Sunday, September 28, 2014

In the Mood

"Fabric Mecca!" is not actually on the building

Project Runway fans, this one's for you.

I've watched every episode since the first, and in 13 seasons have learned to like and admire Heidi Klum, respect (and get over my fear of) Nina Garcia, grow weary of Michael Kors (now replaced by the charming Zac Posen) and love love love Tim Gunn.

The supporting player in all this is Mood. That's Mood Fabrics, located at 225 West 37th Street off Eighth Avenue in the heart of Manhattan's garment district. Mood was opened to-the-trade-only in 1991 by a working designer, Jack Sauma, unhappy with the fact that designing didn't guarantee a steady paycheck. Word spread of Mood's cache of fabulous fabrics, and two years later it was opened to the public. Now Mood's New York flagship is 40,000 square feet. A Los Angeles branch is 20,00 square feet, and there's an online store. Not in the least elitist, Mood offers sewing lessons and workshops for all levels.

Yes, it's that vast

All the years I lived in New York I never knew about Mood. It's truly off the beaten path, as I found out on a recent visit to the city. This is an area that holds no interest for the casual tourist. You can sense the importance of these crowded blocks before so much manufacturing got sent to China or India or elsewhere. This is where the majority of American fashion was conceived, cut, sewn, brokered and shipped. Remnants (forgive the pun) of that still exist, and there's a real effort to keep jobs here that haven't left.

Mood is a short hop from Parson's School of Design. When Tim Gunn tells the designers, "And you have $200 and 30 minutes to shop at Mood", they're practically going to the shop around the corner. In New York terms, you wouldn't take a subway or try to hail a cab; you'd probably hoof it.

The facade of Mood is deceptive as the ground floor store is "Mood Home" (upholstery and drapery fabrics). For the dressmaker's nirvana you need to enter a nondescript office building and take an elevator operated by a real human to the third floor. From there you can take stairs up or down, so Mood Fabrics is essentially three floors.

They must clear the place for filming as it serves an average of 1200 customers daily and was busy. Between the bolts of fabric jutting everywhere, milling customers and Swatch running around, there would hardly be room for cameras.

Swatch and Eric

Let me tell you about Swatch. I'm not what you call a dog person, but I would pop that little guy in a sack and take him home. If I could catch him. Swatch was everywhere— chasing his turquoise rubber ball, darting in and out of the fabric aisles, sidling up to customers and generally enjoying himself at warp speed. The scoop on Swatch is he is a 7-year-old Boston Terrier, big for his breed, and belongs to Eric Sauma, owner of Mood and son of the founder. Swatch picked Eric in the pet store, and was even on sale. When you see Swatch on television he's usually sacked out in the middle of the floor, the only time he's still long enough for the camera.

Swatch posing for me: Action shot
Ready for his close-up

I wasn't there to buy anything other than a souvenir for my friend Annie back in Houston— something small that I could have packed in a Mood bag. I found a package of mixed buttons she could probably craft into something magical. I thought about getting some yardage but was blinded by the choices. Naturally, when I watched last week's show I spotted a fabulous bolt.

The reality of reality shows may be a bit suspect, but Mood is the real deal. Thank you, Mood!

Thursday, September 25, 2014


I haven't paid much attention to Target's designer collaborations for many a moon because (with a few exceptions) the quality isn't there. In the age of instant fashion at all price points, this would be the great divide. Target's designer collaborations are priced as high or higher than Zara or H&M and— the quality isn't there. It was fun to sport "Tar-jhay" (wink wink) early on, but over time it's become more like "Oh, she got that at Target." Not the same.

So I didn't rush to my local branch of Target's 1,925 stores to see the unveiling of Joseph Altuzarra's collaboration a few weeks ago. But I had time to kill in an urban mall this past weekend and ran into a goodly amount of it.

