Saturday, December 28, 2013

O Pioneers!

Happy year end!
Looking back before looking forward—

I've come to the conclusion that I— and many of my contemporaries— are pioneers in the Art of Modern Aging. That's aging in the modern age in a modern way. We are the very first who "do not go gentle into that dark night" by disappearing into the wordwork. When else have there been so many women— maybe not all famous but certainly outspoken and well spoken— who say, "Hey, I want to look good for me and because it makes me feel good— about myself and my place in the world"?

We are more accepting at our age of everyone's individuality and imperfections. We are generous with our time and knowledge. We aren't selfish; we want to "pass it on". It would make me happy to save one younger woman from needlessly fretting about what she lacks. We are fully aware the road ends somewhere, and we can't know when. That won't stop us.

Look at the attention being paid to women OACA.* The Fabulous Fashionistas. The celebrity sites screaming "Can you believe she's a grandma?" Times have changed, y'all. Always hated the term Baby Boomers. But I like Forever Bloomers.

*Of a Certain Age

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Selling Out: an Apology

For one brief moment in time I decided to see what this blog would be like with ads. I apologize to anyone who spotted a totally irrelevant ad on my site last night between the hours of 12AM and now.

I've long wondered how anyone makes money writing a blog. Not that it is the goal of course. But how nice would it be to write what I like, have you read it and get a check in the mail? Wait a minute, sister...

Not being a tech person my eyes may have glazed over reading the small print on the sign-up page, but that one ad brought me back to my senses. Anything I click on the internet will be fodder! Don't worry— this was nothing x-rated, just boring and having nothing to do with fashion, beauty or how I look at the world.

As a big fat holiday treat I bought myself "Diana Vreeland Memos". Reading is like having a conversation with her. They are delightful, humorous, wacky and inspiring— with no ads.

Can I aspire to such greatness? Now that the ads are gone who knows...

Friday, December 20, 2013

Here's Looking at You, Kid

One of the best Christmas presents I ever received was from the aunt nobody on one side of the family liked, the wife of my uncle, my father's brother. At the time there was comment that the gift was Not Appropriate for a nine-year-old. I loved it from the get-go. I felt older, smarter and accepted as a person in my own right (at least by this aunt).

What was the gift? A Revlon manicure set— 4 bottles of "stuff" (cuticle remover, base coat, pink nail polish and topcoat)— tools attached with elastic bands to the pink plasticized interior of the blue suede case— orange stick, emery boards, cuticle scissors, nail buffer— bottle of nail polish remover and the all-important booklet: How to Give Yourself a Manicure.

These were not "kiddie cosmetics"— make-believe items like the candy pills in the play doctor kits. They were not even the genuine but benign toiletries called "Little Lady". This was the real deal— Revlon! They advertised in my sister's "Seventeen" and my mother's "Ladies Home Journal"! I was one of them now.

I made a great ritual of doing my nails in my room, feeling all the while that I was engaging in a practice I was perhaps not yet entitled to. I soaked in warm sudsy water, using one of my mother's cut glass bowls. I accidentally lifted the finish off a corner of the nightstand ("Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase" covered that). And I kept at it till the carrying case turned shabby and most of the original pieces had been lost or used up.

I practically never saw that aunt except at Christmas. It wasn't like I could show off how much I loved her present, but I thought of her with every snip and buff. I also learned a lesson I would like to share with you if you have gifts to give daughters, nieces, granddaughters or the little girl down the street.

Think UP. Get them something that just might be "too old" for them. Pretty stationery and a ballpoint pen for a five-year-old just learning to write. Bookplates with her name imprinted and a hard bound copy of a classic. A bath sponge and bubble bath (the kind that comes in a champagne bottle— really). Genuine jewelry that has to be taken care of (as simple as a cultured pearl on a thin gold chain). Honor the woman she will become. Because while we are all still little girls, we always wanted to be grown-ups too.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Is the Half Tuck Half Baked?

The is-it-or-isn't-it intentional half-tuck

About two years ago a new look took the world by storm (ok I exaggerate). It snuck up on us on the person of David Beckham, who must have done it deliberately, right? Since then the boys passed it on to the girls who passed it on to J. Crew and now it's (pardon the pun) out there.

The looks-good-on-you-
David-Beckham half-tuck

Believe it or not the half-tuck has variations:
Front side half-tuck
Back side half-tuck connected to front side half-tuck
Solo back side half-tuck
Back full-tuck
Front full-tuck 
The Justin Tuck (no that's football, sorry)

No one is quite sure whether it's a Good Thing. It is, however, here.

The J. Crew variations

Do I hate it? Not really. It makes feel hip for a woman OACA*. Interesting, depending on the tuck, it can hide a flabby front or unlovely backside. It makes me think I'm doing Relaxed Chic as simply comfortable is not a look I usually embrace. It makes me smile.

