Wednesday, October 1, 2014

September 2014 issues: more than six chickens


Above are most of the magazines we surveyed. 


September issue mania ensued chez moi last Saturday with BFFF* Karen. In a highly productive four hours, we visually consumed and discussed fifteen different September fashion magazines. Our selection weighed in over thirty pounds for a total of over five thousand pages of ads, trends, fashion editorial, do's and don'ts and proclamations of what's in and what's out. We learned our lesson from our first session two years ago and did preparatory homework by dividing up the issues a week before and bookmarking what we liked and compiling our discussion points before we got together. We take this seriously. Seriously.




What follows is our take on looks we thought would be possible to affordably add to our wardrobes, what looks we could create with what we already have, what we loved just because and even a little DIY (Karen is very crafty). The trends we noticed: fur, feathers and fringe. One could add a lot or a little. But a touch of any of the three f's looks new. And there are lots tailored looks with ladylike details such a top-handled bags, silk flower corsages and gloves. And flats! After a few years of four-inch plus heels, flat shoes are on the models. (However, just because a shoe is flat, does not mean it is urban-street worthy). And coats, which is great for San Francisco. Lots of coats in bright solid colors, bold prints, double-breasted or bathrobe style. A cool looking coat adds instant dash.



Long and lean looks good for Fall. In the right proportion, it could work on anyone.




The sleeveless coat is a new option. Again, it's a long, lean and tailored look. 





Prada and Max Mara showed skinny scarves which is an easy look to duplicate. 
In fact, all the scarves featured for Fall are a little smaller. 




Beautiful leather gloves in great colors.






 Here's a DIY look that caught Karen's eye: fake fur muff. 






Another DIY idea, a silk flower collar adds a pretty detail to an outfit.






Our favorite fashion spread was in Vogue, "Dark Horse" shot in Peru by Mario Testino and edited by Tonne Goodman. The above is not an outfit that either of us could wear, but we sure do love it. 




And I do love this Bottega Veneta skirt. Black turtleneck, great flattering skirt, boots and bold cuff? I could do that! Interesting to note that most of the looks we ripped out to save came from trusty Vogue






Wednesday, September 17, 2014

You can trust your inner eye


I'm inspired by a one-page intro to a fashion spread in the February 1950 issue of Flair, a long ago and short-lived magazine. I've written about it before here and here. This paricular article was written sixty-four years ago I find the  sentiments true today. It's about the doubt we all experience when trying on clothes and seeing ourselves in the dressing room mirror. It's about telling ourselves to let go of the self-doubt and trust our inner eye. Reading this article makes me conscious of the internal conversation I have when trying on something new and looking at myself in the mirror and I realize my thinking is more complex than I realized. In fact, there are a few categories:

The imaginary life:
"I can see myself wearing these flats to a cafe in Paris. Even though they are velvet with rhinestones and not practical for travel, I would be in Paris so I would make them work. And they are on sale! (These shoes have never left the shoebox, much less visited Paris.)

The impossible outfit:
"All I have to do is find the perfect top, shoes and belt and this skirt would be perfect. And it's on sale! (With sighs of regret and relief, months later these impossible items end up in the donation bag.)

The sales person knows best:
"I'm not sure, but the cute sales person says this looks great on me, so it must." Or "The cute sales person didn't say anything, I like it, but maybe it's not right."

The bandwagon:
"This is so great on other women, it will be great on me too." (Something I've told myself since I was seven and wanted a pair of white go-go boots because everybody else had them.)

But what is the "inner eye"? We all have it. But it does take some conscious effort to clear the static of outside influences. Think about three outfits that you've worn and that you felt great in. Ask yourself why. Is it color? Style? Fit? Do a quick search through magazines or online and save photos of clothing items that reflect the qualities that suit you best. Take these with you the next time you go shopping. It's a bit of extra work to begin with, but it will save time and give you focus when shopping. And with all the distracting choices now, developing your inner eye and having focus are great tools to arm yourself with at the stores and online shopping.