Joseph Altuzarra at 31 is a bit of a wunderkind, the latest in a list of young men with exotic last names that I am constantly confusing. Paris born but a graduate of Swarthmore, he is the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) 2014 Womenswear Designer of the Year. His Target connection is thus quite their coup.

As expected it was as expected. Designs I've surely seen before: a black lace pencil skirt, a Diane von Furstenburg-like wrap dress in snake print, a claret velevet jacket and pants (very YSL "le smoking"), but then this dress:

An elegant floor-length wrap jersey with flower photo print down the side for $69.99. It was an a-ha moment because I had just seen that dress at a wedding two nights earlier. The young woman wearing it looked so lovely I had to take her picture (though I am no Bill Cunningham). The venue was an abandoned factory turned art space. I hadn't a clue she was wearing Altuzarra or Target; she just looked perfect.

So it's not the dress or the price tag so much as it's you looking confident and appropriate. Chasing designer labels is not the answer. It's knowing who you are and what looks good on you as well as changing with the times as Style keeps on churning.

Woman's work is never done.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Madame Predicts: Leggings are Back

Miranda Kerr and her little dog too

They're b-a-a-c-k. For some, leggings have never gone away. What started as "footless tights" turned into actual bottom pieces— heavier than tights and worn in place of pants (see "Leggings are not pants" below).

Then there were the "legging jeans", jocularly nicknamed "jeggings"— more substantial than lycra/spandex alone, hell to get into with a comfort level of zero.

Leggings may never have gone away, skinny jeans are still here, but leggings are coming out loud and proud. No fashion publication or guru on high has pronounced it so, but Madame has eyes, and what she sees at the mall are LEGGINGS. To whit:

The formerly sparse display of the Hue brand in Macy's near the garage entrance on level 2 has grown to include a good selection of Hue's 44 different styles available in a myriad of colors. There are leggings that look like jeans, of course, and wild ones that we will forget we saw. The majority of leggings are pull on, with or without various seams and stitchings. There are corded varieties, textured weaves and some with tuxedo stripes. The legging gold standard is rayon/lycra/spandex heavyweight, black and to the lower ankle.

Leggings are in the House

White House Black Market (what ever does that mean???) has a window display announcing a sub-shop called The Leggings Studio with 8 styles available in regular and petite. This is clearly an investment by the WH/BM people. They would not have gone out on such a limb had they not a pretty solid hunch leggings are back.

Madame also has eyes and sees what women wear, particularly when they are dressing for themselves. I see them out every day, doing what they do, in and out of The Lovely Boutique Where I Work.

Leggings are easy, and today's big tops and tunics require skinny bottoms. Since tummy and waist are essentially hidden under the top, it's the leg that shows. If the thigh is a problem, the top should be longer, but you knew that already. Even if you don't like your legs, leggings are so "Ford Model T" they make your leg dismissible if not invisible. In other words, the state of your leg in leggings doesn't count.

What about footwear with leggings? Ballet slipper? Check. D'Orsay flat? Check. Bootie? Check. Chunky heel? Check. High heel pump or running shoe? The check bounced.

Two things to remember:
1) Leggings are not the same as footless tights. Leggings could almost stand on their own with a little assist. Tights are as flimsy as pantyhose.

2) Leggings are not pants.  Nothing gets tucked in and worn in public. Fortunately I've seen this look only on someone too young to have seen "Flashdance" in a theater. Lucky you if you are reading this. For the rest of us, leggings are meant to be comfortable and not complicated. That's why they're back!

Shall we be dusting off the leg
warmers and sweatbands too?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Who's that Girl?

She's arrestingly attractive, bubbly, vivacious, of no certain age. She's the "spokesperson" (though she never says a word) for Chico's. In television and print campaigns this Sophia-like stunner drives the message that Chico's is for the young at heart, girls (maybe now ladies) who want to have fun and is not your mother's Talbot's.

