Tuesday, July 30, 2013

100 Idees = 20,400 Ideas

Honk if you remember 100 Idees, the incredible treasure trove of a French magazine published from 1972-1989. At 100 ideas per issue, that's 20,400 ideas. It then merged with Marie Claire but lost its original format.

100 Idees was a how-to compendium of fashion, beauty, celebrations, cooking, toys, games, nature appreciation, interior design, crafts and gardening. NO relationship articles. NO parenting features other than cute stuff to make with/for kids. NO health scare pieces (or helpful ones for that matter). It was pure joy.

You didn't have to read French to be inspired. The pictures were truly worth thousands of words. Specific instructions were included, printed on newsprint in a center section titled "Savoir-Faire sans Panique". My limited French translates that as "How to make it without panicking". It also kept me from translating further.

Just looking at the pictures whisked you off to a France that was both romantic and modern. Those years were the epitome of Hippie in the popular culture. We baked our own bread, grew avocado plants and sieved yogurt over the sink to make cheese. Or tried. The models in 100 Idees looked so young, clean, happy and gainfully employed. All that frolicking obviously took place en vacance.

But I don't want to get even the tiniest bit snide. The magazines really were wonderfully inspirational. I subscribed. It regularly arrived, from France, in a plain brown wrapper.

My friend and fellow fan Deegee pretty much summed up what made 100 Idees different from what was on the American market. "I liked that the dresses were simple and not American-looking— the European flair, the creativity was so ramped up. Early recycling and rethinking and repurposing. Pillow cases as curtains (but Old World embroidered pillowcases). It was the alternative to McCall's patterns...100 Idess was the bible. The lifestyle photos, so unposed, likely inspired the early J Crew catalogues and maybe even the real-people look of other editorial pages. Maybe even Martha Stewart (though she would never admit to a parallel life with 100 Idees)."

Did someone make a quilt
 of their I00 Idees?

Deegee was smart enough to clip and file her favorite things. I considered the magazines too holy for a pair of scissors, and now they are gone. I had well over 150 issues when we pulled up stakes and left the old homestead. I gifted them to a neighbor (who didn't seem thrilled to receive several boxes of doorstops). I think I parted with them because they always reminded me I should create more art. But who had the time? I shouldn't have felt guilty. Looking at them was surely art appreciation.

Au revoir 100 Idees

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Flogging the Blog

Taking a minute here to reflect on Bloggerdom. There are so many of us out there; many more of you are reading us. I wonder what there is about it and why?

For myself I have always loved reading diaries— from the genuine (earliest read was probably "Diary of Anne Frank" at age nine) to the fictional (a favorite: "These is My Words"). But I've never been able to write one. Started? Yes. Progressed beyond January 5? No. I keep little "trip diaries" (notes scribbled in half darkness before collapsing each day) because I know my memory of events will fog up. I create amazing grocery lists. But a diary? With thoughts? Such pressure!

While aware that nothing online can be a deep dark secret, I've still shared my thoughts freely and unfettered by editing (not better for it— mind you— just unfettered). And how nice that you are reading this!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Secret of Eternal Youth

Don't try this in Rome

Ponce de Leon had nothing on me. He may have been searching for the Fountain of Youth, but I have found the Secret to Being Forever Young, and it's a simple mathematical formula:

For however old you may be, add ten years. Everyone will think you look great for your age, and you will automatically feel younger.

You probably won't use this trick if you are under 40. And once you hit 90 it wouldn't seem nice to fib about your 100th birthday. I don't think the President or Willard Scott would like that.

Certainly I don't wish to stir up any bad jou-jou, and I do remember "It isn't nice to fool Mother Nature". But wouldn't it be nice to fool ourselves?

