Friday, September 23, 2016

What's a Picture Worth?

Mary Russell by Lobravico

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I've always thought fashion illustration tells the story as well or better than a photograph. It ups the fantasy level (when fashion was a little more fantastical) and really fires your imagination. That may not hold true today, when we supposedly want to "shop the runway" before Anna Wintour's chair is even cold.

Once upon a time... and I've written about this before... using illustration was not the rare choice it is today. Proof would be a legal size (better to hold those oversize pages) folder I unearthed in an effort to finally clean out the boxes I packed 13 years ago when we moved to Texas.

Once upon a time I wanted to be a fashion illustrator. Most of my illustrations were just doodles for my own pleasure. Although I did turn out some illustrations for Glamour Magazine once I started working there, I was never comfortable in my line and was always looking over my shoulder or under the ink bottle for inspiration. Drawing, much as I loved it, didn't come naturally.

Really just a doodle
Published work!

 Talk to anyone in the arts, and I'll bet they will say what they do comes from a gut place that totally absorbs them. It's the passion that tells them "practice, practice, practice" and the thing that tells Sleep "just one more paragraph/stanza/pirouette...". Though we may dabble (or more) in what we love (Florence Foster Jenkins anyone?) we admire the ones who've got it (DG you know who you are). To that end I've long collected clips of fashion illustration.

Alas, paper doesn't last. My clippings (magazine or newsprint) are brittle if not actually fraying. Just looking at them left a trail of paper chips all over the room. It's time to say goodbye but not before a last hurrah.

A gaggle by the great Antonio

The biggest stash are drawings by Antonio Lopez, mostly from 1966 and 1967. He was an amazingly prolific illustrator. This was before he was elevated to royalty in the Studio 54 era. His girls were more young and innocent-looking in my clips than those in his later work. He worked a lot for Glamour back then too. I've written before how, being in charge of art department clean-out, I threw away reams of his alternate submissions and never saved a one. But I saved the printed pages! Go figure.

Betsy could draw too

Did you know that Betsy Johnson drew fashion illustration for Mademoiselle Magazine before she left to become a designer? She also worked in their art department, which was on the floor below Glamour's. She had a bigger passion.

I wanted to be an Arkin girl

My favorite illustrator of all-time was Erica Perl. She drew for Glamour in the '50s (before my time) and for a manufacturer named Arkin. She seemed to stop in the '60s as I never saw her work after that. Her illustrations are the most realistic of the bunch. I poured over all the details. If I could have morphed into one of them I would gladly have done so. Ironically I found out many years later she had lived just a few miles from our house in the New York City suburbs.

So maybe not goodbye to all of them, just au revoir. I'm sure I have room for one more box...

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"80 Years of Fashion": Part Two

All aboard the train...

What follows is part two of the complete, unexpurgated essay I wrote for English class during the school year of 1954-55, age twelve. I assume the attempts at humor were intentional, but it was too long ago to know for sure.

1870 - 1880
There were two important reforms in dress made during these years. The Aesthetic and Man-Woman dress were their names. They were not too successful but a step in the right direction anyway.

Aesthetic style
Oscar Wilde

The Aesthetic reformers tried to popularize the Greek style and lovely colors. There was also a strong Japanese influence in their modes. Their chief leader was the author Oscar Wilde. The Man-Woman dress was hideous. The dress consisted of an ankle-length belted coat topped with a bowler hat. This outfit was worn by both sexes.

However the majority of people during these years didn't adopt the Aesthetic or Man-Woman dresses. The women wore trains which swept up anything from orange peels to cat food. One thoughtful observer made this notation of what a lady had swept up in her train:
> Two cigar ends
> Nine cigarette butts
> A portion of pork pie
> Four toothpicks
> Two hairpins
> One stem of a clay pipe
> One slice of cat's meat
> Half a sole of a boot
> One plug of tobacco (chewed)
> Straw, mud, scraps of paper, etc.

