Sunday, November 29, 2020

SOS: Save Our Sweats

Before Corona the only time I wore a sweatshirt was when I was painting. I have only one, and it holds the history of every place I've lived since 1960. 

Social distancing of the extreme variety (venturing out for not more than groceries and doctors' appointments) began for us in March, when it was already getting warm in south Texas.

All summer I wore decent clothes around the house—cotton pants, knit tops or button downs. Yes, I "got dressed" later and later, but when I did they were respectable. I would not have been ashamed to see Matthew McConaughey should he have turned into the Amazon driver. 

Matthew, is that you?

Now that winter is near, the comfort of sweats is calling. Like most of us, my willpower is weaker. It's harder to choose a cute outfit to wear nowhere and easier to put on something that feels cozy. I've read about the slippery slope that are sweats. Wear them every day and you are one step from never getting dressed at all!

Remember a few years ago when dressy pajama tops were a street wear trend? I don't think you could get away with that today.

Women were running towards athleisure before the pandemic. There was a fuss at first, then even high-end designers put out athleisure wear collections. I never joined in because the last thing I've ever wanted to do was spend big money on gym clothes. Target has served me very well, thank you. AND I only wore them to the gym (with maybe a stop for a quart of milk).

Once gym clothes were cuter...

Sweats are not even gym clothes. You wouldn't want to work out in them because, well, you would sweat. Sweats are for...being around the house in a pandemic. 

If the pandemic has taught us anything it's that we want to be comfortable. I think we will have less tolerance for the ties that bind and chafe and pull. It will be hard going back to structured suits and heels just because they are expected, although that will be a small price to pay for freedom of movement in the world.  

Worth it



Saturday, November 7, 2020

Happy Birthday, Jean Shrimpton, and Then Some

Today is Jean Shrimpton's 78th birthday. If you're thinking "who?", well, today's post is not for you. Everyone else will remember her as a Supermodel of the '60s (when they were first being called that). Along with Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton represented the '60s ideal. Twiggy, all arms, legs and eyelashes, was the quirky go-go girl. Jean embodied the Bohemian and romantic, a look that has never gone out of style.

British-born country-girl Jean Shrimpton fell into modeling at age 17 via secretarial school in London, a stab at acting, then "charm school". She was spotted by David Bailey, an up-and-coming photographer, while  shooting a Kellog's corn flakes ad in 1960. Jean credits Bailey with discovering her and making her career. Likewise she was his muse, and he quickly climbed the ladder to success.

Bailey and Shrimpton, just starting out

This is where I come in but not in a big way. Glamour Magazine was often a conduit for Conde Nast's untested talent. Before Alexander Lieberman would grant access to Vogue many photographers were vetted by Glamour's Art Director, Miki Denhof. As she was also a sophisticated European émigré, Lieberman trusted Miki implicitly. If a photographer worked out for her, he could be hired for Vogue.

Glamour's art department was the heart of the magazine's offices. In my early years there (1965-70), the vibe was open and welcoming. We didn't have cubbies or desks. The graphic designers worked across from each other, standing, at long counters to hold layouts in progress. Mini page photostats of upcoming issues were pinned to one wall, a row of the past years' covers tacked along another. There were windows along two sides of the room and a jungle of plants, lovingly tended by the senior designer. 

Visitors were always shown the art department, and we were introduced to them all. Sometimes we were alerted so as to be our most gracious. Charles Revson, for instance, looked like any successful businessman. It was important to know that his company, Revlon, bought so much advertising he practically subsidized our salaries. 

The photographers were more fun and hung around longer to chat. They all wanted to know which photos Miki liked (as they were never allowed to choose) and to see how they were being cropped and laid out. Not that we had any influence, but many of them brought gifts (mostly candy) and always remembered us at Christmas.

Being in this right place, at that right time, has never failed to amaze me. It was 1965. I was nobody, the junior member of an art department where that position was often a swinging door. I had no idea I would work at Glamour for 25 years. Some of the people I met were already established in their fields; many were not, like David Bailey. So my briefest encounter was with David Bailey, shorter than Jean and wearing a motorcycle jacket, and Jean, wearing I-can't-remember-what, very pale and quiet next to him.

With Terence Stamp
Jean Shrimpton (and David Bailey) shot a lot for Glamour in the next year or two, then went on to Vogue and high fashion work. They split as a real-life team. Jean had a long relationship with actor Terence Stamp. In 1979 she married photogapher Michael Cox, and retired to Cornwall, where she and her family still run a small hotel. 

Retired, early '80s, with family

She's never been persuaded to appear in any kind of Super Model reunion and has never expressed regret that she left the profession. I guess we could say, with Jean Shrimpton, no news is good news.

