Friday, September 23, 2016

What's a Picture Worth?

Mary Russell by Lobravico

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I've always thought fashion illustration tells the story as well or better than a photograph. It ups the fantasy level (when fashion was a little more fantastical) and really fires your imagination. That may not hold true today, when we supposedly want to "shop the runway" before Anna Wintour's chair is even cold.

Once upon a time... and I've written about this before... using illustration was not the rare choice it is today. Proof would be a legal size (better to hold those oversize pages) folder I unearthed in an effort to finally clean out the boxes I packed 13 years ago when we moved to Texas.

Once upon a time I wanted to be a fashion illustrator. Most of my illustrations were just doodles for my own pleasure. Although I did turn out some illustrations for Glamour Magazine once I started working there, I was never comfortable in my line and was always looking over my shoulder or under the ink bottle for inspiration. Drawing, much as I loved it, didn't come naturally.

Really just a doodle
Published work!

 Talk to anyone in the arts, and I'll bet they will say what they do comes from a gut place that totally absorbs them. It's the passion that tells them "practice, practice, practice" and the thing that tells Sleep "just one more paragraph/stanza/pirouette...". Though we may dabble (or more) in what we love (Florence Foster Jenkins anyone?) we admire the ones who've got it (DG you know who you are). To that end I've long collected clips of fashion illustration.

Alas, paper doesn't last. My clippings (magazine or newsprint) are brittle if not actually fraying. Just looking at them left a trail of paper chips all over the room. It's time to say goodbye but not before a last hurrah.

A gaggle by the great Antonio

The biggest stash are drawings by Antonio Lopez, mostly from 1966 and 1967. He was an amazingly prolific illustrator. This was before he was elevated to royalty in the Studio 54 era. His girls were more young and innocent-looking in my clips than those in his later work. He worked a lot for Glamour back then too. I've written before how, being in charge of art department clean-out, I threw away reams of his alternate submissions and never saved a one. But I saved the printed pages! Go figure.

Betsy could draw too

Did you know that Betsy Johnson drew fashion illustration for Mademoiselle Magazine before she left to become a designer? She also worked in their art department, which was on the floor below Glamour's. She had a bigger passion.

I wanted to be an Arkin girl

My favorite illustrator of all-time was Erica Perl. She drew for Glamour in the '50s (before my time) and for a manufacturer named Arkin. She seemed to stop in the '60s as I never saw her work after that. Her illustrations are the most realistic of the bunch. I poured over all the details. If I could have morphed into one of them I would gladly have done so. Ironically I found out many years later she had lived just a few miles from our house in the New York City suburbs.

So maybe not goodbye to all of them, just au revoir. I'm sure I have room for one more box...

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"80 Years of Fashion": Part Two

All aboard the train...

What follows is part two of the complete, unexpurgated essay I wrote for English class during the school year of 1954-55, age twelve. I assume the attempts at humor were intentional, but it was too long ago to know for sure.

1870 - 1880
There were two important reforms in dress made during these years. The Aesthetic and Man-Woman dress were their names. They were not too successful but a step in the right direction anyway.

Aesthetic style
Oscar Wilde

The Aesthetic reformers tried to popularize the Greek style and lovely colors. There was also a strong Japanese influence in their modes. Their chief leader was the author Oscar Wilde. The Man-Woman dress was hideous. The dress consisted of an ankle-length belted coat topped with a bowler hat. This outfit was worn by both sexes.

However the majority of people during these years didn't adopt the Aesthetic or Man-Woman dresses. The women wore trains which swept up anything from orange peels to cat food. One thoughtful observer made this notation of what a lady had swept up in her train:
> Two cigar ends
> Nine cigarette butts
> A portion of pork pie
> Four toothpicks
> Two hairpins
> One stem of a clay pipe
> One slice of cat's meat
> Half a sole of a boot
> One plug of tobacco (chewed)
> Straw, mud, scraps of paper, etc.

It was the crinoline's end and the beginning of the bustle age. These bustles lessened towards 1880. The hour-glass shape and the nineteen-inch waist were popular. Dark shades and harmonious colors were worn.

Men wore frock coats and narrow plaid trousers. Bell-bottomed pants were introduced. Top hats, very high and narrow, were popular.

Children's clothes were very elaborate. This was the age of the monkey suit for boys. Big bows were worn on the backs of girls' dresses. Their pantaloons showed.

1880 - 1890
This period is known as the "hideous Eighties", possibly the worst period for women's dress. By now the hour glass was too popular. Women were ruining their health as well as their figures.