The Flair article follows. It's got quaint and old-fashioned writing, but it's a good reminder that we can rely on our own eye and feelings when shopping. And it helps to have a trusted friend to shop with to remind you of that and even be the best of your eyes for you. You are a lucky person if you can count even one friend like that!



From Flair, February 1950:

You will find her, the brooding and uncertain woman opposite, wherever a dress may be bought. The scene might the Place Vendôme, a New York store, a small-town dress shop. Maybe she hasn't even bothered to ask the price; or she might have scrimped for months to allow herself this one purchase, Whoever she may be, whatever her purse, she is a soul in misery - a fact the men in her life would never suspect. Probably she could not tell them why. The unwelcome presence of other customers may have contributed. The most casual glance she interprets as a hard scrutiny, and her pleasant suit suddenly appears faded, worn. The sales girl may have held up one dress too insistently and aroused the cringing suspicion that some impossible thing is being palmed off on an easy victim. Or, worse mischance of all, this unhappy woman may have faced the mirror and found in it sly depths an unfamiliar reflection, so that every secret doubt she has ever had as to her looks and desirability now furiously possesses her. At last she has decided; she is free to lift herself from her chair. How could she be so uncertain, so confused? Yet often she has reached the street before she regains her normal self-possession and sees, sees with her own eyes, again.

What causes this temporary blindness? Not too little; perhaps too much. Ironically, as far as American women are concerned, this symptom of insecurity may be all the greater because fashion has never given them a wider choice nor made the work of the finest designers available to so many. The public is familiar as never before with significant trends and important names in fashion - a result highly praiseworthy in all respects but one. Fashion has ceased to be personal. In choosing a dress, the American woman is aware of many eyes upon her, and in turn she tries to judge what is before her by every high standard she knows...except her own.

Fashion is an eye. Every woman's eye. Your eye. And inevitably, fashion begins with the inner eye, with self-awareness, with understanding of all your powers, physical, mental, spiritual. It must calmly estimate all that you may claim as potentials for beauty. It demands the fullest expression of your own nature. It insists that you absorb the influences, the knowledges, the disciplines that will be permanently useful to you. It gives mature direction to the outer eye, guiding it to those possessions that are rightfully yours. It forbids you from seeking refuge in those eccentricities of taste that reveal an insecurity far more destructive than the most slavish acceptance of the usual arbitrary norms. It allows you to contemplate the fashions that Flair will report for you, to claim only those that are your own. Serene and sure, your eye will no longer waver from the image of beauty you have set for yourself. You will then be free to communicate your gaiety, your warmth, your self-confidence.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Saddle up with Chanel


I recently received an envelope full of newspaper and magazine clippings from my Aunt Mary Ellen in New Orleans. We fondly call these "Hank mail" after her father who was famous for sending correspondence filled with odds and ends to recipients around the world. Once you were on Hank's mailing list and he knew your interests, you received missives from him for life.

In ME's envelope was the above clipping, which gave me a laugh. Even for those of us who worship at the altar of fashion, what we consider good taste is often pushed beyond the limit. The above bag was shown at Chanel's once-a-year Metiers d'Art (also known as Pre-Fall 2014) which took place in Dallas last December. Karl Lagerfeld chose a Texas theme to honor Dallas and Neiman Marcus, the first place to enthusiastically accept Coco Chanel's comeback designs in 1957.

For context, it's good to know a little history here. In 1939 Chanel closed her salon when France declared war on Germany. Following the war, Chanel observed Dior's success with the "New Look" and felt the tiny waists and full skirts were not modern at all. She reopened her salon, but her designs were not a critical success. She soon developed the Chanel suit that we know of today: tweed fabric, braid trim, short boxy jacket and narrow skirt. America, especially the Dallas-based Neiman Marcus, accepted her modern suit with great enthusiasm. For Pre-Fall 2014, Lagerfeld went a little Texas-happy applying western motifs to everything.

ME and I chatted about this the other day and she had more to add: "It's not Chanel anymore. I'm old school. I'm glad he's kept Chanel going but I wish she was here. I'd love to hear what she would say. The bag looks like Texas and not Chanel.  I don't think you'll see it on the Rue St. Honore or Boulevard St. Germain.  A touch pricey I think, but maybe a horse comes with it. Quel disappointment."

