Friday, February 10, 2017

A dose of sublime elegance




Exhibition poster. Marilyn Monroe wears a Dior design during The Last Sitting photographed by Bert Stern for Vogue at the Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles, June 1962. © Bert Stern.




Some people go for the puppy or kitten videos, others post scenes of nature. While these certainly give me a needed distraction from the disturbing state of politics today, there's no escape like momentarily sinking into a world of beauty and elegance. To calm my nerves after obsessively reading and watching the news and as a reward for taking the latest action (writing letters and postcards to my senators and other elected officials), I decided to pay a visit to the childhood home of Christian Dior.

On February 12, it will be 70 years since Christian Dior presented his first collection, his post-war antidote to austerity and drabness. Using 10 to 25 yards of fabric and accentuating the waist, hips and bosom, his designs were not modern, but his "New Look" answered a deep need for beauty and reassurance.

Christian Dior was born here in 1905 and was nostalgic about it all his life, incorporating pink and grey colors in his designs and the scents of rose and lily of the valley in his perfumes.

Museum shows are such a great opportunity to study a theme in depth and a great resource of curated imagery, information and point of view. Even if I can't make it to a particular exhibit, at least I can do online research and request access to the images. I didn't make it to Granville in Normandy France for the Christian Dior Museum's show, "Women in Dior – Sublime Elegance of a Portrait," but they kindly shared their images.

Curated by Florence Müller, the show pays tribute to Dior dresses and the women who wore them. Here's a quote from the exhibit:

"The clothes a woman wears communicate a lot about her personality, unspoken clues to who she is for the world to decipher. The array of designs created by Christian Dior, and then by his successors, has consistently enchanted a vast number of women who find what they need to express their individuality in the beautifully crafted lines. Ever since 1947, this synergy has produced a long line of elegantly-clad women who have a close relationship with their Dior outfits, unfailing witnesses to every highlight of their lives."


The cover for the exhibition book. Angélique dress by Mats Gustafson, 2016. © Mats Gustafson.

The women featured in the book written by biographer and fashion journalist Laurence Benaïm are the many of the most glamorous women, past and present. To review the list is a study of fascinating lives. 

They are:
HRH Princess Grace of Monaco
The Duchess of Windsor
Diana, Princess of Wales
Countess de Ribes
Leonor Fini, a very interesting Argentine surrealist painter
Olivia de Havilland
Jackie Kennedy
Patricia López-Willshaw (fascinating story)
Francine Weisweiller, muse to Jean Cocteau
Marilyn Monroe
Charlize Theron
Elizabeth Taylor
Edmonde Charles-Roux, French Vogue editor, novelist and biographer of Chanel
Zizi Jeanmaire, French dancer with great style and pizazz
Mitzah Bricard, muse to Christian Dior, he said "Ms. Bricard is one of those rare people whose only reason for living is elegance." She was the leopard print personified.
Suzanne Luling, childhood friend and original Dior public relations directrice
Carmen Colle
Marlene Dietrich
Jennifer Lawrence
Natalie Portman
Marion Cotillard
Emilia Clarke
Rihanna


Geneviève Page wears a Christian Dior dress during the French Film Festival in London in 1957.
© Keystone-France.



 Lady Diana arrives in Buenos Aires, November 23, 1995. She carries the Dior handbag that she will eventually popularize, which will become the famous Lady Dior. © Tim Graham/Getty Images.



 Portrait of Mitzah Bricard, circa 1950. All rights reserved.



Princess Margaret accompanied by Sir Oliver Harvey while arriving to the Bal du Cercle Interallié benefitting the British Hertford Hospital in Paris, November 21, 1951. © Rue des Archives/AGIP.



Rihanna chose a design from the Autumn-Winter 2015 haute couture collection to attend the Spring-Summer 2016 ready-to-wear collection’s runway show in Paris, October 2, 2015. © Getty Images for Dior.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Miss Pat Clark, Air Hostess


Pat Clark in 1948, one of the first airline hostesses for TWA. 
She's wearing the uniform designed by Howard Greer.

Air hostess, stewardess or flight attendant -- while the title has changed through the years, the job has always been connected to a sense of adventure, independence and glamour. In early December, I organized a tour of the "Fashion in Flight" show at the San Francisco International airport. I wrote about the show here. Among the twenty tour attendees was one of the first TWA (Transcontinental and Western Air) air hostesses, Pat Wunderling. She is the mother of a friend of mine and I was thrilled to have her there and hear firsthand about her experiences.

She was a WAVE in Naval Air Transport in WWII, flying between Oakland, California and Hawaii. She applied to TWA but was turned down because she didn't meet the minimum height requirement, but she persisted. Once they considered her military experience she was hired. Flying before the jet era, she was an air hostess on the prop planes DC-3's and Constellations ("Connies"), flying the West Coast region from 1947-1949. She married in 1949 and had to leave her job as it was against regulations to be a married air hostess.

