Saturday, October 27, 2012

Shoe Porn

My friend in all things style, Karen, gave me this gorgeous book, Blahnik by Boman: Shoes, Photographs and Conversations.  It's a fun take on the shoe, an object that is so fetishsized anyway, then being a Manolo shoe it's a double whammy of sexy suggestiveness. Boman creatively poses the shoes in rich, elegant scenes, each reflective of the shoe's individual style; a leaf and berry-covered strappy sandal finds itself hanging in a fruit tree, a silver-grommeted number cozies up to an adorable fluffy dog wearing a matching collar. Not really pornography, but the photographs are beautiful and playful and remind me of old school "girly pictures." Here's a sampling of a few of the photos below.

My own interpretation of an Eric Boman and Manolo photograph. This is my second pair of Manolo's that Matt gave me about twelve years ago. This feathered beauty is perched on one of Matt's sculptures titled "Lover's Leap". Apropos, no?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bien Vestida: Bianca Jagger

Bianca, front row of the Donna Karan Spring Summer 2013 show. Photo from the blog Americana Manhasset

I love reading the Sunday New York Times, but it can be overwhelming and when I buy it, I read as much as I can on Sunday, and then unread sections collect dust waiting for me to get to them the following week. Feelings of guilt and inadequacy set in. The pressure is too much, so I often choose not to get the NYT at all. I always feel like I'm missing something.

Recently, my friend and colleague, Jessie, and I spontaneously started a weekly ritual. She subscribes to the Sunday NYT, reads it, highlights the articles she thinks I'll be interested in and passes those sections on to me the following week. It's like having a personal reading service. This practice assuages her guilt too; she's giving a second life to her paper.

She also jots little editorial comments next to some of the articles. Like this article on Nick Cave's apartment, Jessie scribbled: "His style is so alive! Love this = love boxes." It's fun to read her comments because I feel like I'm having a dialog when I'm reading the paper. And she's very good at knowing what I'm interested in. We all need personal readers to cut through the media clutter!

But back to dressing well with personal style and meaning. About a month ago she highlighted this paragraph in an article by Bee-Shyuan Chang titled "Not Just Footlights for the Runway" about scene-sters and celebs at NY fashion week. Jessie added the note "Where are we? : )" Good question!

Jessie highlighted the quote below from Bianca Jagger and it struck me as a perfect statement on individual style with flair.

The quote: "I'm into style," Ms. Jagger said. "I'm not a fashion person. Style is not fashion. I'm someone who has a very busy life, so what I wear has to be practical and functional and well cut, and that's timeless. If you look at what I have worn, my style hasn't changed all that much."

Bianca front row at the Caroline Herrera Spring Summer 2013 show. Photo from  Zimbio

Yves Saint-Laurent introduced his Le Smoking in 1966 and Bianca made the tuxedo style all her own. Forty-six years later she is still wearing versions of it; adapting the shoes, accessories, silhouettes and textures so she always looks up-to-the-minute. I've never seen Bianca in person, but I can imagine she would capture my attention first not because of her celebrity status or because she's wearing over-the-top designer clothes; but because she is a discriminating style force, wearing only the best of what feels right to her.

Below are photos of Bianca from the late 60's and 70's, wearing Le Smoking with stunning and elegant style. In her remembrance of Yves Saint Laurent she says "It was part of my liberation to be able to wear trouser suits because it makes life so easy. Trouser suits are practical, but they are only elegant when they are well cut, and Yves's were very well cut."

At Heathrow, 1972
Style is a mix of things; a dynamic package of you, your history, knowing what's important to you and what you like best and fearlessly showing that to the world. Now more than ever we are bombarded with magazines and websites (and blogs!) telling us to buy, buy, buy the latest shoe, skirt, shirt, dress, jacket, perfume, anything and everything and most of it is a lot of noise. The commercial onslaught can be overwhelming and ignoring style all together can seem like the easiest option. But if you do that, you're selling yourself short. You can cut through the clutter and distractions by knowing yourself and your style and making the most of what suits you best.

So, I'm curious, what is your style?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hermès Scarves: Pride in Printing

Peter Malachi, SVP Communications for Hermés US and Kamel Hamadou, Responsable Communication for Holding Textile Hermès.

For my first visit (of three) to the Hermès Festival des Métiers, I wore my Napoleon scarf and an exuberant man met me halfway across the room exclaiming in a French accent, "You have the Napoleon! And it's a jacquard!" I was hoping to get a little appreciation for my scarf, but this was beyond my expectations. He introduced himself as Kamel Hamadou, master printer and passionate  Hermès communicator. I unfurled my scarf and Kamel held it up, describing the story of the scarf and the designer. He called the dashing Peter Malachi, SVP Communications Hermès US, over and said "You see! We must reissue the classic designs of Philippe Ledoux!