The designer half-tuck—
Dries van Noten
* that's Of A Certain Age, of course

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Lest you think there are not fashions in names, scan this list of the five most popular girls' names for the past 100 years or so:

1913: Mary, Helen, Dorothy, Margaret, Ruth
1923: Mary, Dorothy, Helen, Betty, Margaret
1933: Mary, Betty, Barbara, Dorothy, Joan
1943: Mary, Barbara, Patricia, Linda, Carol
1953: Mary, Linda, Deborah, Patricia, Susan
1963: Lisa, Mary, Susan, Karen, Linda
1973: Jennifer, Amy, Michelle, Kimberly, Lisa
1983: Jennifer, Jessica, Amanda, Ashley, Sarah
1993: Jessica, Ashley, Sarah, Samantha, Emily
2003: Emily, Emma, Madison, Hannah, Olivia
2012: Sophia, Emma, Isabella, Olivia, Ava

Funny, the current crop sound more old-fashioned than the ones from 1913. We have "Love Story" to thank for Jennifer, the Beatles for Michelle and a children's book mouse for Olivia. Isabella? Ava? Anyone's guess.

As an act of full disclosure, I was named Michelle the same year Paul McCartney was born so cannot blame the Beatles. You would think the years I spent listed as a boy on school rosters would have given pause to naming our son Sasha, but it did not. Despite his (blessedly) brief childhood nickname of Sausage and being told more than once so-and-so had a Russian wolfhound named Sasha, I still insist Sasha is a fine name.

Sasha meets Sasha 1981

I have known people with unusual names. They stand out in part on account of them. The original Sasha was one such man. I've known two females named Gordon, a Durell, a Mirenchu and a Napoleon. The oddball name takes a while to remember but you tend not to forget that person.

Where I have a problem is when parents decide to get all creative with fairly garden variety names. They sound the same but...

The moment a baby's name is recorded for the first time the paper trail begins— birth certificate, social security card, school records, driver's license, passport, employment records, bank accounts, etc. All are opportunities to misspell that name. Depending on the nature of the matter (overdue library book or bad credit rating), serious consequences may ensue.

There has long been a gentle rivalry between one-l and two-l Michelles. Neither is wrong, but those Beatles did spell it with two ls. That would seem to end speculation which is right. Most holders of alternate spellings are good natured. Frances puts up with the masculine Francis, Katie with Katy and Claire with Clare.

If you're calling her Anita but spelling it Ahneetah do not expect than anyone will follow suit. Expect instead that Ahneetah will be very tolerant, grow a thick skin or require years of therapy.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

5 Things You Should Know by Now

Clara Bow did it...

You should know how to use a lip brush.
Once you do you'll never just smoosh on lipstick again, at least not when you are consciously "making up". I'll bet your lips do not match from right to left side. Skill with the brush allows you to even them out, get to the last of your lipstick and continue the color all the way into the corners of your lips. 

Lovely to look at, delightful to sew...

You should know how to sew on a button.
I can't believe any woman would admit she can't sew on a button, but I've heard it many times at the Lovely Boutique Where I Work. For shame! That's just lame. However there really is a technique for doing it that you should have mastered. If you're just starting out ask your mother or your grandmother to teach you. If you wish to learn in a more clandestine manner go here:
(You will have to cut and paste this link)

You should know how to tie a necktie.
I was pretty proud to learn how to tie a necktie. It's kind of a fun, sexy thing to do for a guy, and it's handy to finish off that Annie Hall look yourself without needing one. Want help? Ask your dad or your guy or follow the chart. I'm not sure why one might wish a full Windsor over a Half Windsor, but this seems fine for ladylike necks.

Good enough for the Duke of...

You should know your (approximate) equivalent size in jeans/pants.
Although no one cuts the same it does help to know the conversion of your usual size into jeanspeak.
00 = 24
0 = 25
2 = 26
4 = 27
6 = 28
8 = 29
10 = 30
12 = 31
14 = 32

Your size is hiding in plain sight

You should know how to say "no".
As in "no I don't look good in it" or "no I don't need it" or "no I am not going to just keep it anyways".
Laziness, embarrassment, disappointment can keep you from doing the right thing, and that's saying "no".

Insert your name here

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Way We Were Etc. Part Three


Time Marches On
Magazine time runs months ahead of the real world. If it's August it must be Christmas. You were never quite in sync with what was happening when it really did. Every year had two Christmases— the real one and the one you created on paper. Summer clothes had to be shot in January in sunny climes (don't cry for me Argentina); models sweltered in winter coats on city streets in July.

June 1965... a little one-sided?

The Cover
By far THE most important single item in the canon was THE COVER. That can be said for every magazine. The fear! The panic! The formula! To me that big head with type running down the left side was boring boring boring. Why not mix it up? First, the magazine must be recognizable. The cover couldn't look radically different every issue or else the reader wouldn't know you. Because issues on (big city) newsstands might be fanned overlapping, you only wanted type on the left so as not to be covered. As far as the formula? If it worked one month it would work again. I've always wondered just how important the image or the words were. If I loved Glamour magazine, I was going to buy it anyways or— better yet— subscribe.