It was the crinoline's end and the beginning of the bustle age. These bustles lessened towards 1880. The hour-glass shape and the nineteen-inch waist were popular. Dark shades and harmonious colors were worn.

Men wore frock coats and narrow plaid trousers. Bell-bottomed pants were introduced. Top hats, very high and narrow, were popular.

Children's clothes were very elaborate. This was the age of the monkey suit for boys. Big bows were worn on the backs of girls' dresses. Their pantaloons showed.

1880 - 1890
This period is known as the "hideous Eighties", possibly the worst period for women's dress. By now the hour glass was too popular. Women were ruining their health as well as their figures.

Men wore frock coats, and a long-waisted overcoat was a great favorite. Tails were worn for evening. A lounging jacket called a Norfolk jacket was also introduced.

The Norfolk jacket
Women's bodices came to a "V" in front, and there was a huge bow at the back of the skirt. Trains were worn only at night. Capes and tight-fitting coats were popular. Muffs and bonnets were also popular at this time. The picture hat was first introduced. Bright colors (especially shades of blue and purple) were worn. Women used no make-up, so if you've ever seen your mother right after she gets up, you know how bad they looked.

A worthy Worth
Charles Worth was a prominent designer during the reign of Empress Eugenie. He started out as a small tailor and eventually bought the tailor shop. He then named it the "House of Worth". After his death Worth's children, Jean and Gaston, took over his Paris establishment. This was the year 1884.

Children's clothes were fancy and very frilly, and they clearly showed the popular "bandaged-up" look. 

Timeless advice from Oscar Wilde
to be continued...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Madame Predicts the Fall Trends


Will this be my new wardrobe? Is it 300 thread count? Make that a couture sheet, please.

Yes, this is part of the fall campaign 2016 for Balenciaga in your favorite glossy fashion magazines. Four full pages do not come cheap. It isn't as if they were making a statement. Balenciaga is not going out of business or suggesting togas. Their offerings this year would be right at home in Grayson Perry's closet.


I'm not here to make fun of Balenciaga as there is a statement, just perhaps not the one they intended. Fall offerings this year are so discombobulated and all over the place that a sheet (or staying home) would seem the best answer. Madame (that's me) likes to report on the trends each season. I'm just so bored with the same-old-and-then-some I can't whip up the effort. We've seen all these trends before. In order to make them different, everything is supersized or cross-polinated. Think Biker with lace and Boho with studs. And forget what Chanel said about removing the last accessory. For Fall 2016, add one on.

 If you insist, here they are:
> Pretty and edgy
> Luxe eclectic
> Dark romance
> Sporty cool
> Menswear
> Boho 1970s
> Military

All the fashion reporting has identified the same trends (with slightly different monikers). You might think that amazing, but the fall trends are every trend we've seen trending for eons— except minimal. If you want to be a fashion trend-setter, that might be the way to go.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Dear Hillary...

First Democratic presidential debate

Dear Hillary,
It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter. Please believe I wouldn't bother if I didn't care.  I want you to look your best as you go out to slay the Jabberwacky (as your opponent is referred to in this household). But lately you've been looking a little frowsy around the edges. Too many bad hair days and reruns of the dreaded colorful pantsuits.

Slaying the Jabberwocky

When I saw you on the first Democratic presidential debate, you looked so great I wrote about it. You were wearing a lovely outfit, and your hair and makeup were flawless. I was so happy you finally hired the right stylist and/or you were listening to her/him.

I can't even imagine what constantly being on the campaign trail is like. You must barely have time to eat and sleep let alone pick three pieces to make an outfit. The Jabberwacky only has to hoist that red tie around his necks, and he's done. He can even doff a baseball cap and get away with it.

This does not go without notice. Even a male friend (who will probably vote for you anyway) said, "I hate her pantsuits!"