Three times each day during the five-day festival, Kamel gave a talk and demonstration of the silk scarf printing process. The talks were scheduled for an hour, but Kamel had so many stories to tell and is so proud of the artistic process and product that he spoke for almost two hours for the demo I attended. It takes two years to complete a scarf, from the artist's design, to the engraving, to the printing. The scarf, or carré, pictured above, is the image of the Indian Princess Wa' Ko-ni. With 46 colors, it has the most colors of any Hermès scarf. It took Nadine Rabilloud, master engraver, 2000 hours to translate the artist's design onto 46 acetate sheets for printing. According to Kamel, Hermès has a passionate and close connection with their designers.

The first step of the printing process is to lay the silk on the printing table. For the demo, two scarves at a time were printed. Where the silk is printed in Lyon, France, a hundred scarves per table are printed. Hermès began making scarves in 1937 to celebrate their 100th anniversary.

The white cylindrical object that Kamel is dangling is a cocoon of the mulberry moth silkworm. It takes 450,000 meters worth of this thread or 300 cocoons to create one 90 x 90 cm scarf. Hermès controls every step of the process. They own the farms in Brazil south of Sao Paulo where they raise the silkworms, then this highest quality (6A +++) silk thread is shipped to Lyon for weaving and printing. There is end-to-end quality control from farm to factory to boutique. Kamel poetically says "One butterfly equals one scarf."

The distinguished Henri Leli masterfully and methodically placed the screen over the silk, poured the ink and squeegeed the ink through the screen on to the silk. Henri was taught the trade by his father forty-four years ago when he was fourteen.

The intensity of Henri's focus is unwavering as he critically analyzes his work. The first screen is the most important as it must be perfect for the other colors to be right. The printer starts with the darkest color and the smallest motif.

A second screen is printed, adding more detail.

Another screen...

Each pass of the ink presents another opportunity for a mistake. If anything is barely, slightly, practically unperceptibly off, the scarf is destroyed. I read that approximately two-thirds of the printed scarves are rejected. The rejects are shredded and recycled, used in many ways, even as filler in car seats.

The printing process is very physical. There is no rush and the printer must maintain a calm pace. Henri used extreme economy of motion and material; every move was directed to printing the scarf, every extra drop of ink was scrapped up and put back in the ink pail.

With each printing pass, the design comes more alive. 

"Would you like an omlette?," Kamel asks as he scoops up the vivid rich goo. This is one of 75,000 colors of ink made from a secret recipe in the "kitchen" in Lyon by four women. Kamel did mention something about Provençal olive oil?

Another screen. The stretching and bending the printer has to do is unbelievable. The average scarf has thirty colors. If there are a hundred scarves to print, each with 30 colors, that's 3000 passes of the ink through the screen and each must be perfect.

More details appear and the audience says "Ah!"

The final product. If it is approved by quality control, it is then washed and treated. This design is Eperon d'Or with fourteen colors and was first issued in 1974. The approved scarves are given to the roulotteuses, the women who hand-roll and hand-stitch the hem. Rolling the hem back-to-front, the signature Hermès style, it takes about forty-five minutes to finish the hem.

Each design gets fifteen colorways or "ambience of color." A selection committee in Paris then chooses ten of the fifteen. Not a simple process, it takes three months with many trips between Lyon and Paris. Two collections are created every year; Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. There can be twelve or more designs each season, some being new designs and some reissues in new color ways.

Pictured above is a "Book" of colorways for one scarf design. In January and July the buyers of each Hermés boutique come to Paris to look at the books and select what is best for their boutiques. They must have excellent knowledge of their clients as they have only one chance to order. There are no reorders.

Kamel showed us his two favorite scarves. These were designed by Kermit Oliver, a mail processor in Waco, Texas and the only American to design scarves for Hermès. His story is fascinating and you can read more in Jason Sheeler's Texas Monthly article here.

The theme for the scarves this year is The Gift of Time. Time is one of the most important ingredients in Hermès creations. The time the artisans take at every step to create their luxurious yet practical objects. And the gift of time is the years and even generations that they are used and appreciated. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

French Lessons avec Hermès

Is perfection possible? The pursuit of perfection is an awe-inspiring thing. Something to be admired and respected. When one practices their skill over and over, each time seeking perfection, it is very nearly possible. Yes, most of us love designer labels that carry a certain caché. But I have seen with my eyes and spoken with the artisans that make Hermès more than a label. It's a rich history of respecting the artist and the craftsperson at every step.