I stopped by the San Francisco Chanel boutique last week to see the handbag in person. There were about five or six variations of the "saddle" bag with lots of fringe and trim, beaded jewelry items with a Native American theme and a red, white and blue silk scarf with a large "Dallas" printed on it. The items didn't feel San Francisco at all, but the shoppers are tourists from other places in the world, where a western theme is probably considered exotic. But for locals, the Texas style is too close to home to take seriously.

For the Texas show, he directed a 24-minute video about this time in Chanel's life. Called The Return, it is great glamorous fun to watch. Lagerfeld has a million ideas and I'm hoping the next collection gives me the ol' Chanel coup de coeur.



Saturday, August 23, 2014

September issues: more than a bunch of bananas, but less than a chicken

Weighing in at over three pounds, my 2012 selection of September issues. According to the American Family Scale, it's more than a bunch of bananas, but less than a chicken.


It's that time...the September issue Olympics. As a magazine and fashion lover, this is both exciting and daunting. It's no longer the September issue, it's issues. At one time, Vogue was the only September issue that was fat with ads, fashion photos and editorial. I could leisurely flip through the pages and when I eventually reached the last page, I was confident that I knew what I needed to know about what was new for fall. Now all the fashion and style mags across multiple categories are on to the extra ad revenue and cache. For style and culture hunters, there's now at least fifteen magazines to study.





Two years ago, my BFFF (best fashion friend forever) Karen and I decided to tackle the project together. We began at about 10 am on a Saturday and it took us until early evening to dissect our collection of September issues. We read, sticky-noted, ripped out pages, highlighted, discussed what worked and what didn't until we couldn't see straight.



It's a job and we're just the girls for the job. We started with breakfast treats, moved on to lunch, then afternoon coffee and finished the day with a martini made by hubby Matt. And of course, we stayed hydrated throughout with lots of water. It was a marathon after all.


We missed our session last year so Karen and I have already set our date for our September 2014 issu-athon. I've already received my September Vanity Fair and Harper's Bazaar (with the lovely granddaughter of Audrey Hepburn photographed by the grandson of Richard Avedon). I've done my due diligence in scouring them both and placing sticky notes on various pages for discussion with Karen. Vogue has yet to kerplunk it's big bad self in my mailbox. But I just experimented with a new experience. I got an email from Vogue saying the iPad version was available. I downloaded it and flicked through the first third. It was fun in a novel sort of way, but I felt like I was cheating! I'm saving the rest for the real deal. But the iPad does illuminate all the rich fall colors in the photos beautifully. I did make note that long skinny scarves are in. I like that a lot.

I do have a perusal process. As I flip through the mags I ask myself: What's really new? What catches my eye? What elements of an outfit do I already have? Which ones do I want to add? Are the proportions new (wider pants? shorter tops?)? Most of the outfits are in the multi-thousand dollar range, so chances are slim that I'll buy that exact Prada item. But how can I translate what I like into something I can afford (and still give the appearance of expensive elegance)?

As a pre-game warmup, I just watched The September Issue film again. It's enlightening to hear the creative discussions and see the passion, angst (especially Grace Coddington!) and focus (especially Anna Wintour!) to put Vogue together. I so appreciate all the work, thought and creative mastery that it takes to create a world of beauty, exoticness and elegance all in one package and have it delivered to my doorstep and my iPad.

I'll report back on our findings from our upcoming session. And I'd love to hear your thoughts on your favorite September issue this year, whatever magazine that may be.



Thursday, July 10, 2014

Lipstick Traces


Have you ever used your lipsticks down to the very bottom? Below the rim, there is about a third more product left. Depending on how much I like the color or the price of the lipstick, I've found various ways to use it all. I've used an old lipstick brush that I didn't like very much (the brush was too small) or my finger or any implement I found on my makeup shelf to dig it out, like the opposite end of a pair of tweezers or a makeup spatula. But none of these methods were very satisfactory and I ended up throwing the lipstick out. Or saving it if it was MAC because if you return six used MAC lipsticks, you get one free. But that takes me a couple years.

