Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hair Apparent

Charlize Theron looking every inch the star

Thank you, Charlize Theron, for reminding me why I love short hair and Why It's Worth It. "Ha! (I can hear you now) Short hair is trouble?" Well, let me tell you, like the San Francisco earthquake, the further you are from your last haircut, the closer you are to the next. Should you dare go beyond the limit that your hair takes to grow, you will find your head under a baseball cap, beret or sombrero.

Don't think every hair grows at the same rate either. What starts out evenly all the way around ends up in tufts like a cut-rate chia pet. Short-haired gals are delusional in thinking they can nip away at their heads. "How hard could it be? My stylist makes it look so easy!" Conclusion: small scissors should not be allowed in the homes of the pixie cropped.

Speaking of stylists, if you haven't had to, searching for someone who A) will cut it as short as you want, B) understands how to cut short hair and C) doesn't charge an arm and a leg is quite the quest. I followed Tony from borough to borough all over New York City as I was convinced only he could cut my hair, all the while listening to his tales of woe. When he disappeared for good I went to a Celebrity Stylist to the Stars (at least I once saw Lauren Bacall in his salon) and even my local neighborhood barber (a pretty good cut for $12).

A Shortened History of Short Hair

Zizi Jeanmaire
Zizi Jeanmaire is a French ballet dancer (and widow of choreographer Roland Petit). She rose to prominence in the early 1950s after appearing as the title character in a ballet of Carmen. Her post-war pixie was the first I remember seeing. It struck me then—as now— as being Essentialy French. Zizi is 88 today. I wonder if she still has the haircut.

 La Audrey
Audrey Hepburn is thought of as the Uber Gamine, but in reality she wore her hair short for only a short time (and it wasn't even that short). From "Roman Holiday" in 1953 to "Ondine" on Broadway to "Sabrina" then back short in 1967 for "Two for the Road".

Jean Seberg
Discovered on a talent search by Otto Preminger, Jean had her locks shorn for his film "Saint Joan". The film wasn't a great success, but the haircut was. She kept it for "Breathless" and "Bonjour Tristesse". Jean Seberg's life was not a happy one. I read whenever she felt she needed a boost, she cut her hair back to the chopped crop of happier times.

Twiggy's haircut embodied the spirit of the '60s "Dolly Bird"— childlike, a little androgynous and gloriously free. No one pulled it off as well as she did, of course, except maybe...

Mia Farrow
The story goes that Mia didn't tell her new husband Frank Sinatra that she was going to cut her hair for "Rosemary's Baby". When he saw it he was not pleased, and the marriage ended soon after.

Charlize in a previous short look
This is not the first time Charlize Theron has gone short. That may have been about ten years ago, according to the clippings in my bulging file of Memorable Short Hair. We'll see how long she keeps it going (or keeps it cut). Both then and now part of the look is the great play of light and dark that her roots give the cut. Another shout-out to Charlize right there.

I met my now and forever stylist, Faye, in a bank. That is to say, I admired the hair on one of her clients who was also banking. I won't have to tell her I want my hair to look like Charlize Theron's because it does already. I may have to tell Charlize that— if she needs one— I have a great stylist for her.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

How'm I Doing?

He did just fine

Who would have thought the late, great Ed Koch would turn up in this fashion-centric blog?  Although he often asked constituents, "How'm I doing?", he wasn't referring to wardrobe choices. Koch was not known for sartorial excellence (though he did know how to sport a pair of suspenders). The multi-term mayor of New York and one of the city's greatest "characters" had a phrase for it. When asked about his political beliefs, Ed Koch described himself as "a liberal with sanity".

So I would describe myself, fashionwise. As time goes on I don't love fashion any less, maybe even more. I'm not fearful. I don't worry so much about something being practical. If I wear it twice a year and feel Marvelous, well, that's fine. And these are the people I admire. Women my age (within a generation or two) who take the best of what's out there— past, present and future— and make it their own.

While I would never describe myself as a slave to fashion, I certainly hear its siren's call. Such was the reaction reading news from Milan for Fall 2013. What struck me were some interesting ideas emanating from some not-very-spring chickens. Miuccia Prada (64) threw a half-buttoned drab cardigan under a sophisticated party dress. Karl Lagerfeld (80) shaved some mink and used it on half of a simple (and simply gorgeous) wool cloth coat for Fendi. Donatella Versace (57) showed spiked collars so long they would surely stab your dance partner. Reviewers called her looks a little adolescent, but why not if spiked collars are your thing? Why not indeed?

