Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Stylish Cinema: "Book Club"

Am I the only woman in America who did not like "Book Club"? For various and assorted reasons—not the least of which was three days of continuous rain—I was seriously ready for a rom-com, one that I could enjoy despite its being perhaps a little silly. What I wasn't willing to accept was one that insulted my intelligence while being as full of holes as Swiss cheese.

To be clear, I loved "Bridesmaids", another film about women behaving badly. I very much enjoyed "I'll See You in My Dreams", a rom-com with a slice of reality. And a book club saved my life back when I was having serious issues with my son's kindergarten teacher. I really, really wanted to love this movie.

Alas, I left with too many questions. Why did we never see Jane Fonda, as the owner of a chic California hotel, actually working? Ditto the chef/owner of a trendy restaurant. Certainly that has to be one of the most labor-intensive professions ever, yet Mary Steenburgen's character spent most of the time trying to get her reluctant husband into bed.

Diane Keaton was, as always, Diane Keaton. She has got that down so well the film didn't bother giving her another job. My favorite was the vulnerable Candice Bergen, believable as a federal judge, unfathomable as a divorcee obsessed with her ex-husband.

The male actors, (mainly Richard Dreyfuss, Craig T. Nelson, Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, and Ed Begley, Jr) all recognizable from better days and former glories, were for the most part accessories.

Speaking of accessories, my intent was to report on the fashion in this movie. I was interested how the actresses would be dressed in their roles as obviously well-off, sophisticated mature women.

A fun fact: the books the club is reading are E.L. James' "Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy. The costume designer for "Book Club", Shay Cunliffe,  also did that for the third "Grey" movie, "Fifty Shades Freed". Oh, and featured actor Don Johnson's daughter Dakota starred in those movies.

Here's how Shay did:

Diane Keaton's character (also named Diane) is dressed like someone who admires Diane Keaton and adopted her best looks without the silly bits. Diane's wardrobe is mostly black and white, including a stunning white pantsuit worn to the airport (not too practical) and shown without the jacket above. She has one scene in a light blue shirt and great fitting jeans. Her makeup was understated and hair an impossibly sleek swatch of white blonde. Diane herself could take a few lessons on how to look like Diane in "Book Club".

Jane Fonda as hotel-owner-allergic-to-love Vivian wears intentionally body-con clothing that's more Sexy Cougar than high fashion. Some of the prints were a little matronly. The clothes fit her splendid shape flawlessly. She has not a wrinkle on them or her face. Jane Fonda is fairly encased in plastic these days. She doesn't look real until the scene with Vivian in an untucked plaid shirt scarfing ice cream, meant to demonstrate she was vulnerable to love and frozen dairy products. That red head of hair was pretty obviously a wig.

Candice Bergen's Sharon is a believable federal judge with her understated work wardrobe. She hasn't a clue how to dress for a blind date. I did laugh at her wrestling match with a foundation garment in a fitting room. Nobody won that fight. Less feasible was her transformation to a hot mama (more like a chic Martha Stewart) on her second  blind date. Who gave her the makeover?

Mary Steenburgen is Carol, the chef and restaurant owner. Her wardrobe is modified Boho mixed with sleek working woman sheaths. Chef whites make a fleeting appearance but are never seen again. Her wardrobe is fairly forgettable, which may be why I found few shots to include.

I'll give "Book Club" props in two areas. It's a testament to the power of friendship, no matter how unrealistic those relationships might have been. It would be lovely to think your friends would help you dress for a big date when you are in your '70s, then hide behind a curtain to watch what happens. Or would it? Although the actresses range in age from 65 (Mary Steenburgen) to 72 (Diane Keaton and Candice Bergen) to 80 (Jane Fonda), they make for a plausible quartet of friends from college days. 

Casting turned a blind eye to age. Jane Fonda is paired with Don Johnson, 12 years her junior in real life and Diane Keaton with Andy Garcia, 10 years younger. Another Hollywood moment!

You may notice a lot of wine in the photos. There is much drinking in this movie. Those glasses deserve a set decorator credit of their own.

Looks like fun off set as well.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Men We Loved: Anthony Bourdain

Can I write a piece about the late Anthony Bourdain under the aegis of a fashion blog?

I once wrote a post called, "I Write, I Shop, I Dress, and I'm Hungry for More" and thanked him for his catch phrase on "No Reservations" that I had co-opted. I mentioned that "Someday I must write about your amazing cool middle-aged dude look. You are AllWays in Fashion." That was six years ago. I never did get around to it.

Now comes the sad tribute to that very cool dude. He had one true determination of style: presence. Anthony Bourdain fairly jumped off a page or screen. Oozing intelligence and charm, fueled by curiosity and joy, he touched all of us in such personal ways. He always seemed a head taller than everyone and moved like a cat. He was able to be more unfiltered and "real" than we allow ourselves to be, especially in public and with strangers. Oh for an ounce of that self confidence!

