Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Women We Love: Grace Coddington

Amazing Grace

Not just because she stood up to Anna Wintour in "The September Issue" (and was even caught on camera muttering under her breath), Grace Coddington has become a woman of interest. Long after going behind the camera rather than being in front of the lens, she is now recognized as the head pixie Stylist Extraordinaire for Vogue magazine.

Grace has just published "Grace: A Memoir", no doubt brow-beaten to do so by legions of fans and journalists clamoring for the back story. She previously wrote a book about her cats ("The Catwalk Cats") (see I told you she was interesting), but this one is a charming, low-key (and in large type) autobiography. Bonuses: 34 pages of thumbnails of work she's done for both British and American Vogue and a smattering of her charming illustrations.

Grace, 71 and a former model, has Pre-Raphaelite red hair that looks as if it were styled via electric light socket. She wears mostly shapeless black things, no discernible makeup and sensible shoes. Does this make sense for a woman so connected to channeling Fashion for the rest of us? Yes, because this lets me think Grace has come up with a formula for herself that lets her imagination run wild in her work. She's not shopping or agonizing over her closet, and we are the beneficiaries.

None of it would work if Grace did not hold the bag of fairy dust. Sometimes you remember the set-ups more than the clothes, but most of us are not shopping from the pages of Vogue per se anyways. We take away the spirit, and her art inspires us to become our own masterpieces.

Many thanks to Durell Godfrey for taking the lovely portrait and sending me a personally autographed copy of "Grace".

Monday, December 17, 2012

Kate Moss, Eat Your Heart Out

You've heard of supermodels, right? Well, how about two super models— me (left) and my friend June walking the runway for a fashion show at the lovely boutique where I work. Between the two of us we are 153 years old. You do the math.

I've not used this blog to brag before, but I must admit I'm pretty proud we pulled off our 30 seconds in the spotlight without tripping.
Note the expression on
the woman to June's left...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The One That Got Away

There's always one— the movie you missed seeing before it disappeared. The magazine you meant to pick up before it left the newsstand. The love you let slip through your fingers and now you'll never know. The dress you hesitated buying and now... it's gone. Or rather, I'm gone.

Last September I spent a day of our London trip traversing Oxford Street, Kings Road and Kensington High Street. By the time I hit KHS my dogs were barking, as they say. I could barely think straight let alone shop. The last stop before I would hurl myself back onto the tube and Hotel Home was TJ Maxx (called TK Maxx in the UK because ???). A bit of a hovel it was, not even trying for the decent presentation one finds in stateside stores. Nevertheless, I flipped through the Designer racks in the basement and spotted a Vivienne Westwood jersey dress. This dress was not only by the old master herself; it was made from fabric printed from another old master, Rubens, possibly a variation on The Rape of Europa.  

I'd only ever thought of Vivienne as a rather loony lady with a punk design sensibility who has managed to stay in business since 1981. The British equivalent of our own Betsy Johnson perhaps. Delightfully outlandish but never anyone whose label I would lust after.

That dress, however, has been my undoing. Shapeless on the hanger, you could see it was meant to come alive on the body. Yes, I tried it on, but it was size Large, and I am Small or even Extra Small. I suspected it would drape a whole lot better if it were a whole lot smaller. It would also have been $150 American. The last time I paid that for a dress at TJ Maxx was... never. So I let it pass. But it haunts me still.

I am now stalking the dress on ebay. Where there's a will, there's ebay.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Gift of Gifting

Some people know how to do this. Like having style, being a gifted gift-giver is probably in your genes. You can admire someone, hoping something rubs off. Or you can hone your skills by experience (yours and mine).

Wish list fulfillment. If someone says they want a certain something, GET IT. That's not taking the easy way out. This "thing", whatever it may be, is definitely wanted. Don't try to be all creative and go beyond what they request or interpret said item into something more along the lines of your taste level. This is especially true when gifting a child. Ever notice the look on a child's face when he/she realizes the present he/she asked for is NOT under that wrapping paper, torn off moments earlier in great anticipation? Better yet, remember when you didn't get that dreadful toy-du-jour you so longed for?

