Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Coming soon... the Audrey Hepburn Auction

Just wanted to get this out as I know there will be great interest— and coverage— in the coming months. Christie's London has announced that Audrey Hepburn's sons, Sean Ferrer and Luca Dotti, are making available for auction many items from their mother's personal collection.

The September 27 event will be preceded by a viewing at Christie's beginning September 23 with an online auction from September 19 - October 3. That sounds like two separate auctions, so I will need to clarify. Although the wish is to make personal items available to all her fans, it sounds like such treasures as hand-annotated scripts and THE "Breakfast at Tiffany's" dress will be very pricey.

A lavish catalogue with an August release is available for purchase now at $60 on Christie's website.

I wouldn't mind a pair of her colorful ballet slippers, would you?

Estimated price: $1900 per pair

Saturday, June 10, 2017

When Good Fortune Feels Bad

Yesterday I bought a dress at a well known retail chain that shall remain nameless because I feel that bad about my good fortune. I bought a dress originally marked $139 for the rock bottom price of $9.67. I mean, that's scraping the bottom. I can sew; I know how much fabric costs. It was a tailored shirt dress with self-piping and buttoned cuffs. A lot of detail. I didn't realize how inexpensive the dress would be as the last markdown wasn't on the ticket, and there was an additional 40% off sale. Instead of rejoicing at such luck, I felt terrible.

In my closet it's not been about need for a very long time. There are reasons there is no room at the "in". The price of clothes has gone down. There are off-price retailers a-plenty, fast fashion to suit every taste, so many sales and %-off-sales we get annoyed if we don't find one. Then there's the internet and that whole kettle of fish— copious options and the eternal promise of fabulous. I also work in retail and am aware of goings on in the marketplace from both perspectives.

I once bought a designer dress for $8, but it was at a deep-discount off-price retailer where such finds are celebrated. While yesterday's cashier did not make me feel any less valued as a customer, I did joke at that price I should buy two.

There is a blog I read called "Effortlessly with Roxy". Just this week the author posted this, and I couldn't agree more:

Time was that people bought new clothes once or maybe twice a year and then held onto that clothing for years. Over time, we’ve been sold the idea of new clothes for more occasions to the point where buying clothes is now a constant, year-round thing. As the USA has opened up to ever more trade and imports, the products we buy have gotten ever cheaper (in price, and yes in quality too one could argue.) Our money could go further and over time we spent ever more. At some point, this cycle had to become too much. Consumers are revolting against the over-consumption ideals being sold to us. It’s too much! No one needs new clothing every week and even those of us who want that (*raises hand*) are realizing that I may as well just light $20s and $50s and $100s on fire because it’s effectively burning money, pouring it down the drain.

Instead of reeling with happiness at my $9.67 dress, I feel  I am both the cause and effect of a retail climate change. It may not be a tsunami, but the tides are shifting. How and what we buy what we do and do not "need" has already changed.  Sooner or later we will wise up, retailers will give up or we will see just how long this little stand-off can last.

In the meantime I should look for a new raincoat to weather the storm.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Can Paris Wait?

The other day I went to see "Paris Can Wait", a frothy romantic comedy starring Diane Lane and many courses of beautiful French food. Diane Lane is beautiful too. This was not a movie on my radar, but a friend was curious about 81-year-old director Eleanor Coppola, long-time wife and creative partner of Francis Ford Coppola, mother of Sofia Coppola and aunt of Nicholas Cage. She's not exactly a novice filmmaker, but this is her first dramatic feature, supposedly based on an incident from her life.

Eleanor, right, on set

The set-up is a little trite. Loved but somewhat neglected wife of successful film producer (Alec Baldwin) is given a lift from Cannes to Paris by one of her husband's business partners, a suave Frenchman (Arnand Viard) with every intention of taking the long route. The plot doesn't exactly go where you think it will, but I did find myself waiting for it to get there.

On the way we are treated to many lovely meals (including snacks and picnics), orchestrated and explained by the food-absorbed Frenchman (who also smokes a lot). Between meals, the film becomes a travelogue of highlights along the way— a Roman viaduct, Cezanne's favorite mountain, the former home of  pioneering film makers the Lumiere brothers, and a textile museum (of particular interest to our heroine).

