Sunday, July 26, 2015

Draw Me a Picture!

V.G. Waymer for the New York Times
Once upon a time (don't you love stories that begin like this?), illustration was the way to show fashion. Indeed, before the invention of the camera and relevant printing processes for photography it was the only way. Although photographs may have been accurate, they weren't always flattering. The fashion model hadn't yet risen from the sea a la Botticelli's Venus. Check out this photograph of Mrs. Paul Poiret wearing one of her husband's fanciful designs and the charming drawing by Paul Iribe of other Poirets.

Mme. Poiret
 Poiret by M. Iribe
This past week, the New York Times illustrated a piece on beauty products (top) with a drawing by V.G. Waymer. Even the products look beautiful. I was reminded immediately of the late, great Antonio (Lopez), who was prolific beyond belief and whose work, more than any photos, illustrate the frenzy that was New York club society in the 1970s and '80s.

Antonio in the '80s
Antonio started his published career at Glamour in the '60s. His work back then was mostly black and white. That's one reason we commissioned illustration— cheaper to reproduce. One of my jobs in the Glamour art department was to clean out the drawers of extraneous artwork every month. Illustrators would often submit several finished pieces for a job. Antonio depleted more trees than anyone, and I would throw out paper by the armful.*

Earlier Antonio

FYI— today illustrators have all rights to their work, keep what isn't used and receive the original back after publication (unless it's a digital file). Then we threw out the rejects and kept the published one in the library. You just know that Conde Nast library is a treasure trove of masterworks.

My other Glamour favorites, even before working there, were Sheila Camera, Richard Giglio and Erica Perl. They drew magic and put me in the picture better than any futile attempts to emulate a fashion model.

Sheila Camera
Richard Giglio
Erica Perl

Through the years there have been many other famous and fabulous fashion illustrators—Rene Bouche, Eric, Kenneth Paul Bloch, Matt Gustafson, etc. At one time it would not have been unusual to put illustration on a cover.

Rene Bouche
Kenneth Paul Bloch
Matt Gustafson

Not to take anything away from the great fashion photographers— then, now and forever— but isn't illustration a beautiful departure?

V.G. Waymer has got what it takes

* You do not need to point out how stupid that was.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Happy Birthday Blog

The greatest gift I've given myself over the past 3 1/2 years is writing this blog. I'm amazed how many click on to read my take on a myriad of things (bed jackets! Beatrix Obst! Zara has closed!). I've become just a little smug: "Forgive me if I was late in meeting you because I was blogging." "Thanks for understanding (husband) when I didn't get everything done I said I would— because I was blogging".

Even though you didn't ask, I'm going to give you tips on how to enjoy writing a blog and how to write one people will like. The latter advice is because I read a lot of blogs too.

> Have something to say. It almost doesn't matter what your subject, if you write with passion, you will find an audience. You'll also enjoy the writing a whole lot more.

> Make it short. As a reader I tend to "save for later" blogs that look to be the length of New Yorker essays. Then, of course, later never happens. Hook your reader; make it short and you'll keep her.

> Engage the reader. Ask opinions. Ask questions. Make her think. Don't just "I" her to tears.

> Keep it simple. Don't over-design your blog. I'm a designer, and my blog is really simple. It's because I'm here as a writer as much as because I'm old-school and not really comfortable with technology.

> Add visuals. Until something changes, there is a treasure chest of images to download for free. Of course there are stock agencies who let you know it, but so much is there for the taking. I do give credit when I can, especially to an artist or specific photographer. As I said, who knows how long this "free-dom" will last. You can always take your own pix, of course. It's so easy with an iPhone, iPad or digital camera. If you're on a computer you're probably using one. I've even photographed photographs with tolerable results.

> Be consistent. Try not to blog and disappear. Realize it's a commitment. If I love reading your blog, I'm going to be annoyed when you're gone for months without a reason or a teacher's excuse.

> Fill in your profile. You don't have to compromise your security or even reveal your full identity, but who the heck are you and why are you doing this? I will look.

> Re-read what you wrote. "In the heat of battle" is a phrase that applies to bloggers too. Sometimes I get so excited to have made my point, I will press "Publish" to a blog full of typos. Thank goodness for the "edit" button.

Will the blog phenomenon last? I think we may become weary of endless blogs of "this is what I wore today". Sure, we all like a peek at who our writer is, but pix after pix of your showing off your outfits is not going to interest me long. Unless, of course, you are Iris Apfel.

So happy birthday to me, and this gift is for you.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Week of Living Dangerously

This past week I threw caution to the winds and went on vacation knowing what would happen. By day two it would be no hair, no makeup, no worries.

