Saturday, March 28, 2020

Who Cut Out the Dress?

Will "Making the Cut" make the cut? "Project Runway" was a trailblazer when it debuted on Bravo in 2004. There have been many "seasons" and many iterations, most recently with Karli Kloss and Christian Siriano as host and mentor respectively.

Yesterday the originals, Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, debuted "Making the Cut" on Amazon Prime, a glammed-up version of the original with a million dollar prize and 12 contestants who have established lines but want Worldwide Brand Recognition.

It all seems a bit desperate, with Heidi barely able to contain herself at the thought of that million and Tim having apoplexy over being in Paris (and using the word titillating in not exactly the right way). The big get is the viewer's ability to purchase the winning designer's look immediately after the show.

This was tried once before on one of the other "Runways" with not much success. The winning look was able to be ordered right after the show, with a wait time of 6-8 weeks for delivery. In other words, "slow fashion." No one wants to wait two months for anything unless it's your wedding gown, so it was no surprise that disappeared early on in the run of the season.

Back to "Making the Cut". The designers were challenged to create two looks for a fashion show—a runway, or extreme, version of their style and an aspirational, or saleable, one. The presentation was staged at night at the Eiffel Tower. That was such a small part of the episode you barely had a chance to look at the clothes.

Instead of judges examining their favorites and least favorites (so at least we could see them again), Heidi separately called four contestants to the judge's table to be grilled by her and have their fates decided by the panel. "Did you change your minds?", she asked the judges after her inquisition. Everyone always said "no". I'm surprised they didn't use the old gladiatorial thumbs-up, thumbs-down. One designer was sent home, one given a warning, one praised for her good work, one  crowned the winner (but no laurel leaves).

The winner, Esther Perbandt from Germany, found the seamstress hadn't put her dress together correctly. That's another thing; designers don't actually sew because most of them use pattern makers and seamstresses in their businesses (yet another reason to unleash a horde of completely untrained fashion designers onto the world). She was forced to create a new dress in the two hours left, and this was the winner.

Actually it's a nice dress. I could see this going to a party or out to a special dinner. It looks a bit Grecian or Empire, flattering and dramatic. I was curious enough to go on the Amazon website, where I understood it would be available immediately.

I could see if I were watching a few days or weeks following the program's debut. It wasn't even midnight, and Amazon's site told me this:

What was the point? Did they not anticipate the volume of orders (which I kind of doubt there were)? Did they run into a coronavirus problem importing from China? Possible. There was no price listed, but a bit of further investigation revealed it was $64.90. I've had enough bad luck ordering from those Chinese fashion sites to imagine the quality of the fabric/how well this is made for that price. I also wonder if any designer hoping to become the next global brand was thinking "Forever 21" rather than "Armani."

So I'm on the fence about this version. Or maybe the clothesline—hanging on, but I don't know for how long.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Men We Love: Christian Siriano

You don't need a reason to love Christian Siriano. He's been nothing but a class act since his debut as a contestant on "Project Runway" in 2008.

My first thoughts were, Who does this pipsqueak think he is? Chistian had attitude and at 5'4" and probably 110 pounds soaking wet he sure needed to put his talent where his confidence was. Well, he did, and became the youngest Project Runway winner with his beautiful, imaginative creations.

But could he make it as a real fashion designer? Not surprisingly his first forays into commercial design were for mass market retailers, such as a line of shoes and handbags for the late, lamented Payless. But he debuted his own line late in 2008, sold at Saks Fifth Avenue and Neimans as well as a private couture line. He's every bit an established designer today—successful and respected, a member of the CFDA, a published author and basically king of all that he surveys. And in a sweet case of turnabout, he was the mentor of this year's Project Runway reboot, replacing his own mentor, Tim Gunn.

Throughout he has been funny and confident, kind and helpful, living up to one of his favorite catchwords, fierce. All that would be fine and good enough, except Christian has done a few things that make him really special.