Alec Baldwin, Diane Lane

Diane Lane plays Anne. She appreciates her good life but knows her celebrity husband takes center stage. She has a college-age daughter and just closed her "dress shop", presumably in Hollywood. Diane Lane, age 52, looks the part of a beautiful woman aging naturally and gracefully. There is no way you wouldn't want to look like her. Her makeup whispers not shouts; her hair is wonderful California stuff that falls back into place when tousled. Her clothes, for the most part, are not meant to be noticed, but I found myself studying them.

For half the film Anne wears a white silk shirt, untucked over a pair of beige pants. She adds a beige jacket and a beige tote. It's neutral on purpose. She's not really put together as much as just dressed.

When she arrives at the hotel, the first thing Anne unpacks is a beautiful and colorful silk kimono, which she carefully arranges on the bed. We don't yet know she loves textiles, so this struck me as odd. Personally I don't lay out my dressing gown on the hotel bed. I don't even travel with a bathrobe. I just hope the hotel will provide a nice terry one.

Anne changes into a rather stiff red dress for dinner. She looks pretty but not particularly stylish. When asked if it had been from her shop, she says, "No; it's French", but that's all we learn.

I did like what she wore the next day— a blue A-line midi skirt, worn with a white t-shirt and silver slip-ons. That skirt is a flattering choice for anyone tired of pants but not thrilled with her legs. It's a decidedly retro look. See my closing thoughts. She adds a short navy jacket and a baseball cap and looks adorable. We discover she is wearing pantyhose. Another odd note. For good or bad, we just don't wear pantyhose like we used to.

The Frenchman turns up in loafers without socks, and Anne is aghast. She produces a pair of her husband's socks for him to wear. My 2017 husband always wears loafers without socks, so I didn't see why the fuss.  There's a little bit of business with a necklace, a bracelet, a paisley shawl and a pair of killer heels. In a very sleight movie it's interesting that wardrobe plays such a big part.

"Paris Can Wait" reminded me a bit of "Two for the Road" with Audrey Hepburn and a bit more of "The Trip to Italy" with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.  It was better than I thought but not quite good enough. 

The movie feels like it should have been made 30 years ago. Those pantyhose for sure.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Women We Love: Dolores Hawkins

By Karen Radkai
I imagined her as the fantasy head cheerleader, prom queen, student council president and honor student who was also friends with everyone. Although she was tall, slim and beautiful, with a killer smile and hair to die for, you couldn't help but love Dolores Hawkins. I grew up with her. She was in ads and editorials in every magazine I read, and I read a lot of them— Seventeen, Mademoiselle, Glamour, McCall's, Ladies Home Journal, and later Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. Dolores had something other models of the 1950s didn't— a personality. And she just seemed so incredibly nice.

It turns out the real Dolores Hawkins Phelps truly is nice. I've had the amazing good fortune to connect with her, and she agreed to tell me about her incredible life as one of the first Supermodels (before that was ever a word).

Dolores Hawkins, born in 1931, grew up north of New York City in rural Orange County. She says she was a real country girl— loved horses and the outdoors, rode her bike everywhere. After high school she worked in a local department store. The owner didn't like it when she grew her hair long and wore it in a pony tail. In 1951, fed up with his teasing, she quit and joined a friend living in Manhattan. She found a job at Lord & Taylor (and still remembers what she wore on the interview).

Dolores had no intention of becoming a model, but she was spotted in a restaurant by the head of an advertising agency. At his suggestion she went to the agency, but they were reluctant to hire a total newbie. The agency arranged an appointment with the editor-in-chief of Mademoiselle magazine, who called photographer Herman Landshoff, who took Dolores' first photos and, well, she was a natural. Her first appearance was in Mademoiselle. By the second she had made the cover. Much editorial and advertising work followed. It became apparent she would need an agent.

The first cover, 1952
In the beginning... by Nina Leen for Life

Ford Models was new but already a top agency and run with an iron fist (in a velvet glove) by Eileen Ford. Dolores went to see her. Eileen declared she was "too fat" and should come back when she lost weight. At 5'7" and 108 pounds, Dolores was hardly too fat. She didn't even know what a diet was and went back a week later. Eileen took her on.  No contract, no signing— that was the way it was done then.

Hundreds of editorials, ads and covers...