We spent a week at a favorite spot, "down the shore" on Cape May, New Jersey. Cape May is no hick Jersey beach town. It's long been on the National Register of Historic Places for its quaint Victorian architecture and can be seen as a mix of Martha's Vineyard, The Hamptons and Disneyworld Main Street USA.

I've always packed a number of outfits for a variety of activities, from bike riding to beaching to sightseeing, shopping and fine dining. I've always over-packed and ended up, for the most part, in my most comfortable easy-breezy duds (but we do like to dress for dinner).

This year I packed two evening outfits for a week's vacation and a mix/match of drawstring cotton pants, slouchy shorts, t-shirts and a worn-in (though newly purchased) safari shirt. My favorite outfit (see above) was said shirt, camo shorts, canvas slip ons, baseball cap and— wait for it— a fanny pack. I will not apologize for that fanny pack as it was the most wonderful feeling to have keys, money and cell phone literally strapped to my body. I only regret its being black and boring. Next purchase: a fanny pack with style.

The dangerous part is I was so relaxed, unfazed with going barefaced and happy being fashion-free that I feared I might never recover.

I needn't have worried. I'm afraid it would take more than a week.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Grandma at the Beach

Many years ago I read somewhere that "all children think their grandmothers are beautiful". It may have been an essay about learning to live with your aging self. I was too young at the time to take it at face value, but it gave me hope even then.

I interpreted that as "there will always be someone who thinks you're beautiful" as well as "children have the right idea and see beauty in a different way". A child is less judgmental and sees grandma as someone who loves unconditionally (the surest way to get unconditional love in return).

As a much younger woman, I knew a grandmother (the mother of a good friend) whose face was entirely crinkled. She had beautiful, powdery soft skin. The wrinkles were so fine, it was as if you had crushed tissue paper then tried to straighten it out. She smiled easily (deeper crinkles around the eyes), spoke softly in a lilting voice and was beloved by her grandchildren and children (and others like me as well). I've never seen anyone with more wrinkles than Mrs. Q, and —trust me— she was beautiful.

I've reached the age where that passage read long ago puts things in perspective today. We are still here, old enough to have grandchildren whether we actually do or not. We are role models and should act like them, which means less kevetching and more yes-ing.

A week at the beach is coming up. I will squizzle into a bathing suit on a very public beach with no hesitation (the beach wins). I'll walk along the shore, dipping my toes in the lapping waves. I'll hike over to the frozen banana stand. I might even go into the water (if it's warm enough). I won't think twice about— you know— me, because I could be somebody's grandmother.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Summer Reading Book Club: "Wild Company"

A few posts ago I wondered whatever happened to Banana Republic that it went from sriracha to vanilla, from adventurous to corporate bland. In doing research I discovered the founders, Mel and Patricia Ziegler had written a book, "Wild Company: The Untold Story of Banana Republic", published in 2012. My local library came through, and I've just finished reading.

What an interesting story! First of all, a cautionary tale. Don't wish for something or you may get it. Mel and Patricia were young professionals (he a newspaper writer, she an illustrator) who were questioning "Is that all there is?" and hoping to find a way to earn a living while following their desires to travel the world and enjoy life's unscripted adventures.

Epiphany came in the form of an army surplus jacket Mel picked up on assignment in Australia. He loved it so much and was complimented so often while wearing it, he and Patricia decided to explore the world of military surplus goods and opened one small store in Mill Valley, California in 1978. They made it fun to shop— creating a faux foreign nation theme— and stocked the store with revamped or re-purposed surplus goods. They knew from the beginning they would need the exposure of mail order to stay alive, so produced smart, witty catalogs illustrated by Patricia.

Back in the GAP days
Still having adventures

Hereby lies the rub. Banana Republic grew so fast (and the supply of acceptable surplus shrunk so quickly) they found themselves run ragged trying to find and/or manufacture merchandise that met their quality standards. Staffing was always a problem, and there are some funny but sad tales of missing merchandise and mismatched deliveries— nightmares that would have upended any couple with less forgiving natures.

Without looking for it (although it was definitely needed) help in the form of corporate America came in the person of Don Fisher, founder and owner of the GAP. It was 1983, and the GAP was at the height of its success. He promised the Zieglers all the backing they needed (as long as they turned a profit) with no intervention from him. For a while the arrangement worked well, despite two of the Fisher sons being part of the now larger executive structure.

