Sunday, February 7, 2016

Was She Barbie's Muse?

No I am not Barbie-obsessed. I never had even one. Perhaps I am Barbie-deprived. Barbie was born long after I shuttered my dolls in their eternal tomb, my toy box. And, yes, I always thought I missed something.

The other day my husband ceased channel-surfing long enough to settle on a TCM film, 1950's "The Black Rose" with Tyrone Power. In passing I caught a scene featuring an elfin-faced young woman speaking with a musical French accent. She was Cecile Aubry, and I remembered the name from the days of soaking up movie magazines.

What ever happened to Cecile Aubrey? She was indeed French and won a Fox movie contract after starring in the French film "Manon". Her Hollywood career was short-lived. After she appeared in "Blackbeard" it was revealed she had been secretly married for six years to the eldest son of the pasha of Marrakesh. That sounds like part of the plot of the Coen Brothers "Hail Caesar" about a Hollywood "fixer" and set in 1951.

She went on to become a successful writer of children's books and children's television programs in France. She is most noted for the book, "Belle and Sebastian" about the adventures of a boy and his dog. Cecile Aubry died in 2010 at age 81.

While doing this bit of in-house research, it struck me that Cecile Aubry may have been the inspiration for Barbie, born in 1959. What do you think?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"45 Years" and Nothing to Wear

One of the most downbeat films I've seen in quite a while is "45 Years", a British melodrama directed by Andrew Haigh, starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay. Charlotte has been nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Kate Mercer, a 60-something retired teacher married (nearly) 45 years to a retired factory manager, Geoff.

This is not to say "45 Years" wasn't good. It was, and Charlotte Rampling's performance is riveting. She's in almost every scene. The movie is uncomfortable to watch at times and seems to end on a question mark. Nonetheless "45 Years" is outstanding, serious film making— just not a barrel of laughs. But we're here to talk fashion, and her clothes are so nondescript it's a wonder costume design gets a credit.

Charlotte's character is not easy to read but is perfectly defined by the non-fashion she wears. She has an enviably slim figure and is strikingly handsome even without a lick of makeup, but her choices are boring. We suspect she is unmoved by fashion and would rather read a book. You sense this as she aimlessly flips through a rack of clothing in a boutique, possibly looking for a dress for her upcoming 45th anniversary party. What she turns up in is so beige and bland her equally unfashionable husband becomes a peacock in his tux.

Kate's clothes are so ordinary they're not worth noting, yet I found myself wondering what made her choose a white parka or how long she'd had that classic leather shoulder bag. This is where the costume designer (Suzie Harman in this film) has a job to do. Anything colorful or trendy would not have been true to her character. By exaggerating how unmemorable her clothes are we know what Kate is saying even when she speaks little.

Charlotte Rampling is one of the most interesting actresses around. The word that comes to mind is "honest", the phrase— "true to herself". She's kept a low profile for years, turning out superior work only rarely because that's as often as she wished to work. Lately we've seen more of her, all the better.

Early in her career she was celebrated as much for her beauty as her acting. Here she is 45 years ago and wearing nothing. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

My Barbie, Myself

Mr. and Mrs. Mattel (if Barbie has parents) have announced a blessed event: 33 new Barbies, born fully formed and not wearing newborn sizes. "Fully formed" is the interest here. The new Barbies are tall, petite or curvy with different skin tones, hairstyles and feet that can sit on the ground. For the past two years, Mattel has been jiggering with the original stick-thin formula "to bring the doll in line with realistic body standards and reflect the diversity of the kids playing with the dolls" according to USA Today.

The concept is not new. American Girl dolls have long been offering multiple ethinc variations of their iconic doll (though the bodies are still realistic seven-year-olds). The goal was a little girl could order a doll that might look like her, if she wanted, or foster a whole United Nations (if her parents were filthy rich).

Mattel's move is all well and good, but take a look please at "Curvy Barbie". Isn't she really just pear-shaped Barbie (in which case she looks like me)? Look at those arms. The majority of plus-size or "curvy" women have weight on their arms as well. Is there a plastic shortage in Mattel-land?