But who is that girl? She's Magali Amadei, no mystery woman really but by now very connected to the Chico's brand. Magali is a former French fashion model who lives in New York City. Born in 1974, she's a mere 39 years old. Magali was discovered at age 16 while studying ballet in her native Nice. As a model she had covers on Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, Harper's Bazaar, etc. and has appeared in small television and movie roles. Especially interesting is that she suffered from bulimia for several years and now speaks out to educate young women on the dangers of such self-image issues.

Back in the day (1994) at age 19

A website called AskMen describes the lovely Magali particularly well:

"The long frame, the elegant features and the olive skin have cemented her reputation among fashionistas. Her famous legs are a neverending tribute to feminine perfection. In addition, Magali possesses a certain intangible quality that shines through in all of her photographic work. This trait is inherent in all of the big names in the business; call it photogenic magnetism or an ability to seduce the camera. Whatever it is, Magali has got it."

Is it a bad thing or a good thing for her that she got the Chico's gig? And how do we feel about a 39-year-old playing Grandma?

First of all, Chico's is not just for WOACAs (Women of a Certain Age). Before I knew I wasn't supposed to shop there, I would visit the branch in a small Connecticut town near my home and eye with some envy the colorful separates and accessories that were a bit too steep for my pocketbook. When I got older, and my pocketbook a little bigger, I looked closer and found that while accessories fit anyone, Chico's sizes (cunningly tagged 1-2-3-4) were too big for me. They've since expanded to include 0 and 00 and even stock petites.

Proud mom Debbie with
swimming champion Michael

But the perception is still that Chico's caters to a fun loving, socially active (meaning she goes places and does things) older woman whose figger may not fit a body-conscious silhouette.  At one time Debbie Phelps was a quasi-rep for Chico's, and I think she wore it well. We do know, though, not all fashion today is body-con and not all WOACAs have lost their figgers.

Despite wishing it weren't so, women buy into the notion that clothes look best modeled on—well— models. Sadly I also don't really want to see my true self looking back at me from the pages of my favorites magazines. I get enough of that in the mirror, thank you and am wise enough—or consigned to the fact— that everything I see won't look good on me. Everything never did anyways! The lovely older women models out there are still stick-thin so don't look like me either.

The lovely Linda 
The Charming Carmen
The Sassy Sue

So for me Magali is a winner. But I worry about her. She is is indelibly typecast now as the Chico's gal. I worry that she will never get work other than Chico's. One good thing, she probably has another 40 years in her modeling career.

Keep on keeping on

PS She's not the only one. Chico's has another model with an enviable cropped blonde pixie who never fails to make an appearance in the catalogues. Alas I've had no luck uncovering her identity.

Now who's that gal?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Not Exactly a Full Gallop

Diana by Peter Emmerich

With the increased interest in Diana Vreeland (thanks to a new biography and the lovely film, "The Eye Has to Travel"), I was happy to see there would be a local revival of "Full Gallop", the one-woman play about her that premiered off-Broadway in 1996.

"Full Gallop" was written by Mary Louise Wilson and Mark Hampton. It was a tour-de-force for Mary Louise, garnered postive reviews, won her a Drama Desk Award and had a good run. Of course New York City is the perfect venue for anything Vreeland. I glimpsed Diana only once, during her time as editor in chief of Vogue, and feel the connection still. In fashion, publishing and museum-centric NYC that sense must be in the thousands.

Mary Louise Wilson in the original production

More surprisingly, "Full Gallop" has been staged in other cities with different actresses for years. The production I just saw was itself a revival. The actress portraying Diana expressed her feeling that being older herself now gives the performance more depth.

Galloping actresses 

This is not a review, though I'm surely influenced in my desire to write by flubbed lines and garbled dialogue. I was disappointed because she was portrayed for laughs. Every amazing bon mot was delivered with the intention of prompting a rise from the audience. She came across as being hounded by creditors, desperate for small change and more of a huckster than someone who really did have no idea about money. Her fallen-apart dinner party seemed like the guests would do anything to avoid spending the evening with her, one even suddenly heading off to Morocco. The actress drank constantly, filling her glass with ice and water that I assume was meant to be vodka. Didn't Mrs. V drink scotch? And couldn't the actress have nursed it so we didn't wonder if Diana was really a lush?