This goes beyond what Anthony Bourdain taught us. And yes, weren't we along to learn something? I couldn't care about eating duck's eyeballs in Hong Kong, but I wanted to know what made that city tick, and I wanted to learn with the most remarkable of guides.

The fact that at 61 Anthony Bourdain was on his way to becoming the most impossibly cool old guy dude ever? Don't laugh, Anthony, though you may be looking down on us all and laughing just a little bit. We will miss everything about you.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Goodbye, Lord & Taylor

Not all the Lord & Taylor stores are closing, but the Fifth Avenue flagship at 38th and 39th Streets will be no more. This landmark building opened in 1914 and only last year underwent a $12 million renovation. It will soon house WeWork, a company that provides shared work spaces and services for freelancers and entrepreneurs.

Lord & Taylor has many distinctions. It was the first New York City department store, founded in 1826 by Mr. Lord and his cousin Mr. Taylor. In 1945 Dorothy Shaver became the first woman president of a retail establishment. Under her leadership Lord and Taylor was the first department store to open a suburban branch, setting the style for suburban shopping to come (and possibly the death knell of downtown).

Lord & Taylor holds some special memories for me. It was the first New York department store I visited—in 1950 when I was 8. This was an extravagant family vacation—we usually went to Chippewa Lake—and my first visit to New York. I remember impatiently sitting on a couch in Outerwear while my mother and older sister picked out winter coats. My father became increasingly agitated as he figured out what this was going to cost him. I could hardly wait to get to FAO Schwartz where I would spend the $10 I'd saved up.

As I became aware of fashion, art and the business of fashion (in roughly that order) I appreciated Lord &Taylor's advertising. They used illustration paired with the sophisticated swash of their hand lettered logo. The ads definitely had brand recognition.

Fifteen years later I'd be living in New York and working at "Glamour" Magazine. Lord & Taylor was close to the magazine's offices and convenient for lunchtime browsing, but it was never my dream palace of choice. Their offerings were tasteful and reasonably priced, but not exciting like Bloomingdale's or cheap and chic like Ohrbach's.

My mother had joined me to live in New York. After retiring as a secretary she took a part-time job in Lord & Taylor's lingerie department. She loved it, and the customers loved her. This was the first time I saw my mother as a person in her own right and not entirely orbiting around me. I would meet her occasionally for lunch in L&T's Birdcage Restaurant (tiny little tables and delicate little food).

Then as now 34th Street was more the shopping hub, as is Fifth Avenue from 50th to 57th Streets. Lord & Taylor was kind of an orphan, though everyone loved their Christmas windows.

Where are the remaining Lord & Taylor's? I just looked up the store search to find my nearest is 933 miles away in Oakbrook, Illinois. That's a long way to go for Christmas.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Life's Lost Little Luxuries: Swim Caps

A swim cap is not a luxury to a competitive swimmer who needs one to eliminate any iota of "drag" as she (or he) churns through the water. Once upon a time every girl and woman wore one, despite the fact that they didn't really keep your hair dry. They were pretty ugly, too—utilitarian white rubber helmets (with chin strap) purchased for $1.98 from the drug store.  

Then came "swim chapeaus", imaginative toppers designed to show off your compressed skull with  pizazz. They were all the rage in the 1950s, the cap of choice while enjoying the sand and sea or your local community pool.

These caps weren't cheap. It took a lot of baby sitting hours to save the $10. Mine was two shades of shaggy pink latex, similar to the one below. I was going for water sprite.

I loved Esther Williams' MGM musicals. Esther rarely wore a swim cap in her elaborately choreographed swimming routines. I wonder what they used on her head during those film sequences... bear grease??? She did sport a cute cap while frolicking with her children in her own (Esther Williams brand) pool.

You can find retro-style swim caps today, to be worn with a wink and a smile. They are colorful and fun. But the originals promised you would have the allure of a mermaid, or appear as a sea creature come to life. Keeping hair dry was completely beside the point.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Tour de Force

Not done this way today...

"If it's Tuesday, This Must be Belgium" was a 1969 comedy starring Ian McShane as a tour guide taking a busload of Americans across Europe. 

Fast forward to 2018 starring Mark Deckelbaum as the guide and a busload of Americans touring Israel. I had a bit part as "woman covered in sunblock, seat two, left of aisle."

My husband and I love to travel and usually hitch ourselves to day or half-day tours of places we are visiting on our own. The rest of the time we like to wander, meeting locals and tourists from other parts of the world. We also like to sleep late.