We would make 20+ photostats for each cover image, a percentage or two different from each other, vary the crop ever so slightly, mount each cut to actual size on cardboard and prop them up against the wall. Once the image was decided the same process would ensue with cover lines, written and set in type, photostated on acetate, cut out and pasted in place. Statistics were kept from month to month on which covers sold the best. You would think the entire reason for buying an issue was based on the cover. Maybe it was.

Alex and Me
I never said a word to Alexander Liberman in the 25 years I worked at Conde Nast. At first that made sense as I was only ever someone in the background. He was "Alex" to a privileged few and "Mr. Liberman" to the rest, but he terrified everyone. Except me. We had never been introduced. Thus I considered myself an observer and not a victim.

Liberman exuding charm 
The Liberman family exuding charm, 1948

Alexander Liberman, Editorial Director of Conde Nast since 1962, played the part of major domo. He was the tasteful eyes and ears of the owners, the Newhouse family, specifically Sy, the Newhouse in charge. He had the imperious air of old world elegance. He was described by some as a "White Russian", the nobility which had fled Mother Russia after the Revolution.

In fact his father, a wealthy Jewish Marxist, had decided it best to get the family out of the country when the Bolsheviks took power. Alex was educated in England and worked as a magazine designer in Paris before making it to America in 1931. He and his wife Tatiana, who had her own millinery boutique at Saks, cut quite a swath in New York society. Biographies neglect to mention that he had been art director of Glamour for many years, but he had, and Mrs. Denhof was his assistant. They were the same age, but she looked up to Alex as her mentor and teacher.

The air was thick with tension when word came that "Alex is coming! Alex is coming!" He was always called in to sign off on the cover but could show up randomly. While I never saw him as anything other than low-key and charming— no fits or diva behavior— his word was the last word. And if it was "Change this" no one ever asked why.

As a young staffer I didn't travel around in town cars or have a clothing allowance. Nothing was ever given away. That scene in "The Devil Wears Prada" when Stanley Tucci takes Ann Hathaway into the fashion closet and outfits her? Would never happen. Everything went back to the manufacturer at the end of the season. Years later there would be mad free-for-alls by the freight elevators for discarded cosmetics or random accessories, but this was still the civilized '60s.

Besides free coffee, the only other perk was the on-staff in-house infirmary with the famous Nap Room. There was a nurse on duty and a doctor who checked in during the week. I never took advantage of their services other than to be reassured my self-inflicted tattoo wouldn't kill me (had poked my pinky finger with the tip of a needle-sharp croquil pen dipped in black ink). The Nap Room could be very popular. It was always kept darkened, but it did look as if it held three beds, often occupied by young ladies resting or— I suspected— sleeping it off.

My services were a perk for the editor in chief, Kathleen Casey Johnson. She found out I sewed (at the time almost everything I wore) and had me fixing hems for her out of the office at $5 a pop. She also paraded me around the fashion department one day. Evidently she had been on a tear with her editors that the clothes they were calling in were too expensive for the readers. She was in the art department and asked where I got my two-piece Banlon leopard print top and skirt (bateau neck top, pencil skirt, could wear it today). It happened I didn't sew that but bought it at Bloomingdale's Basement (yes they had a basement store) for $10. She took me out of the art department, into the fashion department and marched me from desk to desk with, "See, look what she found for $10; why can't you do that?" Yes, I was embarrassed but a little flattered too.

That was the way she was... 1967

I was a model a few times in the early days. Things were more "fashion-y" under Mrs. Johnson. The era that followed brought Glamour a lot of respect— the Best Dressed College Girls eventually becoming Glamour's Women of the Year— but were a little less fun. I have searched all over for copies of the magazines I was in, but I must have tucked them away really well. This picture is a favorite (mostly because it doesn't look like me) from an out-take of a hair feature. The shoot was set up in Kenneth's (the society hairdresser [Jackie was a regular]) townhouse salon. My hair was cut so short they added fake side pieces so I wouldn't look like a boy. I had been trying to grow back my over-plucked eyebrows, but the makeup artist plucked them again, and they never did grow back. For years I have had no eyebrows. He also told me I had rare double rows of eyelashes like Elizabeth Taylor's. I guess that's some compensation. The photographer was a charming Frenchman named J. J. Bugat, one of Mrs. Denhof's imports, but he didn't stay long.

Happy Endings
This would be nixed from the script if life were a movie (too trite), but I met my husband (of 45 years) in the Graybar building lobby coffee shop. It was a rainy Friday in early spring. I just felt like treating myself to lunch and was at the counter eating an egg salad sandwich when a young man sat next to me. We started talking about how bad the service was. Before I knew it I had given him my name and phone number, and he had promised to call. He was— and remains— the only man I have ever given my number to. I later found out he was a legend among his friends for being able to pick up any girl anywhere. Let's say I was his last...

I continued to work at Glamour until 1989. I left once for a bit, thinking it was time to become a "serious" graphic designer but was easily lured back. I made it through several regimes and a move to Madison Avenue. The last shake-up was particularly jolting but took me to Woman's Day. I saw us going from single coat to double coat rubber cement then to using hot wax but never witnessed the closing of the Conde Nast photostat studio or so many staffers losing their jobs as technology crept its way into my business.