Yes, this was a store

It's here that your eyes may glaze over. I happen to love the study of the marketplace as much as the fun and frippery of fashion. I lapped up "Mr. Selfridge" and hated to finish "Style and Substance" (about America's department stores). I don't like the math part (agghh!!), but there's an adventure in retail for which "Wild Company" can be your guide.

In the end, the GAP won. Mel and Patricia realized, not that they were beaten down, but that money wasn't their aim in life. They "retired" for several years, started a family and two new ventures— one a success (Republic of Tea), one ahead of it's time. ZoZa was meant to be "performance clothes for the sport of living" (Lulemon anyone???), but it was short-lived. They came out of the jungle alive, so to speak, and have a great story to tell about retail big game hunters.

Oh, I finally learned what is a SKU, that string of numbers sales associates need when you ask for the "Dragonfly Morning Maxi Skirt". SKU stands for Stock Keeeping Units. Now you know.

That long string of numbers is the SKU

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Cinema Chic: "I'll See You in My Dreams"

Blythe Danner inhabits the role of Carol in the new movie "I'll See You in My Dreams" so easily, watching her you feel you know her as well as the friends she hangs out with, playing cards and drinking wine in their "Golden Girls" years. The film isn't exactly a romance or a comedy or a Lifetime-Movie-of-the-Week. It's a slice-of-life study that I won't ruin for you by giving away the plot.

Much of what we think we know about Carol comes through by way of her clothes, hair and makeup. Like the real Blythe Danner, Carol was always beautiful (old pix on the mantel attest to that)*. She is more beautiful still as she hasn't messed with what nature gave her, and is aging elegantly and gracefully. Blythe Danner is 72, and she plays a woman who easily could be 72.

Carol wears what many stylish women do. The costume designer was Mirren Gordon-Crozier, who has only a few years experience in the business. I'm impressed such a young woman has grasped a look I'm only just now beginning to understand: comfortable yet sophisticated clothing you can wear without thinking about what you are wearing.

Mirren and her resume (magnifying glass not included)

Carol (or Mirren doing it for her) must have shopped Chico's and Talbots, Eileen Fisher, Joan Vass and maybe Banana Republic. She's had her accessories "for years". She wears soft colors, loose sweaters and trousers, scarves draped softly rather than tied tightly. She smartly dons a straw hat outside. She has a pair of gold hoops that are her earrings of choice and a classic trench coat, the kind you grab from the closet without thinking. The only "off" piece in the movie is a stiff white blazer printed with oversize green leaves. Carol didn't look comfortable in it, but the scene called for her to be uncomfortable. That jacket helped.

Her hair isn't fussy or tightly styled. It's hard to tell whether it's gray or blonde. Doesn't matter. There are many scenes in which Carol wears no makeup. She looks like she believes in a good moisturizer. When she does get dolled up, she uses a hefty whoosh of eyeliner and mascara, which I think is great. We WOACAS have been cautioned against using prominent makeup, and to that I would like to say, "Balderdash". There's a time and place for everything.

"I'll See You in My Dreams" is definitely worth seeing, as evidenced by the long lines of ladies outside my local cinema the past three weekends. I'm happy to have met Carol and delighted to see Blythe Danner in the starring role, giving such a glowing performance.

I'll also confess to admiring one of Carol's accessories, he of the unlit cigar and major mustache, as  played by Sam Elliott.

* Look carefully and you'll notice there is a photo of the real Blythe with her late husband, Bruce Paltrow, as well as a young Gwyneth Paltrow standing in for Carol's daughter as a child.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Gal of a Thousand Outfits

Man of a Thousand Faces had nothing on me. I'm the Gal of a Thousand Outfits. I have this thing about not wearing anything twice in exactly the same way. It's part sport, part foggy memory— pretty much the way I operate.

My idea of mix-and-match is mix-and-mixmaster.

This is not rebellion on account of having worn a school uniform. I am so anti-uniform I once turned down a perfectly good sales job because the staff had to wear logo-embellished shirts.

I love to get dressed and look on it as an act of creative expression. What could be better? A necessity (one must get dressed), a challenge (to "make it work"), instant gratification. Failures are short-lived, and one usually learns from one's mistakes ("never wearing those together again").

Sometimes, in the great flurry that is getting dressed in the morning (which includes breakfast and the newspaper), I wish I could remember that interesting outfit I once put together. So I've taken to shooting a selfie and moving it to an album on my phone. Perhaps this idea is not the greatest since sliced bread, but the smart phone sure is.

A picture is worth...

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Does Omar the Tentmaker Sew for Thee?