I remember my grandmother, Bootsie, always using a lipstick brush to get to the bottom of her Merle Norman lipstick. Merle Norman! Does anyone know about that brand anymore? Bootsie had a collection of small gold Merle Norman lipsticks that looked antique to me at age eight. And she might have had them for twenty years because she bought lipstick refills so she could use the gold tubes over and over. It would be great if brands did that today. I have some gorgeous YSL lipstick cases that I would love to refill. But I can't, so they become either clutter or landfill.

My collection of used lipsticks recently got large enough that I decided to get serious about using them up. I bought a lipstick brush from Sephora for about $12 and I liked it very much until one morning I was in a hurry and pulled too energetically on it and it came apart in four impossible to reassemble pieces. I bought a new one at MAC for twice the price, but the quality is better.



I asked the woman at MAC if she uses up the entire lipstick. She does and her method is to scoop it out with small makeup spatulas and put it in little MAC sample jars. She kindly gave me a few to do the same. I've done this before. It's a method I learned from my Aunt Caryl, daughter of my Merle Norman grandmother. She mixes the remainder of several tubes into one small container. This works if all the colors are similar. Once I mixed some red tones with brown and that did not work.

It's time for a new lipstick design. One that comes in a beautiful case, can be easily used to the very bottom and then refilled. Who should we call about that?



Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sophie of Saks




I've written about the fabulous magazine Flair before here. Published by Fleur Cowles from 1950 to 1951, it was arty, intelligent and cultural without being pretentious. Every so often, I pull out a an issue and carefully turn the fragile sixty-four-year-old pages and I always find inspiration. My friend Karen loaned me her collection of the original magazines over two years ago, and I confess I still have them. 
Karen, I promise you'll get them back! But in a few months, I'll have my own reference book. A rare book of the issues, The Best of Flair was originally published in 1998, and I just discovered that it will be reissued this September 2nd and I just pre-ordered a copy. 




Yesterday, I was looking through the February issue and saw the above ad. I like the sentiment in the handwritten note: "I believe that to-day as always smart women dress only in terms of their own likes, looks, lives. Sophie"

So who was Sophie? I did a search for Sophie and Saks Fifth Avenue and quickly learned that it was Sophie Gimbel. I didn't know about her before. Not well-known today, she was a top American fashion designer for 40 years from 1929 to 1969 and the director of Salon Moderne at Saks creating made-to-measure couture clothes. She was also a smart business person, recognizing a merchandising need when she saw one.  When the Paris salons were closed during WWII, Sophie created the American version of couture clothing at the Salon Moderne.


Sophie and Adam Gimbel in 1935 and an evening dress designed by Sophie in 1952.
Saks Fifth Avenue Archive: Julia Noni for Saks Fifth Avenue, Parsons Fashion Archive. 

She was hired as a stylist by Saks president Adam Gimbel. In 1929 she took over the Salon Moderne and had such success and influence that she was the first American designer to be on the cover of Time magazine. She married Gimbel in 1931. She had definite opinions about dressing and personal style and was known for her pointed quotes. Here are a few:

"I like my wardrobe simple, correct, perfect in every detail."

"A woman and her waist should never be separated."

"You don't have to have lots of clothes in order to be chic. But you most certainly have to have the right clothes."


An evening dress from 1958 designed by Sophie Gimbel. Wouldn't it be fabulous to wear today? 
Photo is from the The New York Times, January 17, 2013, by Lolly Koons/Parsons Fashion Archive. 


In early 2013, Parsons the New School for Design had a show, Sophie Gimbel: Fashioning American Couture exhibiting eighteen of her designs from the Parsons Fashion Archive. I would've loved to have seen that. I'm so glad to learn about Sophie. And it's interesting how an ad that's over half a century old is still piquing curiosity.











Sunday, May 4, 2014

Leeza, it's so eeezzzy


Judith lounging in Azzedine Alaïa sandals at Barneys, wondering "should I?". 
They look so perfect and easy on her, of course she should and did. 


