Saturday, December 31, 2011

Madcap New Year's Eve

"My Beautiful Paper Hat"
And here are the instructions for making your own.

This is what I'm wearing so far for New Year's Eve -- a handmade tissue paper hat that I just whipped up in five minutes and my new Armani Mongolian goat fur collar that Santa brought me. As usual, I have the accessories figured out. And as for the rest, I'm working on it. I know it looks like I've lost my mind, and perhaps I have a bit, but I was inspired by an interview on the radio.

I woke up this morning hearing a lively discussion on NPR about hats. Thinking that this was a great and auspicious way to start New Year's Eve day, I jumped out of bed to make a cup of coffee and listen to the interview again online. It was Jacki Lyden interviewing Stephen Jones about his book, Hats: An Anthology and show at Bard Graduate Center open through April 2012. I encourage you to listen to the seven-minute interview and take a look at the thrilling hats featured in the show, a total of 300. 

Stephen Jones inspired me with this comment:
"But there's no excuse for going hatless on New Year's Eve. Absolutely wear a party hat. Just get a piece of paper, put it into a cone, staple it together, and you're bound to have a ball."

Matt and I are spending NY Eve cozy at home, sipping bubbly and nibbling on sushi. And we're dressing up for the occasion. Just maybe I can convince Matt to make a "mattcap" for himself.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

La Bolsa Fabulosa

Bolsas as far as the eye can see! 
With Frida front and center, of course.

We've been back for nearly two weeks from nine days visiting our casa and friends in San Miguel de Allende, MX and the days/weeks have slipped by and I haven't written a post for three weeks. The distractions of family, friends and casa projects in that beautiful sunny town had my head spinning too much to settle down and write. Maybe I can blame it on the altitude, SMA is at 6400 feet. Or maybe it was Matt's margaritas. Whatever the reason, I realize I miss writing and posting, so back to it!

As soon as I arrive in SMA I can't wait to walk to the Mercado to see all people, fruits, flowers, crafts and latest styles in bolsas. Bolsas, the wonderful multi-colored woven plastic multi-purpose bags that last forever. I bought my first bolsa in Spain in 1985, a subdued but elegant black and gray striped bag. I've used it to death and it still keeps going. The Mexican bolsa images range from Frida Kahlo, to Pancho Villa to the Virgin of Guadalupe. I guess you know you're an icon in Mexico as soon as they print a bolsa with your image.

Should I buy the one with the beribboned burro, the Parroquia (SMA's cathedral) or another Frida? At 25 pesos ($2 US), I can get them all and fill them with flowers and veggies too. 

In San Francisco, I keep a supply in the trunk of my car and they're always handy. I use them at the grocery so I don't have to deal with the dreaded paper or plastic question. And it's much more fun to carry your goods in a festive bolsa. While in the check-out line, I've often been complimented on how cool my bolsas are and I say, "Thanks! Would you like one? Follow me." I take the person to my car, let them pick out a bolsa and they are so surprised and happy. Ah! The satisfaction of performing a random act of bolsa kindness!

The handiest, most practical bolsa of all. They are large with zippers and are great for storing extra blankets and comforters. Or filling with non-breakable purchases and checking as baggage. 

My passion for buying bolsas exceeds my need or storage space for them, so before I left on one of my SMA trips, I took bolsa orders from neighborhood San Francisco boutiques and was able to buy a multitude of them, bring them back, sell them to the stores and pay for my trip. Having a reason to say "I'll take one in every color" was so satisfying!

A new product! Water bottle carriers. And a study in brilliant colors. 

If you turn right near the end of the Artisan's Market on Calle Loreto and go in the second doorway to a nameless shop you will be rewarded with a bounty of bags made from every pattern of oilcloth there is. "Oilcloth", which is actually vinyl, is another one of my favorite Mexican staples. The colors! The patterns! It's so practical and fabulously fun at the same time.  And best of all, the bags are designed and made in the back of this tiny shop.

The motherlode of fun stylish oilcloth bags.

Mas bolsas! 

There's every size, shape, color and design. 

It started here. My first bolsa bought in Spain twenty-six years ago!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Talisman Dressing

My lucky socks. They're starting to look a little worn!

I'm wearing my lucky socks right now. We're leaving on a flight to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in a couple hours and these are the socks I like to wear when I begin a trip. It's not so much about the fear of flying, it's more about the whole journey. Things seem to go right when I wear them. They're comfortable,  they are the right thickness for my boots and having the Virgin of Guadalupe on them doesn't hurt either.