I've so reached the point where I look better covered up. It just happens, and if you're there yourself, you know what I mean. The way I see it, we have two choices as we age. And by age, I mean 70+. You fifty-year-olds are not old, no matter what you may think.

We can either become one of those wiry, stringy old ladies who are thin but painful to look at or we can become one of those lumpy, soft and saggy ladies who at least look nice to hug. Of course, we don't have a choice.

Your genetic makeup will pretty much determine which direction you take. And for that, look to your mother. My mother was a little birdlike woman who nonetheless complained she was "fat". Her fat centered on her tummy, which was far from flat. And now I know why she felt that way.

As you age you realize health is the most important A #1 thing, and if it ain't broke, don't fix it. If you are a normal, healthy weight, and your doctor has not told you to lose or gain, don't start disrupting things. I lost a few pounds this spring as I can't seem to eat when I'm troubled or upset. I enjoy food, and it was no fun not to have an appetite, even if my pants fit looser. I kept thinking I really, really would rather be fatter and happier. In a week I was back to my old self again, in all ways including I kept thinking I should lose a few pounds.

Too much time on my hands? Hardly. I forget about these things as I go about my day. I make choices what to eat and how to exercise. I can rationalize the former with more of the latter. I remind myself we only live once, and you can take just a taste. We all have these brief intimate moments with ourselves when we take stock then move along. I just happened to write mine down.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Let's Hear it for the Boys

Shedding standard business attire has been the norm for high-powered tech executives. Led by Steve Jobs and fully realized by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, the no-look of casual t-shirt-and-whatever signals "I'm a rich genius so it doesn't matter what I wear." Bill Gates was just born too soon.

Steve and Mark setting a low sartorial bar

Casual Friday at the office eventually morphed into Casual Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as well, with Friday and Saturday becoming more casual yet. I've gotten used to seeing men in scrubs at the supermarket. They have undoubtedly discovered scrubs' optimum comfort. I've convinced myself those men are through at the hospital and will not be going back to work. Or at least will not be working on me.

After years of fashion trying to get men to grow-up-and-dress-up, it looks like even fashion has given into their inner little boy. Any woman who has ever dealt with getting a grown man to wear long pants on an occasion when he should may cringe at the thought. But to some extent, fashion is only giving in to what may already be the norm.

No one likes wearing uncomfortable uniforms, and  today's business 9-to-5 reflects that. Young men maybe have grown up— but not always out— of the fun stuff of their skater youths. And the younger generation always influences the older one, even if it takes a while.

This summer the most dressed up men I've seen are wearing Hawaiian shirts with chino pants. It was practically a uniform among grown men of a certain age at dinner on Friday night.

I'll have one from column A, B and C

I convinced my husband to break up his beloved seersucker suit by wearing the jacket with a collared polo shirt and jeans. I got the idea from "Garden & Gun" magazine who were advising their male readers how not to look like attendees at a convention for southern lawyers.

Men, take note, lest you think you can just reach willy-nilly into your closets. Ladies, take notes because the man in your life may need your guidance. Oh, and Happy Father's Day.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

When "Banana Republic" Was a Destination

Once upon a time there was a banana republic as near as your local mall. A visit took you to another country, albeit a very tongue-in-cheek one, where khaki and olive reigned supreme and the further you were from your last safari, the closer you were to the next. No dictators or produce were harmed.

Inside a Banana Republic outpost

Whatever possessed the founders Mel and Patricia Ziegler (he a writer and she an artist) to think Americans would go for full-blown safari gear? Perhaps the term "urban jungle" had just been coined.  They began by finding, cleaning up and selling "vintage military surplus clothing in a new context". Like a few lucky geniuses before them, they had no retail experience and just plowed ahead into unknown territory. They "reinvented stores as theater and catalogs as must-read literary adventure journals" and soon began producing new safari-centric goods for both men and women. They were a hit from the start. Banana Republic was one of the first themed retailers and set a new bar for in-store merchandising. The Zieglers sold to the GAP in 1983 and the rest is a journey into the bland BR we know today. They wrote a book chronicling their adventures in 2012. "Wild Company" seems like a good read.  

Mel and Patricia and their wild ride

Today the bastion of acceptably cool corporate chic "Banana Republic" is a bit of a misnomer.  The offerings— and the stores— bear no resemblance to the glory safari days. That look is still so classic anything in the old catalogs could be trotted out and worn without irony today. Ralph and Michael, of course, will hopefully be a little safari forever.

Today's Banana Republic is the go-to for young men's and women's work wear, from buttoned up to button-down. You can depend on decent quality and fabrication at a lower tier but still on the corporate ladder. They've never been big on date looks or super casual weekend gear. If you run into your boss in the Hamptons, and you are wearing Banana Republic, you will pass muster.