Christian and Leslie in the studio

One that comes to mind is his request to dress Leslie Jones for the premiere of her movie "Ghostbusters." He heard no one she asked would make her a red carpet gown. That might have seemed like a tempest in a teapot but brought to light what women face who are not an "acceptable" size in the big business of dress-up.

When asked why he wanted to do it Christian said, "We should just try to make every woman feel great about themselves, because there’s enough crazy hate going on in the world." The dress was gorgeous, and he and Leslie have forged a friendship that continues to spread his philosophy.

Leslie's Siriano gown
Okay, so Christian Siriano is a mench. He lives up to his own hype and seems genuinely caring. But what has he done lately? Well, this. When he found out New York City was perilously low on the supply of masks, he tweeted,  "If @NYGovCuomo says we need masks my team will help make some. I have a full sewing team still on staff working from home that can help."

And that's what he's been doing, sewing 500 a day both in his studio (with social distancing) and by workers at home. They are simple and follow mask guidelines, washable, no funky fabric designs or Christian Siriano logos. He is doing good not only for NYC, but he's keeping his staff employed.

A stitch in time. Thank you, Christian Siriano.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Will We Ever Want to Shop Again?

The reason for this blog's beginnings in 2011 and my writing today is the same. Then I was confined to the house while recovering from bunion surgery. I challenged myself to publish something every day till I could fly the coop and rejoin the world.

Eight years later my reason is once again a challenge to keep occupied while waiting for that day when life will be normal. Date TBD, that life TBD.

There's a problem. 643 posts later what more can I possibly say about fashion? You've read my life story from playing with paper dolls to working for magazines. You've seen my dispatches on the business of fashion, quirky discoveries about styles and practices, musings on the latest trends.

What more is there to say, especially when the last thing I'm thinking about is what to wear?

Pajamas as street wear is one thing. Pajamas as all-day wear is something else. I don't want to start down that slippery slope. (short break while I get dressed)

Will we ever shop again? My first thought, as I stayed home and saw mine and other retail businesses close their literal doors for the duration, was "everyone will shop online". That could be a further blow to those doors reopening again.

Now, aside from needing something (t-shirts, socks, underwear, pajamas), what do I want to shop for?  Where am I going? What do I have to look forward to—that is, what can I count on happening on a certain date? I have, in other words, lost my appetite for Fashion as an important part of everyday life. It's kind of like losing a friend if not an actual body part.

At the moment we are in a coronavirusworld without end. I appreciate that not every writer is flailing about like me or even attempting to see the bright side to our new and hopefully temporary reality. Sometimes a little breathing space is a good thing. In order to breathe.

Our lives may have changed overnight. We may have much more important things to stress about at the moment than high-water or lo-rise, but we are still female and still ourselves. 

Madame has made many predictions in the past. I've usually tossed them off without much thought to their becoming true. This time it's a prediction and a fervent wish: We will shop again.  


Monday, March 16, 2020

Stuff to Do During House Arrest #1

There are more fashion-related activities to keep you occupied during house arrested besides closet cleaning and mending. More fun things for sure.

I just read a piece on "100 things to do while stuck inside during a pandemic" in USA Today. You can copy and paste here:

Number one is "Complete a puzzle! The more pieces the better!" I haven't done a jigsaw puzzle in 20 years, but I always add at least a piece to the one laid out on top of a case at the library. Actually the more dense and complicated a puzzle is, the easier it is to put together. There is nothing worse in puzzledom than a jigsaw with lots of blue sky.

So for your puzzle (and fashion) pleasure, let me present The Clothing Emporium by the Vermont Christmas Company:

That looks like the store of my dreams or the closet of my nightmare, but it sure looks like fun. It's 550 pieces and measures 24" x 18" when completed. Available on Amazon for $14.95.

I asked my husband if he'd like to do a puzzle. He said yes, but it's going to be this one:

I know, I know. Too much blue sky.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

What to Wear During House Arrest

For the next two to three weeks, under the advice of our doctor, my husband and I will be under house arrest, sitting out the coronavirus until it's not so scary. At 79 and 77 respectively, we are willing to own up to "old", just not "elderly". We still work, travel, play and generally enjoy life without thinking too much about our health. That the CDC considers 65 "old" was a wake-up call.