For the last couple of days I've taken an informal poll of friends, asking them if they have a lucky item they wear and if so, what is it and on what occasion do they wear it. It's about 50/50. Half of them said no, but from the other half, I got some great responses. Seems like luck is more than carrying a rabbit's foot, it's about something that one connects with a strong positive feeling. 

Belva: "I had a pair of red silk underwear with a small black flower. And everytime I wore them I had great sex."

John: "Red socks"

Debra T: "Lucky red shoes. I spotted them in a shop window and couldn't pass up. I also have a lucky hat. A Susan Hayes richly colored simple thing that went with everything. I gave it to a friend after she had chemotherapy. That means the luck is all the further reaching. Oh lucky me!"

Jennifer: "My mother's charm bracelet. It's very noisy--jangly--but for any occasion when I feel I need extra support, out comes the bracelet."

Debra L: "I actually have a bottle of TABU Dry Perfume by Dana that my dad bought me years ago in my little home town. I remember walking into the old style drugstore in downtown Salina, hanging out with my dad. It was a sweet experience and I think of him and feel nostalgic each time I wear this perfume."

Lizzie: "I'm more apt to select jewelry that is either a family heirloom or something very special, unique or beautiful.  For me it is the finishing touch to an outfit that makes me feel special and as a result shine when I wear it."

I'd love to know, do you have something that you wear because it's lucky?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Stay Warm: Do the BV Loop with a Twist

Each time I tie a scarf this way and someone sees me, they exclaim "that's so cool, how did you do that?" So I thought I would share the technique with you. I'm calling it the BV (Bien Vestido) Loop. It's my current favorite way to tie a scarf and it's perfect for the chilly days now. It works best with a long scarf, but I've had success with shorter scarves too. This technique keeps you warm and adds a little fashion flair but it lays flat and it's not bulky around your neck, making it perfect for under a coat or with a sweater.

Fold long scarf in half and
drape around your neck.

Pull one end through the opening. 

Give the opening a little half twist, creating a loop. 

Pull the other end through 
the opening you just made.

Adjust as you like. And don't be surprised if you're asked to demonstrate the BV Loop to friends.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

La Catrina, Style Icon

Dream of a Sunday in Alameda Park, by Diego Rivera, 1948. Rivera is holding hands with La Catrina. 

Dia de los Muertos, a Mexican celebration on All Souls' Day, November 2nd, pulls at the heart and soul. It's when we the living prepare a welcome for our deceased loved ones and reflect on our own mortality. On this night the spirits are thought to return to enjoy the pleasures they once knew on earth. There is a serious, somber side to Day of the Dead, but parallel to that is a lighthearted celebration where observants dress up as various types of skeletons to play with the idea of death. It's a recognition and acknowledgment that life and death exist side-by-side.

Jose Guadalupe Posada's La Catrina

Wearing an elegant long gown and an elaborately feathered hat, La Catrina is the dressy female skeleton, the bien vestida, who makes an appearance every Dia de los Muertos. Jose Guadalupe Posada created her to represent the rich folk in his political satirical cartoons in the late 1800's. She's a humorous reminder that everyone, rich or poor, is equal in the end.

My friend Jennifer and I dressed in our D.O.D. finery.

I celebrated Day of the Dead for the first time in 1990 when I attended the annual procession in San Francisco's Mission district on a chilly fall night. When my friends and I arrived at the corner of 24th Street and Bryant, we found a couple hundred people mingling on the street and sidewalk. Many people had their faces painted chalk white with black paint recessing their eyes and cheekbones to resemble skulls. Each person carried a lit candle and some touchingly carried a photo of a lost loved one.

We walked slowly with the crowd down narrow heavily muraled Balmy Alley. Skeletoned drummers played a soulful beat with some saxophones making it lively. At the end of the alley, someone had fashioned a giant arch decorated with colorful paper flowers. Hanging from the arch was a papier-mache skeleton with legs spread wide giving birth to a baby skeleton. The image was shocking, playful and potent. Death begets life. It  was a powerful reminder of the cycle of nature. The evening was mysterious, magical and exciting.

