Monday, March 28, 2011

At the Altar of Balenciaga

Saturday was eight hours of deep Balenciaga immersion. Our plans worked perfectly. Karen and I were among the first ten people to enter the de Young at 9:30 am and we spent the next two hours soaking up the exhibit of over a hundred ensembles and accessories. The entry dress is a dream. A ruffled silk beauty of “singing pink” as Hamish Bowles, the show’s curator, describes it. Here’s a very blurry photo I surreptitiously took sans flash.

All his influences are referenced. We saw the ruffles from the Spanish dance, the traje de luces of the bullfight, the elaborate Lesage embroidery and beading of the Spanish Court, the practicality of regional dress (an overskirt that can be flipped up to become a cape) and the severity of the Catholic church. And while the influences are clear, his garments reflect his own unique elegant vision. 
We retraced our steps in the exhibit several times, seeing some new detail each time. Like the architectural quality of a kelly green evening jacket made with a single seam. We discussed what caught our eye or gave us a thrill imagining what it would be like to wear a certain evening ensemble.  With sensory overload, Karen and I revived ourselves with a delicious lunch in the museum cafe with a vegetable potage, grilled asparagus salad and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. 
Then off to the Balenciaga and Spain Symposium. Originally planned as three hours, it ended up being four intense no-intermission academic hours of Hamish Bowles speaking on the Power of Balenciaga’s Spanish Identity; Miren Arzalluz, curator of the Balenciaga Foundation, speaking on his origins; Lourdes Font, Spanish Court costume expert and Pamela Golbin, chief curator of the Musee de la Mode et du Textile at the Louvre talking about what it was like working at 10 Avenue George V, the address of Balenciaga.
By 4:45, our heads were swimming with information, but determined to not miss the opportunity of having Hamish sign our catalogs, we dutifully got in the book-signing queue. I Desperately wanted something clever to say to him. Instead I squeaked out “I really like your pocket square!”. He was charming, said thank you and even paused for a photo. Completely satiated we two fashion devotees headed out into the San Francisco twilight. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Traje de Luces and other Balenciaga Wonders

This Saturday, March 26, is the opening of the Balenciaga show at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. My friend and style cohort, Karen, and I plan to make a day of soaking up the beauty and experiencing the thrill of viewing Balenciaga’s gorgeously designed and meticulously created clothing in person. Karen and I continually share runway catalogs, fashion magazines and style events. The elegance of the YSL show at the de Young in 2009 brought us to tears. We better bring a pocketful of hankies to Balenciaga. 
Our plan is to arrive at 9 am with the doors opening at 9:30. We’ll pick up our will-call tickets to the Balenciaga and Spain Symposium, spend a couple hours seeing the show, buy a stack of catalogs (one for each of us and some for gifts), have lunch in the cafĂ© and then attend the lecture from 1-4.  Hamish Bowles, curator of the show and European editor at large for American Vogue is speaking with a panel of fashion experts and signing catalogs. 
Full report to follow!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cheap Chic Lives!

I was a teen living in Baton Rouge in 1975 when my California aunt sent me this just-published book, Cheap Chic by Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy. The unique personal expression of style showed me a world that I had just begun to dream about and crave. And here I found the writing and photographs of actual people living the life. I devoured it. This book has stayed with me for over thirty years. And while some of the specific styles are dated, the general sentiments and style advice are current and inspiring.

Lasting tips like this: “If you look closely at a women with a strong individual style, you will discover there is almost always something in her outfit that costs a lot. Perhaps it’s a five-year-old-pair of French boots or a simple, solid-gold chain around her wrist. Whatever it is, that one touch makes her look ten times better.”

And I’ve often quoted the “CPW” factor, or Cost Per Wear developed by Ingeborg Day, interviewed in the book. If you divide the price of something by the number of times worn, you have your Cost Per Wear Factor. If a blouse costs $200, but you wear it 200 times, it’s only a dollar each wearing. But if you buy something on sale for $20 it sounds cheap, but if you only wear it twice, it costs $10 each wearing, not so cheap in comparison. It’s a good way to keep your eye on quality and not just the seemingly good deal. 

There are so many other great ideas in this book I could go on and on. Maybe I’ll save those for future entries.

In the meantime, a quick net search shows that this book is out of print, but some copies are available but pricey. I think it’s time for a reprint and a new edition!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bootsie's Coat

The coat is a vibrant lipstick red cashmere. The heavy red satin lining makes it so easy to slip into. There are three large embossed red buttons with a small rhinestone in the center of each. The pockets are at the perfect slant for gloved hands. The label says “Goldrings” which was an elegant women’s store on Canal Street in New Orleans. 

My grandmother, Bootsie, bought this coat in about 1942 for about twenty-five dollars which was her first paycheck from the Whitney Bank. When my mother and aunt were ten and eleven, my grandmother went back to work, something my grandfather wasn’t too happy about. My aunt remembers my grandmother coming home after the first week and throwing her money on the bed and saying “Look girls, we’re rich!”.  And with that money she bought this red cashmere coat. 
When my grandmother died, the coat was passed to me. My grandmother was a woman of elegant style and when I wear the coat, I feel my connection with the past and I feel close to her. And I wear it with the hope that I am continuing her legacy of style.