I look forward to house arrest with more than a little trepidation. I'm still not sure whether we are being overly cautious. Remember the story of Chicken Little who thought the sky was falling? On the other hand, being a little chicken now might not be a bad idea.

We plan to cut out anything that involves other people, which means a lot of things we enjoy doing—restaurants, movies, theater, museums, shopping (that's only my pleasure), seeing the kids and work. We will make only the quickest trips to the grocery store and any other appointments that can't be put off. All this togetherness will be a true test of our marriage. We will try not to kill each other.

But what to wear? To avoid that slippery slope—from casual to can't care less—I will have to get dressed. With makeup. Every day. I admit to spending long mornings in pjs when I have a day off and my husband doesn't. Since every day will now be a day off, I'd better be more like my mother—breakfast in pjs (though she always wore a pretty robe) then get dressed for the day. Note to self: As soon as I can get to a store, look for a pretty robe. Better yet, find one on Amazon.

Maybe matching robes...?

When I'm spending the day cleaning—a chore I hate until it's done, and then I'm ridiculously proud of myself—I wear the oldest, saddest articles of clothing I own. I don't even give them the respect of hanging in a closet. I somewhat fold them and toss 'em into a covered basket in the bedroom. They are so disgusting if I ever did get rid of them I wouldn't have the nerve to drop them at the thrift shop. This cannot be my house arrest wardrobe. I am going to have to wear real clothes.

NOT my house cleaning outfit...or attitude

The temptation when no one sees you is to reach for the same outfit day after day till it can practically walk itself to the laundry basket. I once bought a rainbow striped knit top to keep up my spirits after I lost a job. I did wear it for a while, until I realized it did nothing but remind me of my sorry state. So a house arrest outfit might be too much orange-is-the-new-black.

I think all of us have clothes we don't wear for no other reason than they seem too good for the house but not good enough to wear out. At least I do. Now's the time to put on those nice shirts or t's and fun pants.

I take out my pierced earrings at night and don't put them back in until I'm ready to leave home. Empty ear piercings is one of Rachel Zoe's pet peeves from her style book. I will put earrings in even though going nowhere.

Though not exactly what-to-wear, wouldn't it be great to finally catch up on all that mending—hems and buttons that need work? And what a perfect opportunity to switch closets for the season (am writing this from south Texas), a chore that can take weeks when I'm busy going places and doing things.

Thus has it ever been...

And when I'm done with my closet, I'll start on my husband's. Now that's when the murder plots may hatch...

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Stylish Read: "The Man Who Was Vogue"

You will need to check your library for this, although used copies are available on Amazon. "The Man Who was Vogue: The Life and Times of Conde´ Nast"  by Caroline Seebohm was published in 1982. I was then working for Conde´ Nast Publications and don't remember even a glimmer of excitement for a biography on the founding father. For a long time I assumed Conde´ Nast was a publishing partnership like Harper Collins, not one person.

How interesting could a biography of this little known man, famous for wearing a pince-nez but not a smile, really be? Turns out, very interesting indeed.

A magazine publisher is much like a movie producer—responsible for suggesting or green lighting the project, for staff, budgets, quality control, promotion and advertising. The publisher has to have a vision, be inspiring and open to ideas—a nice blend of ringmaster, father figure, best friend and dictator. Not easy.

Born in New York City in 1873, Conde´ was not a blue blood by any means; his parents were originally from Missouri. That noble-sounding name belonged to a distant relative with French origins. He attended Georgetown University thanks to a generous aunt and reluctantly earned a law degree. The father of a college friend owned the struggling Collier's Weekly magazine, and Conde´ joined up, increasing its circulation a hundred fold by his keen grasp of advertising and promotion, two things magazines thrive on.

A 1909 issue of "Vogue"

Vogue was founded in 1892, aimed at the New York upper class. Nast bought it in 1909 and managed to keep its society readers, adding along the way everyone else who wanted to read about them.