Howard Hughes was her boss and TWA was known as the "Airline to the Stars" as a lot of Hollywood people liked to party in San Francisco. Pat remembers having Mickey Rooney on her flight a few times, along with other celebrities.




The erudite John H. Hill, Assistant Director for the SFO Museum, led us on a fascinating story and fact-filled two-hour tour of the "Fashion in Flight" exhibit.





Pat is standing on the far right in the tweed turtleneck. She is looking at a copy of the TWA uniform she wore while John explains the history of the uniform designed by Howard Greer. Pat remembers uniform regulations were strict and if they weren't followed it could mean losing your job. She told us the story of one colleague showing up to work in open-toe shoes, which was not regulation. Pat thought fast and advised her friend to stuff the toe with carbon paper, so the black paper blended in with the leather.




The darling and daring Pat Wunderling, with her custom-made uniform. She brought it to share with the group. She'll be 93 next month and is still looking fabulous.



Above is a detail of the famous flap on the TWA uniform. The flap unbuttons to cover the logo when the air hostess is having a cigarette or cocktail.




Pat generously gave me one of her original business cards. She also offered one to John Hill, but being the thorough and ethical conservator that he is, he refused it because he could not document receiving it at that moment. They made plans to talk later so Pat could officially share some of her stories and memorabilia with the museum.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Crossroads, crucifixes and crowns


Katherine Leutzinger in her beautiful shop, Casa Katalina
at Calle Correo 51, one block from the center of town.


Situated on a 6400 foot plateau in central Mexico, San Miguel de Allende does not have the beaches that most people imagine when thinking about Mexico. But it does have the constant hum, buzz and electric energy of creativity on just about every corner. It can be the creativity of a metal fabricator hammering out the next beautiful iron gate. Or it can be the lamp shade maker in the mercado piercing slotted patterns on shiny silver tin to create beautiful wall shadows.

Or it can a stylish ex-pat gringa who is inspired by the local creativity to bring her own design visions to life. That's what interior designer Katherine Leutzinger did in 2004 when she was at a crossroads in her life and daringly decided to close her interior design business in Reno and move to San Miguel for a new start.




With her keen eye for drama and style, Katherine opened her elegant shop selling her jewelry, home decor and vintage Mexican items. Using rich Mexican imagery and icons such as crosses and crowns in her designs, each piece is handcrafted locally, making each piece not only a fabulous thing to wear, but also a meaningful travel memento. On every trip to San Miguel, I make it a point to visit Casa Katalina and spend time trying on Katherine's bracelets, earrings, rings, necklaces and I always find several items for myself and for gifts. And while I'm trying things on, I love chatting with Katherine to learn about the latest great restaurant or fun thing to do.



Made of the metal alloy, Tumbaga, each link on the chain is skillfully crafted by hand. The large charms have images such as the Aztec calendar and the Mexican coat of arms.








This necklace of old Mexican coins is one of my personal treasures. 



Katherine also carries vintage Mexican items, each rich with history.




I have several of these glasses for sipping tequila in style. 



In addition to her own designs, Katherine has some traditional Mexican crafts like these gorgeous candles from Oaxaca.

If you don't have a visit planned to San Miguel, many of the jewelry items are available at www.casakatalina.com.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Couture on the tarmac




One of many displays in the SFO International Terminal for "Fashion in Flight." 
Photo: Bien Vestido.

In the early 70's, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was either an astronaut or a stewardess. It was a toss up. Man had recently walked on the moon which was the most exciting thing ever. But airline stewardesses flew around the world and looked glamorous and sexy while doing it. My grandmother and I took our first plane trip in 1969 from New Orleans to Los Angeles, she holding a bottle of smelling salts in one hand and her rosary beads in the other for most of the flight. While I don't remember what the stewardesses wore, I do remember how sharp, chic and competent they looked.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of seeing the wide variety of uniforms and their place in history. The SFO Museum is currently exhibiting seventy airline uniforms from 1930 to present. Last Saturday my indefatigable fashion friend Karen and I made the trek to San Francisco International Airport to see the show. Yes, a museum show at the airport. With over twenty galleries in various terminals, it's the only accredited museum in an airport.  The exhibit is a fun visual lesson in fashion history, couture designers and the effect of culture on fashion. It's worth a visit to the airport, even if you don't have a plane to catch or someone to meet.


United Air Lines stewardesses, 1939. United Airlines Archive.

They do look sharp with a post-war military chicness.



Transcontinental & Western Air hostess uniform by Howard Greer 1944. SFO Museum


This is a clever design for TWA by Hollywood fashion designer Howard Greer. The TWA logo appears as cut-out letters on the upper right chest with a flap that unbuttons to cover the logo when the hostess has an off-duty cigarette or cocktail. Greer (1896-1974) created glamorous garments for stars like Katherine Hepburn, Rita Hayworth and Marlene Dietrich.



