Friday, August 30, 2013

Weighing in on the September Issues

All the September issues of my favorite fashion magazines have landed on the doorstep— with a thud. Our postal person deserves a pat on her must-be-very-sore back for that. The blessed event totals 15.5 pounds of wood pulp. The smallest (Lucky) checks in at 236 pages. The largest (Vogue) at 902. In between there are Marie Claire (428), Harper's Bazaar (599), Elle (658) and InStyle (716). Yes they are mostly ads, but if you're obsessed, the ads are part of it.

The issues are difficult to read. One can't tote them around for casual perusal during an odd moment in the day. They don't lay open flat, are hard to balance and seem to have an inordinate amount of blow-ins floating floorwise.

Eric Wilson in yesterday's New York Times carped about how the September issues seem like plugs for online content. That 6-point type directing the reader to and the black-circled "B" icons leading to are so much white noise. If magazines think they need to do this stay relevant (i.e. stay alive), it's okay by me.

Did you expect a tart review of these crisp fall beauties? Sorry; I have yet to begin the feast.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Basically Speaking...

Where have I gone wrong? I thought as you get older you are supposed to give yourself permission to indulge in perhaps a glorious leather bag or good jewelry or—finally— extravagantly priced shoes. But what have I been overspending on lately? Basics!

They say you should spend the most you can afford on basics. I've always thought that meant a good suit, if you need one, or a good coat, if you need one, and I've followed accordingly. Spend the most on what you will see the most.

I've adhered to that all my life. I have standards— the bag should be leather but it doesn't need a designer label. TJ Maxx and department store sale racks have done a good job filling in the gaps in my wardrobe.

Yesterday I spent $70 on a white t-shirt. Okay, it's going back. Call it temporary insanity. But there was a moment in that dressing room when I decided a $70 white t-shirt would roll me into the model I want to become.

Here's the devil in me speaking: It was by Vince! That brand you love to sift through at Neiman's! It was an extra small (hard to find in TJ's Runway section)! It was originally $145!

Here's the good girl: Who buys a $145 t-shirt? Who buys a $70 t-shirt? It's WHITE, for God's sake!
What were you thinking???

Would wearing it somehow make me feel richer, younger, prettier, more entitled? Of course not. It would probably make my other dry goods look tatty by comparison. I would have to buy that t-shirt a better class of friends to hang with. Before you know my closet would become expensive and very boring. And I would open the door and cry pitifully, "Help, I have a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear!"

Friday, August 23, 2013

Casting the Movie

Seeing Sarah Jessica Parker on the cover of September's Harper's Bazaar reminded me of a casting I'd like to call. How about SJP in a bio of Diana Vreeland?

SJP, like DV, is not a classically beautiful woman, but her joie de vivre spills over on that cover. In interviews and articles she seems quite grounded yet full of fun and energy. Maybe the last thing you could call Diana Vreeland was grounded, but SJP is an actress. I'm sure she could act the part of over-the-top DV as well as the sensitive DV who comes through in Lisa Immordino Vreeland's "The Eye Has to Travel".

Can't you just see SJP, as the society Mrs. Vreeland, purposely striding off to her editor's job at Harper's Bazaar? Can you see her on a photo shoot, hairpins and straight pins flying and finally taking over for a flu-stricken model somewhere in the desert?

How about SJP with her very handsome husband Reed (casting TK), out on the town or painting the country house in Brewster as many times as it took to get the right shade of red?

I'm thinking Ryan Gosling...

Do you feel a '70s revival? Imagine the scenes at Studio 54 with DV and her pals Andy Warhol, Halston and Liza Minelli? What drama in the episode where she is fired from Vogue? The finale could be her grand entrance at one of the glorious, extravagant exhibitions she assembled for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And the sets! Her red living room alone is a scene stealer.

Wait a minute... Someone has already had this idea. Peter Lindbergh photographed SJP as DV for the March 2009 issue of Harper's Bazaar.* That was before "The Eye Has to Travel", book or film, and before the whole world realized Diana Vreeland was such an amazing life-force. Don't you think the time is right to put all the pieces together?

* I find it interesting that Harper's Bazaar ran this great feature. It was they who passed over Diana Vreeland for the magazine's editorship, thus losing her AND Richard Avedon to Vogue.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Feelin' Lucky?