I'm not going to join the outcry (already) that these dolls are still perfect— perfect features, perfect hair, not a blemish, not a bulge. Make believe is —still— a real element of play. Without emphasizing our imperfections will they become less important over time?

The new Barbies are not documentary; they're docu-drama. They are reality as portrayed by actors, which is okay as long as you accept that. I'll be curious which of the new Barbies sell the best. I wouldn't want Petite Barbie unless she gets a petite wardrobe. Otherwise it will be too hard to find pants that fit.

And now, what about this guy?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Why You Should Save Your Receipts

I once brought our accountant a stack of receipts saved from purchases made at The Lovely Boutique Where I Work, thinking they might be eligible for a tax deduction. It was surely necessary to dress in the boutique's latest offerings to encourage customers likewise!

Alas, Uncle Sam does not agree. In fact, I learned, the reason many wait-staff or other service people wear just a white shirt and black pants (or some other ubiquitous combination) is that the company does not have to provide uniforms. In turn one cannot deduct clothing worn to work that could be worn at other times.

Obviously, I was just fishing and was not the least bit surprised that my (over)spending where I work would not be rewarded.

I am in the habit, however, of keeping all credit card receipts. I just toss them in a brown paper envelope, making only a feeble attempt at having them in order. YOU NEVER KNOW when something may break or if you will change your mind (within the limits printed on your receipt).

Yesterday I was shopping the wonderful sale at Zara ($7.99! $12.99! $19.99!) and saw a notice at checkout. It announced a class action suit due to Zara revealing too many numbers on your credit card. They are only supposed to print out the last four. If you made a purchase between December 2014 and April 2015 you were instructed to complete a form and supply a copy of the pertinent receipts to join the suit. The payout promises to be $100 per transaction (if less than 16,001 file), a portion thereof if the number is higher.

As it turns out, I had one receipt that filled their requirements. The form was easy. It didn't ask for personal information or anything that might compromise my security. So I filled it out and now am waiting for my refund. After all, can 16,000 people have saved receipts????? Do I hear you thinking you'd be surprised?

I love Zara and know anybody can make a mistake. I don't hold it against Target that I had to get a new credit card and all that entails (grrrrr). $100 would be very nice, especially if it comes at the same time as the new spring collection.

PS The deadline for filing is today, January 22. Hurry.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Time-traveling Sartorialist?
Did the Sartorialist (aka Scott Schuman) go back in time to shoot a young woman on a city street in 1944? At first glance I thought she was a contemporary woman decked out in vintage gear. A second look reveals others in the picture and some very old cars.

Our gal (I'm calling her Darlene because she's darling and that's such a '40s name) totally owns that look. She is wearing— with a great deal of confidence— every trendy element of the moment: pompadour hairdo, round sunglasses, tailored shirt with ruffled trim, full skirt in a tropical print, envelope clutch bag and some seriously-glam stacked peep-toe, ankle strap heels. In contrast the woman leaning against the building wears a stylish dress, wedges, clutch bag and even a snood, but she's not the one on whom we linger.

This photo just appeared on Google as I searched for something else. No credit or caption. I did a tiny bit of sleuthing and learned that Owl Drug was a California subsidiary of Rexall, with three stores in Los Angeles. I can't swear that's LA, but I bet it is. I've also decided Darlene is a young actress looking for a break. I hope she did more than end up in the chorus line or a few crowd scenes. I don't want her going back to Chillicothe, Ohio, with shattered dreams. Maybe she decided she liked life behind the bright lights and became a script girl and then a writer and then a producer...

This is the beauty of photographs. We can make up our own stories if we choose. We can pick through clues in a photo that the photographer may or may not have meant for us to find. By its nature, a photo is a nano second in time. You know Darlene will have walked past you in a flash, and you'll wish you could remember her. And now you can, for always.

The real Sartorialist was here

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Will Who, What, Wear Hit the Mark?

WWW campaign: street style on the street

 Proof that the internet has changed forever the way we shop lies in Target's latest apparel collaboration, set to hit the stores January 31. Target loves to release the goodies on a Sunday.