Happy Birthday to me, and don't I look fabulous for 81?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Vague is the New Vogue

The right hand page preceding a fashion magazine's major editorial pages ("the well" in the lingo) is generally an amuse bouche— a delicious little tidbit to introduce what follows. Sometimes the editors will let us know where they stand on things. Page 85 of Vogue's July issue gave us some food for thought. Herewith (including Vogue's bold-face type):

   The most careworn cliche in the fashion-magazine book is to breathlessly announce that it's time to "break the rules!" Rules? What rules? Sure, there will always be those who fret about white after Labor Day and would never dare to mismatch Liberty prints with checks or to put a punk spin on Paris couture— but we've all been ignoring so-called dress codes with a vengeance for decades.

   The average American closet is a creative cauldron. Who would we like to be this morning— a preppy in shrunken blazer and driving loafers? An haute hippie, trailing handkerchief hems along with the sound of bangles? An eighties rock-'n'-roller in black lace? Of course this kind of absolute freedom— life as an endless costume party— can sometimes seem like its own endless procession of rule books of a different kind.

I got very excited as I read this. Yes, yes, there are no rules. Yes, yes, it makes dressing harder. My closet is a creative cauldron. Every day can't be Halloween. Who has the time? Besides, if I pick out something to wear at bedtime, when I get dressed next morning I've changed "personalities". How is Vogue going to get us out of this mess? Then I got to the third paragraph.

   That's why so many of us are in an identity quest right now. Women no longer dress in lockstep— that's clear. Standing out as an individual is what we all want and need. The key is to home in on your own distinct look— and then write your own rules around it. Forget what anyone else says or wears— this is the true soul of chic.

Instead of answers we have been given another Excalibur, another Rosetta stone, another Martian cookbook like "To Serve Man".  In my best Nancy Drew-fashion, if one interprets the bold faced type as subtext and key to the piece, the secret of looking chic this year is St. Laurent's hippie Liberty prints look (already panned as being too retro fast fashion). We'll never know. But if the really chic stand out as individuals and don't care what anyone else says or wears, why do we need you, Vogue?

Of course I can hardly wait till the September issue.

St. Laurent's lamentable take
 on Fall 2013

Friday, July 19, 2013


If I were a fairy godmother, here are five things I wish Fashion would do for us. I mean, don't we do enough for it? Fashion is a kabillion dollar enterprise— its various tentacles reaching out to us every waking moment. It's an Equal Opportunity Enticer and has no hesitation in snaring ever younger victims. That said, if fashion is an addiction I don't want the cure-- maybe just a little payback.

My Fashion Fairness Wish List

1) Standardized sizing. Why wish for the moon? Same with standardized sizing. It will never happen. But wouldn't it be nice to know if you wore a size 8 you would wear always wear a size 8, not a 6 because "the manufacturer cuts big" or a 10 because "the manufacturer cuts small". And what about the two size 8s in the same pair of pants that both fit differently? Charlie Brown had a word for it:

2) Grown up styles in small sizes and fashionable styles in grown up sizes. Just because I fit in junior sizes doesn't mean I want to wear them. Believe it or not, it is tough to find well-priced sophisticated clothes cut small. Using Chico's as an example, perhaps there are three pieces of clothing in store marked as 00— their equivalent of my size 2. Likewise not all larger women want to be swathed in diaphanous tents or flowing robes. Let's hear it for well-priced sophisticated clothes cut to flatter—not hide— a woman's figure. Waist not? Waist yes!

3) Clothes in season. As in the present season. Yes, it's July and bathing suits are 70% off. But try and find one that fits or better yet two matching pieces that equal one suit in your size. And those wool sweaters we are seeing? Even the mannequins are sweating.

4) Web and in-store parity. Why do web sites of your favorite stores feature different offers than their bricks-and-mortar sisters? Why are there not the same sales and discounts? I love free shipping/free returns but paying a "restocking fee" for returns is mean-spirited. If you are a web-only store you shouldn't even charge for shipping. Do I have the option to visit you? Why not just factor shipping into your costs? Ditto if it's an "online only" item (see above for mini-tirade on "online only" items).
I love a man wearing brown...

