Thursday, October 31, 2013

Worse Than I Thought

Am I a dummy for watching?

In defense of all the personal shoppers in the world, and to paraphrase Shakespeare, we come not to praise "Million Dollar Shoppers" but to bury them. Please. Whose idea-of-a-Lifetime was it to depict a profession of genuinely hard-working (if a little fashion-obsessed) persons and turn it into a mockery of the service, the clients and the product?

There is such a thing as a guilty pleasure and another thing entirely to be guilty by association. Watching this show is like surveying the scene of a car wreck; you can't tear your eyes away but you should.

Far from being a self-help offering with which to improve ourselves, "Million Dollar Shoppers" offers only the worst kind of tv voyeurism. "What Not to Wear" (now in its last season I believe) set the tone for feel-good-learn-a-little tv. Although an episode could be frightening (how could one let oneself get that way????), the transformation was always a happy one. Lessons learned? Clean out your closet, get a 3-way mirror and listen to your friends.

I feel bad wasting energy even ranting about "Million Dollar Shoppers". It paints a sorry picture of the good things a personal shopper can do, the problems she can solve, the ability to share her knowledge and love of fashion in a helpful, constructive manner.

Instead we have a bunch of crass, money-hungry egomaniacs clashing with a bunch of crass, monied egomaniacs. And we are supposed to care? Lesson learned? Take this off my DVR schedule immediately.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Women We Love: Eileen Fisher

Eileen Fisher is no Betty Crocker*
*She's real

I don't wear Eileen Fisher clothes. I've tried— there is much about them to love— but I've never had the right bone structure or deep enough pockets. Who am I kidding? They scare me to death.

Besides what might happen if I actually eat something while wearing a silk charmeuse top in "ballet", I fear I am not woman enough for Eileen Fisher. I picture her clothes as being worn by the likes of Hillary or Martha Stewart— world leaders and serious movers-and-shakers. I suspect I would be hiding behind them, hoping such clothes will speak for me as my "head is full of cotton, hay and rags" (Henry Higgins via Lerner and Lowe). If you wear Eileen Fisher, you'd better know what you're talking about.

A thorough and thoughtful piece in the New Yorker of September 23, 2013, by Janet Malcom, profiles Eileen Fisher the woman, the brand and the business. I was right— the perception of the woman who wears her clothes is "women of a certain age and class— professors, educators, psychotherapists, lawyers, administrators— for whom the hiding of vanity is an inner necessity". Eileen, as it turns out, is not really like that. She's still on a journey of self discovery while her successful business revolves around her.

While not indispensable to the continuing growth of her brand, Eileen has the grace and wisdom to recognize what her business needs. And that's not necessarily her 24/7. She has a management style that encourages leaders who can lead from within (i.e. everyone is important) and commission-free store employees who nevertheless benefit from the company's success.

Pretty typical representation of Eileen Fisher

Eileen Fisher debuted a few pieces at a trade show in 1984. A Chicagoan transplanted to New York, she had worked not terribly successfully as an interior designer. The biggest stumbling blocks were not lack of talent but the inability to express her vision to clients. A professional (and later personal) connection with a Japanese graphic designer resulted in a trip to Japan where she was influenced by the simplicity and utility of the garments there— from those of the geishas to field workers. She was intrigued by the Japanese aesthetic, but it was some time before the pieces— literally— came together for her first mini collection.

Eileen could not sketch, pattern or sew but was able to explain what she wanted to an assistant. Her designs were not revolutionary. What made the difference was that she saw with an artist's eye. Long before J Crew ran off with the naming game, Eileen's color names were evocative. This fall we are seeing caper, peat, chicory, ash and raisonette along with the variations of black, white and grey that are the company's (and her own personal) favorites. The fabrics are real and not 100% made in China.

