there's a lovely video of her. 

So I hit the order button.

A few days later, a large, light box arrived. Inside was my carefully packaged tote. With a dust bag! (I love those things). After the online sales pitch, I examined the bag to see if it lived up to it all.

Strong handles, nice large pockets...

A very well-constructed interior...

Even little feet on the bottom.

I've been using my Petra everyday for about a month. My attraction is more intellectual than emotional. It's so understated, it doesn't get noticed. It's so practical, it wasn't love at first sight. But with use, I'm appreciating all its qualities. It's the perfect size. The handles are the perfect length. And the more I am using it, I'm developing a love for the leather. It's rich and thick and very soft and so comfortable to carry. 

And I like a nice thank you note.

The Everlane design philosophy: "Intelligent design. We believe design should be as functional as it is beautiful." The Petra certainly lives up to that.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

This post has no photos, but its got a lot of feeling

I’m a good sport. I’m a team player. If something is needed to get the job done, and it’s something I can do, then I’ll do it. No hesitation. No questions asked. So last fall, as the brand manager for the corporation that I work for, I went to a photoshoot in New York City. The Creative Director asked if I might step in as a model if needed. I said sure! If that helps the photoshoot, if that helps get the job done, then I am there, 200%! And I was. It was a five-day shoot at as many locations and at each I had fun not only giving brand input, but holding up reflectors, moving props, chatting up the models; I did whatever was needed and enjoyed doing it. 

It was the last day of shooting when I was asked to model. It had been a long week of long days and this was towards the end of the last day. We were shooting at beautiful home on a lake north of NYC. The weather was warm and humid. Trust me when I tell you my hair was not looking its best. Trust me when I tell you that the make-up I put on at 6 am that morning was non-existent. Trust me when I tell you that wardrobe put me in the most boring, most conservative, limpest of blouses and khaki pants, which I would normally never, ever wear. But I’m a good sport! It was my part and I was going to play it. And I did. 

Sitting with my model “husband” on the outdoor deck overlooking the lake and pretending that we were reviewing our finances on a laptop. I chatted. I smiled. I played the part. And it was all fine until yesterday. An art director who I’ve worked with only long distance and we’ve never met in person, sent me a brochure to brand review. It was a brochure on retirement. Fine. No problem there, I do this all the time. I scroll through the pdf, all looks good. All is on brand. Then I get to a page with a photo of me and my “husband”. The copy reads “Meg and Bob are about to retire...”

What? What? How can a photo of ME be used as part of a couple that’s about to retire! I like to think of myself looking at least 10 years younger than I am, which would place me in early to mid-forties. I tried to be objective, thinking if I saw that woman, would I think she looks old enough to retire? Maybe? Really? Maybe? It is a terrible photo of me. But I don’t want even a terrible photo of me to look like I could be near retirement. But what’s retirement age anyway? It’s 65. Right? Do I look 65? I want to be at least 75 or 80 before I look 65. I can’t show you the photo because of photo rights, and I wouldn’t show you anyway, because it’s terrible!

Vanity, vanity. Hell yes!

It’s kind of driving me crazy. 

I just spent thirty minutes looking at images of Ines de la Fressange, one of my style icons. She’s beautiful in a very natural French way. And she is a year older than me. I looked at her images comparing the lines around her eyes with mine. The lines on her neck with mine. Ok, ok, maybe I have fewer? But she’s very beautiful to begin with and she’s model tall and model thin. But she’s got lines! She has a great smile. I have a great smile too. Would someone use her as an example of someone who is about to retire? I don’t know. I remind myself of wise words I once heard in a writing and despair. 

And now I know, I take photos too personally to be a model. 

And now I know, I am what I am. Keep smiling. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Korda: an eye for beauty and revolution

The cover of the show catalog, featuring Natalia "Norka" Mendez,
Korda's second wife and model, 1958. All photos are courtesy of the Alberto Korda Estate. 

One evening after work in early December, best-fashion-friend-forever Karen and I braved rush hour traffic to drive to Foothill College in Los Altos, which is about a forty-five minute drive south of San Francisco. Both of us are passionate about fashion and we were determined to see a fashion photography show, Korda Moda, that was closing soon. The photographer was someone we had not heard of before: Cuban photographer Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez, who called himself Korda.