Thanks to Thursday's New York Times Style Section (aka Women's Sports) I now know there is a new editor at Lucky Magazine. Launched in 2000, Lucky is Conde Nast's "shopping magazine". It was evidently losing its footing in the slippery world of women's magazines under the old editorship. Originally created for shopping-pleasures-only (no relationship pieces or dreaded diet articles), Lucky was— the Times pointed out— a precursor to how we shop now on the web: directed and with a passion.

Lucky's new editor is Eva Chen, a protege of Anna Wintour, who now holds the title of Creative Director at Conde Nast. Anna hasn't loosened her grip on Vogue either. At age 33 Eva Chen is one of the youngest women to be appointed editor of a major magazine not directly aimed at the young. Supposedly her tech-savvy self (proficiency in Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest as well as Facebook et al) will make the difference.

Lucky girl

I put down the Times and rushed to my stack of crisp September magazines. It's been my practice to wait until the actual month begins before I crack one open. I made an exception to scope out this new Lucky.

So what are we first greeted by? A cover produced by the venerable stylist Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, age 63, an Anna Wintour favorite who styled Anna's first cover for Vogue in 1988. That's lovely and says a lot right there.

At 236 pages this September issue barely made it through a cup of coffee. Where are the pages and pages of shoes or handbags or jeans? Gone. Instead we have a very curated magazine and the equivalent to what I call a fancy store: a museum with price tags. While there was a wide range of prices in the old Lucky (a $40 handbag to a $400 one to the $4000 I-had-a-dream variety), at least there was something for everyone. Either Eva Chen has very deep pockets or just expensive dreams, nothing (save the odd scatter pin or ratty boucle sweater coat) was actually affordable. Take page 44, which I opened randomly:

Lizard platforms $1740
Jacket $490
Sweater $248
Pants $238 (these last two from J Crew shame on you)
Sunglasses $165
iPhone case $40
Suede platforms $995
Sweater $675
Skirt $895
Clutch $205

The sticker shock in the new Lucky hit me the same way as would walking into H&M and finding an extra zero added to each price tag. Is it still my store? Is it still my magazine?

Great coat, grating price ($1200)

Isn't there something inherently wrong with coveting such pricey paraphernalia? Even if you could afford it, should you consider a $38,000 handbag as did Oprah Winfrey in Switzerland? Don't get me wrong. I love Oprah. She does so many Good Works I would never fault her jonesing for a pricey handbag. But do the rest of us actually need encouragement? And will this result in (especially the young who may not have figured out how unimportant is fashion status to self worth) discontentment with our lot in life?

Are you feeling the new Lucky?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Summer Reading Book Club: "Fashion Sourcebook 1920s"

A sojourn through Fashion Sourcebook 1920s is a lovely way to spend a lazy summer afternoon. You may need to factor its five-pound weight into the stress capacity of your hammock. The 575 pages are mainly visuals. The overwhelming number of those are period fashion illustrations. The rest are photos of models or movie stars and the occasional society doyenne. The illustrations are mostly taken from French, British and American fashion magazines. There are also ads and catalog pages from more popular-priced stores.

There are no photos of actual garments on mannequins a la museum display. Because of this, perhaps, you get a sense of what seeing the latest fashions may have been like for the average woman. And they are thrilling! To tell the truth, I found this book hard to read because the clothing is so gorgeous. My heart breaks that nothing today equals the attention to detail (pleating, ruching, godets, faggoting, etc.) Oh, perhaps the odd Alexander McQueen...

One truth emerged from my browsing: fashions of the 20s looked far better on the stick-thin ladies in the illustrations than they did on real women. Even starlets and 1920s-era models were chunkier than we see them today. Chanel herself was a little bird, probably considered scrawny. Maybe a real-life Lady Mary could pull them off.

Calling Lady Mary

The book has been criticized as being somewhat random. That's true— even within the categories of daywear, outerwear and eveningwear, visuals are not placed chronologically. I didn't really mind, though, and enjoyed playing a little guessing game as to where looks fell in the decade.