Avedon's famous 1965 cover


Monday, November 2, 2020

Hair Apparent

Considering the state of the world these days my hair should be of little interest to anyone, but there is a point to this posting. 

Since deciding to go natural after 40 years of I-Love-Lucy-Red, I've taken navel gazing to a new form—scalp gazing. Every day I investigate the depth and coloration of what appears to be many shades of gray. My hair has always been short, but I decided to go full Jean Seberg in "Saint Joan" with a very close crop to hurry things along. 

Otto Preminger's discovery of Jean Seberg in 1957 was heralded as a twist to the old Schwab's drugstore discovery. He had put out a nationwide search for his Joan, testing thousands of young hopefuls. Preminger anointed 17-year-old Jean Seberg of Marshalltown, Iowa, as his star. Far from being the complete novice described in the publicity, Jean had already moved to New York City and was appearing in east coast summer stock when she auditioned.

The first thing Preminger did was cut her hair. Life magazine covered Jean's return to Marshalltown, Preminger in tow. I remember thinking both that she was so pretty it was a shame about the hair and I wanted that haircut myself.

With Preminger and Svengali-like neck-hold
Jean Seberg's life is a fascinating one. "Saint Joan" was not a hit, nor was a romantic potboiler, "Bonjour Tristesse", that was at least fun to watch. She moved to France and made "Breathless", a classic of the French New Wave. It still holds up as a stylish thriller, and she is luminous. Long an activist for racial equality, her association with the Black Panthers produced a rash of ugly rumors, put her on an FBI watch list and surely contributed to her fragile mental state. Three unsuccessful marriages and a spotty acting career didn't help. Seberg was found dead in her car in Paris in 1979, ruled a suicide from an overdose of barbiturates.

Whenever Jean went through a stressful period in her life she cut her hair back close to Saint Joan short. She always said it made her feel most like herself. And I wonder, which self would that be? Was it the Jean Seberg just starting out, with so much promise and hope? Was it the Jean who knew pretty actresses were a dime a dozen, but few could pull off that look? Was she rebelling against standard norms of beauty? Did she just love having one less thing to fuss about?

Is there some part of your appearance that makes you feel like you? A color lipstick you feel is the most flattering? A fragrance? It may be forgotten for a while, but when you put it on, that's You. Is it something you wear? A sweater that has kept you cozy for years. When you reach for it do you feel not only warmer but calmer?

I doubt I will keep my hair this short when all is said and done. We are always on a journey, aren't we? For me the crop is a vessel, for Jean it was a safe harbor. 


Monday, October 26, 2020

Stylish Cinema Preview: "Audrey"

Twenty seven years after her death, Audrey Hepburn is still magic. You have only to say "Audrey", and even my husband's ears perk up. Her voice, her smile, her style...why not a full-length theatrical-release documentary? In recent years two by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, "Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel" and "Love, Cecil: A Journey with Cecil Beaton" were lovely and creative. There have been other worthwhile films on designers, fashion events, magazines and photographers. Why not one about Audrey Hepburn who, besides her ethereal charms, was a beloved UNICEF ambassador for children?

Too tall to be a ballerina

Audrey's earliest passion was dance, and "Audrey" will be a biography seen through the eyes of dance. Director Helena Coan worked with England's Royal Ballet to choreograph portraits in dance mixed with archive and never-before-seen footage to tell Audrey's story.

Hubert and Audrey

Audrey's son Sean Hepburn Ferrer will be addressing her childhood in wartime Holland. Claire Weight Keller, formerly artistic director of Givenchy, will discuss her collaborations with Givenchy and John Loring will talk about Tiffany's long enduring relationship with the Audrey magic of Holly Golightly.

You can watch the trailer here (copy and paste):

My info comes from British Vogue and Harper's Bazaar UK, where "Audrey" will be released in theaters and streaming on November 30. Let's hope that will be simultaneously here. I can't think of a better wrap up to Thanksgiving weekend.



Monday, October 12, 2020

Love Me, Love My Sweater

I never saw the message Diana was sending us, enthralled as we were with her every fashion move. Diana wore this "black sheep sweater" in 1981, shortly after the announcement of her engagement to Prince Charles. Did she really know how fraught that marriage would be and how she would feel so at odds with most of the royal family? One thinks not, especially as she replied "Of course" to an interviewer's "And in love?", to which Charles famously mumbled, "Whatever in love means." We should have known.

Her sweater (a jumper in Brit-speak) was designed in 1979 by a firm called Warm & Wonderful, favorites of Diana's Sloane Ranger set. It now holds a place in the Victoria and Albert's permanent collection. The sweater's popularity allowed the firm to expand its knitwear line, and it's still in business as Muir & Osbourne.

