Friday, August 11, 2017

My Secret Happiness

Can I tell you something? This is just between you and me. At this moment, I am the keeper of a special and beautiful dress and I am deeply touched.

My stepdaughter is getting married tomorrow. We have known each other since she was six. We have played, talked, laughed, danced, been serious and been funny together. I had an anxiety attack before I even knew what they were when she went on her first date. The clock was one minute past 11 pm and where was she? She was home at five minutes past 11 smiling and happy and I felt silly sweating bullets.

Her mother says I am not her stepmother, that I am more than that. I am her “other” mother. I love that.

So my secret? For the past two days, I have her wedding dress hanging here at my house.  I am the caretaker of this loveliness. I see the delicate ivory tulle peeking below the cover and I am secretly thrilled. Thrilled to the point of teariness. What an honor and responsibility to be the keeper of my daughter’s wedding dress.

After attending four dress fittings with her, I feel very close with my stepdaughter, with the dress and with the seamstress. It’s intimate to be in a small room together discussing the details of the fit of the bosom, the waist, the hips, how to lace up the corset and how to button the train so that it becomes a bustle. 

At the first fitting I stayed back, not wanting to be a pushy MOB, “other” or otherwise. But when asked what I thought, I gave a supportive and I hoped, a calm opinion. I must’ve been ok because the seamstress asked me to come back for the next fitting and the next. I felt honored.

When she was younger, my daughter would ask “how do I look?” before going out with friends.  She was so beautiful, once I said “you could wear a paper bag and still be beautiful.” At the time she looked at me quizzically, not sure if that was a compliment or not. I assured her, that she is and always will be beautiful inside and out.

On her big day, tomorrow, she will wear her beautiful gown in front of 150 people and she will be stunning. 

But for now, the dress is with me. My own personal connection with my darling daughter beginning her new wonderful life. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Keepers: clothes with the soul of memories

"And how can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?"
to quote Carson McCullers from The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

And, I'd like to add, they still live in the clothes they leave behind.

It was the summer of 1974, I was visiting my aunt and uncle in a small California beach town, so different and more exciting than my home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They were party givers, fun casual outdoor parties. I remember lots of sun and the luxury of ocean breezes, unlike the stifling humidity of the Deep South. One of their friends was there with her son who was my age,16. He was tall, thin, with shoulder-length straight white-blond hair. It had that crazy stiffness of someone who swims a lot. We chatted, turned out he was a surfer and I was smitten. My first love.

We spent almost every day together that summer. Driving from beach to beach in his well-worn VW bug with his surf board on top. And at night we went from house party to house party. We kissed, we held hands, we danced to the Beach Boys. We sang the lyrics to "California Girls", especially "And the Southern girls with the way they talk. They knock me out when I'm down there." I felt like a surfer girl, even though I didn't surf.

As it does in a thousand songs, the summer came to an end. We made plans for the next summer. We promised to write. The summer might be over, but not our romance. He gave me this blue Hawaiian shirt, his favorite. I treasured it and slept in it almost every night when I returned home to Baton Rouge, thinking of him and dreaming of when we would be together again.

I did go back the next summer and we did have a few dates. But the mood had changed and we felt distant. He was skateboarding now and that's all he wanted to talk about. Doing cool moves in empty swimming pools with his buddies and photographing them for Surfer magazine. We drifted apart and had our separate adventures that summer. He was different, I probably was too.

Three years after our summer together, he died. A friend wrote to tell me. He had been with friends in a remote part of Mexico, had appendicitis and couldn't get medical help in time. It was raining when I read the letter. We hadn't seen each other for a while but I was still in love with the surfer boy I first met.  I've kept his Hawaiian shirt for 43 years. It embodies first love, a dreamy summer and the bittersweetness of losing someone you love.

The above musing was inspired by this book, "Worn Stories" by Emily Spivack. It's an enthralling collection of short essays by actors, writers, designers, artists and culture makers.

We all have some special and meaningful clothing item saved. What's yours?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Summer of Love, where everyone was part of the show

A few of the fashions from the Summer of Love Experience at the de Young Museum, San Francisco, April 8-August 20, 2017.
It was during the Summer of Love that I decided to move to San Francisco. I was 9 that summer, so my move had to wait until I was old enough to be on my own. But in June of 1967, my grandmother, Bootsie, and I took a jet plane from home in New Orleans to California. It was my first time to fly, the first of many firsts that summer. My mother had died eight months previous and I wanted to be with her sister and her husband, my cool California Aunt Caryl and my hip Uncle Don, more than anything. Anticipating the trip was my constant daydream.