Exhibits P (pantsuits) and H (hair)

You may not like my suggestions, but I think you need to add a permanent hairdresser to your entourage. It may cost the taxpayers, but it would be worth it. You also need a stylist to throw out the crayola pantsuits and dress you like the strong woman you are, not like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass. Look what happened to her.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Backstory

Unless these gals plan to back out of that party, at some point they are going to turn around, and this not so pretty picture will be the result. We so forget we have a back side as well as a backside. If anything would entice you to invest in a three way mirror, it might be this photo.

I'd like to think I don't have back fat or panty lines or tan lines, but I'm not so sure. Okay, I'm sure about the tan lines. I'm always aware how a customer (at the Lovely Boutique Where I Work) looks from the back  as that's my job. I feel I've saved many a lass in love with a dress from the front by showing her how is just isn't fitting or flattering from the back. But who tells me??? And you, in the privacy of your own dressing inner sanctum? Could this call for a selfie stick?

Obviously certain types of outfits will be more susceptible to scrutiny than others. Bathing suits would be one, party clothes another. And while we can forgive a lot of what we see on the beach (not wanting to be first to throw stones), a special evening calls for special attention to detail.

Besides, a three-way mirror is cheaper than growing eyes in the back of your head. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

"80 Years of Fashion": Part One

What follows is part one of the complete, unexpurgated essay I wrote for English class during the school year of 1954-55, age twelve. This is what I meant when I told you "I've always been this way". I assume the attempts at humor were intentional, but it was too long ago to know for sure.

This got an A from a very generous teacher. She did wish the material could have been "a bit more condensed". 


Have you wondered who wore the first clothes? The caveman was probably first. His wardrobe consisted mostly of sheep and tiger skins, maybe some mink if he was wealthy.

Now I'll skip a few thousand years and begin at 1850. This year approximately begins the Victorian era which was perhaps the ugliest period of the centuries. Meaningless ornament and veneer were applied to a design of already poor taste. Colors were crude; bonnets frankly hideous.

It was necessary to wear heavily padded petticoats until the steel-rigged crinoline, or hoop-skirt, was invented. Horsehair and crin stuffing were used. The crinoline got its name from this stuffing. Since its invention in 1530, designers have tried to revive the crinoline about the middle of each century thereafter, but it never quite reached its exaggerated shape of the 1850s.

Often it took 1,100 yards of material to make a dress in vogue at this time. Materials were cheap and gauze-like. The Empress Eugenie of France popularized silk from Lyons, but it was too heavy and you couldn't take the preferred short gliding step when walking. Most dresses were worn only once because its beauty depended upon the freshness of the material.

Style star Eugenie
Many petticoats were worn, and this is a list of what you'd have to get into before you put your dress on:
1) Lace trimmed drawers
2) Horsehair lined under-petticoat
3) Flannel petticoat
4) Three and 1/2 yards of horsehair
5) Calico petticoat stiffened with cords
6) Wheel of thick plaited horsehair
7) Three starched muslin petticoats
Rather bulky, wouldn't you say? All this weight was a terrible threat to good health.

Billowy skirts with flounces upon flounces were popular. Sleeves got larger until they were very wide at the elbow. Another popular type of sleeve was called the "Pagoda" sleeve. Dresses were adorned heavily with the customary junk and bric-a-brac.

It was impossible for ladies to get into overcoats, so shawls and mantillas had to be adopted.
Poke bonnets and leghorns made of straw were popular. Heavy gold jewelry was worn by both men and women, and so were vests. These vests were worn with a Russian Zouave coat by women. Kid slippers (especially black) were very popular. No heels were worn on ladies' shoes.


There were many difficulties in wearing these clothes. Actresses had to wear them even in medieval and Greek plays. This was thought to be the cause of the skirt's downfall. These dresses were too thin and inflammable. At one great church rally over three thousand women were burned alive when the place caught fire, because the dresses were so thin.

Empress Eugenie is said to have taken 250 dresses with her to the three-day opening of the Suez canal.

Men wore frock coats (especially plaids and checks) and a starched shirt with a little frill. A huge bow tie was popular for evening, along with very tight trousers. Silk top hats were popular, also the straw boater. The bowler hat was first introduced.