No one could have predicted— then— that typesetters, retouchers, photostat makers, film developers, plate makers, mechanicals men (and women) and coffee carts would become extinct. Today we may ask, "What is the future of magazines?". Then the future meant, "Who will be on next month's cover?"

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Way We Were Etc. Part Two

August 1965— my first issue


This Maisie didn't know much. I was ill-prepared for work as a graphic designer. The school I attended (for four years!) didn't waste time on practical skills such as spec'ing type or preparing mechanicals. I was lucky because at Glamour we were never tasked with such jobs. Somewhere— somehow— our fragmentary layouts came back a real magazine. Magic! Not knowing the rudiments of my profession haunted me for years. I was a concert pianist who couldn't read a lick of music or a fashion designer who couldn't sew. But such skills today are as a pencil is to the computer age.


There were story conferences, show-and-tell by fashion editors and meetings with photographers. At this point in my career I was not part of that. My job began when the film arrived. Photographers shot 35 mm color slides, Kodachrome or Fujifilm. There were boxes and boxes of slides— 6 to 8 for each outfit in the story, more than a dozen boxes for a cover shoot. The slides might first be sent to the photographer, who was allowed to mark choices, but the whole kit and kaboodle had to be delivered to us— including every bad shot or underexposed frame. The only photographer who got to cherry-pick his offerings was Richard Avedon, working for Vogue. He sent one print, already cropped and retouched.

If the messenger services were slow, Mary Anne would be dispatched to pick up the film. Once Ali McGraw (before she was the Ali McGraw) was working as Melvin Sokolsky's assistant and brought up his film herself. Soon she was modeling for Glamour and— well— the rest is history. She was, by the way, incredibly charming and universally adored. One time Mrs. Denhof sent me to Edita Sherman's studio in Carnegie Hall. If you saw "Bill Cunningham New York" you met the flamboyant Edita in her '90s. A former actress and sometimes portrait photographer, she really made a living renting her prime-location studio to visiting photgraphers. Conde Nast kept her very busy.

Ali McGraw in Glamour,
Cheryl Tiegs on left

My job (and sometimes it was a day-long job) was to sort, organize and load the slides into black plastic "carousels" that fit in the slide projector permanently set up in Mrs. Denhof's office. She would project each and every one, pulling out her choices (not always matching the photographer's), which would be loaded into another carousel. At this point the editor(s) who had been on the shoot would be invited in for a run-through, along with Mrs. Johnson, the editor-in-chief. If it was a particularly important shoot, the whole fashion and art departments would crowd in. Much oo-ing and ah-ing insued. The photographer was never present. I imagine him waiting nervously by the phone to hear the verdict. I never recall Mrs. Denhof chewing anyone out. It was always, "Divine, my dear". She picked great photographers and determined she could always find something to work with.

Editorial photographers were loyal to the magazines that hired them. If you shot for Glamour, you weren't "big" enough for Vogue. Mademoiselle, also a Conde Nast publication, was the Yale to our Harvard; you didn't play for both.  Heaven forbid (as time went on) if you shot for Glamour's rival, Cosmopolitan. Editorial jobs were probably the most creative but the least lucrative. However, editorial exposure led to commercial assignments. Though never credited in advertisements, photographers would be better paid.

Mrs. Denhof was partial to the Europeans and gave many their first jobs in New York, including Patrick Demarchelier, Frank Horvat, David Bailey and Patrice Casanova. "Regulars" at the time included the Americans Bill Connors, Sante Forlano and Frances McLaughlin Gill. The photographers would usually stop by the art department after a meeting (probably to catch a glimpse of their layouts). They could be incredibly generous at Christmas. I remember one year I was given a Gucci wallet by one, and I was nobody!

After the slides came... the stats! Mrs. Denhof would select half a dozen pictures for each shot needed. The photostat department made a negative for each, then blew those up at predetermined percentages to a quarter, half or full page. You had to leave room for the "bleed", the area needed where paper would trim from the printed image as it was bound into a magazine. An eighth of an inch was considered minimal. Some shots were composed right to the edge of the frame. The cardboard mount made the tiniest difference, and sometimes that was peeled away to allow for the bleed.

In doing research I discovered that Conde Nast pioneered bleed printing at their plant, the Arbor Press, in Greenwich, Connecticut. By the time I worked there printing was done somewhere in Kentucky or West Virginia, and the water tower with the big GLAMOUR painted on it was no longer visible from the Merritt Parkway.

We also worked with black and white film, of course— 35mm and 2 1/4. Photographers would send all the contact sheets as per and could mark their choices with grease pencil. Working with a magnifying loop, Mrs. Denhof chose her own picks, which were then cut from the sheets with a stencil Exacto knife, making sure to transfer the roll number to the back and leaving the frame number on the side.

The loop we used was not a jeweler's loop— the round magnifying glass that gripped the wearer's eyeball. Ours were clearly marked on the box as "linen testers", thread counters for the textile industry and used to count threads per inch. They sat flat on the surface you were examining and folded down to a little square. Mine now sits in the kitchen "junk drawer" where it's a handy aide in removing splinters.

