Friday, June 21, 2013

"Scatter my Ashes at Bergdorf's"...

... but bury me at Bloomingdale's.

This New Yorker cartoon by Victoria Roberts was the inspiration for a just-released documentary about the iconic Manhattan department store. Bergdorf's was never my personal agora of choice. You had to (have to) be really rich to shop there. It isn't the sort of place you can sneak into and hope no one will realize you couldn't possibly be a customer.

Aside: There is a story in the film about a bag lady who wandered into the fur salon and did indeed buy a sable coat with cash she was carrying— in one of her bags.

"Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's" opened here some forty miles beyond its target audience. Nevertheless I was one of five people at a 7:30 PM screening on a Friday night at an otherwise packed 30 screen exurban multiplex.

Location, location, location

As for New York City shopping— Henri Bendel was quirky and fun. Altman's, Bonwit's, even Saks were dependable and reasonable. Bloomingdale's was the happening place for the young and hip. From the model rooms for ogling to the best selection of tights in town, Bloomingdale's was THE place to get inspired or get a wardrobe.

The film interviews the usual fashion celebs such as Joan Rivers, Rachel Zoe, Robert Verdi, industry pros from Karl Lagerfeld to Michael Kors to Giorgio Armani (via subtitles) and Bergdorf big wigs. Linda Fargo, Bergdorf's senior vice president of everything, is relatively unknown to the public but comes off especially well. Comparisons to Anna Wintour are definitely on Linda's side.

Linda Fargo holds the keys to the kingdom

Our local reviewer pointed out that Bergdorf's is "like the last totem of an almost-vanished New York where women wore pearls and people talked like Arlene Francis and Bennett Cerf... Bergdorf's is what's left of that world."

Because I knew I could never afford anything at Bergdorf's, I never went in. The windows, on the other hand, were and are a treat for all. "Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's" spends a lot of time on the windows. For anyone interested in the art of creating magic behind plate glass, it might be worth the trip to your equivalent of the AMC Gulf Pointe 30, or wherever they've buried "Bergdorf's" in your neck of the woods.

Window shopping is free to all

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Third Eye

K., the personal shopper at the Lovely Boutique Where I Work, has two fully functional eyes. But the other day she became my "third eye" and was it ever a help.

1 + 1 do not equal a match

I had just bought a pair of flowered summer pants and was wearing them for the first time. A restrained floral, they were still very "Granny's drapes". I cobbled together the outfit with a ruffled ivory camisole and cropped beige jacket. So far so good. At work I caught sight of a new peasant blouse. It had a nice vibe; summer is always a little bit "Summer of Love" for me. The colors would blend well with the flowered pants. On my lunch break I tried it on.

Something wasn't right. I had that slight feeling of betrayal when what you figured would work together didn't. But I couldn't think why. Usually one to trust my own judgment, I called out to K. (passing by), "What do you think of these two together?"

Like a hummingbird settling in on a tasty flower, she sweetly but succinctly said, "Well, they don't really go together. The pants are too romantic for the blouse." She was so right! I was mixing metaphors, trying to morph disparate sensibilities with the Boho top and the vintage tea shop bottom. While a jean jacket harmonizes with everything, and a chambray shirt/brocade skirt combo sings, these two elements didn't make beautiful music together. I hadn't seen it before, but of course...

T'was an ah-ha, could've-had-a-V8, why-didn't-I-think-of-that moment. It proved that even those of us wildly knowledgeable about the subject sometimes need help dressing ourselves.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Hippie Chick Lives On

Where the Punk Show at the Met seems to have gotten it wrong (having us believe the couture they showed was Punk as worn by the People), the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has a chance to get it right.

The upcoming show "Hippie Chic" (July 16 - November 11, 2013) begins where the Hippie look landed— on the backs of the well-heeled (and soled) who could afford the real deal: caftans from Morocco, embroidered kurtas from India and silk from the Silk Road. Names that come to mind are Yves St. Laurent, Giorgio di SantAngelo, Thea Porter, Talitha Getty, and Verushka in "Vogue".

Oh, Giorgio!

This is not the Hippie of my younger days as I fell somewhere in the middle. We decided against driving up to Woodstock that rainy weekend because we didn't want to get the new Corvette all muddy. Can you imagine?