Is Who, What, Wear a little-known designer that Target will propel to fashion stardom? No, WWW is an online fashion magazine aimed at readers 18-34, providing daily updates of celebrity and runway fashion. It began as a blog in 2006 by former Elle magazine editors Hillary Kerr and Katherine Powers and now encompasses its own website, newsletter, podcasts, book publishing— and partnership with Target. 300,000 daily readers can't be wrong.

The founding mothers
Until yesterday I had never heard of it, but then I'm not 18-34. It has a curated shopping section, tips such as "10 Outfits You Can Put Together in Under 30 Seconds" (intriguing), sections on celebrities, street style and fashion trends. There are links to the brand's beauty and lifestyle sites as well.

How will this work? The Target goal is to "create a street style-inspired assortment of apparel and accessories" with input from WWW's followers and from Target customers' feedback. How exactly this happens was not mentioned. The first collection consists of 70 pieces priced from $14.99 to $49.99 and available in sizes 2 to 26 (plus sizes online only).

Target has had some hits and misses with its designer collaborations since the first under that umbrella with Alexander McQueen in 2009. Among the most successful was their partnership with Missoni— mainly because a low-rent Missoni looks pretty much like its upscale counterpart. As with much of Target's apparel, quality can be an issue. I do like what I see from WWW, especially this crisp and lovely white shirt, but seeing (and touching) will make me a believer.

Meet you on the 31st

Sunday, January 10, 2016

COS for Celebration

Draped layer dress, $125
COS just opened a store here in Texas. That is amazing as there are only 7 locations in the US, and 4 of them are in NYC and LA. Houston may have won because of our spanking-brand-new and gorgeous shopping concept, River Oaks District.

COS is the brainchild of H&M, the Swedish fast-fashion chain sometimes called the "Starbucks of Schmatas". H&M is everywhere— 3,700 stores in 67 countries. By contrast COS has 116 stores worldwide. There is a website, but COS pieces need to be tried on. Not everything will work depending on your shape, but those that do will be genius.

A-line tulle dress, $125

COS (stands for Collection of Style) began in 2007 and is described as an "up-market brand positioned at a slightly higher price point" than H&M*. Make that quite a little bit higher. Tops average $100, dresses $150, pants $125. This is not fast fashion. It took me ages to try and decide on my first purchases.

What you get for your money is quality fabrication, careful workmanship and a sophisticated, European approach to style. Although they are simple shapes, to call COS "basics" does not do them justice.

Flared drape panel shirt, $89

Not just a white shirt, but a white shirt with an interesting collar and a slight swing shape. Not just a sweater, but a t-form with ribbing detail in a musky, lovely shade of coral. Bags and belts are nice hunks of leather with very little hardware. Jewelry looks like you found it at an art gallery, but the prices are decidedly department store.

Pleated cropped trousers, $88 (sale)

The only downside I forsee with my new love of COS is their pieces want me to ditch everything and start fresh. I envision one of those sparsely furnished closets with space between the hangers.

Folded leather shopper, $275

Won't  happen. Much as I'd love to be  a chic and sophisticated minimalist, I still need housing for my Bohemian self. She never quite goes away, and she takes up a lot of space.

Perforated plate necklace, $59

*COS also carries menswear and a small collection for children.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Heaven to Betsy!

Do the names Betsy, Tacy and Tib stop you in your tracks? Does a wave of nostalgia wash over you, both for the first time you read the Maud Hart Lovelace books and for their long ago time and place? Born too late, you think? Then you are a fan, as am I.

For years I thought I was the only one, yet the books have never been out of print since "Betsy -Tacy" was published in 1940. The first five books in the series are distinctly children's books— easier readers with sweet illustrations by Lois Lenski. The setting is early 1900s Minnesota, in a town the author called Deep Valley. Although the books are charming, I was relieved I didn't have to wear black wool stockings until the first day of summer like the little girls in the stories.