Prada Fall 2013
Fendi Fall 2013
Versace Fall 2013

It all boils down to knowing yourself. At some point you know how much attention you want to attract and what to say when you do. You may not know where you stand politically, but you probably know what shapes look good and which colors work to your advantage.

How to become a fashion liberal-with-sanity?
> Allow yourself to pick and choose among the wide scope of fashion trends.

> Don't just wait for the looks you loved to come back in style, declaring the rest "off limits".

> Never say never without trying it out first, if only in the privacy of your bedroom.

> Be gracious enough to pass on something that doesn't work for you without putting it down for others.

> Think of dressing as playing dress-up.

> Expect to be looked at. Then smile back.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Women We Love: Carolina Herrera

Carolina in her signature white shirt

Amid the mess and moxie of New York Fashion Week Fall 2013, one lady did not disappoint. She still remained a lady. Carolina Herrera has been turning out refined looks for 33 years, since launching her fashion line in 1980.

Lucy Liu's gown at the 2013
Golden Globes in typical
ladylike Herrera style

In the beginning she was treated as a marginally talented dilettante, a lady-who-lunched while keeping an eye on what other ladies-who-lunched were wearing. Her collections were at first grudgingly praised. Not only has her career stood the test of time, she became quite the business woman, developed a following and— perhaps greatest of all— garnered raves and respect from the fashion chroniclers. When I found out she is 74, after declaring "I'll have what(ever) she's having", I realized my praise (at least) is long overdue.

Carolina in the jet-set days

There was no reason Carolina Herrera needed to become a fashion designer. She was born into a wealthy, socially and politically active Venezuelan family. She married well twice, first to a Venezuelan landowner and has been married since 1968 to Reinaldo Herrera Guevara (a television personality and son of a marquis). She led a jet-set lifestyle for years and could undoubtedly have chosen her wardrobe from any of the world's top designers. What made her enter a business that doesn't suffer fools lightly?

Carolina became known for her elegance and style. She was thinking of starting a line of textiles when her friend Diana Vreeland, the legendary editor of Vogue, encouraged her to become a fashion designer. Although she began in a small way (selling exclusively in a New York City boutique), her looks sold and were eventually declared by the New York Times to be "elegant and worldly without ever being fussy". Not surprisingly each collection features a play on a particular textile theme. Today Carolina Herrera is a family business encompassing fragrance, a lifestyle brand and Carolina Herrera boutiques around the world.

"Four daughters, 12 grandchildren, three
great-grandchildren and many, many shirts"

Carolina is her own best model. She would like women to feel they too can be glamorous and elegant, yet prides herself that she can get ready for a ball in ten minutes. She fears women consider being called elegant to be old-fashioned but believes elegance is not an old fashioned idea.

Did I mention "Carolinia Herrera by Carolina Herrera" is my favorite perfume? I wear it so often people think it's Me. I'd like to think it's Her.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

It's Fun to be Cute!

I was contemplating the purchase of a new skirt (not that I need one). This one had me at "clipper ships on a black background". It looked like the wallpaper in a little boy's bedroom circa 1950 (when it was still okay for me to play in one). As so often happens, my first reaction was "Now who thought that was a good idea?" The more I looked at it, though, the more those ships were inviting me to sail away.

But who needs a summer skirt in February? Time and again I make the mistake of buying too early, regretting purchases made for occasions that haven't occurred. So far I've resisted said skirt, though it's playing on the soundtrack of my mind.

This skirt's provenance has a website— with product reviews. Though praised for its quality and style, one reviewer said, "...if I were a few years younger I would get it in a heartbeat. However, I am 50, a young looking 50, but, still, there comes a point when something can be too cute. Don't get me wrong, it's not overly cutesy. It's just not for me. Or maybe not at full price."

We're not talking "Hello Kitty" cute here. No ruffles or bows. Not too short. Not Rainbow Brite. What is it about the skirt— or the concept of cute— that is not acceptable? By "cute" did she really mean "fun"? In the lexicon of retail-speak we are taught not to label anything flattering as "cute" because we, as grown women, don't want to look "cute". On the other hand, "cute" is the first thing we hear among friends who are shopping together and praising each others' choices. "Cute" is a wink and a nod to youthfulness in a way (I've always thought) that was positive. And "cute" is certainly fun.

Since when does fun have an expiration date? Shouldn't our goal be to lighten the atmosphere, not weight it down? Sure, cute can turn silly in the wink of a feather eyelash, and fun gets funny in two letters. Neither is then a good look. Why this skirt? Why that thinking at all?