In the country of 9 to 5

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Galliano Naming Rights— and Wrongs

Bill Gayten carries baggage

 Fashion is not just fun. It's not even just a business. It's serious stuff, sometimes in very polarizing ways. I refer to John Galliano's downfall as the designer for Christian Dior after a series of anti-semitic rants (even captured on You Tube) in 2011. I never brought it up before as it was sad to realize how a talented and successful man could be so stupid and clueless. In my opinion his fall from grace was well-deserved. And I'd rather not comment on his attempts at redemption.

John Galliano the brand still exists, owned by the conglomerate LVMH. It is not designed by Galliano, who is now the creative director of Maison Margiela. The designer of Galliano's namesake line is Bill Gayten, his former number two at Dior.

The Sunday New York Times recently ran an article titled, "One John Galliano Too Many". You may copy-and-paste here:

The John Galliano brand isn't garnering much attention but soon may as it begins producing a somewhat lower-priced line unattached to the couture stratosphere. I'm not in the position to buy any of this, so my opinion hardly matters. I did feel compelled to write the New York Times a letter to the editor. Chances of that being published are slim, so I'm putting it out into my own little corner of cyberspace:

Why recognize a man who still has a lot to atone for by legitimizing his name as a brand? Sure, it must rankle Galliano that he does not design it himself, but that is irony not punishment. I pity Bill Gayten who toils under a shadow and a burden. Why did the powers that could not change the name to something like "Nhoj Onaillag" (that up-and-coming Icelandic designer)? Or even "Bill Gayten"?

This is messy real life that shouldn't be swept under the carpet.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Tidy is as Tidy Does

This will not be a paean to Marie Kondo's best-selling "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up". I won't be plunking down $16.99 as I know it will sit on that giant stack of Books I Will Read Someday. I'm intrigued though and am not about to pooh-pooh it away.

As a "hunter and gatherer" (coined by my friend DG), I don't really want the cure. I'm happy that over time I've been able to find things I love, some of which I didn't even know existed. I've never had a problem getting rid of stuff either. When we sold the big house in New York, the one with the walk-in attic full of stuff we were too lazy to take to the trash, the clean-out was the most liberating feeling.

This is a small house with no real attic, so getting rid of and/or tidying up (depends on how you look at it) is ongoing. I recently gave away a pile of favorite summer clothes— t-shirts, skirts, blouses, dresses— that were still in good condition, still fit and were still stylish. That t-shirt I enjoyed on our trip to Marfa in 2009 just made me feel older. Where has time flown?  I knew I would never wear any again, but I felt a little guilty letting go.

"The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" has legions of fans. I first heard of it from a friend who cleaned out her closet and asked about donating to Dress for Success. I was happy to help her and was positively floored that her whole car was filled. Lucky Dress for Success!

The book itself has four books written dissecting and summarizing it. I read an online feature promising to reveal Marie's secret in two words. It did: "Do it."

Reading the piece I was muttering yeah, yeah, yeah until I got to where Marie says we should thank our clothing for the joy it brought us then say goodbye. I guess my purging of still-good-but-no-longer-loved clothing fell into the category of bringing joy no more. I just forgot to thank and wish them well on their way.

So a belated thank you to those I loved, those I tolerated (though I loved you once) and those who disappointed me after the initial attraction. We are talking about clothes here. May you bring joy to someone else.

Bonus tip (though this may be cheating since I didn't buy the book): Fold your foldable items so they store vertically. That way no more rifling through stacks to find what you want.

Bye for now. I have A PILE of t-shirts to work on.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Don't Run in Palazzo Pants...

...or you may have a nice trip!

Proof that all things can be fodder for this blog, I tripped on the sidewalk the other evening while wearing my new palazzo pants from Zara. No, they had been hemmed. Yes, I was in a hurry— to an appointment at the Apple Store. Don't laugh— if you deal with technology you know when it's broken you want it fixed now. And I was literally running late.

I tripped on nothing— a bit of uneven pavement perhaps. I fell flat smack on my nose without a moment to break the fall. Good thing I'm not taller. Thanks to the two ladies who stopped to help and made sure I was okay. We all laughed as I eyed my pants, checking to see if they had ripped. They had not. Thanks to Zara for whipping up some sturdy polyester.

The end result is a non-displaced fracture and a prescription from the doctor for no contact sports for six weeks and a "let's see how it heals" for any further action. He does not consider shopping a contact sport.