Gift card. If you are opting to go this route, add something to make that card more exciting to receive. Stick it in a page of a new book (that bears some relation to the gift card's provenance— an artist's work with a gift card to an art supply store, a book on gardening with gift card to a garden store). Frame a gift card in a pretty picture frame. Hide a movie gift card in a giant tub of popcorn. You get the idea: add a gift to a gift card.

The gift that keeps on giving— a year's subscription to a former hometown or vacation place newspaper, specialty magazine devoted to a hobby or interest, membership in a local cultural institution.

Money. Never underestimate the thrill of the real thing. The fun is in the creative way you present it. I have never discovered how banks keep supplied with new bills, but the bank is where you'll find 20 crisp $1 bills. Tie them on the branches of a tabletop tree (faux or rosemary). Roll them into tubes, tie with string and turn a bare branch into a mobile. Fill a mini lunch box, tupperware container or empty (dry) plastic water bottle with artfully crumpled bills. Note: Even if you are crumpling, start with new bills lest you end up with wilted lettuce instead of a fresh green salad.
Fun three ways:
to make, to unwrap, to spend

Why gift vouchers are not a good idea. Even in the best of economic times one can question how commercial the holidays become. Downright grubby sometimes, if you ask me. Nevertheless writing "gift vouchers" to friends and family doesn't do the trick because no one ever redeems them. I've written my share of vouchers for foot rubs and car washings and pick-the-movie-of-your-choice, but I've never been called on to make good. Perhaps the recipient is reluctant to appear grubby him/herself by asking me to "pay up".

Men and gifts. Though I'm guessing few men are reading this, the rest of us realize how the gift-buying process can unhinge them. In the lovely boutique where I work, we easily spot that deer-in-headlights look. We aim to soothe by giving them "extra bonus points for coming into her favorite store". Because everyone loves to open something, more boxes are better than less; any box is better than an (unadorned) gift card. We also caution him, if unsure of her size, to buy smaller rather than larger. Just because. If you're passing on this advise to a brother/father/son/nephew/friend remind him to get a gift receipt as well. I personally think giving a man your gift list (along with style numbers, sizes and colors) is a bit tacky, but hinting is a form of flirting.

Gifts and men. Experience has proven that gifting time is never the right time to perform a makeover. This is not when you present him with a new sartorial style or new hobby. If he wanted a satin smoking jacket he would have found a way to get one by now. If he wanted to carve his own recorder out of a block of wood, he would already have purchased said block and $300 worth of wood carving tools. You kind of can't go wrong with team logo anything, but only if he is passionate about that team.

Wrap it up. You don't have to spend a fortune to nicely tie up a gift. I've had great success with cheap (dollar store) butcher paper and (hardware store) jute twine. I know a gal who recycles her local newspaper's oversized wall calendar as wrapping. Foreign newspapers, especially Chinese and Korean, are colorful and graphic. Go for the noise factor and the dollar store again (the cheaper the paper the more it crackles) when wrapping kids' presents. Taunt the teenagers on your list with several layers of (dollar store) wrapping paper. Fie on the fancy gift box too. I'm not against recycling cereal boxes or soda cartons. If the present fits, so be it. For years I recycled a beautiful blue box from a nameless fancy emporium to hold any number of unrelated gifts. The warning scrawled on the lid avoided any disappointment: "NOT from T.....y".
Warning label required

While we're on the subject, I would like to know if anyone has ever actually received a new car for Christmas tied up in a big bow?
Don't forget I like leather upholstery...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

EOF: Holiday Style

EOF = Equal Opportunity Fashion
Class, recap if you please. EOF is fashion that will flatter women of all ages and body types. In these here parts dark (preferably skinny) denim and something fancy on top qualifies. Gold cowboy boots optional but definitely EOF.

What else befits the distinction of being Holiday EOF? 
> Black lace
> Metallics
> Sheer
> Long skirt
> Hair thing
You may need to tweak a bit to create the proper mix of holiday pizazz and good taste.