The reality was far more exciting, entrancing and life-changing than I ever imagined. We took an eye-opening stroll down Haight street. The girls wore a mix of printed cotton prairie dresses, embroidered jeans and Mexican peasant blouses with desert boots or were barefoot. Even as a child,  I could see how cool and casual it all was. I loved it. Back home, I was still wearing ruffly dresses with matching shoes and purse to church on Sunday, which suddenly seemed very boring and not cool.

One night, my aunt and uncle had a party and the living room was lit only by a black light and the just released Sgt. Pepper's album was played over and over. I drew hearts and crazy daisy flowers on my arms and legs with glowing fluorescent chalk and danced to every song. The summer ended, I was bereft, but I knew I would be back. In my flowered canvas suitcase, I had psychedelic posters to redecorate my pastel yellow girly bedroom, a chambray shirt I'd embroidered with peace symbols and a tie-dyed T-shirt appliquéd with old lace. I was going back to the South, but I would never be the same.

Now, the de Young Museum, situated just a few blocks from Haight Ashbury, is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love with an exhibit of the fashion, posters, music, photos, film and ephemera of the time. As Dede Wilsey said on opening night, "It was a cultural revolt with major reverberations and a lasting affect on many aspects of modern life."

I love the hippie-dandy quality of the embroidered velvet, flowing sleeves and choker.

Leslie Rowan, Top, ca. 1970. Cotton velvet with sequin flower appliqués and ribbon trim. Collection of Peter Kaukonen. Jackie Sarti, Customized landlubber jeans, ca. 1970. Denim with cotton patches, ribbons, appliqué and reverse-appliqué San Blas Island (Panama) cotton "mola," and applied rhinestone studs. Collection of Peter Kaukonen. Jacki Sarti, Choker, ca. 1970. Leather with beads. Collection of Peter Kaukonen Image Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

It's surprising how wearable many of the outfits would be today. I would love to have this Betsey Johnson dress to wear now. Betsey Johnson, Dress, 1970–1972. Knitted wool. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of James Elliot, 1983.95 Image Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

The colors and the graphic quality of this dress are striking and originally an expression of sexual freedom. But today, the hands are ironic and bring to mind Trump's pussy grabbing brag. Birgitta Bjerke (100% Birgitta), “Hands” dress, ca. 1967-1968. Crocheted wool. Collection of the artist Image Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

I love this look, it reminds me of something my Aunt Caryl wore in the late '60's.

Judy Goldhaft of the Diggers

At the exhibit opening last week some of the originals were there. They were ones who made the Summer of Love with their art, passion and political activism, including Judy Goldhaft of the Diggers. When I asked Judy to pose for the photo, she happily responded with '60's sass and style: a huge smile and flash of her great lace tights.

Judy explains the Diggers: "The Diggers were performers. The Diggers had a sense of humor. The Diggers were open to flashes of fun, improvisation. What's the most outrageous thing you can think of to do? Let's do it! ...
And if you said you were a Digger then you were a Digger. Well, what could you do to be a Digger? You put 'free' in front of something, and then you do it. Free food. Free store."

I did make it back to California the following summer. These shorts are not from the exhibit. They're mine and I appliquéd the summer of 1968. I still have them and love them.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

You may ask, "What does this have to do with me?"

Comme des Garçons, A/W 2012-13, Photo: Mark Segal, Model: Monika Sawicka

ModeMuseum, the fashion museum in Antwerp, had an exhibition last year “Game Changers: Reinventing the 20th Century Silhouette.” It's a fascinating study of fashion design that was new and different from anything before. In the 1950's and 1960's, Cristóbal Balenciaga took the emphasis away from the waist, creating architectural shapes that were flattering and elegant. In the 1980's, young Japanese designers, Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake, were a shocking sensation in Paris with their loose fitting, oversized layers. They in turn influenced the young Belgium designers, Antwerp Six +1. The concepts of these designers are influencing designers today.

With our eyes accustomed to a daily onslaught of the same jeans and t-shirts on every woman, man and child on the street, even the mildest style difference can be shocking. The images below are from the "Game Changers" exhibit and they are extreme. But it's fun to suspend judgement for the moment and enjoy the colors and the shapes.

But I hear you ask, “What does this have to do with me getting dressed for the day?” Think of this like a aperitif, but instead of waking up your tastebuds, it stimulates your eyes and you might see your old closet contents in a new way.

Webster’s defines silhouette as “the outline of a body viewed as circumscribing a mass.” It’s the shape and overall volume of clothing on the body. It’s the difference of having a defined waist or no waist. It’s wearing wide-legged pants or wearing skinny jeans. We all present a silhouette whether we choose to be aware of it or not. Studying this exhibit has heightened my awareness of the silhouette. I usually go no farther than asking myself (or hubby Matt) whether something makes me look heavier or thinner. But for conscious dressing, I'm discovering that there’s more to it than that. 