Working in the art department did carry an air of danger. Aside from rubber cement, we used rubber cement thinner, a highly flammable solvent. We bought it in gallon tins and stored it under the desks. Fortunately no one smoked. A sharp Exacto blade cut the best. It was dangerous to have them lying around and easy to slip using a new one. Once I stabbed my pinky with a croquil pen point (tiny and razor sharp) dipped in black ink. You can see my "self-inflicted tattoo" to this day.

When the stats came back they were trimmed to a hairline of the edge so the bleed could be determined. The stats then were then sorted, stacked and paper clipped in just the right place and enclosed in a folder (really just a folded sheet of layout-sized paper) which identified the story. This could— and sometimes did— take days and was my job. I was very good at it.

At this point 80% of the magazine was printed in color— certainly all the major fashion stories— but we designers worked in black and white. The stats were black and white as was any type or illustrations. It was always a surprise when the real thing revealed itself in color.

Work was divided among us with George getting the majority of "well" pages. FYI the editorial well is the "meat" in the middle of a magazine— no ads. This is precious property as ads are what pays the bills. Even today, when every ad dollar counts, the editorial well has managed to remain intact. Thank goodness. There were also features not related to fashion or beauty in every issue. They could be serious (health or careers) or what was happening in popular culture. They were not "10 Ways to Fake an Orgasm" or whatever such nonsense goes in today.

In years to come I worked on features and the well, of course, but this was then. Shirley and I designed the "turns". I'm only guessing "turn" means it's a piece you basically look at and turn the page. These were the little bits that framed all the ads front and back— one or two columns  in size. The turns were regulars such as "What Goes on at Glamour" (behind the scenes bits where I had previously gleaned so much information about the magazine), the travel pages or "Glamouraisle", a mail order section. There was the "Editor's Shoe Choice" and the occasional nurse's uniforms or maternity clothes.

Then there was "The Cover Look". This was my first exposure to All May Not Be All It Appears To Be. "The Cover Look" was credited to whichever advertiser was waiting his turn. Whatever products the makeup artist actually used on the shoot, approximations as manufactured by Revlon or Maybelline or Cover Girl were found and identified as the ones chosen. A bit of a sham, really. I hope I haven't crossed the line in Revealing Too Much.

By Richard Giglio
By Sheila Camera

Richard Giglio and Sheila Camera were two favorite illustrators. You had to live in New York City to work for us. This was the day before even FAXes. You needed to be able to run up to the office at a moment's notice to get your assignment and/or deliver your sketches. Richard and Sheila both knew exactly the look we were going for. Their illustrations practically designed themselves on the page. Mrs. Denhof was an early supporter of the great Antonio Lopez. You didn't direct him so much as let him go.

By the way, all the work photographers and illustrators did for us was the property of Conde Nast. While we kept the originals that had actually been used in an issue, everything else got purged— mounds and piles of slides, contact sheets, drawings and rejected layouts. We'd save the paper clips. I can't tell you how many Antonio drawings I trashed. Cleaning out was my job too, and I was very good at it.

By Antonio

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Way We Were When That Was the Way it Was



Thanks to a classic case of being in the right place at the right time, I found myself as low man on the totem pole in Glamour Magazine's art department in 1965. Read on if you are curious (or nostalgic) how magazines were put together way back when.

Perhaps you should rent "Funny Face". While we never burst into song (especially about pink), that movie captures the spirit of making a fashion magazine. It was always "Let's put on a show"— serious business that was nevertheless a melange of make-believe, let's pretend and dress-up.

The sixties were pivotal times for fashion, yet in 1965 we still wore gloves to work, no bare legs ever and no pants to the office. But you could hear the Youth Quake coming; New York and London were the coolest places on earth.

Glamour Magazine was (and still is) Conde Nast's cash cow. The magazine was thick with ads (always the sign of health) and enormously influential in the industry and the demographic it served—  college women, those new to the work force and young marrieds. It had been my favorite magazine from junior high on. Before I worked there I knew every name on the masthead and all the photographers, models and illustrators.

Glamour's offices were on the 19th floor of the Graybar Building at 420 Lexington, a lovely art deco pile attached to Grand Central Station at 43th Street. Glamour shared the floor with Vogue, but not equally. You could see the Vogue reception area from the elevators. Glamour (no receptionist) was past the photostat studio. The hallway dead-ended; editorial to the right, advertising/promotion to the left. There may in fact have been more staff running the "business side" of the magazine, but our paths crossed rarely.

The Graybar Building

The Glamour art department had banks of windows facing north and east. It was a large room with space for three full-time staffers to work: Shirley, jack of all trades but specializing in production and schedules, myself as Shirley's helper/fledgling designer. There was also an assistant to art director Miki Denhof, who worked closely with her on the major parts of the magazine. Miki had an adjoining office, which she shared with her secretary, Mary Anne.

We worked standing up at a central island. There were no partitions thus no privacy (for phone calls or wasting time). We pretty much knew everyone's life stories. There were bins and drawers and cubbies all around for the multitude of art supplies needed, including sheets and sheets of "dummy type" to cut and paste in place on the layouts.