We arrived at the gallery and there we learned a fascinating story of fashion, politics and Cuban history.

One of Korda's three main models, Nidia Rios, circa 1956

The exhibition was created by Ron Herman, chairman of Foothill College photography department. Viewing the thirty beautifully hung photos on display in the small campus gallery, we were suddenly in the glitzy and glamorous Cuba of the 1950's. At that time, Havana was a sexy jetsetting place with Hollywood stars such as Ava Gardner, Rita Heyworth, Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn and Lana Turner flying in to play at the swell hotels and shop at the elegant El Encanto department store, which carried the latest Parisian fashions including an exclusive Dior salon.

Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez and his business partner, Luis Peirce Byers, opened a photography studio in Old Havana in 1954. They named it Korda Studio because according to the show catalog, they liked that it sounded similar to Kodak and it was also a tribute to filmmakers they admired, Alexander and Zoltan Korda. Alberto became associated with the name and took it as his own. The studio gained success shooting commercial photography, including fashion. In 1956 they moved their studio nearer the center of all the excitement, across the street from the Hotel Capri. Korda met Norka and together as photographer and model, they became Cuba's most exciting creative fashion couple. But the main motivation for Korda was not capturing the chic clothes on film. It was as he said, "I wanted to become a famous fashion photographer because that way I would be able to meet the most beautiful women in Cuba." And because of the quality of his work, he became known as the Richard Avedon of Cuba.

Norka, photo for front page of "La Mujer" supplement of Diario de la Marina newspaper, June 1958

Norka, photo for front page of "La Mujer" supplement of Diario de la Marina newspaper, 1960

But with Fidel Castro's rise to power in the early 60's, Cuba was glitzy and fashionable no more and it was all about the revolution. Korda admired Castro and became part of the revolution, documenting him, his men and protests. On March 5, 1960, Korda shot what is considered the most reproduced image ever, the photo of Che Guevara. As all businesses were being nationalized, Korda's studio was taken over by the government and his photos were either hidden or destroyed.

 "Heroic Guerilla"

Ron Herman gathered all the photos in this show and created the catalog. For the last four years, he has conducted art and culture tours of Cuba while searching for the missing Korda fashion photos. He sourced the thirty in this show from Korda's family and former models. Herman continues to search for more. He is organizing another trip to Cuba March 23-April 5, details can be found here

With this quote from the Korda Moda catalog, Korda explains his creative motivation:
"A man who develops a work like mine is always dedicated to something he loves. I did that from the very beginninging. I have loved the beauty of women as much as the beauty of those men who led the Revolution. The beauty of those men is not only esthetic but also moral. Loving, as I did, the work I made with men like Castro and Che Guevara, you can see the similarities between both types of photography." (Korda: A Revolutionary Lens)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Glove love on Madison Avenue

Gloves can be sexy, practical and comfortable. There aren't too many accessories that can claim all that. When I was little, I remember seeing the women in my life -  my mother, grandmother and aunt -  wearing gloves and it seemed like a very elegant and grown-up thing to do. My grandmother, Bootsie, wore white gloves with her suits when we went shopping in downtown New Orleans; my mother wore elbow-length black leather gloves when going out to a party with my father (I still have them and wear them on special occasions); my cool California-casual aunt had an air of sophistication when she wore black leather gloves to ward off the Pacific Coast wind. 

I'm always on the lookout for the perfect pair for me. Often, when I see a pair of beautiful gloves worn in a fashion shot in Vogue, W, Elle or just about any other fashion magazine, it seems they are usually from Sermoneta.  Their shops are in Europe, Chicago and on the East Coast. I recently had an opportunity to visit the NYC shop located on Madison at East 58th when hubby Matt and I were there in November. 

We were there on a chilly, grey day and the small shop was busy. General Manager Kara Lee Kelly, the blonde woman in the middle, helped me find the perfect everyday gloves. She asked me to hold up my hand and in a second proclaimed my size as six-and-a-half. The gloves are organized by style and strapped together in bundles. 