Weekend before last in Union Square, San Francisco, Hermès pitched a large, airy, light-filled tent to celebrate the Festival des Métiers, "a rendez-vous with Hermés craftsmen." With barely contained anticipation and excitement I hiked the half-mile from my South of Market office to Union Square and spent a glorious lunch hour(s) in the busy beehive of craftspeople doing what they do best. There were eight stations with a master of a particular craft demonstrating their work and an english interpreter at each.

Couper, coudre, griffer, fileter, astiquer, perler, bichonner, roulotter; these words describe the various tasks that the artisans of Hermès perform when creating their exquisite scarves, watches, ties, clothing, saddles, legendary handbags and gilded crystal. (The english translation: to cut, sew, scratch, thread, polish, bead, clean and dress and hand roll.)

I bought this little treasure of a book at the Hermès shop on Maiden Lane. It's poetic dictionary of  french verbs describing the various tasks.  I asked each of the artisans to sign by the verb that described what they do best.

At the first station was the charming Dominique Michaux, maroquinier or leather worker. Dominique patiently answered all my questions. The Birkin bag is his favorite as it was the first bag he ever made when he studied in Paris. But now he's at Hermès in San Francisco in charge of all leather repairs. And because everything made by Hermès must be made in France (except for the Swiss watch parts), he can't make any bags here. For his demonstration during the festival, Dominique made the Jypsière bag designed by Jean Paul Gaultier. Unfortunately, the bag had to be destroyed after the show because it wasn't made in France! I had the fleeting urge to snatch it and run. I wasn't alone, the Hermès scarf-clad matron next to me leaned over and whispered, "you grab the blue one, I'll grab the orange one and we'll run!" It was then I noticed the very large security guards stationed at all the doors.

When I asked about the 6-year wait list for the Birkin bag or the Kelly bag, Dominique just smiled and said no, that actually now there is a wait list for the wait list. The Birkin was designed in 1984 when Jane Birkin happened to be on the same flight as Monsieur Hermès and she was traveling with her usual straw basket which tipped, spilling all the contents. Right there, Birkin and Hermès designed the perfect bag for her. The Kelly bag was originally called Sac à dépeches, but in 1956 Grace Kelly was photographed carrying a crocodile version (she used it to hide her pregnancy) and voila, it transformed to the Kelly bag. For now, it is a bit of fashion folklore for me. Because of the wait-to-wait and the multi-thousand price tag, I won't have either dangling from my arm any time soon.

Sandrine Gaeng, Décorateur à L'Or or gilder, demonstrated the multiple steps of applying gilt to crystal, using crystal made by Saint-Louis, the oldest glass manufacturer in France.

Nadia Chabane, Chemisier,  proudly showed me her perfect hand sewn buttonholes and monograms. Every inch of a custom shirt is made by hand.

The top button is carefully sewn on so no threads show through the inside of the collar.

On the blue shirt is the regular four-hole button. On the right is the six-hole button, the thread forming the letter "H."

Remmailler: using a machine with over a thousand needles, Donatella Romeo links together the cashmere and silk parts to create elegant sweaters.

The wearable perfection created by Donatella. 

You know what it's like when you meet someone and you feel an instant connection?  I felt that with Nadine Rabilloud, Dessinteur or Graveur. She engraves the many screens it takes to print a scarf. One screen per color, with 46 being the most for one scarf, taking her 2000 hours.

Nadine has mastered her métier with thirty-three years of experience. She respects and honors the hand of the artist, translating their vision perfectly on to the acetate screens.

I feel in love with Nadine's silk jersey scarf. It's soft, drapey and stretchy and has a more casual feel than the silk twill. This one is the classic "Bride de Gala" design. She knows at least a hundred ways to tie a scarf and here she demonstrates an elegant halter top to wear under a jacket.

The soft-spoken and lovely Evelyne, Confectionneur de Cravates. The base of the tie is a clownish size, but Evelyne carefully folds the silk and sews each tie with one long single strand of thread, so there are no knots.

Charlene Sonderegger, Horlogère or watchmaker. Seems like all the Hermès craftspeople have gorgeous skin!

The beautiful Faustine Poncin: Sertisseur or gem setter. She uses the microscope to set the very small diamonds. She let me peer through the lenses and I felt I was gazing at the brightest, sparkliest galaxy ever.

Applying the diamonds to one of four pyramids.

On the left is a photo of the completed diamond-encrusted Collier de Chien cuff. On the right,  Faustine's progress so far. 

I felt so at home with the artisans and all the beautiful things. It was hard to leave! So I returned two more times. Next, I'll share what I learned about the magical, amazing and highly skilled process of printing Hermès scarves. You'll never look at one the same again!

"Such is the art of small things that change everything, with no other 'use' than to please the eye and hand."
 - Olivier Saillard