5) Dressing room mirrors that talk back to you. Not all salespersons will tell you the truth. I will of course, but not everyone has the savvy or interest to give you a fair assesment of your choice. The talking mirror will tell if indeed you look fat in that or if you should or should not wear that to a dog fight. It will also have the ability to ask "What were you thinking?".

"Mirror, mirror..."

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

New Word: Agorasploring

Happy in a souk...
...or a Cracker Barrel

I'm thinking of a word to describe that practice we have of merrily wandering through shops, malls, outlet centers, souks, bazaars, antique emporiums, flea markets, tag sales, big box stores and mom-and-pop mini-marts— no purpose in mind but the sheer joy of looking to see what's there.

Shall we call this act of Exploring the Agora agorasploring? Does that sound too much like a virus?

My husband doesn't understand. While he can stare at a wall of running shoes for what feels (to me) like hours, his interests in the marketplace are segmented to what he needs (windshield wiper blades, a hose nozzle) and what he covets (more running shoes). Anything in between doesn't matter.

I suspect most men fall into that mind set. While there are some who do "love to shop", it's a structured event that ends with— ta da— a purchase. Women are different. We stop to smell the roses (by Jo Malone) and feel the fabric (Scottish three-ply cashmere).

I'm lucky though because same husband most graciously understands the best way to seal a manicure is to wander through Marshall's/TJ Maxx/Homegoods on the way home. On vacation he happily succumbs to an afternoon by the pool with his newspapers, books and Bloody Marys while I'm checking out the local offerings. Everybody wins. What he doesn't understand is why I come back happy without a bag or box to show for it.

You can't call it "window shopping" either. While windows may be entertaining, they are mere shadows of what lies within. Window shopping at a store whose doors are closed for the night is not my idea of a good time.

Window shopping at Marshall Field, 1909

Here's something to amaze your friends: The concept of display windows as we know them today originated with Harry Selfridge (later of the London department store Selfridge's) in the 1890s when he was the impressario of Marshall Field in Chicago. These windows were arranged in "sets" to evoke the new fad of motoring, showing the fashions one would need, from dusters to goggles to special bonnets. Previously, "quality stores" believed in privacy (no windows onto the street). Everyone else artlessly piled their show windows with the greatest number of goods that could be stuffed in.

Stephen King, uber-prolific author of the horror genre, wrote a book, "Needful Things", that ended in the near annihilation of a little Maine town. Needful Things was the name of a store that amazingly sold exactly what you were lusting for— at a price. A good lesson that sometimes looking is better than buying.

You probably don't
 need to go in

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Tripping the Light Fantastic

Here are a few things I've learned on some recent trips:

No rain in sight

> Carry an umbrella even if rain isn't predicted. A brolly doubles as sun protection and won't mash your hairdo like a hat.

Worth protecting...

> Always always stuff the toes of your shoes (not the ones you're wearing of course) with crumpled up plastic bags. Newspaper delivery bags are ideal. If you don't have them, cut a dry cleaner's bag into strips. The toes of unstuffed shoes get all knarley in flight— really!

On the tip of my tongue

> Write down somewhere the names of any medication you are taking. A consult with a pharmacist while traveling left me dumbfounded when he asked. "A little green pill" is not a helpful response.

Where not to find the locals

> Try not to look like a tourist when you are doing non-tourist things. Nobody expects you to dress to the nines while obviously sightseeing, but please respect local custom when you are on the natives' turf in restaurants, clubs, high-end retail, etc. You will be treated better, I promise.

Thanks to a bookstore in Rapallo

> Bring plenty to read. Nothing beats a good book when you are waiting it out in an airport. Magazines, much as I love them, just don't last long enough. On the other hand, a newspaper can provide so much more than the weather forecast and tv listings. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today are available just about everywhere stateside.
   If you're traveling deep into a foreign country and don't read the language, stuff every nook and cranny with reading material in your native tongue. I read some really weird books one trip when I ran out of mine and was left with the pickings at the local used book store. "The Diary of a Nobody", anyone?