The twenties did not move in a straight line, with everyone bobbing her hair and hiking up her skirts at the stroke of midnight, 1920. As in all fashion decades, there was an ebb and flow of influence from popular culture and political events. The captions are minimal, but a 25-page preface is must-reading for the scholar. The rest of us will just enjoy time-traveling and hoping some current designer with the ability to reproduce these creations will be inspired to do so.

"Fashion Sourcebook 1920s" is edited by Charlotte Fiell and Emmanuelle Dirix, both British fashion historians. They have also published similar Sourcebooks for the 1930s and 1940s. I hope there's enough summer left.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Goldilocks Theory

Too hot, too old, just right. We agonize over looking too young or too old, but what the heck is "just right"? Sometimes it's the result of all the pieces falling into place the right way. Combinations that should not work in theory will, if assembled by a master. Sometimes "just right" is a well-honed personal expression that shouldn't be monkeyed around with. You know who you are, Beatrix Ost and Vivienne Westwood. It's the rest of us who hesitate wearing the Forbidden Fruit of Fashion for the Fifty-Plus: elastic waists, short skirts, sleeveless and oxfords.

Elastic waistbands have long tripped the alarm that says "too old". Imagine my surprise to see them on pants in the Lovely Boutique Where I Work, a place that does not cater to septugenarians. Flowey palazzo pants often flow better when the material is less constricted at the waistband. I've even seen some straight-legged pants with a flat waistband front and an elastic waist at the back. I've avoided them like the plague. It is imperative to not tuck. But with a tunic top in the right proportions, who is the wiser?

Too hot
Too old
Just right

How short should short skirts be, and how much wood could a woodchuck chuck? Never-ending riddles. We've been told the most flattering skirt length brushes the top of your knee-cap. This is fine for a pencil skirt and a classic look, but fuller skirts are another story— too long and you are Pat Nixon. Even if you have "great legs" how long can you wear short? My solution to the short skirt dilemma is wearing tights. Tights and a short skirt look equally fetching with flats, chunky heels or boots. Black, navy or gray tights of course, but color does not have an age stamp. You can have fun and make a statement without carrying a banner.

Too hot
Too old 
Just right
Right, left, right, left

Sleeveless! We are not all Michelle Obama. It has nothing to do with the fact that our husbands are not the President. Michelle Obama has fabulous upper arms and will undoubtedly have them when she's 80. Her sleeveless looks are Power Dressing to the max. You have only to compare her in Jackie style dresses to the actual Jackie wearing hers to see that those upper arms say 2013. Nevertheless we pretty much aren't thinking twice about going sleeveless until the day we see something wave goodbye before we do. Then self-consciousness sets in big time.

Michelle Obama— well armed

I've had a saucer -sized scar on my upper left arm since my mid-20s and have eschewed sleeveless ever since. It's not just a scar, Padma Lakshmi-like. It's the one thing you would first meet on my body. I admit to feeling thwarted at times— my bathing suit is a Danskin leotard with short sleeves— but I'm more grateful to be alive. Enough said. I Understand Your Pain, but I think women are mostly being silly about this sleeveless thing.

There are choices. I know because I've found them. There's the cap sleeve that gives an illusion of sleeveless or a cowl neck/draped neckline that can be made to cover upper arms. The dramatic one-arm bare/one covered takes the focus off your other (uncovered) arm, but you can't be shy about wearing it. The pashmina scarf wore like a stole was nice for a while, but that skews really old these days. Upper arms are visible proof that the body is aging, and most of us (who feel 23) don't like to be reminded. Nevertheless you have to be comfortable in your own skin, and if sagging skin freaks you out, opt out.

Look, Ma, no sleeve!

Oxfords are not students at that British university. Borrowed from the boys they are an irreverent, cute shoe look as worn by the girls. My grandmother wore Enna Jetticks. It took me forever to see the pun in the product name. Oxfords and old lady shoes have meant the same to me ever since. My mother did everything (including breaking her foot in three places) to avoid wearing them. Alas, time marched on— in sensible, sturdy oxford shoes. At first I thought this new fashion among the young would be an acceptable substitute for wearing athletic shoes around town. Alas, I am sadly too old. I already know I'm becoming my mother, I'm just not ready to hit the pavement in her shoes... 