Black lace— If there is such a thing as being too young for a fashionable look, black lace would be it. Black lace is better— more sophisticated, more knowing— the more woman you are. Ingenues don't wear black lace. Black lace can be:
The top...
...the bottom...
...the whole nine yards
Metallics— It has certainly been a great year for glitz. This would run the gamut from sequins to metallic threads woven into fabric or knit to full-on lurex (which does sound a bit lurid). The trick is to pare it down. If you go the sequin skirt route, a plain top (tank, tee or turtle) is your best bet. Likewise a metallic jacket calls for a simple partner. You can pare glitz with black velvet if the velvet's lines are simple, but the combo is top tier dressing, definitely not dressy-casual.
Maybe add black tights?
Sheer— Sheer is where you go when you don't want to go bare. A sheer sleeve will answer that "I don't want to show my arms" conundrum. A sheer bodice requires— no question— a camisole under-piece.
Sheerly yours
Long skirt— Go ahead and try it. If you've hesitated to wear a long skirt during the day (too impractical! too littlehouseontheprairie!) see how elegant you feel gliding through the night in one. And yes, Thumbelina, you can wear long even if you're short. Just don't do ball gown volume. 
She's a real princess too
(Letizia of Spain)
Hair thing— We've been fascinated with the fascinator since Kate and William's nuptials. This British bit of style fluff has been known here as a "cocktail hat". It's easy to pop on, even if you sport short hair and is one step dressier (plus leaps and bounds more sophisticated) than a headband.  
It was fascination...

Holiday dressing can be fun. This is indeed the time to indulge in a bit of Cinderella-at-the-ball fantasy or go for your favorite vintage look. I know a lady (pretty well as we share the same closet) who pulls out the same palazzo pants and jeweled back cardigan every year for New Year's Eve. And sometimes it's even in style!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hooray for Hollywood

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let's give thanks for the gift of imagination and the craft of realization. From amazing blockbusters to independent zingers, the movies have given us food for thought for over a hundred years.

Herewith follows a selection of the best fashion movies ever to grace a dimly lit room. This is a personal list, of course. I've been disappointed in some and may not have seen your personal favorites, but here goes (in no particular order).

Fashion films fall in three catagories:
1) Amazing costumes that may or may not be historically accurate and/or influence your wardrobe but are a treat nonetheless
2) Trend-setters whose looks were responsible for influencing the ways we were and are
3) The business of fashion (be it creating or reporting).

> The Boyfriend— if the 20s really looked this good I will rue being born forty years to late.
The original "boyfriend" look
> Gone With the Wind— Scarlett's character is so defined by wardrobe choices, from the innocent barbecue party dress to the widow's weeds she wore in name only. And who could forget that green velvet dress aka the drapes?
Whatever do you mean by drapes?
> Marie Antoinette (the Sofia Coppola version)— Despite (or maybe because of) the anachronistic sound track, this is a romp in girl-land dress-up.
Let them eat...
>Barry Lyndon— That 18th century again
No words needed
> Out of Africa— Two great actors, one beautiful continent
Meryl + Robert + Ralph: three is not a crowd

> Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn version)— I've written before that I once paused throughout a VHS tape of Sabrina to sketch all Audrey's looks in order to replicate them. They are pretty much still wearable.
And this is only the "before"...
> Bonnie and Clyde— What girl didn't want a beret, pullover sweater and pencil skirt (not to mention Warren Beatty) after seeing Faye Dunaway in hers?
Bonnie Miss Bonnie
> Pretty Woman— Dress like a dressed-up hooker? Yes, please
Still looking pretty
> Grey Gardens— Edie Beale as trend-setter? She was royalty before the Tenenbaums. And proof that if you believe in yourself the world will too.
If you've got mink, wear it!
> Annie Hall— Inspires millions to this day, inspired itself no doubt by Katharine Hepburn
Annie Hall wins a hall pass
> The Best of Everything— Not often mentioned on the lists, but we actually dressed like this. Working girls aspiring to look chic in our Ohrbach's knock-offs
Hoping for the best
> Love Story— And who didn't wear a knitted cloche in homage? Methinks Ryan O'Neal is a great accessory in a fashionable movie (see Barry Lyndon).
Ali McGraw with two accessories
> Breathless (original version)— Cut off your hair! Wear a white t-shirt! Move to France! Forget what actually happens in the plot.
A breath of fresh chic