By the way, Conde´ Nast Publications has given us an incredible gift. You may browse every issue of Vogue at no charge by going here:

Surprisingly, dress patterns may have been responsible for Conde´ Nast's early success. Vogue had always featured a pattern in each issue. As French fashion was the most desirable, these patterns gave madam's seamstress the ability to replicate the latest Paris styles. Conde´ successfully expanded the Vogue Pattern company in 1914 to sell patterns in stores, and the company is still going strong.

Hollywood Patterns were launched in 1932 to take advantage of the growing interest in movie stars and home sewing during the depression. Glamour of Hollywood magazine began in 1939, dropping the "of Hollywood" not long after. Conde´ Nast died in 1942 and didn't live to see Glamour become Conde´ Nast Publications' cash cow, as it was when I worked there in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

A Hollywood pattern and promotion

Nast was the first publisher to concentrate only on what he called "class" publications. This is different from "classy", although Vogue and Vanity Fair are certainly that. A Conde´ Nast magazine is deliberately aimed at a certain class of reader interested in a particular subject as opposed to one with mass or broad appeal.

The glory days of magazines may be gone and Conde´ Nast's holdings have whittled down considerably, but the name still has power. The house that Conde´ built is now at One World Trade Center and consists of nine print publications (Vogue, New Yorker, GQ, Vanity Fair, Allure, Architectural Digest, Traveler, Wired, Bon Appetit) and a smattering of digital titles. In addition there are 23 international editions of Vogue. Among much loved and lost titles were House & Garden, Mademoiselle, and Details.

Conde´ Nast  NYC headquarters

Vogue has always been the flagship of the fleet. While Conde´ Nast may have been conflicted by Victorian principles in his personal life, he was firmly on the side of the 20th century zeitgist , championing progressive trends in the arts, music, fashion, and interiors.

Parties at his thirty-room duplex/penthouse at 1040 Park Avenue were legendary—and strictly business. He could often be spotted looking on rather uncomfortably from the sidelines.

One of Conde's greatest gifts was the ability to spot talent, and he brought on the most progressive artists, photographers, graphic designers, writers and editors. The original Vanity Fair (1913-36) was a personal favorite and is still revered for its cutting edge everything.

There were so many characters in "The Man Who Was Vogue", I found myself Googling often. That added more to the enjoyment of reading as now famous names like Steichen and Eric, Dr. Agha and Baron de Meyer took shape and character.  

A Baron de Meyer photograph
Illustration by Carl Erickson ("Eric")

Conde´ Nast intrigued Susan Ronald enough to write "Conde´ Nast—The Man and His Empire", published in 2019. That one had the cooperation of Conde´ Nast Publications and the Nast family. Conde´ was a genius but not a perfect man. Could all that cooperation signal a red flag?

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Why Styling Means Everything

Styling is not just what stylists do. They do it, of course, but "styling" means how things are put together. We style ourselves every day, with or without a stylist's help. How you style an outfit can make it sing...or sit in a corner.

That truth walked the runway in L.L.Bean's show at Men's Fashion Week in New York City.

L.L.Bean! The venerable sporting wear company founded in 1912, predictable as the day is long. The L.L.Bean look of classic, utilitarian gear sometimes veers close to fashion but usually is not. It's just there—dependable and never-changing.

Evidently L.L.Bean toyed with tweaking the brand before, but the results (mostly in fit) were barely noticeable. Burberry was first of the old guard to do it, hiring Christopher Bailey in 2001. Look at them now—major players in the fashion pantheon. And remember, once upon a time Gucci was just leather goods.

L.L.Bean hasn't thrown the baby out of the canoe, but their collaboration with Todd Snyder, shown this week on their first runway outing, looks freshandnew. Nothing is revolutionary so much as styled in new ways.

This is such a scrumptious display of sartorial splendor, I am going to let 42 pictures speak 1,000 words:

Yes, these make better postage stamps than style guides, but I urge you to cut-and-paste:
to view in greater detail. There are lots of ideas to steal.