Dolores worked full-tilt from 1951 on. She was on hundreds of magazine covers (in the US and Europe), in countless print advertisements and magazine editorials. It would have been impossible to keep track of all of them, and sadly a large quantity perished in a barn fire in the '60s.

By Herman Landshoff

If you look back at models of that time, most were little more than paper dolls displaying clothes. Their poses and expressions were studied and interchangeable. Dolores had a 100% natural look, one that said she was game for anything. She was the perfect model for the new more relaxed and realistic approach to fashion photography. Although I knew I could never aspire to look like her, I never "hated her because she was beautiful". She just looked like she'd be fun to be with and nice.

By Bert Stern

Dolores worked with top photographers of the era— among them the legendary Richard Avedon, Lionel Kazan, Francesco Scavullo, Allan Arbus, Jerry Schatzberg, Bert Stern and a personal favorite, William Bell. Yes, models did their own hair and makeup in the early days.

Lucky kitty

Avedon was the one who eased her into a more high fashion image in the early '60s. He would let her know the look he had in mind. She says, "He made you feel good. He made you think you looked wonderful".

By William Bell
By Jerry Schatzberg

She also traveled the world, with favorite jobs taking her to Japan, Europe and many tropical islands. While models were not the celebrities many are today, Dolores was always treated well and often recognized on the street. Once she was in the company of a well-known Hollywood heart-throb who was not recognized when she was and was a little miffed about it. Another time, when she landed in London for an assignment, she was totally surprised to be greeted at the airport by photographers and reporters.

The chop
I did ask how she was persuaded to cut off that beautiful mane of brown hair earlier in her career. It seems Eileen Ford had gotten a lot of complaints that Dolores' hair was touching the collar and "ruining the merchandise". Chop, chop, but fortunately it grew back fast.

Dolores moved to California briefly when Eileen opened a branch of Ford Models but returned to New York. In 1963 she bought a 167-acre farm 75 miles north of the city where she raised hunters and jumpers.

On location with Gary Cooper

Besides modeling she had a "very brief" career as co-host of a tv interview program and was the subject of a half-hour ABC special, "A Day in the Life of a Model". 

Although engaged twice, she hadn't married. Then she met transplanted Texan Stuart Phelps through a mutual friend. They shared a shared a love for the country— and horses. Stuart and Dolores were married in 1966 and had three sons in 1967, '69 and '70. She still worked occasionally but the family left New York for Houston in 1977. Of course raising three boys and a husband is a full-time job, and Dolores retired from modeling.  She then decided either to learn piano or get a real estate license. She opted for the latter.

By Scavullo in Town & Country 1970
Family portrait by Skrebneski in Town & Country 1991

The Phelps family owned country property outside Houston, where they also raised horses. Dolores and Stuart moved there full-time about 20 years ago. They sold real estate out of a refurbished one-room schoolhouse and only recently closed the business. Today they have two grandchildren, two dogs, two cats and a 34-year-old retired race horse named Maxi. Dolores still keeps in touch with friends in the fashion world and enjoys visits to New York and Santa Fe. Amazingly most of her neighbors have no idea what a familiar and lovely presence she once was everywhere you looked.

Personally this has all been a kick...    

Still beautiful

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pack It and GO!

Have stylist, will travel...

I love this time of year. Even if I don't plan to pack any suitcases myself, I relish helping customers at The Lovely Boutique Where I Work fill theirs. I'm in awe of their exotic destinations (Singapore! Figi! Iceland!) and can't resist throwing in recommendations for places I know (any restaurant owned by John Besh in New Orleans and be sure to walk the High Line in New York City).

I love to read packing tips, and every once in a while I'll even find some new ones. "Virtuoso Life" is a lush magazine sent to us by a travel agency who once arranged a trip to Italy. It might as well be called "Virtual Life". I will never get to all those wonderful places let alone need tips on buying art abroad and truffle hunting in Switzerland, but it makes for great armchair traveling.

These tips from stylist Christina Burns (above) appeared in a recent issue. One of Christina's clients is Travel Channel host Samantha Brown, who has always been my wish-I-could-look-like-her-when-I-travel inspiration.

Samantha and Christina

> Remember you'll be in your pictures. You can buy a postcard of the Eiffel Tower for a few francs, but the photo of you and the Eiffel Tower is priceless. It's worth thinking about what you're wearing.