Comme des Garçons, A/W 2012-13, Photo: Mark Segal, Model: Monika Sawicka

Iris Van Herpen, ‘Micro’, haute couture S/S 2012, Photo: Ronald Stoops

Cristobal Balenciaga, A/W 1958, Photo: Tom Kublin, Courtsey: Balenciaga Archives

Cristobal Balenciaga, A/W 1967, Photo: Balenciaga Archives

Cristobal Balenciaga, A/W 1958, Photo: Tom Kublin, Courtesy: Balenciaga Archives

Maison Martin Margiela, A/W 2000-01, Photo: Marina Faust

Comme des Garçons, ‘Body meets Dress, Dress meets Body’, S/S 1997, Photo: Yannis Vlamos

Comme des Garçons, A/W 2012-13, Photo: Sophie Delaporte

Dries Van Noten, S/S 2012, Photo: Patrice Stable

Issey Miyake, 1990-2015, Photo: Francis Giacobetti

Issey Miyake, 1990-2015, Photo: Francis Giacobetti

Ann Demeulemeester, S/S 2009, Photo: Dan & Corinne Lecca

Maison Martin Margiela, S/S 1989, Photo: Tatsuya Kitayama

Georgina Godley, Sport Couture, A/W 1990, Photo: Georgina Godley

Game Changers: Reinventing the 20th Century Silhouette, MOMU Fashion Museum, Antwerp

Game Changers: Reinventing the 20th Century Silhouette, MOMU Fashion Museum, Antwerp

Game Changers: Reinventing the 20th Century Silhouette, MOMU Fashion Museum, Antwerp

Friday, February 10, 2017

A dose of sublime elegance

Exhibition poster. Marilyn Monroe wears a Dior design during The Last Sitting photographed by Bert Stern for Vogue at the Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles, June 1962. © Bert Stern.

Some people go for the puppy or kitten videos, others post scenes of nature. While these certainly give me a needed distraction from the disturbing state of politics today, there's no escape like momentarily sinking into a world of beauty and elegance. To calm my nerves after obsessively reading and watching the news and as a reward for taking the latest action (writing letters and postcards to my senators and other elected officials), I decided to pay a visit to the childhood home of Christian Dior.

On February 12, it will be 70 years since Christian Dior presented his first collection, his post-war antidote to austerity and drabness. Using 10 to 25 yards of fabric and accentuating the waist, hips and bosom, his designs were not modern, but his "New Look" answered a deep need for beauty and reassurance.

Christian Dior was born here in 1905 and was nostalgic about it all his life, incorporating pink and grey colors in his designs and the scents of rose and lily of the valley in his perfumes.

Museum shows are such a great opportunity to study a theme in depth and a great resource of curated imagery, information and point of view. Even if I can't make it to a particular exhibit, at least I can do online research and request access to the images. I didn't make it to Granville in Normandy France for the Christian Dior Museum's show, "Women in Dior – Sublime Elegance of a Portrait," but they kindly shared their images.

Curated by Florence Müller, the show pays tribute to Dior dresses and the women who wore them. Here's a quote from the exhibit:

"The clothes a woman wears communicate a lot about her personality, unspoken clues to who she is for the world to decipher. The array of designs created by Christian Dior, and then by his successors, has consistently enchanted a vast number of women who find what they need to express their individuality in the beautifully crafted lines. Ever since 1947, this synergy has produced a long line of elegantly-clad women who have a close relationship with their Dior outfits, unfailing witnesses to every highlight of their lives."

The cover for the exhibition book. Angélique dress by Mats Gustafson, 2016. © Mats Gustafson.

The women featured in the book written by biographer and fashion journalist Laurence Benaïm are the many of the most glamorous women, past and present. To review the list is a study of fascinating lives. 

They are:
HRH Princess Grace of Monaco
The Duchess of Windsor
Diana, Princess of Wales
Countess de Ribes
Leonor Fini, a very interesting Argentine surrealist painter
Olivia de Havilland
Jackie Kennedy
Patricia López-Willshaw (fascinating story)
Francine Weisweiller, muse to Jean Cocteau
Marilyn Monroe
Charlize Theron
Elizabeth Taylor
Edmonde Charles-Roux, French Vogue editor, novelist and biographer of Chanel
Zizi Jeanmaire, French dancer with great style and pizazz
Mitzah Bricard, muse to Christian Dior, he said "Ms. Bricard is one of those rare people whose only reason for living is elegance." She was the leopard print personified.
Suzanne Luling, childhood friend and original Dior public relations directrice
Carmen Colle
Marlene Dietrich
Jennifer Lawrence
Natalie Portman
Marion Cotillard
Emilia Clarke

Geneviève Page wears a Christian Dior dress during the French Film Festival in London in 1957.
© Keystone-France.

Lady Diana arrives in Buenos Aires, November 23, 1995. She carries the Dior handbag that she will eventually poplularize, which will become the famous Lady Dior. ©Tim Graham/Getty Images. 