"Leeza, it's so eeezzzy." So says Judith, my fashionable designer friend on a recent visit from Germany. She has a quick design eye sharpened by experience and a love for visual pleasure. Judith can walk into a clothing store, art gallery, furniture store or flea market and zero-in on the one thing that exhibits qualities of good design. When it comes to clothing, Judith embodies effortless chic; anything that has a beautiful shape or texture and elegant material and that one could wear with sublime ease is for her. She's a good inspiration and shopping partner. We took an afternoon during her stay to visit a few of the Union Square stores.



I'm photographing Judith trying a second pair of Alaïa sandals. These gold-studded raffia sandals were also irresistible. Judith says she plans to wear these for the next ten years. They are so timeless and chic, I'm sure she will.




At Prada, the tropical-themed wallet from the Spring Summer 2014 collection called to Judith. Funny, it's a sophisticated version of a souvenir wallet one would buy when vacationing as a kid. She says it makes her smile, as all souvenirs should.




I found a couple of great things at Zara. Talk about easy! Above is my new Zara blazer. The sleeves are permanently tszujed. You know how often you want that casual dressing-like-a-french-woman look and you keep pushing up your jacket sleeves, but they keep sliding back down? Not with this permanently cool jacket! Perfect for work and after work.



And this Zara blouse is another easy addition. Sheer enough to make it dressy, and long enough to wear casually over skinny jeans. Thanks to Judith, eeezzzy (and elegant) is my mantra when shopping.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Push it


You've probably seen this photo of Pharrell Williams at this year's Grammy Awards. 
Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage.


Sometimes I enjoy pushing my look a bit by wearing shapes, patterns or colors that are a little exaggerated and unexpected. I do this intentionally because I like to think it gives people pleasure to see something that's more visually exciting than the norm. And it adds fun to my day. Especially since I work in a corporate office, it doesn't take much and it adds some spark to my day to play with that. Most of the time the reactions are positive and if they're not, that's fine too.

I love to see other people pushing the style envelope. Like Pharrell when he wore the Vivienne Westwood hat to the Grammy's. At first glance, it is a bit ludicrous. But when looking closer, one can see that the shape and proportions were created by an expert designer. And Pharrell wears it with such aplomb that he makes it work. It caused a huge social media reaction, crashing the grammy.com site. Isn't that funny, that today when we see so many images of celebrities wearing extreme Lady Gaga styles that a hat, just an artistic and sculptural hat, can cause such a flurry? I like that.




These Balenciaga shoes cause a reaction everytime I wear them. I fell in love with them when I saw them on the sale shelves at Barney's.  Nicolas Ghesquiére took a basic black pump and arted it up with a swath of textured leather and added a sculptural detail to the heel. When I wear them, someone usually asks if they can try them on. When I'm not wearing them, I like to keep them out on a shelf because I enjoy looking at them. And that's a big point. When wearing something extreme, it needs to be something that you sincerely love and that makes you feel good wearing it.



On a foggy San Francisco day, wearing this coat makes me happy and the smiles I see on people as I pass them on the street leads me to believe that it makes them happy too. When I first wore it to work, my UK-born boss, looked up from her desk and said, "My, that's a jolly jacket!" Which made me laugh and now that's its official name. Because the pattern is so bold and memorable, I don't wear it that often. But I have fun with when I do. And I always think, since we have to wear clothes everyday, we might as well have some fun with what we wear and give others a little fun too.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Falling in love with the Petra




For at least a year, I've been casually looking for an elegant, practical and understated tote bag. One that I can use everyday when going to work and that adds to my outfit instead of detracting from it. I end up hauling so much stuff back and forth to work: healthy lunches and snacks to keep me from eating sugary fat office treats, a couple of files of current projects and workout clothes. 

In my search for the perfect tote, I felt a little like Goldilocks; it was either too big, too small, too expensive or too cheap. I was on the lookout for something that was just right. And I found it. In the December 30 issue of WWD, I read an article about a bag by a company called Everlane. The simplicity of the featured tote  caught my attention. Turns out it's a San Francisco company founded in 2010 by the then 25-year-old Michael Preysman. Their claim-to-fame is a good-quality, thoughtfully-made $15 T shirt. Recently, they've started offering more luxurious items.

