Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Stylish Cinema: "Falbalas" (Paris Frills)

You could have knocked me over with a feather (reference is relevant) as "Falbalas" is a fashion film I had never heard of, let alone seen. It's a noir-ish French drama from 1945 about a successful couturier and his doomed romance. There is definitely a connection with this and 2017's "Phantom Thread", a fact celebrated by TCM's pairing the two as part of their "Follow the Thread" series.

Phillipe creating while making a phone conquest

"Falabalas" is fascinating on many levels, notwithstanding how the title translates to "Paris Frills". Released in 1945, there is a calendar on set that says "1943". It hadn't occurred to me that Paris, squarely under the Nazi regime, was not only producing films but lavish couture as well. I do know the story, told well in the book "Miss Dior" and other sources, how important it was for the French to have the couture houses stay open. Chanel closed hers but many others tried to keep going for their thousands of (mostly women) employees. 

"Phantom Thread"

In "Falbalas" the successful designer, Phillipe Clarence, is in the midst of preparing his new line and not happy with what he's created. He blames the failure of one dress on his fabric supplier and seeks him out to complain. We already know Phillipe is a cold Don Juan, but he falls for the supplier's pretty young fiancee, a striking Micheline Presle, who has wider set eyes than Jackie Kennedy and is still alive today at age 99. Phillipe toys with Micheline (her name in the script as well), drops her, changes his mind, is rebuffed (though saintly Micheline decides she can't marry the other man either), goes mad and kills himself. 

Micheline as Micheline

Okay, I gave away the plot, but the movie begins with Phillipe dead after jumping from a window, landing on a mannequin wearing Micheline's scorned wedding gown. One of the passersby remarks it was lucky the mannequin didn't break. 

The "girls" of the couture house

As did "Phantom Thread", "Falbalas" accurately portrays life in a couture house—the personalities who run the place, including a stern but sympathetic vendeuse, and the many young women whose fingers do the sewing. The fashions were designed by Marcel Rochas, who opened his own couture house at age 23 in 1925 and designed until his death in 1955. The brand continues to this day. Rochas' style was perhaps the polar opposite of Chanel's. He believed in femininity and thus possibly the "frills" of the title. His costumes for the film are perhaps a little over the top, as costumes may be, but still have a wearable flair.

Rooster? Crow? Buzzard???

One of the early pieces we see is an outfit designed as a surprise for Micheline. Make-do was de rigueur; some poor barnyard animal contributed to those shoulders. The hats, which were huge as was the style, were designed by someone else (and never seem to match the clothes). The shoes were clunky as they were wood or cork, the leather being shipped off to make boots for German soldiers. As a subplot the fabric supplier is in the midst of renovating a grand apartment for his bride-to-be. Where did this luxurious space come from in Nazi-occupied Paris?

There is not a Nazi or a mention of WWII in the film. It's fashion after all, and fantasy is a big part of fashion. Its two universal themes are women love to look beautiful and love makes the world go round.

This little treasure seems available to watch on Apple tv with a 1:32 minutes trailer available on YouTube. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Some Funny Stuff About "Funny Face"

Turner Classic Movies screened 1957's "Funny Face" last night as part of its "Follow the Thread" study of fashion and movies. I've probably seen "Funny Face" more than any other film, but it's been a long time.

I'm happy (and more than a little relieved) to report not only does "Funny Face" remain charming and 100% watchable, it's such a tribute to everything that magazines were and in my opinion should be—informational, aspirational but still a bit fantastic, like a beautiful dream.

The opening credits, designed by photographer Richard Avedon, show off the high fashion style favored by Harper's Bazaar and Vogue. At the time he worked exclusively for Harper's Bazaar. Carmel Snow was Editor in Chief, though she left the next year. The last frames of the opening sequence thank Snow and Avedon for their contributions.
The movie revolves around a fictional magazine called Quality. It's mentioned in the same breath as Vogue and Bazaar, as if they were a trio. It's often said that Maggie Prescott, the editor-in-chief character, was based on Diana Vreeland. No doubt Kay Thompson styled some of her mannerisms on Diana, who was not editor-in-chief of anything then. She was Harper's Bazaar's fashion editor, working under Carmel Snow. They were very different women, but Carmel realized what Diana brought to fashion and let her do her thing (while attempting to rein her in when necessary).
Avedon (left) and Astaire

The photographer of the story, Dick Avery, played by Fred Astaire, is most definitely meant to be Richard Avedon. Not too far a stretch there, eh? They were similar in build, although Astaire was 58 at the time and Avedon 34. Something to be said for a life in dance! Another similarity of reel life to real life is the character of Quality's art director. He doesn't have much of a role, but he does have a marked European accent. Bazaar's brilliant art director under Carmel Snow was emigré Alexey Brodovitch. He left when she left. 

Many real top models of the era appear in the film. Dovima, a supermodel before the term was coined, is the only one with lines. She is a gorgeous creature posing for Astaire's photographer but more worried about picking up her Harold's laundry. She was obviously dubbed in wincingly painful Brooklynese so must have been a very good sport.

Carmel (left) with Diana

Carmel was forced out of Bazaar in 1958 at age 70. She did not suggest Diana for the top spot, and the job went to Carmel's niece, Nancy White. It's also been said that's why Diana Vreeland left Bazaar for Vogue That didn't actually happen until 1962, so Diana worked under Nancy for 5 years.