The first Betsy book

In 1945 Maud Hart Lovelace ditched the kids' angle and published what could be called the first Young Adult literature. Betsy Ray is the main character throughout. She and her friends were now entering high school. The rest of the series follows them chronologically ("Heaven to Betsy", "Betsy in Spite of Herself", "Betsy Was a Junior", "Betsy and Joe"), with an additional book added about Betsy's post-grad travels in Europe ("Betsy and the Great World") and a final volume published in 1955 called "Betsy's Wedding". I'm glad Maud stopped there, because (spoiler alert) although Betsy finally got her man, married life didn't seem that happy or satisfying.

I didn't know when I first read them that Maud Hart Lovelace (don't you just love that name?) was writing about her own childhood and high school days. The characters were based on real people. The antics and shenanigans that fill the stories pretty much all happened. Deep Valley is Mankato, Minnesota, a small city between Minneapolis and Sioux Falls.

"The real" Tib, Betsy and Tacy
Maud Hart Lovelace in the '40s
What distinguishes the books from other teen fiction of that time (Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, etc.) was Betsy's development as a person, how she handled her hopes and fears, triumphs and disappointments. Anyone who was a teenage girl will tell you having your carefully curled hair come undone and losing an important school essay contest can have the same tragic effect.

In a way I blame Betsy for my disappointing high school years. They could never have lived up to the fun she had with "the gang", gathered around the piano on Sunday nights while Betsy's dad served up his famous onion sandwiches. Her group of friends may have been living in a simpler time but growing up has always had its soaring highs and miserable lows.

And the clothes! I loved the sailor-style "waists", the fashion for "Merry Widow" hats, the carefully chosen party dresses, the hair bows and pompadours.

Illustrations in the teenage Betsy books were by Vera Neville. Black and white, except for the covers, the drawings are full of detail, and I would pour over them. I even got my own "writing trunk". Yes, once upon a time I wanted to be a writer— just like Betsy.

It's not too late. You can discover the books with both a sense of wonder and a bit of nostalgia.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Six Resolutions for '16

Madame smarty-pants here hates resolutions as much as the next person, but I've yet to wise-up and not make them. My actual list is much longer than this, of course, but these are the most fashionable and beautiful:

> If full-blown Yoga seems too daunting, at least try doing Yoga stretches first thing in the morning. At the very least it will allow you to buy into the cute Yoga-wear trend.

> Vow to drink a glass of water before you head for the snack cabinet or liquor cart. If water doesn't excite you, buy the expensive stuff and/or a beautiful glass only for water (now's your chance for Waterford).

> Get rid of all half-used beauty products that didn't work. If they didn't work then, they're not going to now. Ditto old lipstick. You know, the kind that has a slightly metallic, industrial taste like rancid butter when you touch it to your lips. And use up that little itty bit of scent hovering in the bottom of the bottle as well. I know someone who likes perfume bottles on her vanity but doesn't necessarily want to reinvest when they are empty. She swears by colored water for the effect.

> Ditch or donate shoes that hurt when you wear them more than 30 minutes.

> Ditto anything in your closet that just didn't work out, even if you bought it two months ago.

> For one week try planning your clothes at least the night before. And during that week wear something you totally forgot you owned.

You could turn unloved shoes into planters

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Women We Love (Hair Edition): Princess Charlene

I know so little about Princess Charlene that when I clicked on a story about her I was expecting to see holiday photos of the newest little English princess. Uh-oh. That would be Princess Charlotte. Instead up popped a beautiful blonde with a pixie haircut who also happens to be Princess Charlene of Monaco.

With twins Gabriella and Jacques

There are many British Royal Family watchers here in the US. As a dyed-in-the-wool-jumper Anglophile, I am one of them. But I've no idea what's going on with other monarchies, though I do understand Spain, The Netherlands and a couple of Scandinavian countries still have them. Since Monaco isn't even a country (but a principality), I'm not sure how theirs rates.

Princess Charlene, 37, is South African and a former Olympic swimmer. She is the wife of Prince Albert of Monaco, who was a bachelor so long we all lost interest when or with whom he'd finally settle down. They met at a swim meet in Monaco in 2000. He already had "two known illegitimate children" (don't you just love Wikipedia) when they married in 2011.