Braniff International Airways hostess uniform by Emilio Pucci, 1966. Collection of SFO Museum.

With "The End of the Plain Plane," an advertsing campaign created by Mary Wells Lawrence, airline uniforms did an about-face from the tailored military styles to this wild psychedelic outfit called the "Supersonic Derby" by Emilio Pucci. 



Braniff International Airways hostess in uniform by Emilio Pucci, 1965. Braniff International Public Relations Archives, History of Aviation Collection, UT-Dallas. 

My dream come true! Pucci makes it possible to be a stewardess and an astronaut! The space age bubble helmets were originally designed to protect the hair on blustery tarmacs but proved impractical and were used only in publicity.


Braniff International Airways hostesses in uniforms by Emilio Pucci, 1965. Braniff International Public Relations Archives, History of Aviation Collection, UT-Dallas.
 Pucci's Gemini IV Collection, with multi-layers for quick-change combos.


United Air Lines stewardess in uniform by Jean Louis, 1968. United Airlines Archive.

Spiffy with double-knit practicality.  Another Hollywood designer, Jean Louis (1907-1997) designed glamorous gowns for many leading ladies, most notably the strapless gown Rita Hayworth wore in "Gilda."



Air France stewardess uniform by Cristóbal Balenciaga, 1969. Courtesy of Air France.

Immutable chic. Designing uniforms for Air France was Balenciaga's last project before he retired. His uniforms stayed in production for ten years.



Qantas Airways female flight attendant uniform by Yves Saint Laurent, 1986. Collection of SFO Museum.

Not my favorite, but definitely a product of the 80's, Yves Saint Laurent designed this Dynastyesque suit for Quantas, complete with a flying kangaroo print.



Virgin Atlantic Airways female flight attendant uniform by Vivienne Westwood, 2014. Courtesy of Virgin Atlantic Airways. SFO Museum.



With Vivienne Westwood's signature touches such as the nipped waist and high collar, this is a very couture look.

Many thanks to SFO Assistant Museum Director John H. Hill for permission to use the photos and his generous offer to schedule a group curator's tour. Let me know if you're interested!




Monday, September 26, 2016

Trusting that the earth is beneath you



Inspired by Annie Lennox and Sinéad O'Connor for their strength and vulnerability, Taya created these garments that are "clean and simple and easy to wear with a bit of unfinished edge sort of thing." Photo by Kelia Anne.

I haven't experienced back-to-school anticipation and excitement for a while, and now I'm enjoying it vicariously. My brave and talented friend Taya Badgley just left her home in Northern California for London to attend Central St. Martins to study fashion design. We recently had a great chat about her upcoming adventures and design process.  

This big move was carefully considered by Taya and her parents. For the last two years, she has studied at SCAD, Savannah College of Art and Design. When a professor showed her class the CSM's graduate show and said "this is your competition." Taya decided she would apply to CSM, known for its alumni like Sarah Burton, John Galliano, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen. She was thrilled when she was accepted. 

 
 Taya

At twenty-one, Taya has already created a beautiful and substantial portfolio of work. She generously shared her images and thoughts with me. Here is a sampling of her designs and inspiration:

Photo by Kelia Anne
The above is Taya's response to a SCAD class assignment "find inspiration in an artist." She chose George Balanchine, which led her to one of his favorite dancers, Tranquil Le Clercq. At the height of her career, she contracted polio and her dance career ended. Taya explains, "This collection has many pleats and skirts made of stiff crinoline fabric. I wanted it to have a melancholic, beautiful feel and juxtaposition between movement and constriction."

 
Based on one of her mother's old Irish sweaters, she created the above mood board inspired by heritage, hard work and handwork.


An ongoing collection, the inspiration for "Roots" is real people, young and old. Taya sees them as people working in the fields and on farms, where clothes are made and mended by hand. This is an ongoing project.



Photo by Kelia Anne

For an independent project called "Amalgam", Taya designed and made this simple tunic,
inspired by medieval chemises.

Photo by Kelia Anne

The top is woven and spray-painted vinyl, inspired by primitive armor and medieval peasant wear. Taya says, "The skirt has a sort of Edwardian silhouette and is made from painted artist's canvas. The fringing on the top and hem is inspired by a decorative technique called dragging that was used in Medieval times. It created movement in the simple garments."



Taya and I chatted about what she was packing for London. In addition to "packing as many overalls as she can", she's wisely taking the warmth, coziness and comfort of her favorite sweater. In her thoughtful blog, Cautiously Optimistic, she wrote about her love of dance, and the words can also apply to her new adventure. "The ultra magical thing I've discovered is that by trusting your floor, your earth, your foundation YOU can LOOK UP...you look up and suddenly you move with freedom and levity because you logically KNOW and faithfully TRUST that the EARTH IS BENEATH YOU."

Good to remember when dancing, walking down the street or beginning a new life chapter.

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.