Too hot
Too old
Could these be just right?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Something About Sad Girls

Last year I did a post on Bad Girls. We love them and emulate their style though we perhaps shouldn't. So what is it about Sad Girls? They also fascinate. For the most part these women did not have happy lives and died too young. Each accomplished much, however, and are still respected for the marks they made. I have a theory that we may not carry the torch were they not also strikingly attractive. Agree?

The royal sad girl— Princess Diana
The sad girl next door— Sylvia Plath
The misunderstood sad girl— Marilyn Monroe
The ex-pat sad girl— Jean Seberg
The fragile sad girl— Vivian Leigh
The good-time sad girl— Edie Sedgwick

The kitsch sad girl by Margaret Keane
Margaret Keane—not so sad

Notice that two of these Sad Girls also qualified as Bad Girls— Jean Seberg and Edie Sedgwick. Jean Seberg's bad girl was only a movie role. Edie Sedgwick's role was that of a bad girl. And Margaret Keane is not so sad as she both won the lawsuit that gave her control of her own paintings, and the story is being filmed by Tim Burton with Amy Adams playing Margaret. Look for "Big Eyes" next year.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Dress Like: Jean Seberg

Befriending her boyfriend's shirt

Here's an idea I wish I'd come up with: British Harper's Bazaar is introducing an online feature called Dress Like: (Your Favorite Movie Icon Here). They promise posts of Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, etc. in weeks to come. I can hardly wait.

As I'm missing a link in my tech savvy, you will need to cut and paste the following to reach the lesson on Jean Seberg in one of my all-time favorite fashion films, "Breathless".

Meanwhile here is a bit of background. Jean Seberg's performance in her first film, "Saint Joan" (1957), was almost universally panned. She had been discovered in Marshalltown, Iowa, by Otto Preminger who was conducting a "Gone With the Wind"-style search for his leading lady. Her only previous acting experience had been one season in summer stock. Preminger cast her again in "Bonjour Tristesse" (1958) with no more success. She did incongruously sport the Saint Joan haircut. It looked a little odd with the Hollywood interpretation of mid-century fashions.

The pixie haircut met its match in "Breathless"(1960). Jean Seberg looked so right in a striped nautical tee, a Burberry trench coat, a fitted white t with skinny pants, her boyfriend's shirt or a pretty dress worn with cat's eye sunglasses.

Although the film was a hit, and she was hailed as a New Wave star, her career was inconsistent. Jean's personal life was not much better; she overdosed on barbiturates in 1971 at age 41. Her character, Patricia, in "Breathless" still pops off the screen as an innocent vixen, both naive and sophisticated. Dress like Jean Seberg, and you can have it both ways.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Women We Love: Mimi

Mimi looking Grand even in a Target cowboy hat

The first time I saw Mimi it was across a crowded room but not on an enchanted evening. The time was mid-morning, and it was open house for parents and toddlers at the local nursery school. She looked so chic, yet in a totally appropriate, Saturday-morning kind of way. I had no idea that kind of style existed in our outpost of exurbia. I figured I would need to step up my game.

Mimi and I became friends from the start. That was a long time ago; our boys are almost 36. She has constantly amazed me as she claims not to care about fashion, but she always looks marvelous. I decided to pin her down and found out some things worth remembering. We so-called fashionistas sometimes forget the basics.

First and foremost Mimi loves decorating. She can look at your room and tell you in a minute what needs to come in, go or move. She is one of the few people I know whose home reflects the season. She transforms it magically with pillows and throws and artwork— accessories, basically. In Mimi's world there are many seasons. I suspect she has a 20 x 20 storage facility somewhere filled with nothing but pillows.

I asked her point blank— after all these years— how come she manages to look put together, au courant and unique all at the same time. She didn't hesitate. "It's about good taste. That's the most important thing." Then, she said, as a stylist she has a good eye. She knows proportion and how to edit.

Just because dressing is not Mimi's number one priority doesn't mean she doesn't enjoy clothes. She knows what flatters and doesn't fall prey to trends that won't. She prefers pants and long skirts and loves loves loves statement jewelry (much of which she fashions herself from flea market finds). She mixes things up with tops— easy to update and change out and easy on the budget. She also has the "blessing of enormous closets", a good organization system and a good memory.