Children's clothes were much like that of their parents'. Boys' clothes were very un-masculine. Styles for children were fancy and frilly. However, simpler clothes were designed for the country. The girls wore hoops and crinolines too. The pantalets didn't show yet, but a bit of petticoat sticking out was considered fashionable.

Boys wore skirts to the age of nine. Older boys wore feminine laced pants.

Frolicking in the fifties
to be continued...

Friday, August 26, 2016

French Without Tears

Sonia Rykiel flashing a rare smile
Sonia Rykiel died in Paris this week at age 86. I came of age in the '60s and Sonia Rykiel spoke to my generation of young women, full of confidence in ourselves to handle careers, husbands (or lovers), chidren and family (if we wanted) or complete independence. We felt like pioneers because we were.

Sonia was one of the few French designers whose work reflected this new freedom. Her designs were more wearable and affordable than French couture. Most notably her innovations (the poor boy sweater, culottes, flowing lines in knitwear, subdued but romantic dresses, minimal ornamentation) were widely copied and filtered down to those of us who, sadly, could not quite afford to shop at her left bank boutique.

Early Rykiel

It has always surprised me that French women have the reputation for being austere and disciplined dressers. While her designs eschewed frippery, they were always easy and playful. Sonia came up with innovative touches like reversible dresses and jackets, exposed seams and hemlines with frayed edges. She whipped up delicious inky hues one year and switched to hot tones the next. She always chose basic black for herself, capped with a head of flaming red hair worn with her trademark "fringe". We also have Sonia to thank (or blame) for being first to add words like mode or amour onto her designs.

Sonia's La Belle Parisienne

Sonia Rykiel embraced womanhood and designed her clothing to be worn by women of all ages. Interviewed in 1987, she said "We are working women. Also we have the problem of children, of men, to take care of our houses, so many things. I try to explain that in my clothes. They are clothes for everyday life." It probably sounded better in French.

Although she retired in 2009, Sonia's daughter Nathalie had long worked with her and the brand is still going strong.

Fall 2016 campaign

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Weighing in on the September Issues

The blessed event that is the September fashion magazines weighs in at 12 pounds this year. In my world that's qunituplets. The fashionable five are Vogue at 800 pages, Harper's Bazaar at 584, Elle at 528, Marie Claire at 316 and Glamour, the runt of the litter, at 304 pages.

The health of a magazine is determined by its number of pages, signifying many or fewer ads. Could you hear the clink of glasses down at Conde Nast as they toasted easily besting all rivals (especially Harper's Bazaar)? Things may not have been as happy at Glamour.

I haven't looked inside yet. I must Do Certain Things First (like get dressed and feed the cats), but my fingers are itching.

There are those who feel there will still be nothing for a WOACA* to wear. That's a good possibility. By what I've seen in preview, there may be nothing for anyone to wear. Style seems to be going through a meat grinder right now. What interests me most in the magazines is seeing how events and culture play into our notions of beauty and fashion.

And maybe finding one or two things to buy.

*Woman of a Certain Age

Saturday, August 20, 2016

"I'll Have What She's Wearing"

Further proof that beautiful is forever, this is a 1954 photo of Audrey Hepburn modelling a dress in Amsterdam. That's all the info I have.

I thought I'd seen every photo of Audrey ever published as I've been following her since 1954. Guess I missed this one.

That beautiful face! That gorgeous smile! That dress! Couldn't you wear it today (or next month when it's cooler)? I don't know the fabric or the color, but I'm guessing it's a burgundy and black brocade. That's what I want it to be. Not sure if I'd add the long black gloves, but Audrey has no problem wearing a dress-up dress with a pair of black flats. Copy that.

Lanvin does brocade
This winter, lovers of the Boho look will be doing it in brocade. Dolce and Gabbana are the modern masters. Brocade makes any silhouette look dressy. "Brocade" is from the Italian "broccato", meaning embossed cloth, and it turns up in textiles of many cultures. And yes, "broccoli" has the same word root.