We realized two weeks in Israel to see everything we wanted meant being part of a full-fledged tour. The thought of someone else planning the details was very compelling. We had some help finding Which Tour, and in the end chose wisely.

Now group tours are very much like family: you don't have a choice who's with you, you have to get along, and you forgive a lot in the process. There is a group mentality that will color your experiences as much as what you see. Despite a (very) few hiccups, it was a wonderful trip. 

A lively group though not mine

Here's where the gist of this post kicks in. I packed all wrong. 

When I travel I like to put myself in context to where I am visiting. If it's a city, I like to dress city-style. If it's the tropics I'll give free reign to my Bohemian side. Seaside and the white pants and striped T will come out. You get the idea.

I packed for Israel much the same way (after checking out Eva Marie Saint's wardrobe in "Exodus"). Desert colors for daytime sightseeing, utility clothes like khakis for active touring, a few dress-up dresses for dinner in the cities...and corresponding shoes, jewelry, handbags, etc. As someone else would be lugging the suitcases I figured "Why not?".

Eva Marie Saint (left) in "Exodus"
However, I discovered what veteran travelers know: Touring with a group is a different animal. Many of the women thoughtfully put together what I would call a Basic Group Tour Wardrobe: simple t-shirts, pull on jersey pants, zip up jackets, baseball cap, practical sneakers, the all-important nylon cross-body bag. They dressed TO TOUR, to be part of that phalanx of 20 or so who go from A to B with headsets and name tags. They mean business

If I were smart I would have done the same. It made no sense to dress according to place so I would "fit in". We were so obviously a bunch of tourists. There was no way I could have been mistaken for anything else. 

Some days we would meet in the lobby dressed, fed and ready to go for the day as early as 6:45 AM. When we returned to the hotel at 7PM no one "dressed for dinner". It was head to the dining room then straight to bed. 

No one cared about hair, makeup or accessories. Our concerns were sunblock, water and the right shoes. Guess who wished she'd brought her all-terrain Brooks GTS Adrenalines? I thought it would be chic to wear olive and tan in the country and learned how to deflect jokes about looking like the Israel Defense Force.

With a new friend at the border

Although it's taken a week to recover from that 28-hour flight home, it was all amazing, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat—with a carry-on.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

What if...?

What if Meghan Markle had worn a white pantsuit to her wedding? What if she had worn a short dress a la Audrey Hepburn in "Funny Face"? What if she had worn a hat rather than a tiara? What if she had stunned the world as this whole divorced-older-woman/younger-man-biracial-royally unprecedented romance has done? She could have gotten away with it.

Instead Meghan chose a dress so simple I am pressed to describe it other than a white satin column with a wide (ill-fitting?) bateau neckline. The designer was Clare Waight Keller, who recently became head of Givenchy. It was tasteful, but in a cream-of-wheat sort of way. The veil was long with a small attempt at embroidered trim. The tiara was refined. The jewelry understated. The hair was hair. The makeup minimal.

I liked that. She looked as fresh-faced as a schoolgirl. I'd be surprised if freckles as an accessory didn't become a trend.

Young women looking to be inspired for their own big day will probably look elsewhere. At least they already have their prince.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Audrey Auction Encore

Christie's London is holding another auction of Audrey Hepburn's personal belongings May 2 - 9. This is billed as the third and final auction following two last summer and consists of 200 lots of "clothing, jewellery, photography and film memorabilia, all of which have remained in the ownership of Audrey Hepburn’s family."

It looks like Audrey saved everything, and why not? She probably had enough closets. It is curious she chose to save costume jewelry from the 1950s, things we would have sent to Goodwill eons ago. An owl brooch by Coro that may have cost $10 in the '50s has an estimate of 500-800 GBP.  It's almost as if Audrey knew her many millions of fans would love to own anything that had ever passed through her hands. I certainly would, but estimates for the lots start at 200 GBP for a single picture by an anonymous photographer and go up considerably.

There are many photographs, including this sweet one by Milton Greene and a set of hairdo tests from the early '60s. The lady could not take a bad picture.

There are mundane things like several lots of Indian silk scarves and collections of narrow belts. Something closer to Audrey herself, a powder compact with initials AHF, is priced accordingly.

Lot estimate 500-800 GBP
Lot estimate 400-600 GBP
Estimate 2,000-3,000 GBP

I've had this photo of Audrey wearing a matador suit since it appeared in a 1966 issue of "Vogue."

Estimate 2,000-3,000 GBP

It's hard to believe Audrey Hepburn died 25 years ago. She is truly timeless thanks to her films. Almost all of them were wonderful. At least she was wonderful in all of them. I can't really explain why Audrey transcends Screen Goddess. Each person finds some combination of Audrey the actress and Audrey the person to make her special to them alone. Then we share the love together. Isn't that loverly?

