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"

Monday, September 19, 2011


Judith in one of her ensembles for her wedding three years ago, combining a Harley Davidson leather jacket and bespoke separates. 

We are back from our adventures in the Alps and I find my mind and imagination wandering back to the postcard-perfect scenery, the art we saw and reflecting on the hours we spent talking about design; especially with my friend Judith Hillebrand. Judith has an active interior architecture practice, is a modern furniture and art collector and has great personal style. She, her husband and their six-year-old son live in a contemporary manse overlooking the Rhine River.

Doing much more than simply decorating, she gives deep thought and feeling to make her home creative, alive and comfortable for her family and friends. Judith loves it when she hears from children that they like her house. She knows she is doing something right. It was inspiring and energizing for me to be surrounded by so many artful objects curated by Judith's expert eye.

The Living Room

The Living Room, a few days later

Sitting Area

Judith makes it work: An Italian Cafe Racer, a collection of antique medicine balls, a Memphis bookshelf and an original "Joe" baseball glove chair.

View of the Rhine from the living room window, with Matt's sculpture "Roadblock". 

Judith is currently designing a large home for a client in Wiesbaden and she shared a few of her thoughts on the design process.

BV: How do you begin a project?

Judith: When I start working on a project, I come with no concept. That's important. My father is German and my mother is Italian, so I have two cultures. This is the way I walk in my life, I don't have just one way of seeing design. My idea is to bring different things together. 

BV: How do you approach a client?

Judith: When I meet with a client I get in contact with my feeling for the person and the space. In German homes the first door is the toilet and the second door is the kitchen. That's not interesting. Instead I ask the client 'What is your culture?', 'What do you like to eat?', 'What music do you like?' I'm not here to bring a house to the client. I'm here to walk with them to their new home. It's perfect when I see the look in my client's eyes and see that suddenly they realize all the possibilities. 

Judith's model for a section of the house she is currently designing. 

BV: What is the design process like for you?

Judith: When I am working it's like I'm flying. The concept comes in my head, down my arm and through my fingers to the pencil and paper. This feeling is so important to me. I feel free when I have a sheet of white paper. 

Judith on the shopping street in Mainz. 
Judith approaches dressing in a similar manner. She combines her design skills with her intuition and shops for what feels good and fun. She has the courage and confidence to live in that space of not knowing, always trusting that the ideas will come. She says sometimes she has no concept when she starts to get dressed, sometimes she starts just with the earrings she feels like wearing and goes from there.  

Dressed for marketing in Mainz

"Real style is when you know in your heart what is right for you. When you don't have fun with a certain dress, then it's a bad dress. It's not important to have the new thing, but it is important to have the right thing for you. Knowing your style is where you are in life. It gives you a lot of space and freedom."

Sexy shoes that Judith wears only at home. 

One night after dinner, Judith poured cordial glasses of a chilled pale yellow liquid for us. I tasted it and it was divine. It was her homemade Crema di Limoncello. She generously shared her recipe and said I could include it in Bien Vestido as it is a representation of who she is. I agree; earthy yet delicate, sweet and complex, a little makes you want more and it packs a punch!

Judith's Crema di Limoncello
(with adjustments for US measurements)

1 liter 80% alcohol (or 750 ml bottle of Everclear, 75.5% alcohol)
12 organic lemons
2 liters milk (or 6 cups whole milk)
1.2 kilos organic sugar (or 3 3/4 cups organic sugar)
2 cm vanilla bean (or 1 inch of vanilla bean)

Peel lemons in strips, do not include any of the pith. Put peels in alcohol and place in a dark spot for 48 hours. 

Add the vanilla bean to the milk and bring to a boil. When it comes to a boil, add sugar and stir until dissolved.

When sugar is dissolved, take off the heat and cool to room temp. Mix in the alcohol. Strain and pour into bottles. Keep in fridge or freezer.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Milliner Extraordinaire

Gretchen at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island
this August.  Photo taken by Jane Kratochvil.