> Research your destination and/or itinerary. Check weather forecasts and even websites of restaurants and hotels you'll be visiting. What's the vibe? Will you feel out of place in a t-shirt and jeans in a 4-star lobby?  If you're looking forward to zip-lining or spelunking, pack the necessary gear.

> Pack a Little Black Dress. Look for one that can be worn day or night. Probably indispensable.

> Bring a BIG scarf, one that can work as a sarong, to curl up in on long flights or spread on the grass at a park.

> Take a trench coat. I'm not a trench coat kind of gal myself, but I do have a lightweight variation for travel. And who doesn't want to look like Holly Golightly for a few days?

> Some quick tips: Inexpensive sunglasses, not your treasured$$ beauties. Comfortable ballet flats. Travel size of your favorite fragrance. Simple or delicate necklace to wear with everything.

> Treat yourself at the airport. Pick up a stack of gossip magazines or the latest best-seller. Vacation is treat time!

May I add...
> Never wear anything for the first time on a trip (especially shoes). Wear it to see if it wrinkles badly, is too sheer, rides up or isn't fabulous. Also try-on combos of pieces that may look great in your head. They don't always work in reality.

> Don't bring Really Good Jewelry. Keep what you do take in your carry-on or travel bag, not checked in a suitcase. I even have some "junk jewelry" I would hate to lose!

> Don't invest in a classy-looking suitcase. Expert travelers suggest using the most nondescript bag so as not to draw attention to what might be inside.

> Pack like a science experiment. You know those compression bags that squeeze the air out of your clothes with the promise to save space and avoid wrinkles? They really work. Packing may take a little longer, but you will end up with items organized and with more room. Need space for the souvenirs, right?

> Don't fear the carry-on. Compression bags (see above) will give you more room, but really you can take less. I've packed for several ten-day trips going carry-on only. It's worth the discovery that your bag didn't land with you. The trick is making the "personal item" as big as regulations allow. I use a soft-sided tote and carry my actual handbag inside it.

> Forget a handbag altogether when you can.  It's safer and will give you a hands-free day. Look for a flat cross-body bag in lightweight nylon with compartments. And don't load it up! 

Something like this...

> Look your best when you travel. Yes, air travel is time to be comfortable, but there's a big difference between easy and sloppy. If you're heading to a city, think about a casual shirt dress with a long cardigan or a safari jacket with unstructured pants and a button down. If you are heading to a resort, lighten your color palette but don't go full-out Boho Traveler till you get there. It may not be true, but if there's a chance I'll be upgraded to First because I look good, I'll take it!

> A very wise friend (EG you know who you are) says, "Bring half as many clothes and twice as much money".


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Stylish Read: "Lee Miller in Fashion"

That neck, that hair, that face...

by Becky E. Conekin
Lee Miller, where have you been all my life? It seems you've been hiding in plain sight. For all my studies of fashion, women in fashion, fashion photography, fashion magazines, etc. Lee Miller registered only as an unusual fashion model (not your typical '20s type) and the war correspondent photographed sitting in Hitler's bathtub. Already that tells you something about the woman, but it's taken till now for me to perform some due diligence.

Lee takes a bath, 1945

Elizabeth (Lee) Miller was born into an upper-middle class family in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1907. She was an inquisitive, headstrong child fairly indulged by her parents. Her spirit of adventure took her to misadventures in Europe (under the guise of schooling) when she was 19, followed by a move to New York City to study art and become a dancer in George White's Follies.  After a chance encounter on the street with Conde Nast (as in the publisher of Vogue) she became one of The Bright Young Things about town. He saved her from being run over by a car— surely the NYC equivalent of being discovered at Schwab's drugstore. She was a favorite model for Edward Steichen, then head photographer for Vogue.
By Steichen, second from right
By Steichen for Vogue

In New York Lee designed theater sets, modeled and honed an interest in photography nurtured by her father, a talented amateur.  In 1929 she set off again to Europe determined to study with the Surrealist Man Ray, who didn't accept students. She no doubt charmed him as much as she was charmed by him. They worked together (and were lovers) for three years until his jealousy wore the charm thin. While they were together she was the one to discover solarization in a darkroom accident. That process became one of Man Ray's trademarks. Lee was also photographed by George Hoyningen-Huene and Horst P. Horst for French Vogue (affectionately called "Frogue" by the staff [love that]).