Love, peace... and mud at Woodstock

Though the fabric of their lives was definitely cotton— that great gauzy stuff from India— the first hippies were having fun with fast fashion and vaguely invoking something spiritual, foreign, creative, comfortable, cheap and rebellious. If you chose to dress that way you were, in fact, showing your colors. We others adapted. I had a couple of long skirts and strands of hippie beads. That look was strictly for weekends. I still wore gloves to work.

The Founding Fathers?

Perhaps the Beatles were the first to take the look and run with it. Who didn't love the Beatles? They had managed to charm young and old. When they began to dress Sergeant Pepper-style it may have become acceptable to more people. I know my staid brother-in-law grew a moustache and sideburns and may have had a Nehru jacket.

Hippie Chic is not going away. The phrase alone evokes thoughts of disposable income and unlimited leisure time— jet planes, exotic islands, eternal youth. That could be why I've never quite gotten up the courage to dispense with my long paisley, crinkle cotton, drawstring waist hippie skirts. After all, they don't take up much room.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Yes, I read every book about fashion out there. I could probably write my own, except I already have. You're reading it. Call me the Dickens of fashion writing— installment chapters that may lack Dickens' mesmerizing plot arcs.

Not all books about fashion are strictly "how to dress". Right now I'm reading a doozy—"Shocked" by Patricia Volk. This is a memoir about her mother, Audrey Morgen, crossed with an appreciation of Elsa Schiaparelli, whose autobiography Patricia read as a youngster and which changed her life.

Schiap looking conservative (for her)

The same thing happened when I was eleven. I checked out from the library Schiaparelli's book, "Shocking Life" because of its bright pink cover. With only a vague idea who she was (my mother did have a subscription to "Vogue"), I'm not sure I understood most of it, but it thrilled cover to cover. I remember thinking I didn't know it was okay to consider Fashion as Art.


Patricia's mother, Audrey, may not be vain, but she does have a heightened sense of self. She knows she's beautiful, sets high standards for herself and proclamations for everyone else. It's funny and poignant because it reeks of the '50s that I remember, even if my own mother was no Audrey.

I'm only on page 84 and already have scooped out a few bon mots for you. As along the way we not only get a bio of Schiap and an autobio of Patricia, there are delicious fashion tidbits. Ready for a nibble?

James Laver was a fashion historian, arguably the first. He was described as "the man in England who made the study of costume respectable." He was also the Keeper of Prints, Drawings and Paintings for the Victoria and Albert Museum from 1938 to 1959. In his study of dress he combined art history with theories that defined the relationship between fashion and economic and social factors. While that is indeed a mouthful, the following, known as "Laver's Law" (from 1937), makes perfect sense:

Indecent10 years before its time
Shameless5 years before its time
Outré (Daring)1 year before its time
Smart'Current Fashion'
Dowdy1 year after its time
Hideous10 years after its time
Ridiculous20 years after its time
Amusing30 years after its time
Quaint50 years after its time
Charming70 years after its time
Romantic100 years after its time
Beautiful150 years after its time

Hard to think of 1963 as being "quaint", and maybe Laver's Law does not apply so much to the present era of fashion trends that regurgitate ad nauseum, but don't you love it?

Thanks, Patricia. This is fun.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Why "The Great Gatsby" is Not so Great

How great was it?

What a connection! The definition for dud is "a thing that fails to work properly or is otherwise unsatisfactory or worthless". It also means "clothing". Not sure how that links up, but the duds in "The Great Gatsby" will not become the next big fashion trend.

Daisy and Leo
Daisy and Robert

The New York Times runs a column which singles out what is neither wonderful nor terrible. They call it the "Meh List". File "The Great Gatsby" under "meh". The movie wasn't as annoying as I was afraid (hated Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge"). It was neither realistic nor a fantasy. It was lush but hollow and way too long. Although miscast, the real problem was we never cared about the characters. Daisy was not worth yearning over. No wonder she didn't feel the same about him; Leonardo's Gatsby was, as they say, no Robert Redford. The only one with a pulse was the garage mechanic. And he spent the film in a dirty undershirt. If we don't care about people we certainly don't wish to emulate them.

Beginning to flap

The twenties were an amazing decade. It was the dawn of "youth culture". The early flappers were really rebellious teenagers, the first girls to come of age in such a permissive era. And the times they were a changin'. Women got the vote, cut their hair, shortened their skirts and went to work.