Leave it to us Americans to bring back the black sheep. The firm Rowing Blazers has reissued Diana's black sheep (with approval). It's available for both men and women and sells for $295, which would have been $82 in 1979.

We forgave Diana many fashion faux pas. This wasn't one of them, but her wedding dress was fairly awful, and her going away outfit even worse. She redeemed herself as she became more her own woman, and she did send messages loud and clear. My favorite is the slinky black dress she wore in 1994 on the night Charles publicly declared he had been unfaithful to her. It's been dubbed "the revenge dress", and you can see why.

But that was many moons to come. The black sheep sweater is still sweet, but oh, does it remind us of what we have lost. 



Sunday, October 11, 2020

Stylish Series: "Emily in Paris"

By now you've probably heard of "Emily in Paris", Netflix's new 10-part rom-com set in a decidely pre-pandemic City of Lights. There are three reasons to watch: Escapism, Paris and Fashion.  

Emily will not teach you how to dress. You will not learn how to be Parisian, but you may learn what makes the Parisians tick. You will be taken with the sheer outlandish fun of it all. "Emily" is the perfect tonic for these times. I almost forgot the past 212 days.

Emily was created by Darren Star. He had a little hit a few years ago called "Sex in the City". Perhaps you watched an episode or two? Perhaps you drummed your nails on the coffee table every Sunday night awaiting the magic hour? Perhaps you bought a white tulle skirt and pink tank top (which you never had the nerve to wear)? Yes, that Darren Star. 

"Emily in Paris" is more city than sex, but the sex is there too. Like Emily herself, it's cute. Paris is the star. I'm not sure if it's CGI or what, but the city is so clean it fairly sparkles. Lily Collins plays Emily as not exactly an ingenue. She's smart, but she comes across as a wide-eyed-girl-in-Paris. You're not sure you are going to like her, but she, like Lily Collins herself, surprises you. 

Even the Spritzes look chic...

Lily, 31, the daughter of Phil Collins and his first wife, has been acting since she was a child. Perhaps best known as a model, she played a well-received Fantine in the film of "Les Miserables". She also writes and is producer of the Netflix series. Lily has made Emily lovable enough for us to forgive her character's most egregious pronouncements. 

Patricia Field is the costume designer, as she was on "Sex in the City". I was never sure, on SITC, how serious we were to take Carrie's fashion sense. Carrie loved clothes, but they weren't really the main event. Emily's wardrobe is sometimes a plot point, ie the handbag charm that gets her thrown out of a couturier's atelier, her Audrey Hepburn moment at the Paris Opera, her over-packing for a country weekend. This time I know that Patricia Field is in it for the chuckles, and so am I.

A triple whammy of Emily-style

Each episode has its arc with a running subplot that asks "Will Emily get her Prince Charming?" No spoiler alert on my part. No passport needed either.

I'll wear what she's wearing...


Sunday, October 4, 2020

Wish Me Luck

See that woman pictured above? That's me, or rather the ideal of me, that I will hang onto for dear life for the next six months. You see, I have decided to stop coloring my hair. 
I've always said my red is really an accessory. I'm not trying to look younger—that ship has passed. I just thought red hair was fun, like Lucy. After a while my red with blonde streaks became part of my identity. It may come as a surprise to some, but I am doing it as much for a style refresh as any other reason. I'm tired of my clothes (although I've barely worn them). Let's see what they look like with a chic gray pixie.

I did try to go gray at the beginning of the pandemic. That was a bad move. Great chunks of our lives were falling apart—so many unknowns from "Will I ever go to work again?" to "Will there be enough toilet paper?" I have plenty of the latter, still not sure about the former.

Since I can't go to a colorist to have low lights or even peroxide my whole head like Katy Perry, I think I will keep adding blonde streaks, which I've been doing myself anyways. The red will also fade some on its own accord. It may be quite a sight, something beyond even tri-tone. I will need a great deal of will power not to succumb the the box of L'oreal. Shall I bury it in the backyard?

As the pandemic is not anywhere near over, I'll be home the next six months anyways. I could even crepe the mirrors.

One person NOT in favor is my husband, who likes the red hair. He said, "How will I be able to call you my trophy wife if you're a Q-tip like me?" Despite his going gray at 26, I think seeing my gray might make him feel older.

Many women have transitioned to gray or skipped coloring their hair altogether. Ali McGraw's gray is gorgeous. Rita Moreno is stunning in gray. Jane Fonda, Maye Musk, Judi Dench and a whole host of my friends look fabulous in gray or white hair. 