The reviewer did show signs of a possible change of heart. She did not eliminate the possibility of buying it once it goes on sale.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Wake Me Up Next Spring

Oooh... nothing about the Fall 2013 shows so far have given me a reason to look forward to next winter. It's been a rehash of everything we've seen before, only more somber and covered in fur. The twists and turns of master drapers are looking tortured (Donna Karan, Zac Posen). The once esoteric Ralph Rucci is skewing very commercial (if you can afford him). Betsy Johnson is back. Did she leave? The unknown designers are unknown— for a reason. The runways look as if they are trying to please everyone, and you know what happens then.

Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs and all yet to come:
Thrill me.
Delight me.
Surprise me.
Please me.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Beginning of the End?

Betty will get the treatment

There has been style-obsessed television (think Sex in the City) and obsessive television about stylists (as in Rachel Zoe and It's a Brad, Brad World's Brad Goreski). Now comes word of an upcoming HBO scripted comedy "about the life and work of a personal shopper in New York City".  The proposed series is not a reality show (all to the worse). Will this mean personal shoppers— like fashion designers, recording star wanna-bes, and aspiring chefs before them— will look like anyone can do that and does?

Lena will be making the point

What gives this some credence is the person tapped to write the pilot is none other than Lena Dunham, the wunderkind behind (and in front of) HBO's smash series, "Girls".  Also worthy is that the series will be based on a forthcoming memoir by Betty Halbreich, 85, a real-life career personal shopper for Bergdorf Goodman.

A personal shopper is probably best defined as a stylist for a non-celebrity who actually must pay for what she wears. In Betty's case most of her clients have high-powered careers and/or are socially prominent with little time to putter through masses of retail offerings. And who wouldn't love a fairy godmother to do that for us? Betty has been in the business since 1976. She well knows that it ain't just about the clothes.

Her previous book, "Secrets of a Fashion Therapist"", published in 2000, is one of  my favorites. Aside from great advice such as "Ten Ways to Liven Up Your Basic Black", she also tells us "How to Know When You've Had Enough (Black)". From "The Dos and Don'ts of Mix and Match" to "The One Dress Evening Wardrobe" and a great chapter, "Clean Up You Room", this is advice to take to heart and heed. I can hardly wait for the new book, "All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go". I'm just not so sure about the sit com.

I worked for two years as a personal shopper for a Major Department Store and have a few stories of my own. There was the call I got from a lawyer whose client's husband had left her for another woman and was suing for the divorce. The lawyer was seeking the house in the settlement but feared the husband's lawyers would claim the wife didn't need it "because she looked like an old hippy who could be happy in a garret". In fact the wife, in a shapeless mu-mu and sandals, with no makeup and no hairstyle, did look as if she were left behind at Woodstock.

My job was to get her a sharp outfit for the court appearance and arrange for anything else to whip her into a woman who deserved a nice home in an upscale neighborhood. From foundation garments out, including a hair appointment and a trip to the Estee Lauder counter, the client was transformed. Yes, she got the house. More importantly she changed her outlook on life and became a regular customer. Oh, and the lawyer came in for some personal shopping as well.

Maybe that story isn't funny enough for television, but I sure would have liked to see the husband's face when he realized his goose was cooked.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

How Did This Happen?

I try not to think about it, but— gee whiz— I have so much stuff. How did I get so much, all of which I love despite the amnesia of its accumulation? This little illustration says it all. We have so much stuff because stuff costs less than it used to. We have more exSPENDable income to buy it with. And we live in a disposable society.

Our favorite— movie/book/music/celebrity/cuisine/— has a short shelf life. Even if we aren't trying to keep up with anyone or anything, we don't ever seem to be satisfied. We still hunt for the "perfect" whatever. Never mind that we imperfects are always changing, ourselves. We learn and supposedly get smarter, but the "stuff" keeps coming.

My 1950s mother had two suits: a winter brown and a spring navy. She wore them for years because styles didn't change overnight and neither did she. She bought good handbags (very few) and shoes (ditto). They cost more, I noticed, but they lasted. Buying to last was considered a virtue.

I'm not suggesting we go back to the old days when you shopped, very thoughtfully, only a few times a year. That barn door was shut long ago. I'm not going to make promises I won't keep either. I just wondered why I have so much. And figured it out— because I can. That alone makes me feel both very grateful and very guilty.