Hands-free traveling

> Pack a cross-body bag (most definitely not a fanny pack) that can be slung low over your shoulder. Lighter and smaller than what might be your travel purse, it will free up your hands and carry only essentials for the day. Naturally you will leave any valuables in the hotel safe, not lying about your room. Ditto a clutch for evenings. You will definitely skew more "native" if you are not lugging ye olde travel bag around in the evening.

> Tell your credit card company you'll be traveling. Do not even think about the hassle you may need to go through to prove to them you are really you.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Little Jacket

Once upon a time I was known for my skirts. That's when the proportion between waist and hips was still somewhere on the table of elements, when there were no muffin tops or saggy bottoms. Tights can skirt the legs issue, but tights in Houston in summer are so Grey Gardens. So I wear less skirts now.

Little jackets, however, are something else. And why?

1) A jacket keeps the eye up where it belongs. Hey! I'm talking to you. Look at me.

2) A jacket is the third piece that makes an outfit. And you don't have to try very hard with pieces one and two.

3) You need a jacket anyways (for the AC in summer and the drafts in winter).

4) You can dress up an outfit with a jacket (i.e. sequined jacket over jeans and t-shirt).

5) You can dress down an outfit (i.e. jean jacket over brocade pants and silk shirt).

6) You can express your personality with a jacket (i.e. Motorcycle Mama or Princess Plum Blossom).

7) A jacket, cut correctly, can hide a multitude of sins.

Now I am not a blazer kind of gal. Every time I slip on a blazer I feel like I'm in a uniform, I hate the idea of a uniform. So my jackets are more fanciful. Think Colette. I do in fact have a loungewear chiffon kimono jacket that she might have worn while hosting one of her soirees.
La Colette et la veste

Chanel of course is the Heroine of the Little Jacket. One could argue that a Chanel jacket is something of a uniform, but quelle difference!

Chanel started here...
...and ended here...
...and here

Monday, July 1, 2013

What is That Stuff Anyway?

Let it rain, let it rain...

I bought a leopard raincoat the other day (file that under "One Can Never Have Too Much Leopard"). It's trench-coat styled, really soft and squooshy and easily stashes away on a questionable weather day. The sign over the rack said SILK, but when I got home and read the label, it said 100% POLYESTER. Maybe I missed quotation marks around the word "silk", but I was certainly surprised. Okay, so a silk raincoat would seem a contradiction in terms, but was that signage a little shady if not downright illegal?

I've written before about polyester that looks like silk and also sells for silk prices. This was not the case. A stylin' $49 raincoat is a bargain anywhere. An item of clothing doesn't need a pedigree or a designer label to make me love it. Nevertheless, sometimes it's nice to know what it is.

For instance, two of the most misunderstood fabrics are natural and synthetic at the same time— natural materials but fashioned by man. One is a god-send; the other I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot hanger.

Tencel is a "cellulosic fiber obtained from wood pulp using recyclable solvents". This sounds like something leftover at the dry cleaners. But, no, Tencel is made of wood pulp from trees grown on sustainable tree farms. It's biodegradable and 50% more absorbent than cotton. It feels wonderful, and wears and washes like a dream. For ages garments made of Tencel were on the pricey side. The manufacturing process was streamlined to make Tencel more affordable. Tencel's European cousin is called Cupro. And all this time I thought that was Spanish for "silk".
Tencel, meet your cousin Cupro

Rayon is a "manufactured regenerated cellulose fiber". Sounds chewy, doesn't it? Rayon is made of plant pulp and thus breathes like natural fibers. Rayon got its start as a cheap alternative to silk and then a real alternative when the Asian silk industry went MIA during WWII. Alas, 99% of all the rayon I've ever met wrinkles just looking at it. Whatever virtues it may have (strength, economy, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound), rayon won't be coming home with me.

Rayon spelled backwards
is "No yar"