Initially, I skimmed their website to find the bag. But then I found myself really studying the "About" page and even reading their mission statement:

"Our mission: Radical Transparency. We believe customers should know where their products come from and how much they cost to make. That's why we show the processes behind product creation, visit and document our factories, and publish infographics revealing the true cost of each product we make."

That statement is appealing. It's important to know where our clothes came from, especially now that there is so much information about horrible and tragic working conditions in many clothing manufacturing factories.

And I appreciate knowing the cost to make the product. According to WWD the Petra bag costs $190 - $210 to produce. The bag that I was interested in, the Petra Magazine bag, is $325 which is less than twice the cost to produce. 

And with photos of the factory, it doesn't get more transparent than that. The photos show a modern, airy, state-of-the-art looking place in Vicenza, outside of Venice. I like knowing exactly what I am getting, where it was made and why it costs what it does. $325 is not inexpensive, but I felt there was real value. 

But who is the designer? I wanted to know the designer. Well, there's a lovely video of her. 

So I hit the order button.



A few days later, a large, light box arrived. Inside was my carefully packaged tote. With a dust bag! (I love those things). After the online sales pitch, I examined the bag to see if it lived up to it all.


Strong handles, nice large pockets...



A very well-constructed interior...



Even little feet on the bottom.

I've been using my Petra everyday for about a month. My attraction is more intellectual than emotional. It's so understated, it doesn't get noticed. It's so practical, it wasn't love at first sight. But with use, I'm appreciating all its qualities. It's the perfect size. The handles are the perfect length. And the more I am using it, I'm developing a love for the leather. It's rich and thick and very soft and so comfortable to carry. 



And I like a nice thank you note.


The Everlane design philosophy: "Intelligent design. We believe design should be as functional as it is beautiful." The Petra certainly lives up to that.








Tuesday, January 14, 2014

This post has no photos, but its got a lot of feeling



I’m a good sport. I’m a team player. If something is needed to get the job done, and it’s something I can do, then I’ll do it. No hesitation. No questions asked. So last fall, as the brand manager for the corporation that I work for, I went to a photoshoot in New York City. The Creative Director asked if I might step in as a model if needed. I said sure! If that helps the photoshoot, if that helps get the job done, then I am there, 200%! And I was. It was a five-day shoot at as many locations and at each I had fun not only giving brand input, but holding up reflectors, moving props, chatting up the models; I did whatever was needed and enjoyed doing it. 

It was the last day of shooting when I was asked to model. It had been a long week of long days and this was towards the end of the last day. We were shooting at beautiful home on a lake north of NYC. The weather was warm and humid. Trust me when I tell you my hair was not looking its best. Trust me when I tell you that the make-up I put on at 6 am that morning was non-existent. Trust me when I tell you that wardrobe put me in the most boring, most conservative, limpest of blouses and khaki pants, which I would normally never, ever wear. But I’m a good sport! It was my part and I was going to play it. And I did. 

Sitting with my model “husband” on the outdoor deck overlooking the lake and pretending that we were reviewing our finances on a laptop. I chatted. I smiled. I played the part. And it was all fine until yesterday. An art director who I’ve worked with only long distance and we’ve never met in person, sent me a brochure to brand review. It was a brochure on retirement. Fine. No problem there, I do this all the time. I scroll through the pdf, all looks good. All is on brand. Then I get to a page with a photo of me and my “husband”. The copy reads “Meg and Bob are about to retire...”

What? What? How can a photo of ME be used as part of a couple that’s about to retire! I like to think of myself looking at least 10 years younger than I am, which would place me in early to mid-forties. I tried to be objective, thinking if I saw that woman, would I think she looks old enough to retire? Maybe? Really? Maybe? It is a terrible photo of me. But I don’t want even a terrible photo of me to look like I could be near retirement. But what’s retirement age anyway? It’s 65. Right? Do I look 65? I want to be at least 75 or 80 before I look 65. I can’t show you the photo because of photo rights, and I wouldn’t show you anyway, because it’s terrible!