> The Women (original version)— The technicolor fashion show at the end of the black and white film is the whipped cream and cherry. A movie about women and for women (hence the fashion show)
Sundae best
> Funny Face— Audrey! Fred Astaire! New York! Paris! Givenchy! Gershwin! Think pink!
And Dovima!
> The Devil Wears Prada— Surprisingly accurate portrayal of life at Conde Nast (except for the part where our heroine takes home clothes from the sittings closet). Meryl Streep never looked better.
Devilishly delicious
> Valentino: The Last Emperor— What begins as a voyeuristic peek into another world ends up a sympathetic portrayal of a passionate genius— and a love story.
It's good to be the emperor
> The September Issue— The real star is Grace Coddington, probably the only woman in the world to stand up to Anna Wintour...
...and make Anna smile
> Unzipped— The business of fashion is life-changing and serious stuff, even if you are the delightful Isaac Mizrahi.
In fashion all the world's a stage
>Bill Cunningham New York— A love letter to fashion, Bill and New York City rolled into one
My three loves
>Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel— The latest release on the list and last but not least. Without saying as much, Diana Vreeland states the case for Life=Fashion and Fashion=Life, math I can certainly understand. You'll wish you knew her.
My favorite professor
Thanks to Durell Godfrey for suggesting this feast. By the way, Netflix will be open Thanksgiving day.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Run don't walk... your nearest Nordstrom. Although they are profitable and respected, Nordstrom is one of that dwindling species, the American department store. Despite the Macy-frying of America, department stores (even Macy's) are not what they used to be. For one thing there are less departments. One used to be able to furnish a home from basement water heater to attic fan at a department store, with many stops in between for rugs, lamps, furniture and drapes (not to mention the contents of your closets). The in-store travel agents, bookshops and hairdressers too are long gone.

There are 117 Nordstrom stores in America (plus an additional 110 discount Nordstrom Racks which don't count). They are not takeovers of old-line department stores as in the Macy's formula. Do you recognize a dearly departed in this list of the conquered-by-Macy's?
> Bullock's
> The Broadway
> Emporium
> Weinstock's
> May Company
> Robinson's
> I. Magnin
> Meier & Frank
> Bon Marche
> Foley's
> Jones Store
> Famous Barr
> L.S. Ayers
> Marshall Field's
> Lazarus
> Goldsmith's
> Hecht's
> Burdine's
> Kaufmann's
> Strawbridge's
> Bamberger's
> Stern's
> Rich's
> A&S
> Jordan Marsh
> Filene's

Depending on how dedicated a shopper you are, there may be a Nordstrom near you and you don't know it. They famously advertise but twice a year, for the Half-Yearly Sale and the Anniversary Sale. Holiday decorations go up Thanksgiving Day and are down the day after Christmas. There are no water heaters or attic fans (never were), but Nordstrom has one thing in very short supply in today's marketplace: customer service. I don't just mean the sales associates are nice (which they are), but the stores themselves are beautifully maintained, spaciously laid out, with a real honest-to-goodness live pianist at a baby grand on the first floor, restaurants with delicious food and restrooms you could live in.
The showman is not for show

A bit of Nordstrom history: The first store opened in Seattle in 1901. Called Wallin & Nordstrom, it sold only shoes. There were two Seattle stores by the time Wallin retired in 1929 (and sold his shares to the Nordstrom family). By 1958 Nordstrom had expanded to eight stores in two western states, still only selling shoes, thus becoming known as "The World's Largest Shoe Store". They are famous for bend-over-backwards customer service and the policy that any item may be returned at any time for any reason. To this day, if you wear shoes in two different (whole) sizes, Nordstrom will not charge you for the second pair.