Whether Audrey's Dutch dress is actually brocade or not, check out the simple shapes of the A-line skirt, dropped shoulder, short sleeves, high jewel neckline. A woman of any age could wear this dress. It's a dress for the ages (on the perfect role model).

Does lace with brocade = brocace?


Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Fashionable Burger

This, my friends, was the (loaded) cheeseburger I enjoyed at RL, the Ralph Lauren restaurant in Chicago. I did not take the photo as nothing would have persuaded me to be so gauche in such a beautiful place. And the light wasn't this good.

For $17, fries included, (tack on another $4 for bacon and cheese) I enjoyed one of the best burgers ever in the serene elegance of Ralph Lauren magic. Who else could conjure this gracious version of Downtown Abbey?

Ralph Lauren in my kind of town, Chicago

Service was impeccable. No one cast us a hairy eye for ordering burgers. The people watching was superb. I hated to leave. Fortunately the store was then closed.

Midnight at Ralph's in Paris

The Paris restaurant ups the fantasy even more. It's housed in a former 17th century chateau on the Boulevard St. Germain. There the hamburger comes with cole slaw and a silver bowl of caramel corn with the coffee service.

Caramel corn with your coffee

I haven't made it to the New York restaurant yet, dubbed the Polo Bar and adjacent to the Polo store on East 55 Street. I understand it's a hard reservation to come by.

I'm not a Ralph Lauren gal. His clothes are not my style, though I often wish they were. He's one of the Good Guys, deserves every wonderful thing he has, and I wish him all the best. One of these days I'd love to tell him, too. Preferably over a cheeseburger.

Your table is waiting at the Polo Bar...

Monday, August 8, 2016

Finding Art in the Museum

Call me crotchety, but I'm sick of seeing tourists in a big city dressed as if they were visiting Disneyworld. And it might just not be tourists either. This includes those who should know better (ie anyone my age).

While it hardly ruined my vacation in Chicago (a great city by the way), I was greatly relieved to see that the crowd visiting the Art Institute had all Made an Effort.

This is not to say there was a fashion parade going on. It wasn't the Met Ball, nor should it have been. People were dressed appropriately (and comfortably) for enjoying the art and being in that great space.

I even saw a young woman evoking Audrey Hepburn and looking as lovely as the art herself.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Riddle me Retail

"I hear there's a good promotion going on."
Yesterday at the Lovely Boutique Where I Work I found myself trying to explain why I couldn't give a customer a price adjustment on an item she had bought on promotion, now that we were having 30% off all sale. Her eyes were beginning to glaze over as I tried to make clear the difference between promotion and sale. I realized how much this must have sounded like gobbledygook.

None of it is meant to pull the wool over your eyes, but I can see where it's confusing. Herewith a glossary of retail terminology. It all makes sense-- to a point.

On Sale. A Martian landing on earth and needing a wardrobe would surely think "on sale" meant you could buy things in this place. No, that would be "for sale". "On sale" means the item has been reduced from a previous price. This is often called "hard-lined", "hard-marked" or "red-lined"  because we once took a red pen, drew a line through the original price and wrote a lower one in red ink. Nowadays you are more likely to find a sticker or even no reduced price, just a sign reading "40% off regular price".

Promotion. A promotion means the item, usually a group of items, are temporarily reduced to "promote" them to the customer. The price will revert back to normal once the promotion is over (thus they are not hardlined). Nordstrom, which has a limited amount of sale events, famously hold its Anniversary Sale in July. New fall merchandise is temporarily marked down for the duration of the sale. Nordstrom shoppers consider this a big deal.

30% off Sale (actual percentages may vary). Some stores always offer an additional percentage off sale merchandise. It's true, we consumers have come to expect that and are disappointed when we don't find it. Other stores only slap on an additional discount when they really really want to move the merch and/or bring shoppers into the store.

Loyalty cards. These may or may not be actual credit cards, but store loyalty cards often come with an extra perk, such as a percentage off to celebrate your birthday. Depending on the store, this may or may not be able to be combined with % off sale items or promotions.