Driving gloves, evening gloves, quilted, woven, suede, lambskin, wild boar (which is so strong the gloves will last a lifetime or three), Sermoneta has a huge variety. Kara says if you have something specific in mind, just give them a call. 

Founded in the early 60's by husband and wife Giorgio and Manuela Sermoneta, it is still a family business and everything is made in Italy. For the quality and style, the prices are very reasonable. I selected a classic pair: mid-length cashmere-lined black leather for under a hundred dollars. I've seen gloves at the department stores for that price and more and not nearly the same quality. 

Not much fur is worn on the West Coast, but I can imagine some Manhattan or European women wearing these. Warmth, elegance, style (and even protection against urban germs)...beautiful Italian-made gloves do it all.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Stivali da pioggia a Venezia*

*Rain boots in Venice. I've never seen so many people wearing rain boots and hip boots 
with as much elegance and style as the Venetians. 

We were just in Venice to catch the last week of the Biennale 2013. It was a huge, rich sensory experience of art, beauty, delicious food, warm people and truly fabulous shopping. We did our best to soak it up. We also soaked up some of the Adriatic Sea. On the first morning, as we were leaving our hotel, the desk clerk informed us that high tide would be at 11 am that day and that we would need rain boots. He asked what our shoe sizes were and handed us our boots, each pair folded into a flat plastic pouch. We took the boots with us but we were a little skeptical that we would really need them.

Our first stop was Pasticceria E. Rosa Salva for cappucino and morning treats. We were there for about an hour and as we tried to leave, we stepped out onto what just a little earlier a dry walkway. Now the cobblestone were under several inches of water and rising. Back we went into the pasticceria for another espresso and to put on the boots from our hotel.

As we sat there, struggling to lace, tie and strap our "boots" on, the locals came in and were all wearing hip boots. They looked so dashing, I had to take photos.

My friends Christof and Judith are modeling the two types of boots worn by tourists. The blue ones are sold by street vendors. The clear plastic version is what the hotel gave us. They both did the job, but certainly not as stylishly as what the Venetians wore.

Judith and I noticed a shoe store just a few doors down from the pasticerria. The charming owner, Dittura Gianni, fitted us for real rain boots. Judith opted for the classic dark green waders.

And I traded my clear plastic freebie boots for these actually-made-in-Italy shiny black rubber ones. Only 45 euros and I felt much more stylish and that I could splash through the Venetian streets with confidence.

And just so you can see just why boots are needed, 
here's Christof and hubby Matt at high noon at high tide. 

Even newlyweds wear them.

High tide bride and groom. 

And I learned that a small glass or two of Vecchia Romagna also helps at high tide. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Beauty Walgreen's

One day during lunch hour last week, I was making a made dash down Powell Street after hunting and gathering some fall basics on Union Square and my attention was caught by the "W" sign. I instantly recognized it as Walgreen's but the minimal quality of it signaled that this was something new. I looked in the door and saw a floor of rather fancy looking food counters, so I stepped in to explore. Then I remembered reading that Walgreen's was placing some upmarket stores in various cities with beauty departments carrying European products. The escalator before me beckoned, so I rode up and on the second floor I found a beauty heaven.

The first counter I saw was Boots No. 7, the UK line of cosmetics. I found a wide choice of colors, products and even Poppy King lipsticks. Most things priced around $6-$10. And that day it was buy one get the second for half-price, so I scooped up a few items.

I realize I'm a little late to the game. This "Look Boutique" beauty department opened in May. Walgreen's acquired the NYC Duane Reade chain and decided to try their style of sellling cosmetics.  The space is so open and airy, it was a pleasure to roam around trying this and that. One of my favorite things to do traveling in Europe is to go to a pharmacy to discover elegant and affordale beauty products. Shopping here was a similar experience.

After an hour of deciphering some french labels, testing colors and sniffing beauty potions, I glanced at my watch and realized I was going to be late for my next meeting if I didn't hoof it back South of Market tout suite. I plan to return soon, there are still more rows of products to explore!