I was naturally drawn to the stylish La Catrina and the next November I created my own version of her, staying up till 3 am completely engrossed in the sewing, painting and feathering. I was also inspired to create an altar in my home to display remembrances of my ancestors. On the night of D.O.D., I invited friends to bring photos and mementos of their dead loved ones to add to the altar. It was a natural process for guests to share stories of loss and it became a profound and moving experience. We have had this celebration many times since. It's a rich mixture of music, food, drink and an audience for memories that often have no other outlet.

Every year my friend Karen and I attend the procession, wearing a new version of La Catrina and photographing the other Catrinas. The procession this year was the largest ever. My guess is there was about four thousand attendees. There was a great sense of camaraderie as we commented admiringly on each other's costumes or sympathetically as we were told the stories behind the photos they held.

Here are a few of the fashionable Catrinas from over the years. Viva La Catrina!

"To the inhabitants of New York, Paris, or London death is a word that is never uttered because it burns the lips. The Mexican, on the other hand, frequents it, mocks it, caresses it, sleeps with it, entertains it; it is one of his favorite playthings and his most enduring love. It is true that in his attitude there is perhaps the same fear that others also have, but at least he does not hide this fear nor does he hide death."
--from Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bill Cunningham: Quips, Quotes & Words of Wisdom

See it!

My friend Karen and I saw Bill Cunningham New York last spring as soon as it hit the theaters in San Francisco. We were charmed, enchanted and inspired by his big smile and unparalleled passion for photographing style and devotion to beautiful clothes. The film is now out on DVD so I've had the opportunity to watch it again. Well, actually three more times. I had fun collecting some of his quotes. I hope you enjoy them! I'd love to hear which ones inspire you and why. 

Here are the quotes I captured:

"The best fashion show is definitely on the street. Always has been and always will be."

"Let’s get snappin’ and crackin’."

"Oh my god! Look at those shoes!"

"I let the street speak to me."

"A little tape and we’re back in business." 
(Said with a grin as he repaired the tears in his black plastic rain poncho.)

"Everyone has taste, but they don’t have the daring to be creative."

"We’re in the age of the cookie-cutter sameness. There are few that are rarities, someone who doesn’t look like ten million others."

"You have to do three things: you have to photograph the collections, you have to photograph the women on the street who have bought the things and how they are wearing them and you have to go to the evening events."

"It’s not what I think, it’s what I see."

"It was marvelous!"

Bill shooting a peacock. Still from Bill Cunningham New York

"It never occurred to me that I was just waiting. It’s always the hope that you’ll see some marvelous exotic bird of paradise, meaning a very elegant stunning woman or someone wearing something terrific."

"If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do, kid. That’s the key to the whole thing."

"Money is the cheapest thing. Freedom is the most expensive thing."

"Who the hell wants a kitchen and a bathroom? Just more rooms to clean."

"I eat with my eyes."

"Look at this beautiful child. The dress is terrific, asymmetrical and on the bias. You never see that and that’s not a model. That’s a private person that bought their own clothes."

"Most of the time I miss it, but I try." (When shooting the Paris runway.)

"The wider world perceives fashion sometimes as a frivolity that should be done away with in the face of social upheavals and problems that are enormous. The point is, in fact, that it’s the armor to survive the reality of everyday life."

"I don’t think you could do away with it (fashion). It would be like doing away with civilization."

"Fashion Week in Paris is exceptional. It educates the eye."

"Can you see all the paparazzi going crazy over Catherine Deneuve? I’m interested in clothes. I can hear people say 'He’s gotta be the dumbest one in the crowd. He didn’t bother photographing her.' Well, she wasn’t wearing anything interesting."

An up-to-the-minute anachronism. They say he has every negative he ever shot. What a treasure chest of fashion and cultural history!

"It (photography) has to be done discreetly and quietly. Invisible is the word."

"I just like fashion as an art form of dressing the body."

"If we all went out looking like a slob like me, it would be a pretty dreary world."

"They wore clothes that gave women enormous security through the elegance of cut and taste and refinement. There was nothing frivolous about them." (Referring to the Paris couture houses in the 50’s.)

"Looking at these collections, I look for what I think a woman could wear, would wear and whether it would fit a human body other than the model. I’m very attuned to that. If it isn’t something a woman could wear, I have no interest in it."

"Oh, child!"

Caught in action, photographed by The Satorialist

"My dear, it’s not work, it’s pleasure."

"I don’t work, I only know how to have fun everyday."