Shopping passes. I only know one store that has them around here, Macy's. Macy's is a behemoth so there's probably one near you. The shopping pass allows you a certain percentage off store items (with a laundry list of exceptions) for a certain day, often with more savings when used in the morning. This was once found in newspapers but today are more likely an online coupon or app. 

Price adjustments. To bestow fairness to the above proceedings, stores will often allow price adjustments of a certain duration. What you purchased may go on sale, on promotion or be further reduced. The time frame is usually two weeks to receive a credit for the difference. A store really doesn't want you returning, turning around and then buying it back at the lower price, so it doesn't hurt to ask if you've missed the deadline by a little (not a lot).

Online versus retail price. In an ideal world, they should be the same and usually are. But I've seen where they are not, and there doesn't seem any way around it. If the price is lower in the store, it may be because this was an item returned from online that the bricks-and-mortar would like to get out of its system. I'm not naming names, but one place I've noticed this has the name of a fictional country, beginning with B that stands for a tropical fruit.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, but I sense your eyes starting to glaze over as well. I haven't tackled discount merchandisers or big box stores, but surely a little knowledge is better than none. Oh and all this is, of course, subject to change.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Everyday Birthday Thoughts

I may need a few boxes...
While I joyfully celebrate what looks like trying to burn the house down (should all those candles actually be on the cake), I'm also aware of the implications of time passing. Here's a trick I use every year (and have used for years)— I tell myself I'd rather be a young old person than an old young person.

If that isn't obvious let me explain: nothing is so futile as trying to hold onto what isn't there. Unless you are well-practiced at deception, you are not even fooling yourself. Clinging to what's behind you is negative and paralyzing.

It surprised me to learn that legendary beauty Elizabeth Taylor wasn't bothered by aging. That's apparent in candid photos taken over the years by a good friend, Firooz Zahedi in the new book "My Elizabeth". What concerned her most was her health, and she had some cause to worry. I loved Elizabeth even more when I read that.  

You can do this with three Oscars
On the other hand there are great benefits to age (wisdom and grace for starters) that you will never realize unless you welcome it. As you discover you can say what you feel (with tact and humor of course) there is the most delicious boost to your self-confidence. When people actually listen? Over the moon.

Remember for a minute just how little you knew back when you thought you knew everything. It's a wonder any of us survived Youth!

Last, in the immortal words of Satchel Paige: How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?

Hhmmm... I think I'd better re-read this every July 23.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hanging On... and Up

A friend posted this on her Facebook page. It turned up in a closet of her late mother's home, long forgotten by the friend, obviously long treasured by the mother. Now it's part of her life, one of those things you just can't throw out though its original purpose is long past.

I realized I've been hanging on to a few hangers, too. This one belonged to my Aunt Sally. It's hand painted, but I don't know by whom. She gave it to me when I was about nine. It was my "favorite hanger". I hung only special clothing on it. As years went by I just displayed the hanger by itself as a piece of found art.

Another favorite is this blue hanger. Obviously old but no provenance that I can recall. "143" is scratched into the paint near the hook. Do you suppose there were 142 others like it???

Then there are the myriad hangers taken from hotels back when hangers weren't nameless and bolted to the closet rod. We didn't consider it stealing, more like taking a souvenir. I guess we assumed the hotel would appreciate the advertising. We used them for coats in the guest closet.

Besides being darn sturdy and an endangered totem, I grew to love the hangers for their graphic typography. Over time they made their way from my mother's house to mine.

Crocheted hangers were actually a thing back in the craft-crazy 1980s. Fortunately I realized that would be a lot of effort for little gain.

Athough they have a bad rap (from yours truly as well), wire hangers can become art.

There's not one wire hanger in my house. I drop them back off at the dry cleaner. Keep the plastic, take back the hanger!

"Leave the guns; take the cannolis"

PS A reader below wondered what to do with a collection of hangers. Why not hang them (on tiny nails) cheek-by-jowl on an empty wall? If you have one, that is.