Nordstrom back in the (shoe)day...
...and today

Expansion continued with the purchase of Best Apparel in 1983, resulting in today's mix of men's, women's and children's clothing, accessories, cosmetics, jewelry as well as a small range of home furnishings. Offerings run from the moderately priced to couture. Many in-house alterations are gratis. Associates are encouraged to develop relationships with customers and to "make the business their own". Nordstrom also has a strong internet presence offering free shipping and returns.

Still family owned, what Nordstrom doesn't have is a lot of buzz. They are not tastemakers or trend setters. Nevertheless management is very astute in who is their customer and buy for her/him accordingly. There's enough that you want and nothing that you don't want. And they do feature a tremendous selection of shoes.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Third Piece

The piece is not The Third Piece

Too young to have seen "The Third Man" at its 1949 release, I do remember before that time no one had heard of the zither. After "The Third Man" no one wanted to hear zither music ever again. I finally got around to watching this film noir classic but haven't quite determined what it was about.

In the fashion lexicon "the third piece" is infinitely easier to understand. This is what makes a look, creates an outfit, ties it together, makes it zing. It's what you add when you feel something's missing.

What the third piece can be:

> Jacket— not one that matches your skirt or pants (then it's a suit). This jacket has its own personality.

> Cardigan— A simpler, sophisticated one perhaps. Holiday sweaters need not apply.

> Vest— Watch it as vests go in and out of fashion. Sometimes it's a man's vest, sometimes a bolero. Today's vest is of the giant Sherpa variety that can make one look like a Yeti.

> Belt— a statement belt, not a flimsy little thing that disappears at twenty paces

> Scarf— of noticeable size, color and/or pattern. The male equivalent of this would be his tie.

> Chunky necklace— or necklaces— that are a focal point, not a trinket

What the third piece can't be:

> Shoes— No matter how wonderful on their own, it takes too long to process shoes as an essential component of your look. Besides, there are two of them.

> Leg wear— Tres important but can't stand on its own (pun intended).

> Handbag— too peripheral. Besides, unless you're the Queen you put it down sometimes.

Coco: Which was the last to go?

One needn't stop at three, but you do have to know when to stop. Coco Chanel believed in taking the last piece off; Iris Apfel says she adds one more.

Iris: Room for one more?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Women We Love: Shala Monroque

Do you hide your style under a cabbage leaf, or do you wear a cabbage rose with aplomb? Check out the lovely Shala Monroque.

The gorgeous 33-year-old Shala is a mere child in my book, but I suspect she will be as stunning at 66 or 99. Talk about style! She "works it" effortlessly. First of all, that smile would light up a room. Shala is photographed everywhere she goes and doesn't take a bad one.

Deemed "a very modern kind of style icon" by New York Magazine, Shala has a lot on her plate. She is the creative director of the avant garde publication "Garage". Born on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia she arrived in New York City at age 20 with the proverbial one suitcase and an itch to be a model. There's as much beauty in her head as on it. Her blog, Shala's Rabbit Hole ( is all about strong women and empowerment. Some of her favorites: Miriam Makeba, Maya Angelo, Liya Kebede, Nina Simone, Angelina Jolie and Diana Vreeland.

Unlike Daphne Guinness or Britney Spears, Shala's style is not for attention or a cry for help. She looks ladylike and fashion-forward both, not an easy accomplishment. Though she can hardly avoid the spotlight, when asked if she ever gets fashion fatigue, she answered, "I love clothes and enjoy it, but it can't be my whole world— absolutely not. When I get fashion fatigue I just wear a uniform: the same pair of jeans, for example, with a rotation of button-down shirts. The same coat, etc. Or I go to museums. Or the movies. I go out into the world. The mind neeeds diversity. Fashion feeds off it."

She may be most famous for being famous at present, but I predict if she keeps up her happy and original outlook on life and style, she will be one to watch for a long time.
Shala ooh-la-la