|The striking cover of my current favorite and highly recommended book, |
published by the Rhode Island School of Design.
“I used to visit all those very gay places, those come-what-may places, where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life, to get the feel of life, from jazz and cocktails…”
--Billy Strayhorn, “Lush Life,” 1933-38
Cocktails are riding the hot tamale train in San Francisco. Any bar worth its shaker is serving handcrafted vintage cocktails with rediscovered antique spirits. Five years ago, I got blank stares if I ordered a Sazerac anywhere outside of New Orleans. Now it’s the specialty cocktail at many bars in SF. And that’s a good thing.
But there’s a whole other aspect to cocktails that needs more exploring. And that’s cocktail couture. What does one wear when holding a martini that’s so silvery, shivery cold and clear that one wants to dive into it?
This fabulous book, Cocktail Culture: Ritual and Invention in American Fashion, 1920-1980, gives many ideas and much inspiration. It’s the catalog from the Cocktail Culture show that was recently at the Musuem of Art, Rhode Island School of Design.
|Cool and elegant from Cocktail Culture, |
Karen Radkai, photographer, American, 1919-2003, illustration,
Vogue, November 1, 1960.
It’s ironic that Prohibition, which went into effect in 1920, was the inspiration for the cocktail party. It must've been the naughty feeling of doing something illegal that heightened the excitement of men and women drinking together. At the same time, Hollywood showed everyone that imbibing with style and panache was the chic thing to do.
|From Cocktail Culture, film still from The Thin Man, 1934|
The book features six essays exploring various aspects of the cultural phenomenon of cocktails and in "Blithe Spirits: Cocktails and Hats", milliner Gretchen Fenston writes about the importance of the cocktail hat. She says, "... one simply had to have a cocktail-appropriate hat, one with elements that imparted fun over function." We can always use more of that!
|From Cocktail Culture, Edward Steichen, photographic illustration, |
Vogue, November 15, 1935
This book has me drinking, I mean thinking. I have a few of my mother's cocktail dresses from the fifties and I think it's time to give them a try and create a little cocktail party action around here myself.