Although we had trash cans, the modus operandi was to throw scraps on the floor and let the cleaning crew sweep them up— a very bad habit that I eventually took home with me. There was no room to keep anything personal by your workspace. Shirley tended to a veritable jungle of plants on the window sills, including years of avocado seeds now sprouting towards the ceiling.

Shirley was a native New Yorker who'd worked at Glamour for years. She and her husband had an apartment on 57th Street and lived what I thought was the quintessential New York life— entertaining, theatre, museums and art galleries. An excellent cook, she was my go-to person for advice. Shirley regaled us with her culinary adventures, which included serving rabbit to dinner guests and diffusing the question as to why the chicken had so many legs. At Christmas we established a department tradition where, instead of buying individual gifts, we pulled names attached to a wish list with a $25 limit. The only thing Shirley wanted one year was a white truffle, then going for $25 an ounce at Bloomingdale's. FYI an ounce of white truffle today goes for $199.

The assistant art director worked opposite me, across the island. First was Gerry, a handsome man who always wore a suit and tie (thanks to him I can tie a Windsor knot). He emigrated to Australia, which was offering professionals a $1,000 bounty if they remained a year. Gerry passed me his rent-controlled apartment on West 10 Street— still a gorgeous block today. The apartment had a fireplace, brick walls and built-in bookshelves and was fabulous (except for the four flights). Next came Ben. He left for greener pastures (probably in advertising where he could earn a decent paycheck). George, a previous assistant, returned with great fanfare and eventually became Miki Denhof's successor.

There was always the assumption you had to afford to work at Conde Nast. Salaries were notoriously low and did attract a well-educated trust fund type waiting for Mr. Right. But there were plenty of us who loved what we were doing no matter the remuneration. We were proud to work for Conde Nast.

We did work— those scissors flew all day long. Although, when I think about it— how much work did we actually do? The workday was 9 to 5, although it was alright if you got in before 9:30. You did want to make it before the free coffee cart was rolled away at 9:45. There wasn't a lunch room or break area. It was okay to eat at your desk, ostensibly while working, then go out for another hour. We in the art department may have worked till 5:30. By that time all the other offices were silent and dark.

The three-martini lunch was not part our day. Mrs. Denhof always lunched at her desk (and never left the building). One of her secretary's duties was to order lunch from the Gourmette Delicatessen. The order was always the same— black coffee, hard boiled egg, fruit salad. It was then "decanted"— wrappings removed and the food placed on a tray set with black lacquer dishes and real silverware. If Mary Anne was out for lunch or on an errand, the ritual fell to me.

Miki Denhof (whom I never called anything other than "Mrs. Denhof") was one of the first female magazine art directors. She had been Alexander Liberman's assistant at Glamour before he moved to Vogue, and Alex remained her mentor. Miki had been born in Trieste and fled to the US in 1938. I had been cautioned about working for her, "You won't like her; she's tough". That quality, plus being fair, made her an excellent boss. She was very clear in telling you what she wanted. If you got it right, you got thanks. If you missed the mark, you had the chance to try again. She encouraged your ideas, but only after you did what she asked first. When you earned praise, it meant something.

Mrs. Denhof rarely had time to design layouts in the office, but she took work home. The layouts she brought back were covered in dried rubber cement. It was my job to clean them up, collecting great wads of rubber cement balls we joked about setting on fire. In cleaning up Mrs. Denhof's layouts I believe I learned to design by osmosis. Whether intentional or not, it was a great teaching technique.

One summer I had the opportunity to visit Europe for the first time. When I told Mrs. Denhof, she was excited for me. Then I broke the news that the charter ticket was for a month, and I needed to take two additional weeks. She said, "My dear! Of course! One cannot go to Europe the first time for anything less than a month!"

Continued in Part Two (sooner rather than later I hope)...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving Thanks...

...for good advice and bad jokes:

Before criticizing people, walk a mile in their shoes. Then, when you criticize them you will be a mile away and have their shoes.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


They weren't there,
but they could have been

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the wedding celebration of two young friends (all reception as the actual wedding was months earlier). Because my husband and I really knew no one else, we enjoyed seeing their many relatives and friends (bride had been a bridesmaid 28 times), admiring the couple's prowess on the dance floor, eating some good food and settling in for a bit of observation.

As this event was so close to the holidays, it's safe to say the ladies were wearing their best 2013 party gear. And they were wearing... a lot of... B L A C K. Lots and lots of black, and it looked lovely. There is something about a young woman in black that ups the ante. Yes, I mostly observed women in their mid 20s - mid 30s because there were so many of them and I considered it product research. The Lovely Boutique Where I Work carries party dresses expressly for this demographic.

There is something very fresh about a young woman dressed party-perfect in a sophisticated manner. She stands a little straighter. She's really well groomed for the night. In this day and very casual age, she looks like she gave her outfit serious thought. What can we learn from these beautiful young things as we dress for our own parties and celebrations? We've been to a few in our time; maybe the trick is not to be so jaded.