And the quote that choked Bill with tears (and consequently me) when he received the Officier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture:

"It’s as true today as it ever was, he who seeks beauty will find it."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Vogue Nostalgia

Just out: Nostalgia in Vogue, edited by Eve MacSweeney with a forward by Anna Wintour.
I've always had an emotional reaction and attachment to certain Vogue photographs. I started reading Vogue when I was fifteen and the photos by Helmut Newton, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon showed me a world that was rich in elegance, beauty and sometimes an edgy provocative sexuality. I would tear out the photos and save them in a three-ring binder that I still have. Through those photos, I experienced a vision of glamorous, worldly women and what they wore. Although it wasn't just the outfits; it was the powerful combination of attitude, surroundings and clothes (sometimes not much!). The photos told a story that I wanted to know more about, delve into and hold close.

Clothes can have a huge emotional tug; they are a marker of how we want to show ourselves to the world. The awareness starts in those coming-of-age years when we are trying to figure out who we are, how we fit in and what we want to be. I grew up defining life events by what I wore, or sometimes what I wore and why I wore it created the event and made the memory for me, for better or worse or bittersweet.

Ever since it started in 2000, the Vogue "Nostalgia" column is the first thing I turn to when I receive a new issue. When I first read "Nostalgia", I realized that I wasn't the only one who felt such a personal reaction to certain Vogue photos, experiencing them as talismans for a future self and the clothes as life-defining.

Photo from Nostalgia in Vogue, Marimekko hand-printed dress and sandles.  Photographed in Finland by Gordon Parks. 

When I heard that Vogue was publishing a compilation of these columns, I pre-ordered the book, it arrived yesterday and I've been studying the writing and the photos every chance I get. On page 88 is an essay from the April 2008 issue of Vogue that is especially evocative for me. In her poignant essay "A Backward Glance," Elizabeth Kendall tells of her first encounter with a Marimekko dress in 1965 and what a life changing experience it was. Her mother died right after she discovered Marimekko and my mother died right before I saw a Marimekko dress for the first time.

I made my first trip to California when I was nine and my aunt, uncle and I drove to Big Sur and had lunch at Nepenthe and I was awed by a hip waitress wearing a Marimekko cotton canvas dress. The cool dress, the endless Big Sur horizon and the loose hippie Nepenthe vibe cinched my decision to move to California "as soon as I get old enough." When I got back to New Orleans, my aunt sent me a black, white and gray Marimekko fabric dress that she made for me. I wish I still had that dress. (In addition to being surprised to read that someone else had a profound moment seeing a Marimekko dress worn for the first time, by crazy coincidence the woman wearing the dress in Kendall's story was Robin Von Breton, my daughter's high school English teacher!)

The book is a collection of sixty-three essays by authors, designers, musicians and actors such as Joan Didion, Margaret Atwood, Karl Lagerfeld, Anjelica Huston and Manolo Blahnik. Patti Smith writes about finding a discarded stack of Vogue magazines when she was little and how those photographs were her first introduction to art and fashion.

Lisa Fonssagrives, in a Lilly Dache hat, photographed by Irving Penn in 1950. The photo that inspired Patti Smith for her "Nostalgia" column, "When Hats Had Names."

I've saved this cover since it appeared in 1988. It's of model Michaela Bercu photographed by Peter Lindbergh.  I was drawn to the elegant theatricality of the jeweled cross on the Christian Lacroix jacket surprisingly worn with faded jeans. It wasn't until I read her "Nostalgia" essay, "When High Meets Low," did I find out she did that accidently because the matching skirt was too small!

One of my all-time favorite "Nostalgia" stories was written by Sophia Coppola. It doesn't appear in this book and I'm curious to find out why. It seems an obvious choice. When I saw Sophia's essay in the October 2003 issue I had a shock of recognition. I had unconsciously stored that 1974 provocative photo of Charlotte Rampling in my memory and here it was again with Sophia's thoughts and feelings about it. So much of what she said I related to.

The magic of nostalgia is that it's not just in the past. It's happening right now. It's a touchstone from the past, but it also inspires the present and the future. When we feel a reaction to a photo or artwork or writing, it's for a reason. Qualities about it touch something deep and if we take a little time to let those feelings surface, we learn about ourselves.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mille Fiori

Our Route Book, 214 pages!

Our trip to Germany was not just about wining and dining with friends and trying on designer clothes. It was also about touring the Alps in a classic sports car. Seriously. We spent four days with forty-nine other classic cars zipping through picture perfect German Black Forest villages, crossing the German, Swiss or French borders a couple times a day, zooming around Mont Blanc and motoring past luscious green Swiss hills.