Monday, April 23, 2018

Who is Sylvia?

Sylvia Plath 1932-1963

Sylvia Plath was my first encounter with disappointment, hers and mine. After hearing so much about it, I finally read that 1963 novel, The Bell Jar. I was a young woman in New York, working at a fashion magazine—"Glamour", a competitor of "Mademoiselle", where Sylvia had been a summer intern. Instead of an optimistic, lighthearted look at life in New York City, this was decidedly the other side of paradise. Beautiful writing notwithstanding, Sylvia's sharp observations and inner turmoils color The Bell Jar. Many have responded to it, but then and there I was not having it.

Over time I took The Bell Jar less personally and have come to appreciate her sensitive but tormented soul, stilled early by the demons she wrote about. Her suicide has us asking, "What if?". What if she had written more? What if she had found the answers? What if? What if? In this proto-feminism age her husband Ted Hughes became something of a villain. His own efforts to clarify that did nothing to dispel the notion.

Sylvia's kilt as worn by its lucky bidder

I just read a piece in the New York Times about a sale of Syliva Plath's personal items. They were ordinary—the plaid kilt from her time studying at Smith College, three watches with worn wristbands, an inexpensive costume jewelry pendant, some mundane dresses, and a pale turquoise portable typewriter. These were offered at auction by her daughter, Fiona Hughes, now 58, a painter and poet, who was only a toddler when Sylvia killed herself. She chose to let go of the possessions of a woman she barely remembers so they wouldn't disappear into the flotsam and jetsam of items in her own life, their provenance erased over time. You can copy and paste to read for yourself:

Her dress, her watches
Sylvia Plath's clothes have made their way into other collections. Her Girl Scout uniform and prom dress are part of the Smith College Historic Clothing Collection. The uniform is presently on display at Washington's Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, part of the exhibit, "One Life: Sylvia Plath." It was chosen by curators over the prom dress as its many badges point to her being an early Type A individual.  

Sylvia's Girl Scout uniform on display

I have a fake fur hat that belonged to my mother and that she wore often. I can't part with it. After her own mother died a friend sent me the plaid blazer my mother had made for her. She knew that would mean a lot—a remembrance of them both. So it is with celebrities. I would rather own a scarf that belonged to Audrey Hepburn, one she may have worn,  than a photo personally autographed to me. The clothing and trinkets we wear capture us for others, even those we don't know.

Our clothing says that these are our choices. Aside from a uniform, clothes we choose to wear have gone through our thought process. There was a reason we picked that style or pattern. That's why celebrity watching on the red carpet holds little interest for me. The looks are impersonal, the work of a second or third party.

We may never know Sylvia Plath as she struggled to know herself. What touched her though, touches us.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Madras Has a Moment

Going for Baroque

I have a soft spot for Madras. Just thinking about the dark green and navy plaid skirt I owned in the early '60s reminds me of undergraduate years in art school and working summers on Cape Cod. Back then wearing Madras as an art student would not have been considered ironic. And I worked hard in Provincetown to buy the hand-crafted leather sandals worn with it. I remember that skirt like yesterday. I'm not sure I ever washed it.

The way we wore it

The immediate reference to Madras is preppy America circa 1960, but it's been around far longer. From first Dutch and then English traders to India in the 17th century, Madras first  arrived in America as a donation to the present Yale University in 1718. Sears offered a madras shirt to American consumers in its 1897 catalog.

Mad Man wearing Madras

Authentic Madras must be woven in and around Chennai (formerly Madras), India. It must be handwoven with the same pattern on both sides. The nature of the fiber makes for tiny bumps known as slubs. It's rare for Madras not to be woven in plaids, but there are stripes and solids. Another popular style of Madras is patched Madras, small squares of fabric stitched together before the garment is cut. That has always been my favorite—a veritable Whitman's Sampler of color and chaos. Then there is bleeding Madras, which would run like the devil when washed. The payoff would result over time in very faded Madras.

Thom Browne Fall 2018

Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren always have some Madras in their collections. J Crew is a fan. And a man in Madras still makes my heart go pitter-pat.

So while the popularity of Madras waxes and wanes, it's never really "out". And sometimes it's very "in". On Thursday Uniqlo is unveiling its collaboration with JW Anderson (thanks to D.O. for the heads-up), featuring two pieces of Madras in a blouse and long wrap skirt. They are just enough to give the collection some preppy authenticity, but not enough Madras for me.

Uniqlo $29.90
Uniqlo, $49.90

May we have some more please?

NOTE: A reliable source tells me that the Madras at UNIQLO is actually plaid seersucker. That means someone else needs to bring back Madras, and I need to post a love letter to seersucker!