If you love Gentlewoman Style (the sophisticated version of "Annie Hall"), you can put these styling tips to play with clothing you no doubt already own. Or you can rethink your existing wardrobe and give it a lift, especially during these late-winter doldrums. And I do mean ladies here. Whether the men will actually cotton to it will have to be seen.

A few points:
> Notice how pants are cuffed or "juusshed". Your socks become important here, and socks are an inexpensive way to have fun.
> Layers—a t-shirt, a turtle, a button-down—add pops of color and texture. We all know layers are the best way to keep cozy.
> Pattern mixing—there are THREE different plaids in this ensemble. They work together due to similar shades of green.

> Details that unite—The cuffs and sweater sleeve pick up the ochre. The shoelaces (shoelaces!) reflect the pattern in the sweater.

> A hint is sometimes enough—a bit of camo peeking out of the collar, a slice of graphic tee layered under.

The more you look, the more you see...

Why the fuss? Well, reliable sources (ie GQ magazine) predict Preppy is due for a comeback in a big way (though it's never really been gone).  According to their creative director, Jim Moore, "It has to be just the right preppy, but you can feel it coming." I know more than a few gals who will be very happy to hear that.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Women We Love: Aunt Jean

Every family has one—the black sheep, the rebel, who makes for the best stories but is always on the outs with the relatives. And every family has one—someone who finds in that relative a kindred spirit.

I found mine in Aunt Jean, the middle sister. My mother, Ida, was the youngest; Sally the oldest. Jean was always known for behavior no one else understood, and stories about her traveled the family grapevine.

Jean was a "handsome woman", often used to describe someone whose features were strong rather than delicate. She was an extrovert with style to beat the band. As far as I could tell, she was the only one who truly married for love.

Uncle Herb and Aunt Jean, 1927

Jean was my glamorous aunt. These few photos from the family album are of an Aunt Jean I didn't yet know. By that time she wore bright colors and leopard prints, pedal pushers, bathing suits with matching cover-ups and cocktail dresses. Her perpetual tan, pedicured toes in high-heeled mules with an ankle bracelet were movie star style. She clinked when she walked with arms of dangling bracelets. This was the 1950s. The only women I knew who dressed that way were my paper dolls. She was not as outlandish, of course, but she reminded me of Carmen Miranda, whom I adored.

Jean lived in Florida (thus the perpetual tan). Her husband, my Uncle Herb, had moved the family to Miami from frozen Ohio right after WWII. He started a construction company and prospered in the south Florida building boom. His success brought Jean the riches she desired—minks, fancy jewelry and latest fashions. Family stories would have her never satisfied with what Uncle Herb provided. I don't know how true they were. I'm guessing they might have been tempered with a little sisterly envy.

Not only was I fascinated with Aunt Jean's wardrobe and joie de vivre, I felt we connected. At 8 or 10 I couldn't articulate it, but I think she knew I loved fashion and all its trappings. I might have filled in for the little girl she would have enjoyed having. Happily in years to come her two sons each gave her a granddaughter.

I saw less of Aunt Jean once my grandmother died. There was no longer a tie to bind the sisters.  We did meet once or twice after I was grown. She still had her Aunt Jean style, adjusted to the times. I never thought to tell her she'd always been my style crush.

Yet again time churns up buckets of nostalgia laced with a tiny bit of insight.

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Genius Guide to Buying Jeans

Looking for jeans can be one of the most stressful chores in the shopping universe, worse than buying a swimsuit. 

I rarely wear jeans. All my weight lies below the waist. Adding a layer of heavy denim plus two more layers for the fly is not my idea of a good time. For obvious reasons, my favorite denim has always been a nice pair of loose-fitting overalls. At 77 this is no longer cute. Even my three-year-old grandson doesn't wear them anymore.

However, there are some times a nice pair of jeans are what an outfit needs. Breton t-shirts look great with jeans. A black turtleneck and jeans speaks French. I love a man-tailored shirt tucked into a pair with a terrific leather belt or with a shirt tied at the waist.