My hope is this is not the way "Full Gallop" is being staged. I haven't found any of Mary Louise Wilson's performances to judge her original intent. Not everyone will have seen "The Eye Has to Travel" first and certainly may not wish to afterwards. From what I witnessed on stage, I think the lady needs to speak for herself.

Never at a loss...

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Can We Talk... About Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers 1933-2014

No doubt there are some who thought Joan Rivers was brash or mean or a foolish plastic surgery victim or all the above. She was always honest (sometimes brutally) and often the butt of her own jokes, but in recent years she let her softer side sneak out.

I'm just so sorry she's gone.

I happen to think she got better as she got older. Yes, she went to unhealthy extremes that I don't condone or would ever attempt. She was searching for something and never gave up trying.

Have you seen the film "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work"? It may change your mind if you've not been a fan. It's a lovely memento if you are.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Zara is Open!

To the 3,513 people who have read my post "Zara has Closed!" (no doubt fearing the worst):


That's right, Zara in the Houston Galleria is now open. I just found out last night, reading a squib in our local society/fashion monthly, Papercity (they know everything). There were no other official announcements or grand re-opening events that I knew of.

So I haven't been yet (it's 8:15 AM), but I hope this may end the blog equivalent of "War of the Worlds".

Zara has not closed.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Women We Love: Tavi Gevinson

Presenting Tavi Gevinson

Tavi Gevinson— the geeky little blogger girl I was sure must be an impossible brat— is growing up. Turns out she was never a brat at all, just amazingly intelligent and precocious.

You may remember her as this child who showed up at Fashion Week wearing outlandish get-ups and a blank expression. I knew she had a blog. But would I stoop to read it? Then I heard she had an online magazine for teens called "Rookie". Did I bother to take a look? Then I saw her in the film, "Enough Said" and was bowled over. In a movie that seemed to be trying a little too hard, she was genuine and real.

Tavi, girl blogger

Tavi Gevinson is 18 now. She stills looks— sans makeup— like a little kid, but seeing her yesterday on "CBS Sunday Morning" was meeting a young woman who has her ducks in a row and a star-bright future ahead. She is leaving her home in Chicago and is off to Broadway to appear in "This is Our Youth", the Broadway premiere of a 1996 off-Broadway production. She co-stars with Michael Cera and Kieran Culkin.

When asked if she was trying to make a statement with her wacky clothing choices back then, she said, no, she was trying to show she didn't care what people thought and wanted to dress that way for her. I then remembered I once did the same, though not with the notoriety or effect that Tavi had.

In 1956 Glamour declared the new musical "My Fair Lady" was the fashion influence of the year. Their September issue was full of somewhat romanticized clothing dubbed The My Fair Lady Look. Broadway and Glamour both spoke to me, and I took this to heart. I was 14.

Glamour, September 1956

I sewed myself a pink cotton sateen blouse and a full navy skirt, hemmed to mid-calf. I wore the blouse unbuttoned to there (no cleavage existed to worry the censors) and stuck a pink artificial rose down the front. Picture that please with bobby socks and saddle shoes, a face full of acne, a mouth full of braces, glasses and two strange pin curls that were my "romantic sideburns". I thought I looked fabulous. I knew I didn't look like anyone else, but that wasn't the point. I had achieved my own Fair Lady effect, and that was enough. I can't be too embarrassed by the memory of that because I wasn't embarrassed at the time.

Tavi is a beautiful young woman now. She will undoubtedly need to make wise fashion choices that suit her age and style. She'll be someone to watch without doubt. I hope there are hours enough in the day and night for her to do it all.

Tavi, cover girl, August 2014