She makes it look effortless

I've spent a lifetime collecting (and discarding) without regret. As I write this I'm taking breaks from the semi-annual "closet switch". With no real certainty what the weather will bring here, it's still a ritual to tuck away what feels like summer. There may have been some less than successful outfits going into storage, but "I'll think about them tomorrow" (tomorrow being next April). It takes steely nerve to give away what hasn't made the cut for this winter. I wish I could wrap my head around a few beautiful garments swinging in the closet a la Eileen. Alas, I will use the only fashion equation that works for me: number of hangers divided by length of closet pole.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Men We Love: Tim Gunn

No matter who you are— petite to plus, ingenue to grande dame—  Tim Gunn is on your side. The charming Mr. Gunn, whose professional career is almost a Cinderella story— is one of the best spokespersons the real woman can have in fashion.

Tim Gunn has no axe to grind, no products to push. He is not a designer; his background is in fine art and education. Through 12 seasons (9 years) of Project Runway his role has been mentor to the designer contestants. As is so often the case in fashion, it ain't just about the dress. His advice has ranged from the technicalities of construction to the needs to both "be who you are" and "listen to the judges". Is that not a metaphor for life???? If Tim says, "Make it work" you know he has faith in you to work it.

Can they make it work???

I don't know whose idea it was to "humanize" Project Runway. It would have been easy to alternate unconventional material challenges with red carpet looks. That is fashion with a capital "F". Instead there are also episodes featuring "real women"— teachers or returning soldiers or relatives of the contestants themselves. Through it all, Tim Gunn shows how to weave fashion magic into challenges that may indeed be a challenge. One of this season's contestants was heard to lament, "But I don't dress real women." That contestant will remain nameless because he should be ashamed of himself.

How was Tim Gunn plucked from mortal life to this celebrity? Born and raised in Washington, DC, he graduated from Washington's Corcoran College of Art and Design with a BFA in sculpture. For a time he had a sculpture studio in DC but joined the faculty of Parsons The New School for Design in 1982. He rose through the ranks and in 2000 became chair of Fashion Design, a position he held till 2007. He successfully upgraded the department's curriculum to make Parson's program one of the country's best. Gunn was reluctant at first to participate in Project Runway. He feared it might be a less-than-serious portrayal of fashion and designers, but early on changed his opinion. His appearances quickly became a major component of the show's success. Since then he's written three books, hosted his own spin-off tv series, held a position as creative director at Liz Claiborne and appeared as himself in numerous guest shots.

I realize I've led you off on a tangent. You can find bio stuff on the internet, as did I. It's pretty hard not to like this utterly sincere and charming man. He never ever plays to the camera and manages to deliver the most intense put downs to those deserving of them by saying nothing at all.

It's what he said recently about the state of the industry in regards to those real women that will endear him to you as well. "When I'm working in the real world with real women and we're shopping, we find that fashion seems to end when you get any larger than a size 12. How ridiculous is that?"

He has some choice words for Lord & Taylor (former sponsors of a few seasons as well). "Go to Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue, I think it's the 8th floor, and it's just a department called 'Woman'. ...You've never seen such hideous clothes in your entire life. I mean, it's simply appalling. Thank God there are no windows on that floor, because if I were a size 18, I'd throw myself right out the window."

He has also said "... there are two markets: The women who are larger than the 12, and then there are women who are petite. And most designers that I talk to have absolutely no interest in addressing either of those populations, which I find repugnant."

Imagine this being said not by someone who is grandstanding or out for gain but because he really cares. Ask him, and I'm sure he would espouse on the sorry lack of choices for we OACAs (Of A Certain Age) as well.

Meanwhile I have to thank Zara for coming up with a beautiful dress for an upcoming special event. Disregard the lovely face, undone hair and clunky shoes. This is a dress even a 71-year-old can wear. The lines are simple and skim the body. It's on-trend lace (the nice chunky kind called guipure). It's short ("the legs are the last to go") but skirted with a layer of lace. The arms are covered but lacy as well. It was a reasonable $120 American. Has Zara been talking to Tim Gunn???


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Cos for Celebration

Cos raw edge wool coat

Throw away your BoHo, ladies, 'cause Cos is coming. H&M's smarter, more sophisticated, grown-up-style sister is making its way to the United States. A shop-within-a-shop (known in the trade as a sub-shop) has popped up in Opening Ceremony NYC, a high-falutin' hip boutique that delivers the goods to the style obsessed.