I'll bet you have at least one "go to" party outfit that you wear over and over because it A) looks pretty good, B) fits most dressy-up occasions and C) is comfortable. I'll bet anything it involves black velvet.  

There is indeed something to be said for a classic "party look". No one will question Carolina Herrera's variation on a white shirt with a ball gown. Isabella Rossellini looks notable (though a tad Pearl Buck) in her Asian inspired evening looks. I've previously mused about the "opera coat". Throw it over anything to look Fabulous. You do still have to make these looks your own, and you are going to be recognized in your "statement" time and again. There will be no surprise, "How lovely you look tonight".

Paul Poiret circa 1912

But guess what? It's time to go out and see what's new. There are the most intriguing combinations of metallics and brocades and lace at not-break-the-bank prices. And you don't have to go black if you don't want too. I'm beginning to think the more color the better the older I get. Just don't let me get a red hat and wear purple! Here are some personal favorites from a fast sweep through the offerings:

Diane Von Furstenburg (above and below)

BCBG (above and below)

To bare or not to bare? And it's a question of legs or arms or both. My legs are okay so far, but if you still haven't come to terms with yours go for a high-waisted palazzo pant— maybe with a short lace bolero and silk shirt. Puts the emphasis above the waist plus makes your legs look long. Or go long— not too full because you'll feel silly but some draping at the waist or a trumpet shape. Just make sure it's really long. Save tea length for a tea dance. And when was the last time you went to one of those?

As far as your upper arms— if you want to go bare DO IT. Absolutely nobody cares if your arms are not as toned as Madonna's, I promise you. The main factor in going bare-armed is your level of confidence. If you are going to self-consciously slink around all night, then forget it. I would be far more troubled looking at your arm tattoos. I am sincerely hoping that's a generation gap thing and you don't have any.

Do you consider walking in heels a walk on the wild side? Many of us have gotten quite used to—if not sensible (perish the thought)— shoes at least comfortable ones. Much as I wish, for parties even Dorothy's ruby slippers won't cut it. And who could resist a beautiful pair of party pumps or sandals? So what you need to do is practice. Heels higher than your usual will make you walk differently. I know we've all seen a Galloping Gertie at a party or two. Let's try not to be her...

Gertie, is that you?

Yes you need a little evening bag. In time honored tradition your fella would carry your stuff in his jacket pocket. I don't know about you, but I need to have that lipstick or iPhone at the ready. And Sir Lancelot may not even be wearing a jacket. Nothing looks lamer than a party dress finished with a street handbag. So invest a few dollars in an evening bag. It needed be one of those Judith Lieber extravaganzas. It's pretty easy to find success at Forever 21. Just remember— the less gewgaws the better. All-over black satin perhaps. Don't forget a wrist handle or shoulder strap. Unless you are one of those trusting souls who leaves her handbag on the dinner table, you want to carry it with you, unobtrusively.

Chanel— nice but not necessary

Makeup is indeed your finishing touch. Please don't get lazy and "touch up" what you've been wearing all day, even if the party is only cocktails for a couple hours. Enjoy the moment. I'm reminded of something I witnessed many, many years ago. While still in high school I was a "nanny" briefly for the grandchildren of one of my mother's friends. Evidently the regular nanny was on vacation. I actually enjoyed spending a week in her daughter's luxurious home. I had my own room (with tv!) and private bath and did no housework. My job was just to watch over and entertain the kids. Most of the time the mother was even there. This young couple (and remember we're talking mid '50s) went out almost every night. After the kids' early dinner, a beautiful, long-legged creature not unlike Megan on "Mad Men" would somehow sit cross-legged IN her bathroom sink— with a cocktail and a cigarette— and apply her evening makeup. She didn't mind visitors. I was certainly there and sometimes the oldest girl popped in to see Mommy making up. It was part of her day— and her life— as easy and natural for her then as it sounds foreign to us today. I knew I would never be her (nor did I aspire to be), but it's a fascinating recollection of how (some of us) lived once upon a time.

Sorry, back to make-up. Evening lighting begs for a heavier hand with pots and pats. And isn't that nice? You can conceal and plaster to your heart's content with no fear of looking overdone in the cold light of day. This is when to pull out red lipstick (especially if you are wearing black). Experiment a bit, because all reds are not created equal. There are blue-reds, orange-reds and true reds. You will look best in one. Supposedly blue-reds are better if your pearly whites are less than pearly. Lipsticks don't look the same on your lips as they do in the tube. That's why I've never bought a Chanel lipstick. It would be sad to throw away upwards of $35 in one fell swoop. Another consideration is it's lips OR eyes, not both. So if you'd like to emphasize one, play down the other, "Those Lips! Those Eyes!" not withstanding.

Chanel— some enchanted evening

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Suiting Up

The other day a lovely customer at the Lovely Boutique Where I Work asked me: Where in town could her daughter get a SUIT that wasn't— maybe— horrible. The daughter was applying to graduate school and would wear this suit ONCE (mother's words)— or perhaps as many times as it took to nail the admission. We don't sell business wear per se at the Lovely Boutique, and she knew that. Her question was really asked because she hoped I would have an answer.