Jeans can go anywhere these days, even the red carpet. The Lovely Boutique Where I Work even allows staff to wear jeans. Let's face it, a grown up woman wearing a nicely tailored pair of jeans looks hip, with it and "young".

Heavenly Helen Mirren
Brooke and Calvin forever

Linda Rodin rocking some

I'm always ready to give jeans another shot as I continuously look for the perfect pair. Let these hints be your guide and you may have the jeans thing all zipped up.

Hint # 1: Don't give up. It may take a lot of searching and (sad but true) trying on, to find them.

Hint #2: Make it a jeans-only shopping trip. Avoid looking at anything else—new merchandise, 50%-off-sale—to concentrate on jeans. If you shop where there is more than one store, hit them all, for jeans only.

Hint #3: Don't go it alone. If there are actual sales associates (as there will be in smaller or more specialized retail) ask for help. She will know which jeans do what and give you clues as to how the various styles fit and wear.

Hint #4: Know your legs:
JEGGINGS are as close to leggings as denim will go.
SLIM are tapered to the ankle.
STRAIGHT will fall in a line from the hip.
GIRLFRIEND (or boyfriend) will be almost baggy from the hip with a wider leg (comfy but never dressed up).
BOOT CUT is closest to Straight with an extra flare at the ankle to accommodate wearing boots.
BELL BOTTOM gradually flares like sailor's pants.  
WIDE LEG begins to flare at the hip and can end up quite wide indeed.
TROUSER will hang comfortably from the waist and seem most like a pair of pants.
CROPPED is tricky to pin down (pun intended) as much depends on how tall you are. There are cropped wide-leg jeans that are almost culottes or those cropped two inches above the ankle. Think of cropped jeans as something fun to add, not your only pair.

Hint #5: Don't buy jeans too loose. 99% of today's jeans have from 2-4% Spandex woven into the denim. This allows the fabric to keep its shape. When you first put them on, new jeans should feel snug; they will loosen up. If jeans are comfy to begin with, try on a smaller size. Otherwise they may get baggy after a few hours and you will wish you had. Of course, you should be able to breathe, sit and button that top button.

Hint #6: We are too grown up for distressed jeans. Unless you have truly distressed them yourself over years of loving wear, leave overly distressed (torn, ragged, patched) jeans for the young and restless.

Hint #7: The darker the wash, the dressier they will look.

Hint #8: Almost all jeans are "high waist". Today's jeans are cut to hit the small of your back and dip just at little in front, following the natural curves of the body. The era of hip rider jeans is blessedly over. Let's take advantage of this rational moment in fashion. NB "Mom jeans", if you still have any, are still a fashion don't.

Mom's not the word...

Hint #9: Pull on jeans are not that crazy. If you hate the idea of a zippered fly front, try pull on jeans. Some even have faux fly stitching. If done right they can be quite flattering.

Pull on and fly not

Hint #10: You may be a petite...or not. Petites are generally cut for women 5'4" and under. If you are short-waisted and/or have shorter legs, try jeans in petite sizes. Remember they are usually cut smaller. If you wear size 8 in regular misses sizes, try a 10 petite. The reverse is true as well. If you have a long torso and/or long legs you may do better in misses regular sizes. These days jeans are available in plus and petite plus too. Thank goodness!

Bonus hint: You may need to alter. The most common complaint is if they fit your hips, they are too big at the waist. This is an easy alteration but for a pro to do. Trust me, I've tried to do this at home.

If jeans are too long, be sure to wash them before hemming. The 96% cotton part can still shrink, though they shouldn't if you hang them to dry (highly advised). Be sure to wear the shoes you will wear with them. Unless they are trouser jeans they shouldn't have a "break". Boot cut, bell bottom and wide leg jeans should be hemmed as long as possible—about 1/2" from the ground.

Really, she's wearing shoes...

Jeans have transcended their humble beginnings as sturdy pants for men hoping to strike it rich in the 1850s, although pursuit of the perfect pair may seem as elusive as finding that golden nugget.