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!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Women We Love: Maye Musk

Let's wish an early "Happy Birthday" to Maye Musk, who will turn 70 on April 19. If the name sounds familiar, Elon Musk, a founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors, is one of her three children. But Maye Musk was not suddenly discovered when Elon became rich and famous. She has been modelling for over 50 years, has masters degrees in dietetics and nutritional science and is an author and motivational speaker. Oh yes, she's one of Cover Girl's latest finds and their oldest spokesmodel.

Maye with son Elon Musk

Born in Canada, her family were adventurous nomads who moved to South Africa when Maye was 2. Educated there, she married an engineer and had three children before a divorce in 1979. It was Elon who decided to move to Canada after high school. Maye followed with the other children.

She had been a model since age fifteen, always expecting to be told she was over the hill, but work was steady. She continued modelling in Canada and earned a few more degrees in nutrition-related studies.

Maye's many modelling assignments
Certainly the last few years have been a whirlwind of activity as Maye is being "discovered" all over the world. Besides Cover Girl, she has walked runways, is the inspiration for a collection by Sachin + Babi, appeared in a Beyonce video and on a James Bond video game. She has done campaigns for Target, Virgin Atlantic, Revlon and Kellog's and is now pretty much a celebrity in her own right.

In an interview you can see here (copy then paste the link):
Maye comes across as charming and delighted to be "near her peak." She also rightly considers herself an inspiration for younger models who may think they are getting too old to find work.  She tells a great story that at 42 she was "the oldest model in Canada" and was hired to portray a grandmother. Now she is told "you don't look like a grandmother", and she has ten grandchildren.

Quirky in Barney's spring campaign
Relaxed off set
Like all great models she is quite an actress and can project haughty, sophistcated or blase as well as chic or playful. Her brilliant white hair is a great assest, but like many women she had to decide when to let it happen.

As it was a "mousey brown" (I can relate), she started putting in highlights and was pretty much a blonde by her late '50s. She was tired of the effort and decided to see what was underneath "even if I never work again." She admits the blonde with a growing-out white halo may have looked strange, but she was determined and never resorted to wearing hats. What evolved is a gorgeous white which, when cropped into a modern cut, has been her crowning glory.

At one time she had put on enough weight to qualify as a plus-size model, but used her own knowledge to slim down and now: "I know all about the science behind healthy eating, but science does not give you willpower. When you get older, you have to eat better than you used to because if you let yourself go, it’s really hard to get back on track."

Maye's 1996 book on healthful living has long been out of print but a copy is available on Amazon for $1073. I have a feeling she may be writing another soon.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Learning from Oscar

This year's Oscars returned to the glamorous event I've always enjoyed, albeit with some touches of sly humor by host Jimmy Kimmel. Sometimes only the faux pas make an Oscar telecast fun, but this one moved along well and made me appreciate movies all the more.

Often I don't understand the brouhaha over Oscar dressing, as I wouldn't wear some of those get-ups to a dog fight. Last night stylists (for the most part) channeled elegance. We can learn from that. We can even learn from the few red carpet faux pas.

Both Gail Gadot and Allison Williams laid on the sparkles, albeit in a restrained manner. Gail's pendant necklace perfectly solved the cleavage issue. Without it that neckline might have been too severely bare. Allison's dress could have gone matronly, but was restrained just enough.

I also loved Nicole Kidman and Saoirse Roanan's big bows, but those might be don't-try-this-at-home moments.

And Oscar winner Allison Janney looked regal in her long crimson gown. It walked beautifully too. It was a vibrant shade of red; in black it might have been a little too wicked-witch-in-"Snow White."

Greta Gerwig knew she was going to get a lot of screen time, and she dressed as Oscar's best date in a golden shade of yellow.

Alas, Selma Hayek was a lesson in needed restraint. I wanted to rip those chains off (at the very least). That tiered lavender cupcake was definitely one of the night's missteps.

The best fashion takeaway from the Oscars was Emma Stone's silk two-piece pantsuit. I'm not sure about the pink bow belt, but that outfit proved how much you can do with a pair of black silk pants and a nice jacket. She stood out because she didn't shout.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Women We Love: Yolanda Hadid

Yolanda Hadid is a self-proclaimed mama bear. She has also been a member of that jolly improv troupe known as "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills." Never would I have thought I would be writing about one of them, and in truth I'm not. Yolanda Hadid was in the cast for four seasons, from 2012-2016. I've never seen the show.

Mama Bear Yolanda is the mother of supermodels Gigi Hadid and Bella Hadid (and son Anwar Hadid). They are the children of her marriage to real estate developer Mohammed Hadid. Yolanda was born in the Netherlands. She was discovered by legendary model star maker Eileen Ford and successfully modeled internationally for 15 years. She married Hadid in 1994 and settled in Los Angeles. They divorced in 2000.

Gigi, Yolanda and Bella

Yolanda married composer/producer David Foster in 2011. He had previously been married to Linda Thompson, former longtime girlfriend of Elvis Presley, who had formerly been married herself to Bruce Jenner. I'd like to be at one of their family reunions... In 2012 Yolanda contracted a severe case of Lyme disease.  She was so debilitated she revealed she had "lost the ability to read, write, or even watch TV." The marriage didn't last. They were divorced in 2016, and she took back the Hadid name.

"Making a Model" cast of hopefuls with Yolanda
I never intended to watch "Making a Model", but it came on right after "Project Runway" and was set in my beloved New York City. So I decided to chill with some probably mindless tv. Imagine my surprise when I became fascinated by Yolanda Hadid.

The show gave a group of very young, inexperienced models the opportunity to win challenges with "the possibility of a modeling contract" for the winner. Yolanda early on established herself as a mentor to the girls, teaching them the hard truths about modeling and tools they needed to succeed. She also became a mama bear leader to the girls' mothers, urging them to encourage their daughters with positive feedback as well as letting them know not everyone can be a winner every time.

She used her own experience with her two gorgeous, successful daughters, Gigi and Bella as examples. Despite their glamorous appearances on the runway and in magazines, the girls appear to be natural, unspoiled, and very fond of their mother.

Of course she looks great. Her makeup, clothes and hair are appropriate for a woman her age (54). Her wardrobe is hip but understated and is of excellent quality. The fit is perfect. Hair, makeup, accessories are subtle and polished.  She looks toned but—thank the Lord—is not reed slim. Her look may not be my particular style, but I love how she puts herself together.

My interest in Yolanda is the sum of her parts. If she wasn't so patient, encouraging and insightful about her young charges and wise in advising their mothers I wouldn't care how well turned out she is.

The series had a short run on Lifetime. The last 4 or 5 episodes were lumped together one Sunday morning a few weeks ago (not a good sign for a series' chances of renewal).