Men wore frock coats, and a long-waisted overcoat was a great favorite. Tails were worn for evening. A lounging jacket called a Norfolk jacket was also introduced.

The Norfolk jacket
Women's bodices came to a "V" in front, and there was a huge bow at the back of the skirt. Trains were worn only at night. Capes and tight-fitting coats were popular. Muffs and bonnets were also popular at this time. The picture hat was first introduced. Bright colors (especially shades of blue and purple) were worn. Women used no make-up, so if you've ever seen your mother right after she gets up, you know how bad they looked.

A worthy Worth
Charles Worth was a prominent designer during the reign of Empress Eugenie. He started out as a small tailor and eventually bought the tailor shop. He then named it the "House of Worth". After his death Worth's children, Jean and Gaston, took over his Paris establishment. This was the year 1884.

Children's clothes were fancy and very frilly, and they clearly showed the popular "bandaged-up" look. 

Timeless advice from Oscar Wilde
to be continued...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Madame Predicts the Fall Trends


Will this be my new wardrobe? Is it 300 thread count? Make that a couture sheet, please.

Yes, this is part of the fall campaign 2016 for Balenciaga in your favorite glossy fashion magazines. Four full pages do not come cheap. It isn't as if they were making a statement. Balenciaga is not going out of business or suggesting togas. Their offerings this year would be right at home in Grayson Perry's closet.


I'm not here to make fun of Balenciaga as there is a statement, just perhaps not the one they intended. Fall offerings this year are so discombobulated and all over the place that a sheet (or staying home) would seem the best answer. Madame (that's me) likes to report on the trends each season. I'm just so bored with the same-old-and-then-some I can't whip up the effort. We've seen all these trends before. In order to make them different, everything is supersized or cross-polinated. Think Biker with lace and Boho with studs. And forget what Chanel said about removing the last accessory. For Fall 2016, add one on.

 If you insist, here they are:
> Pretty and edgy
> Luxe eclectic
> Dark romance
> Sporty cool
> Menswear
> Boho 1970s
> Military

All the fashion reporting has identified the same trends (with slightly different monikers). You might think that amazing, but the fall trends are every trend we've seen trending for eons— except minimal. If you want to be a fashion trend-setter, that might be the way to go.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Dear Hillary...

First Democratic presidential debate

Dear Hillary,
It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter. Please believe I wouldn't bother if I didn't care.  I want you to look your best as you go out to slay the Jabberwacky (as your opponent is referred to in this household). But lately you've been looking a little frowsy around the edges. Too many bad hair days and reruns of the dreaded colorful pantsuits.

Slaying the Jabberwocky

When I saw you on the first Democratic presidential debate, you looked so great I wrote about it. You were wearing a lovely outfit, and your hair and makeup were flawless. I was so happy you finally hired the right stylist and/or you were listening to her/him.

I can't even imagine what constantly being on the campaign trail is like. You must barely have time to eat and sleep let alone pick three pieces to make an outfit. The Jabberwacky only has to hoist that red tie around his necks, and he's done. He can even doff a baseball cap and get away with it.

This does not go without notice. Even a male friend (who will probably vote for you anyway) said, "I hate her pantsuits!"

Exhibits P (pantsuits) and H (hair)

You may not like my suggestions, but I think you need to add a permanent hairdresser to your entourage. It may cost the taxpayers, but it would be worth it. You also need a stylist to throw out the crayola pantsuits and dress you like the strong woman you are, not like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass. Look what happened to her.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Backstory

Unless these gals plan to back out of that party, at some point they are going to turn around, and this not so pretty picture will be the result. We so forget we have a back side as well as a backside. If anything would entice you to invest in a three way mirror, it might be this photo.

I'd like to think I don't have back fat or panty lines or tan lines, but I'm not so sure. Okay, I'm sure about the tan lines. I'm always aware how a customer (at the Lovely Boutique Where I Work) looks from the back  as that's my job. I feel I've saved many a lass in love with a dress from the front by showing her how is just isn't fitting or flattering from the back. But who tells me??? And you, in the privacy of your own dressing inner sanctum? Could this call for a selfie stick?

Obviously certain types of outfits will be more susceptible to scrutiny than others. Bathing suits would be one, party clothes another. And while we can forgive a lot of what we see on the beach (not wanting to be first to throw stones), a special evening calls for special attention to detail.

Besides, a three-way mirror is cheaper than growing eyes in the back of your head.