Solarized by Ray
Immortalized by Ray

Lee returned to New York City and, with the backing of a couple of wealthy admirers, rented two connecting apartments in midtown Manhattan— living in one and setting up a photography studio in the other. She took portraits of the well-heeled and celebrated as well as precise advertising photography for upscale clients like Elizabeth Arden and Saks Fifth Avenue. She began working for American Vogue, sometimes taking fashion self-portraits for the magazine. It was then she said, "I'd rather take a picture than be one." She was successful enough to weather the Depression and her work was shown in galleries devoted to photography.

Fashion self-portrait by Lee Miller

In 1934 a former beau from Paris, an Egyptian businessman, came calling. Lee married him and left for Cairo. She soon found Egyptian society suffocating, especially after meeting British surrealist artist and poet Roland Penrose. Not long after, she decamped to England— and Roland. With war looming the United States government ordered its citizens to return home, but Lee stayed behind. She found photography work at English Vogue.

Not a stage set but London during the blitz

It is  here that "Lee Miller in Fashion" takes a fascinating detour and looks at how and why Vogue was able to boost morale during the blitz and the long war years following. Women in all walks of life were urged to put up a good front (and back) and not forget the importance of grooming, hair and makeup. I learned some interesting tidbits, such as: Furs were not rationed in England during the war, though prices were set by the government. This was to prevent fur from going on the black market.

Though she recorded the devastation with her camera and worked hard putting out Vogue under difficult conditions, Lee became increasingly frustrated that she couldn't do more for the war effort. With the arrival of American service personnel, Lee seized the opportunity to become a bona fide war correspondent, uniform and all. Soon after France was liberated she joined American forces in Paris to report on life there for both American and British Vogue.


French Vogue  had suspended publication during the Occupation, but some couture houses remained open. The editor of French Vogue had managed to produce four "albums" of fashion during that time, had the plates made surreptitiously in the countryside, and the bound volumes sold in Monte Carlo for international distribution. The  now-forgotten couturier Lucien Lelong managed to thwart the Germans, who wanted to take the entire archive of French fashion stored at The Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and restablish couture houses in Austria or Germany. That sounds good enough for a movie plot right there.

Lee was very much affected by what she saw in Paris and filed stories with photographs that were sensitive, first-hand observations. As the Americans moved east towards Germany, so did Lee, leaving Paris and fashion behind. She was with the troops in the Alsace Campaign, the liberation of Brussels and the "last leap across the Rhine". She was also present at the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp. She movingly wrote for Vogue about what she saw, and she never forgot it. This book has some lengthy excerpts of her writing; I'd really like to read more.

 Reportage from Luxembourg, 1944

And then the war was over. It was back to London, back to Roland and rebuilding her life in England. Not surprisingly peacetime brought about a disenchantment with fashion. For a few years she continued to photograph for Vogue. Writing became more and more difficult as it came from such a deep place. Eventually Roland asked Vogue to stop sending her writing assignments for everyone's good. She and Roland married, had a son in 1947 and eventually moved south of London to Farley Farm. She packed away her files of photos, negatives and contact sheets and devoted herself to gardening, gourmet cooking and entertaining the many artists and writers she and Roland had as friends. There were always offers to write, which she always declined. She died in 1977 at age 74.

Lee and Roland

Their son Antony discovered the hidden work after her death and wrote the aptly titled, "The Lives of Lee Miller". In recent years there have been museum exhibits and more recognition. Farley Farm is open to the public, and her archives are available to scholars.   

Picasso, Antony and Lee at Farley Farm

Lee Miller's life was more complex than I've summarized here. There were twists and turns and many unanswered "why"s. She didn't leave a memoir, but she did lead a life in fashion and in full.

A few years ago it was announced that Kate Winslett would star as Lee Miller in an upcoming film. That would be fascinating, and don't you think she would be a great choice?

Kate Winslett to be Lee Miller?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Eyes Have It

I had my "eyes" on this dress from Anthropologie for a very long time. When I finally tried it on, no amount of wishing or hoping would make it work for me.

Reluctantly I let it go. What a happy surprise to see this lovely totally rocking the same dress. Everything worked, from the blue tassel earrings and cut-out lace-up sandals to her casually pulled back hair. 

Another life lesson learned: Sometimes it doesn't have to be you looking fabulous to make you happy.