I feel I've accomplished so little these past six months. If I follow through, can this be considered an accomplishment? 
Like I said, wish me luck.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Weighing in on the September Issues

Part of me wanted to forget about this little exercise, just as I'd like to forget about 2020. Every year the September issues lose heft. No surprise that this year's weigh-in went from 9 pounds in 2019 to 4.6 pounds this year. They are down...but not out, thank goodness.

My Fab Five are Vogue, the leader in page count at 316, followed by Elle at 232, Harper's Bazaar at 231, InStyle at 180, and Marie Claire (with something called a Fall Issue), at 172 pages. It doesn't take much to think Marie Claire's next issue will be Holiday.

Comparing this to last year would be an exercise in futility. Let's just be grateful we still have all five. Anna Wintour continues to top the masthead at Vogue. Rumors of her leaving the post never end—she's also artistic director of Condé Nast—but she remains, probably the most powerful name in American fashion. 

There have been some new appointments to the Editor in Chief position. Glenda Bailey stepped down at Harper's Bazaar after 19 years. Other than being an "unexpected departure" and that she is still affiliated with Hearst as a global ambassador, no reasons were forthcoming. Samira Nasr, formerly Executive Fashion Director of Vanity Fair, has filled her position. Aya Kanai, formerly Chief Fashion Director for Hearst, has taken over the reins at Marie Claire. The EIC at Elle continues to be Nina Garcia, InStyle still has Laura Brown.

This matters little to most readers of fashion magazines, probably not at all to someone who picks up a September issue as a seasonal treat, but it matters a lot in terms of content and direction. 

Each of this year's September issues features a woman of color on its cover. Vogue commissioned two artists, Kerry James Marshall and Jordan Casteel, for its two covers. Kerry James Marshall chose to portray an anonymous figure; Jordan Casteel painted the fashion designer Aurora James. Cardi B, Rihanna and Zendaya grace the others. I'm not exactly dazzled. Those last three have been around. Dare I say they are a bit shop worn?

Jordan Casteel's portrait of Aurora James is a hard-edged one. It's not pretty, which is saying something. I do like the Kerry James Marshall cover as it reminds me of the surreal fantasies of illustrated Vogue covers in the 1930s. Looking closely, that is, however, a very somber face. Unfortunately this may be the truest reflection of where we are in fashion now. Fantasy and reality in 2020 are oil-and-water ingredients.

This is what we've got. Now to see what we've got inside.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Stylish Read: "The Women in Black"

"The Women in Black" is set in the Women's Frocks section of a 1950s Sydney department store where the sales assistants must all wear black dresses. Patty, Fay and Miss Jacobs (whose Christian name we never learn) all work in 'Ladies' Cocktail' while Slovenian emigre Magda rules the exclusive 'Model Gowns' section. Arriving into this refined environment as a summer casual is bright-eyed Lisa (Lesley to her parents) who has just left school and is waiting for the results of her leaving exams."

There you have it, a succinct reader review of "The Women in Black", a first novel by Australian writer Madeleine St.John. Originally published in 1993, it was republished this year as a trade paperback with the eye-catching cover shown above.

So "The Women in Black" was a nostalgia piece from the start, looking back to a time when dresses, at least in the British empire, were still called "frocks", before Australia was considered hip and cool, and (last but not least) when department stores were the places to shop.

I found myself remembering my own days as a part-time roving salesgirl in a Cleveland department store, late '50s-early '60s. Cleveland may not have been Australia, but those 550 miles from New York City were as wide as several oceans as far as style went. I learned little about the full-time staff, other than the watch repairman was both a lunchtime lush and a roué. 

The setting of 1950's Australia was far removed from the rest of civilization in the pre-jet age and felt itself slightly inferior to Europe. Yet there was prejudice against WWII refugee "Continentals", who brought in their sophisticated ways (not to mention salami). 

What else makes "The Women in Black" a stylish read?

> The black dresses staff must wear are not their own clothes but supplied by the department store. Wearing them, the women belong to the store as well. They changed clothes going in and out and even for lunch breaks.

> The youngest character, Lisa, gets a makeover by the sophisticated Magda. Until then her mother sewed all her clothes in an attempt keep her a little girl.

> A black negligee makes for a dramatic turn of events.

> One dress, called Lisette, is practically a character in its own right.

> "Model gowns" are the one-of-kinds lusted after by Sydney society as not one of them wants to be seen in the same dress as another.

No bones about it, this is the equivalent of tulle and sequins as a tale. You can spy the happy endings coming from a long way off, but you've been rooting for them all along. 

The author has carefully crafted her characters so each one "speaks" in her own voice. These private conversations with the reader are the joy of books. I was somewhat disappointed in a film version renamed "The Ladies in Black" that made the rounds on PBS last year.

The book is so loved in Australia that it was turned into a musical (also called "The Ladies in Black") in 2017.