The Suit has a bad rap. Once upon a time a black or navy pants suit or skirt suit was the logical choice for playing with the big boys. Add a cotton man-tailored shirt, and you're done. Yep, trussed up like a turkey. A stereotype.

Stereotype in triplicate

Practice! Practice! Practice! It's the way to get to Carnegie Hall or maybe a job at Carnegie Hall. Practice walking in those heels. They may be new; they might be the first pair of heels you've worn in a very long time. Practice sitting and what to do with your legs if you're in a skirt (crossed at the ankles with knees together).

Skirt vs. pants. What to do with your legs is another good reason to opt for pants. You can sit with your legs crossed at the knees and not feel like a hussy. There's no hose-or-no-hose debate. If you hate your legs, you can hate them less in pants.

You have a choice. In re-thinking the suit, think about the who and what. Who are you seeing? An HR rep or a corporate recruiter? The person you might ultimately work for? For what are you interviewing? Banking? Grad school? Primary school teaching? Media Public Relations? Google? As much as you don't want to come across all Bohemian for the bank, you don't want to appear cookie cutter and stiff for a creative endeavor.

You can still show some style. I'm happy to see more women going fashion forward in workwear with pants or a skirt and what used to be called a "dressmaker jacket"— unmatched to the other part and with some style on its own (as if whipped up by your little dressmaker whose name might be Chanel). You can also choose a simple sheath dress paired with a tailored cardigan or jacket. 

While black and grey are no-brainers, you can do color if it's understated (taupe) or rich (chocolate or hunter green or burgundy). Try to avoid navy; it comes across all policewoman/stewardess-like. You can add texture (tweed, houndstooth, checks) as long as they are subtle and in a restrained palette. The idea is to look tasteful and elegant but not bland and boring. 

Not the time to borrow from the boys

Alas there is still a time and a place for a traditional suit.  First— you must select components all from the same manufacturer and style code, ie the same fabric. It's useless to try matching one manufacturer's black with another's.

The jacket needs to fit. Shoulders, sleeve length, waist (try to have one). You may need a tailor. This is why it's not a good idea to buy a suit on Saturday for an interview on Monday. Oh and don't forget to cut open the protective stitching from the vent and pockets.

Daunted by the task? This is where you want to call in the help of a Personal Shopper. All the big stores offer one gratis as do many of the specialty shops where you might look (J Crew, Zara, Banana Republic). At the very least bring a helper. You don't want to be bouncing from dressing room to sales floor searching for sizes.

The suit has an afterlife. Whether you get in/get the job or not, don't let that suit sit a-moldering in the closet. Break it up. Wear the jacket as a blazer with jeans. Or throw it over a party dress (just over the shoulders is the newest way). Likewise the pants or skirt can become a wardrobe basic. They can always meet up when you need them together again.

What to wear with... Notice I haven't gone into that— the blouse/shirt/shell, the jewelry, shoes, makeup, handbag, etc. It's a blog, not a book.

A suit needn't be a prison uniform. In the end wear what gives you the most confidence. You should still be you, the one with your best foot forward.

How fabulous do these chicks look?
(outside the office of course)

Marlene Dietrich
Katherine Hepburn
Photo by Helmut Newton

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Down-turn for Downton Abbey

Lady Edith, the late Lady Sybil, Lady Mary

I nearly fell over the newly released Downton Abbey Jewellery (their spelling) Collection today, cleverly positioned near the mall parking garage doors of my local Macy's. These are "official" as annointed by Carnival, the producers, but they are not the real deal. Downton Abbey jewelry, copies of Edwardian and mid-twenties designs, are popularly priced (aka cheap) with a top price of $38. There were earrings (mostly dangly), a few brooches and some spidery necklaces stamped from black metal.

Interesting— The Great Gatsby never really took off style-wise. But Downton Abbey, soon to be airing here in its fourth season, still stirs the imagination and sets off trends. At the Lovely Boutique Where I Work, a customer was debating on a drapey overblouse in a deep forest green silk. She modeled it for her husband who questioned whether it was a little "maternity" (the kiss of death for many a mature woman). I told her to tell him it was "very Downton Abbey". She let me know he would probably go for that. Men like the show too.

Back to the jools. I love thinking that the era's fashions keep getting more respect. They truly were remarkable— liberating, practical, imaginative and more affordable through mass production. The jewelry, at least the pre Art Deco variety, usually read as a little fusty. Even the Crawleys couldn't afford the showier baubles. Don't forget, costume jewelry was only beginning to be accepted (thanks to Chanel). It was only okay to wear "paste" if the genuine articles were safely locked away.

In 2012 PBS developed its own line of Downton-inspired jewelry at a higher price point. With no permission from Carnival and no royalties traveling across the pond, they were soon ordered to cease and desist. The PBS website now offers the officially sanctioned stuff, all 153 items— quite a bit more than I saw at Macy's. Quantity never trumps quality (would the Dowager Duchess have said that?). The best thing about the Downton Abbey Jewellery Collection? The cardboard packaging— tasteful and elegant.