Charlene and Albert 2011
Grace (with Rainier) 1956

Charlene bears a striking resemblance to Albert's mother, Princess Grace, a Hollywood princess before she married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956.  She also looks a lot like Charlize Theron, Jean Seberg and the grown-up Twiggy. But Charlene was not a movie star or a model before her marriage, and we've all had too much scandalous information about the Grimaldis down the years. I think it's been a relief to hear so little about her.

So I don't know enough about Princess Charlene to love anything other than her hair. As a short-hair-forever gal, I always jump at beautiful celebrities who've chopped their locks— from Charlize Theron to Michelle Williams to Anne Hathaway— although they've grown them out. Don't worry; I have photo files on all of you if you need reference material.

A hairy tale from this...
to this...
to maybe not this...
to this

A pixie is hard to deal with if you need your hair to look perfect all the time (aka in public if you're a princess). The best pixie cuts look a little messy. Too sleek and you're either a flapper or a boy. Charlene has achieved the right balance.

The short hair seems to be fairly recent, since the birth of twins (and the male heir) in 2014. Under normal circumstances it's understandable a busy mother of twins might want to simplify her hair care routine. Considering she is a princess, Charlene surely must have hot-and-cold-running help, no? More likely she is trying to rectify that choppy do with the dangling earrings in the photo above.

She doesn't smile much in pictures, and there have been plastic surgery rumors, but I'm pretty sure her hair is hers alone. Only her hairdresser knows for sure...   

Sunday, December 27, 2015

How to Get to 100

By cheating of course.

This post will not be about making it to 100 years old (though if I get there I will gladly tell you how). It is just the 100th blog posted in 2015 and my thank you for reading throughout the year.

Going into a new year is always hopeful, no matter how foggy the path ahead. I wish you all the very best.

Maybe next year I can reach 101.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Guilt-free Gifting with Gift Cards

She'd rather have a gift card...
The humble—or not so humble should you wish— gift card has been maligned for being "the easy way out". I will no longer hang my head should that be my gift of choice. Perhaps it's advancing age and a subsequent reality check, but there's a lot in favor of the gift card.

My contemporaries say they have too much/need for nothing/nowhere to put it/and shouldn't eat or drink it anyways. Others I know are paring down before they get over-stuffed or have a finely-hewn style and you would only be guessing. Then there is the cost of mailing presents. If you still like the personal touch of wrapping and sending them yourself, be prepared for sticker shock at the post office.

Santa and the post office may be in cahoots...

That's not to say there isn't a place for money.  A five-dollar bill looks like a fortune to a five-year-old. It will then teach her the value of a dollar, because $5 doesn't buy much these days. On the other hand, children usually have A List— and mean it. Back in the day, my favorite aunt was the one who actually got me something on mine.

The trouble with money is it's so easy to fritter away on Starbucks or mix it in with the grocery money or find it disappearing before we can say "trip to DSW". True, grocery stores will accept gift cards, but one usually thinks twice before giving up a gift card for milk and oj. Gift card to a fancy grocery store? Check. You can introduce people to the wonders of Trader Joe's or soften the blow at Whole Foods.

The good old Visa/Mastercard/AmEx gift card works for anything where those cards are accepted. The Amazon gift card is a good choice because Amazon sells just about everything, any time of the day or night. You can get gift cards from dream stores or for activities (movie theaters or sports palaces). Caution: don't try to be cute and tuck a gift card to Bowl-Mor inside a Tiffany box.

How can I hook this gift card thing into Allways in Fashion? You should present your gift card with a little style. Frame it inside a small picture frame. Use it as a bookmark in a special book. Tuck it into a little bibelot box. Put it in a passport holder or coin purse. Hide one in a deck of cards. Box a gift card turducken-style in the smallest of boxes inside a number of progressively larger boxes. This works best if the recipient isn't easily frustrated and/or knows your wicked sense of humor. Do you have any other "card" tricks?

There's no time like the present (December 20) to rethink this whole presents thing.
Don't believe Mrs. Claus; get a gift card