I had a theory about her that she tore to smithereens. I figured that since Mimi wore a school uniform for years, and even in what was otherwise a glamorous job (hostess at the Vatican Pavilion during the New York World's Fair), she was less interested in fashion because it was not part of her daily life. Wrong! Mimi's mother was a buyer for high-end boutiques in Puerto Rico and South America. She was surrounded by clothes. Her mother had boxes and boxes of clothes sent home for Mimi to choose from.  At the same time she saw first hand how important fashion can be during summers spent with cousins and aunts in Puerto Rico. She says, "It was almost a relief to get back to the uniform!" As a blatant act of rebellion, 1960s style, Mimi insisted she wanted her wedding dress at full retail and headed straight to Saks Fifth Avenue.

So here's what I learned:
> Dress for the occasion and respect your audience. That's showing good taste.

> Know yourself and don't meander into fashion directions that won't fit your figure or your psyche.

> It's the accessories that add pizazz and individuality to your wardrobe— and your home.

> Never underestimate the importance of closets— or a 20 x 20 storage facility.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Madam Predicts: Back to Black

Though I would look for any excuse to run this gorgeous photo of Louise Brooks, I really do predict this fall that black will be the new black. The Lovely Boutique Where I Work had been nearly a black-free zone. Now I see a lot of it coming through the back door in shipment and in the front door as worn by staff. And the magazines, whetting our appetites for the September issues, are hinting at it.

Why is that? Black has been around forever. The little black dress is so important it goes by the initials, LBD. Every girl longs for the day she can wear her first "grown up" black dress (not the smocked velvet one with the Peter Pan collar). So why now?

Here's a guess: lately we have been drowning in color. Modern technology allows cloth and yarn to be dyed the most incredible hues, from neon brights to intricate layerings of color in photo prints. We've been mixing and matching patterns for several seasons now. What used to be shockingly avant garde now comes off as "meh". We won't be going back to basics any time soon (I think we're having too much fun), but I do think we'll be going back to black.

Time to debunk an urban legend. Kathy Levine, the vivacious former QVC host and lifestyle author, cautions that black doesn't really make you look thin, "but is very good at hiding food stains". That would be with the exception of powdered sugar, right Kathy? She may have a point. Sometimes a large person in black looks— well— like a large person in black. On the other hand, if you're doing separates it makes sense to have black on the bottom if you've a pear shape and black on the top if you're that pin-up girl.

Blacks are tricky to match. If you are putting together a black suit (pantsuit or skirt suit), don't even try to pick the best jacket that fits and pair it with the best bottom. All pieces must come from the same manufacturer, preferably the same dye lot.

Black lace has the power to lighten up all black when some skin tones show through. Madam predicts lace will appear avant cinq ("before five" n'cest pas) for this very reason.

Rethink your makeup. Here's where you might want that red lipstick. Something needs to pop so you don't bring Morticia to mind.

Black and white combinations are forever classics— not just solids but polka dots, houndstooth checks, stripes, pinstripes and tweeds. Chanel made her bread and butter with the combo. Marc Jacobs fashioned a smashing tribute to the optic black and white '60s in his Spring 2013 collection.

Black and white bread and butter
Making the Marc

This pairing is still a hard sell to many women, but it is oh so chic. Like wearing gold and silver together, you must be deliberate. Black shoes with a navy dress is not the idea. Black and navy have to be equal partners lest anyone think you dress in the dark. As navy is less severe than black, you might wear it closer to your face.

Send in the navy

This duo doesn't seem difficult to embrace. There is little chance you will be mistaken for the color blind, but it also doesn't have much pizazz. It can be elegant, in  a more down-to-earth way but won't be as cutting edge.

Earning some brownie points

If black and brown is a little dull, where does that leave black and grey? Here's the word again— meh. It's so safe. Just rip off that band aid and go all black.


Don't go there. Too '80s.

On the wrong 8-track

Though Gatsby was pretty much a dud at the movies and never lit up the fashion firmament, we are seeing much of the Art Deco pairing of black and gold in accessories.
Sparkle Plenty

I won't go into the debate of whether black is the mix of all colors or merely the absence of light. Black is its own color. That's all I have to say.
Fade to black.