Vanity, vanity. Hell yes!

It’s kind of driving me crazy. 

I just spent thirty minutes looking at images of Ines de la Fressange, one of my style icons. She’s beautiful in a very natural French way. And she is a year older than me. I looked at her images comparing the lines around her eyes with mine. The lines on her neck with mine. Ok, ok, maybe I have fewer? But she’s very beautiful to begin with and she’s model tall and model thin. But she’s got lines! She has a great smile. I have a great smile too. Would someone use her as an example of someone who is about to retire? I don’t know. I remind myself of wise words I once heard in a writing class...compare and despair. 

And now I know, I take photos too personally to be a model. 

And now I know, I am what I am. Keep smiling. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Korda: an eye for beauty and revolution



The cover of the show catalog, featuring Natalia "Norka" Mendez,
Korda's second wife and model, 1958. All photos are courtesy of the Alberto Korda Estate. 


One evening after work in early December, best-fashion-friend-forever Karen and I braved rush hour traffic to drive to Foothill College in Los Altos, which is about a forty-five minute drive south of San Francisco. Both of us are passionate about fashion and we were determined to see a fashion photography show, Korda Moda, that was closing soon. The photographer was someone we had not heard of before: Cuban photographer Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez, who called himself Korda.

We arrived at the gallery and there we learned a fascinating story of fashion, politics and Cuban history.



One of Korda's three main models, Nidia Rios, circa 1956


The exhibition was created by Ron Herman, chairman of Foothill College photography department. Viewing the thirty beautifully hung photos on display in the small campus gallery, we were suddenly in the glitzy and glamorous Cuba of the 1950's. At that time, Havana was a sexy jetsetting place with Hollywood stars such as Ava Gardner, Rita Heyworth, Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn and Lana Turner flying in to play at the swell hotels and shop at the elegant El Encanto department store, which carried the latest Parisian fashions including an exclusive Dior salon.

Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez and his business partner, Luis Peirce Byers, opened a photography studio in Old Havana in 1954. They named it Korda Studio because according to the show catalog, they liked that it sounded similar to Kodak and it was also a tribute to filmmakers they admired, Alexander and Zoltan Korda. Alberto became associated with the name and took it as his own. The studio gained success shooting commercial photography, including fashion. In 1956 they moved their studio nearer the center of all the excitement, across the street from the Hotel Capri. Korda met Norka and together as photographer and model, they became Cuba's most exciting creative fashion couple. But the main motivation for Korda was not capturing the chic clothes on film. It was as he said, "I wanted to become a famous fashion photographer because that way I would be able to meet the most beautiful women in Cuba." And because of the quality of his work, he became known as the Richard Avedon of Cuba.




Norka, photo for front page of "La Mujer" supplement of Diario de la Marina newspaper, June 1958




Norka, photo for front page of "La Mujer" supplement of Diario de la Marina newspaper, 1960


But with Fidel Castro's rise to power in the early 60's, Cuba was glitzy and fashionable no more and it was all about the revolution. Korda admired Castro and became part of the revolution, documenting him, his men and protests. On March 5, 1960, Korda shot what is considered the most reproduced image ever, the photo of Che Guevara. As all businesses were being nationalized, Korda's studio was taken over by the government and his photos were either hidden or destroyed.



 "Heroic Guerilla"



Ron Herman gathered all the photos in this show and created the catalog. For the last four years, he has conducted art and culture tours of Cuba while searching for the missing Korda fashion photos. He sourced the thirty in this show from Korda's family and former models. Herman continues to search for more. He is organizing another trip to Cuba March 23-April 5, details can be found here

With this quote from the Korda Moda catalog, Korda explains his creative motivation:
"A man who develops a work like mine is always dedicated to something he loves. I did that from the very beginninging. I have loved the beauty of women as much as the beauty of those men who led the Revolution. The beauty of those men is not only esthetic but also moral. Loving, as I did, the work I made with men like Castro and Che Guevara, you can see the similarities between both types of photography." (Korda: A Revolutionary Lens)