Gretchen Fenston, milliner extraordinaire, graciously agreed to an interview with Bien Vestido. Gretchen wrote the essay "Blythe Spirits: Cocktails and Hats" in the Cocktail Culture book I wrote about recently. Gretchen is an archivist at Conde Nast and as a professional milliner she has won three milliner of the year "Milli" awards from the Headwear Information Bureau. As a regular at New York's Fifth Avenue Easter Parade, Gretchen and her hats have been photographed many times by The New York Times on the Street photographer, Bill Cunningham and by The Satorialist, Scott Schuman.

BV: What was the first hat that made an impression on you, who wore it and why was it so memorable?
Gretchen: Hats in the movies always made a huge impression on me. My mother took me to see "My Fair Lady" in a movie theatre when I was about four years old. The scenes at Ascot were just burned into my brain from then on. The women all in black and white formal day wear, with huge hats, each one different and more elaborate than the next. They were so magnificent and other-worldly to me. I was fascinated wondering if there were people somewhere in the real world that might dress with such art and elegance.

BV: Did this memory start your love affair with hats?
Gretchen: I always loved to wear hats as a child because my mother always wore hats and I loved to play dress up but I think "My Fair Lady" really amplified this love (as it probably has for every milliner/hat lover who has ever seen this movie.) The Ascot scene is undoubtedly why I have always a strong attachment to black and white color schemes!
Gretchen wearing her elegant black and white inspiration
from "My Fair Lady" at the Jazz Age Lawn Party this August.  Photographed by
Steven Rosen. 
BV: What would you say to someone who was self-conscious about wearing a hat but wants to? 
Gretchen: Start slowly and practice. Try something classic at first, a beret in a flattering neutral color, for example, wear it a lot until you are comfortable in it and people you know are comfortable seeing you with something on your head everyday. Then use occasions (weddings, parties) to experiment with looks that are a little different.  The compliments you get will help build your hat wearing confidence.

BV: What hat do you lust after and don't own, 
but would like to? 
Gretchen: There are a lot of hats I have dreamed up but haven’t had the chance to make yet. As long as I was on the subject of movies, though, in the world of cinema fantasy, I would love the hat that Garbo wore in "Ninotchka" when her character finally starts to let go of her stern, serious ways. I love what it symbolizes. It is seen by her at first as a ‘silly’ hat- her first hat that isn’t worn for a functional reason. Then it comes to represent her letting go of her rigid past and learning to enjoy life. To me that makes this ‘silly’ hat both important and functional. I like to make hats with this idea in mind- the kind of hat that makes people smile when they see it fulfills an important function.
Greta Garbo wearing life-affirming hat with
Melvyn Douglas in "Ninotchka". 

BV: Who do you think in popular culture today wears hats well? 
Gretchen: Since hats have long been required for female members of the British Royal family for public occasions, they wear hats fairly well, tending to be less self-conscious about hat wearing than the general public. However, the idea that wearing a hat is a requirement, perhaps takes a little of the joy out of the experience for them. In contrast, women who have lived with the long tradition of hat wearing for church, for example in African American protestant churches, where hats are worn, not because they must be- but because they are an expression of joy and celebration, these women truly know 
the art of wearing hats with aplomb. 

BV: What's the upcoming trend in hats? 
Gretchen: I think the media focus on the recent royal wedding(s) has accustomed people to seeing fashionable hats and made them eager to see more. Therefore I believe we will be seeing more hats in general and in more unusual 
and fashionable styles.
BV: Who in the world, present or past, would you like to have a cocktail with and what would you wear?
Gretchen: Dorothy Parker or Hedda Hopper or Lily Daché. What to wear?- don’t get me started! 
For DP, something witty
For HH, something with pizzazz
For LD, something saucy
BV: What's your favorite cocktail?

Gretchen: Manhattan, up
BV: I'd like to be at that cocktail party too! Gretchen, many thanks for sharing your talent and time with Bien Vestido and for reminding us the importance of style to make us smile.