Chanel rocking her sailor look

Chanel became Chanel. We are still  influenced by what she started (despite Karl Lagerfeld having his little jokes with the archives). Just as everyone did not dress like a hippie in the '60s and '70s, not everyone was a flapper in the twenties. The idea of the '20s being one of languid, ladylike luxury still lingers. The frenetic party dresses flapping around "The Great Gatsby" on armies of unmemorable extras only makes me think of the bathtub gin hangovers those gals will have next morning.

Deals were made, of course. Brooks Brothers tied into the menswear, opening their archives to the costume designers and interpreting Gatsby's look for today, for a price. Tiffany took on the jewels, turning over their famous Fifth Avenue windows to the task and even masking the building in Art Deco taping.

A Tiffany Gatsby window
Tiffany taped

I still love the twenties— the color sense, the new ideas in dress and pursuits, the studied artifice of makeup and hair. After realizing Victorian and Edwardian times were basically brutal, the thirties were tough, and the war years were not to be envied, I still might like to drop down in the twenties for a visit. Next best thing is a charming book, "The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt" by Caroline Preston, a novel in pictures composed from the author's treasure trove of '20s ephemera. It's clever; it's charming, and I want that dress on page 141.

"The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt"

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Dumbo's Magic Feather and Other Beauty Tricks

I don't usually write about Beauty here because it is— so true— in the eyes of the beholder. And we are our own harshest critics. Becoming far-sighted is one of the greatest beauty tricks there is, and it's a trick Mother Nature plays when you get older. Hurrah hurrah for the sight of me in the mirror without glasses on or contacts in! Alas what kind of a trick is it when you know how it's done? Put in your eyes, and the illusion's gone.

We are creatures of habit. If Glockenspiel Soap worked for you in your 20s and your skin hasn't fallen off in shreds, you are probably— wrong or right— still using it. If "Afternoon of a Fawn" was your favorite lipstick in 1979 you would probably still be wearing it (if it were still produced).

I've covered the obsolescence of beauty products before. I'm facing another one. My favorite night cream— Visibly Firm by Neutrogena— is no longer available at other than bootlegger's prices (from $149.99 to $225). I'm not kidding myself: this stuff isn't La Mer! It was under $25 at its launch in the late '90s but has been off the market for at least 4 years. Visibly Firm touted copper as a miracle ingredient (hence the copper lid on the jar). I agreed to be a guinea pig for a test we were doing at the magazine, really liked using it (and that copper promise) and have been faithful ever since. Whether it's a magic feather or not, my skin really isn't bad for an old biddy. I am, however, down to the last nibs of the horde I stockpiled off the internet when it started disappearing from actual stores. It will be a sad day when I can scrape out no more.

While it's been said the older you get the less makeup you should wear, I find I am doing the opposite. A) I seem to have more time to play around with the stuff and B) I'm a little desperate. Too smart to believe all the hype the beauty industry promises, I'm not sufficiently jaundiced to turn the other cheek— when a new blush promises a rosy, natural glow. 

Have I found another magic feather in the wildly popular Bare Minerals makeup? We've all seen those infomercials (or skipped past them). They've been on tv for years. The stuff promised a lot, seemed expensive compared to what I usually got at the drugstore, and who buys makeup over the television anyway? 

Usually avoid this area like the plague
I subjected myself to this (not me in pix) 

The other day I found myself sans makeup and at the mall (post dermatologist visit). Though I avoid going past the cosmetics counters of any department store, I purposely sallied over to the Bare Escentuals counter (home base for Bare Minerals makeup) and asked for a trial face. Let's say I was sufficiently impressed to pick up a "starter kit" and have actually been using it. Okay, so I don't suddenly look thirty, or even fifty. But I do look like I'm wearing less to better effect than before.

Dewey but not me either

The starter kit set me back $64 with two pots of stuff, a compact of the main course, three fluffy brushes and a tube of "primer" (don't like the sound of that plus it stings a little bit). Definitely value for money as these are the real sizes, not samples. The application time is minimal and is kind of fun. Plus you don't have to be precise. The result is a "dewey" finish— like skin, not makeup. It's a big old-lady sin to be powdered dry. Best of all— it stays all day without even a touch-up.

Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Sure. Can you give Dumbo another magic feather? I'll wear a headdress if that's what it takes.

She's got what it takes