Portrait of Mitzah Bricard, circa 1950. All rights reserved.

Princess Margaret accompanied by Sir Oliver Harvey while arriving to the Bal du Cercle Interallié benefitting the British Hertford Hospital in Paris, November 21, 1951. © Rue des Archives/AGIP.

Rihanna chose a design from the Autumn-Winter 2015 haute couture collection to attend the Spring-Summer 2016 ready-to-wear collection’s runway show in Paris, October 2, 2015. © Getty Images for Dior.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Miss Pat Clark, Air Hostess

Pat Clark in 1948, one of the first airline hostesses for TWA. 
She's wearing the uniform designed by Howard Greer.

Air hostess, stewardess or flight attendant -- while the title has changed through the years, the job has always been connected to a sense of adventure, independence and glamour. In early December, I organized a tour of the "Fashion in Flight" show at the San Francisco International airport. I wrote about the show here. Among the twenty tour attendees was one of the first TWA (Transcontinental and Western Air) air hostesses, Pat Wunderling. She is the mother of a friend of mine and I was thrilled to have her there and hear firsthand about her experiences.

She was a WAVE in Naval Air Transport in WWII, flying between Oakland, California and Hawaii. She applied to TWA but was turned down because she didn't meet the minimum height requirement, but she persisted. Once they considered her military experience she was hired. Flying before the jet era, she was an air hostess on the prop planes DC-3's and Constellations ("Connies"), flying the West Coast region from 1947-1949. She married in 1949 and had to leave her job as it was against regulations to be a married air hostess.

Howard Hughes was her boss and TWA was known as the "Airline to the Stars" as a lot of Hollywood people liked to party in San Francisco. Pat remembers having Mickey Rooney on her flight a few times, along with other celebrities.

The erudite John H. Hill, Assistant Director for the SFO Museum, led us on a fascinating story and fact-filled two-hour tour of the "Fashion in Flight" exhibit.

Pat is standing on the far right in the tweed turtleneck. She is looking at a copy of the TWA uniform she wore while John explains the history of the uniform designed by Howard Greer. Pat remembers uniform regulations were strict and if they weren't followed it could mean losing your job. She told us the story of one colleague showing up to work in open-toe shoes, which was not regulation. Pat thought fast and advised her friend to stuff the toe with carbon paper, so the black paper blended in with the leather.

The darling and daring Pat Wunderling, with her custom-made uniform. She brought it to share with the group. She'll be 93 next month and is still looking fabulous.

Above is a detail of the famous flap on the TWA uniform. The flap unbuttons to cover the logo when the air hostess is having a cigarette or cocktail.

Pat generously gave me one of her original business cards. She also offered one to John Hill, but being the thorough and ethical conservator that he is, he refused it because he could not document receiving it at that moment. They made plans to talk later so Pat could officially share some of her stories and memorabilia with the museum.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Crossroads, crucifixes and crowns

Katherine Leutzinger in her beautiful shop, Casa Katalina
at Calle Correo 51, one block from the center of town.

Situated on a 6400 foot plateau in central Mexico, San Miguel de Allende does not have the beaches that most people imagine when thinking about Mexico. But it does have the constant hum, buzz and electric energy of creativity on just about every corner. It can be the creativity of a metal fabricator hammering out the next beautiful iron gate. Or it can be the lamp shade maker in the mercado piercing slotted patterns on shiny silver tin to create beautiful wall shadows.

Or it can a stylish ex-pat gringa who is inspired by the local creativity to bring her own design visions to life. That's what interior designer Katherine Leutzinger did in 2004 when she was at a crossroads in her life and daringly decided to close her interior design business in Reno and move to San Miguel for a new start.

With her keen eye for drama and style, Katherine opened her elegant shop selling her jewelry, home decor and vintage Mexican items. Using rich Mexican imagery and icons such as crosses and crowns in her designs, each piece is handcrafted locally, making each piece not only a fabulous thing to wear, but also a meaningful travel memento. On every trip to San Miguel, I make it a point to visit Casa Katalina and spend time trying on Katherine's bracelets, earrings, rings, necklaces and I always find several items for myself and for gifts. And while I'm trying things on, I love chatting with Katherine to learn about the latest great restaurant or fun thing to do.

Made of the metal alloy, Tumbaga, each link on the chain is skillfully crafted by hand. The large charms have images such as the Aztec calendar and the Mexican coat of arms.

This necklace of old Mexican coins is one of my personal treasures. 

Katherine also carries vintage Mexican items, each rich with history.

I have several of these glasses for sipping tequila in style. 

In addition to her own designs, Katherine has some traditional Mexican crafts like these gorgeous candles from Oaxaca.

If you don't have a visit planned to San Miguel, many of the jewelry items are available at