Our friend, Christof Hillebrand, who is a classic car collector and aficionado, invited us on an amazing adventure called the Mille Fiore, a 1200 kilometer road rally. He loaned us a sexy Italian car; a sleek dark blue 1974 Alfa Romeo Bertone 2000. I've never thought much about any car I've owned, as long as it had four wheels and it took me where I wanted to go. But after spending time with so many beautifully designed cars, I have a new outlook. Being in a sexy car does make one feel more sexy and stylish.

You may ask, what about the outfits? What about the clothes? Not a priority on this adventure for a couple of reasons; sports cars have small trunks and we were sitting in a car most of the day. So accessorizing was huge, note Pucci scarf and Hermes hat below. And I learned that a cool car is a fabulous accessory!

I fell in love with "our" Alfa. I grew very fond of the throaty, robust  tone of the tuned exhaust .

The event started in Lake Konstanz, Germany, on the garden island of Mainau with all the cars gathered in front of the peachey-pink Mainau Palace. We had a couple hours to meet people and admire the other cars and then we were off!

Our friend Christof's intensely elegant Mercedes Benz 600

Not knowing anything about a road rally, I imagined we'd casually drive a few hours a day through beautiful scenery, with plenty of time to daydream and chat. But I soon learned that "Road Rally" in Europe is a serious sport. As the navigator, I was handed a two-inch thick spiral-bound book filled with pages of route hierglyphics. Being directionally challenged my first reaction was "You're kidding, right?"

A page from the Route des Alpes book.
After our bumpy start, it got us where we had to go
and I sure appreciate the team that put this together.

Matt and I roared through the starting gate and the first forty-five minutes on the road we had a "heated discussion" ("which way do I turn?" "I don't know!" "You have the book, what does it say?" "I can't tell where we are!""I have to do something, tell me which way to turn!" "Stop yelling!" "I'm not yelling!"...) But our relationship survival instincts kicked in and soon we developed a routine. I felt more like a human GPS, "Point 5 kilometers, roundabout, go straight" "Point 1 kilometer, town of Kreuztingen, continue straight". On the first day, we had no time for conversation or casual gazing out the window.  But by day two we got into the game of it and I was loving our rally on the road.

Fun to follow this Austin Healey MKIII.

Cool to be followed by this Jaguar XK 120 OTS

Quite a line-up! Our lunch stop on day three near Chamonix. 

In the Alps with the Austin Healey and a Triumph TR 5 Pi

Our route

The Imperial Palace Hotel on Lake Annecy, where we stayed on our second night. Each night we stopped at a beautiful hotel. The Mille Fiore event planners did a great job of organizing all the details. 

The rally ended back at the Mainau Palace where we started. I felt a sense of accomplishment; we kept pace with the Europeans!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

He's So Far Out, He Fits Right In*

Shopping at Fryda*s in Wiesbaden: shop owner Luetger Mueller and his cool assistant Esther Schulze
(wearing fun and fabulous Bekett hi-top suede sneakers)

When we were in Germany just three weeks ago, Judith took me to Fryda*s, one of her favorite designer dress shops in Wiesbaden. The shop has a perfectly curated collection of classic and fashion-forward clothing. There I had the pleasure of meeting owner Luetger Mueller and trying on a slew of Balenciaga dresses; all that magically fit. Herr Mueller quickly had my number, size and style-wise and was helpfully honest about what worked and what didn’t. As I don’t have an unlimited budget, we chose one dress that I could wear a lot. And it was on sale!

This is the dress I chose. I could get accustomed to wearing Balenciaga (and these perfect Isabel Marant "Gatsy" pumps, which are on my wish list). I'm still dreaming about the two other dresses I left behind!

And here's the front of the dress...with Bottega Veneta boots. 

The exterior of the shop is understated, but Luetger creates quirky, whimsical store windows, playing with the theme of the season and the clothing. He says this is a result of growing up in the countryside and feeling different from all the other kids. He spent most of his time alone, daydreaming and fantasizing. When I expressed sympathy, he said it was ok, because he uses those fantasies in his designs today. 

All window decor photos taken by Luetger Mueller

I have my new Balenciaga dress hanging on the outside of my closet door and I get a thrill just looking at it, admiring the details and enjoying the colors. I can't wait to wear it. It'll make its debut at a wedding in October.

*Lyric from Mosquitos "Boombox"