Cos chambray top

Cos is an affordable mash-up of Marni, Celine, Jill Sander, classic Calvin Klein and my favorite minimalist, Vince. In other words it's shape over smocking. Lines are clean and fluid, less body-hugging and more skimming. Fabrics are pure in feel if not 100%— jerseys, silk and wool mostly. Colors are Biba-muted with a little pop for shock. Designs are clever without being ground breaking. Everything looks great on the skinny models. Cos is not priced at the H&M level. Granted, Opening Ceremony's shoppers are not mass market, but offerings run from $40 for a simple silk layering top to $310 for a black batwing sleeve coat. A leather shirt for $300 looks gorgeous.

Cos overlapping
front blazer

While writing this I opened the Opening Ceremony website to check on prices, and my computer started running unbelievably slow...

This pop-up will be in place in New York and on the OC website for about a month. Cos itself plans to open in the US in 2014. At present its own website does not ship stateside. But when Cos is everywhere will it be so mouth watering?

This reminds me of the Great Coors Lust of the mid-1970s. When we easterners couldn't get the Rocky Mountain elixir, it sounded like nectar of the gods. Then an obscure NYC distributor scored a shipment, and we drove 100 miles round trip for a couple six packs. It tasted good, but it also tasted like the gasoline we burned. Nowadays I laugh at Coors. "That's beer?????", I say as I sip my tulip of Ska Autumn Mole Stout.

Will having Cos at the mall water down its impact? Or will it give us absolutely no excuse not to look sleek and chic?

Is this where Cos gets inspired?

Friday, October 11, 2013

When Do I End This Nonsense?

I've been coloring my hair red for 36 years. Why did I not buy stock in Clairol in 1977? I no longer remember what color it used to be. I know only that now those roots are speckled with gray. And speckled not in a good way.

But how can I ever stop? Every single item of clothing I own is meant for a redhead. The "growing out" process alone seems like a nightmare. And what if I don't like what I see when it's done?

My husband likes the red hair. I think it makes him feel young. Coincidentally he had a red-haired girlfriend when he was teenager.

I don't feel old, but I sometimes see women whose faces are too mature for the color of their hair. It just doesn't work. My mother and sister went blonde for a while before they morphed into gray. The transition would seem to be easier that way, but I'm not the blonde type.

I don't need to hear how empowering proudly sporting gray hair can be. I already know women who are gray. They were beautiful before; they are beautiful still— maybe even more so. I just don't know if I will be one of them.

I faced a crossroads the other day when running perilously low on BW2 Dedusted Extra Strength Powder Lightener and 40 Volume Creme Developer (for the streaks). As I scraped the last bits out of the respective pouch and bottle, I made a note to head off to Sally Beauty Supply toot sweet.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Women We Love: Betty Halbreich

Betty has appeared in this blog before, but it's time to give her the full 21-gun salute. Thanks to some recent happenings (articles in the New York Times and Grazia UK, a reissue of her book "Secrets of a Fashion Therapist" and a proposed television series based on her exploits), her time is definitely Now.

Betty Halbreich, age 85, has been a Personal Shopper at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City since 1976. Far from being that old hunting dog who's nice to have around, she is THE Personal Shopper, the one you want to tell it to you straight— if you have a lot of money to spend on clothes and/or are in the public arena and need to look great.

Betty has never sought the limelight. In truth, personal shopping was not considered very sexy until the recent glut of celebrities-as-dressed-by-stylists-who-then-get-their-own television-shows-and maybe-even-clothing-lines. It's almost like if you can't become a celebrity, maybe you can dress one. Flipping through InStyle magazine, I often recognize the stylist's name before the wearer of the dress.

As you can imagine with her experience Betty knows it all and has seen it all. As I've noticed, the older one gets the more one is inclined to speaketh the truth. The cleverest among us have figured out how to do that with wit and charm. Betty would seem to be one of them.

Thanks to BuzzFeedFashion for the great images and text. I couldn't have done it better (and that is an understatement).