The opening number of "Funny Face" is "Think Pink", encouraging Quality's readers to wear nothing but.
As EIC of Vogue, several years later Diana Vreeland once sent a memo to her editors, "Today let's think pig white! Wouldn't it be wonderful to have stockings that were pig white! The color of baby pigs, not quite white and not quite pink!" How bizarre is that? Especially since, as the story goes, Diana saw "Funny Face" once and said, "This will never be spoken of again."

Another thing that tickled me pink? When questioned why she herself is not wearing pink, Kay Thompson's Maggie Prescott says, "I wouldn't be caught dead." Nevertheless a few scenes later she's wearing, you guessed it.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Ahoy! Here Comes Coastal Grandmother

I will confess to being a little leery about this. I usually hate when someone tries to pin one down and stick a label on you. That seems to defy all the reasons for seeking personal style. Although in reality the Coastal Grandmother aesthetic celebrates preppy and requires money to pull off, it's also a lovely tribute to the power and beauty of women growing older. I'll take it. We've still got it, and now you want it too.

Diane Keaton and her many appearances in Nancy Meyers' films make her literally the poster child for Coastal Grandmother. She personifies the woman of a certain age who is put together (but not too tightly). She's accomplished, yet her accomplishments must be in the past because she has a lot of time for reading, gardening, cooking and reflecting. There may be romance but it's not a raison d'etre. NB in her personal life Keaton's style is far more quirky and harder to achieve.





Sarah (center)

The list is long. Think Blythe Danner in "I'll See You in my Dreams", Meryl Streep in "It's Complicated", Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart as Oprah and Martha.  Sarah Baumler of HGTV's "Renovation Island" is Coastal Grandmother-in-training. Terrence Stamp as Bernadette in 1994's "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" may have been Coastal Grandmother #1. 

Bernadette (but w/o the black bag)

CG's decorating style is as livable as her wardrobe—natural fibers and a bleached, beachy color palette. I bet her candles are unscented. Nature makes its way inside. She has a garden bountiful enough to harvest, plus she knows her way to a good farmer's market. She has visitors but no one just drops in, thus she can entertain with aplomb. She reads voraciously and is always listening to an eclectic playlist. 

Pulling off Coastal Grandmother may be a little harder if you do not possess the freedom of a retiree with a good 401k, but I love love love that it celebrates a stage of life to be embraced. Emulate away, ladies! I know I will, though I will add "Bohemian" in front of Coastal and my coast would be a rocky one in the south of Italy, if I had my way. 

Credit: Life on Virginia Street


Wednesday, June 1, 2022

One Pix Says it All

No, really, I mean it.

This does say it all.

Will that stop any of us who love a bargain?

Probably not, but 100% is a GOAL!

Thursday, May 12, 2022

So Where Have They Gone?

Yesterday's New York Times ran a piece by Alexandra Jacobs asking, Where have the magazines gone? I could have written the first two paragraphs myself:

I miss magazines. It’s a strange ache, because they are still sort of with us: staring out from the racks at supermarket checkout lines; fanned wanly around the table in hotel lobbies; showing up in your mailbox long after the subscription was canceled, like an ex who refuses to accept the breakup.

But they’re also disappearing. This accelerating erosion has not been big news during a time of pandemic, war and actual erosion, and yet the absence of magazines authoritatively documenting such events, or distracting from them, as they used to do with measured regularity, is keenly felt.

So sad, so true... Reading the story made me feel worse, lessened slightly by knowing someone else feels the pain. I've loved magazines as long as I can remember, way before they ever became my work. 

The world came in the door via Life magazine. 

I would carefully read my much older sister's copies of Seventeen when she was out of the house. She was 16; I was 7. 

A few years later I impatiently waited for THE DAY Glamour appeared on the rack at the drugstore (as noted in every issue) and plunk down my 35 cents for it, never becoming a subscriber lest it be delivered even one day later.

I can't remember much about the kids, but I loved reading the New Yorker when I babysat for the family down the street, east coast transplants obviously missing civilization.

One summer I took the ferry to Boston from my job in Provincetown, specifically to buy a copy of the latest Vogue Knitting. I had to beg for a room at the YWCA as I hadn't brought enough money to spend the night. 

Occasionally I bought a copy of French Elle at the foreign newsstand in downtown Cleveland, way before Elle had an American presence. It was $5, equal to almost $50 today. 

Faithful readers of the blog will recognize these stories. Reading Jacobs' piece churned them up in a wellspring of soggy memory.

Then came 38 years of my life in magazines. I could count on one hand the days I didn't want to go to work, and those were probably weather-related. I left in 2003, before the party ended, sorry to go but in retrospect happy to have missed the dimming of the lights.

My last fifteen—and possibly best—years were at Woman's Day. It was a sisterhood (with a few empathetic men) of many ages and backgrounds, all creating something we believed in. Money was never the sole reason to work in magazines. There were other rewards—personal accomplishment, lifetime friendships, free beauty and fashion advice, books on the giveaway table, always someone with an ear for a problem or to weigh in on an idea.

Back then one couldn't walk down a street in midtown Manhattan without running into a magazine stand. New magazines came out right and left. For a while I bought the premier copies. Anyone want a first edition of People, Mia Farrow on the cover?

How many are still publishing?

The magazines I still subscribe to are getting so thin they could probably skip the mailbox and slip through the crack in the door. I won't go into whether magazines are relevant or not. Of course they are no longer timely, not with instant everything on the device you are using to read this. Magazines always had a point of view; that's why you read the ones you did. Now being opinionated has ramifications. Yes, there's so much "we" (and I use that as someone guilty by association) could have done better in terms of equality and diversity. Naivety is not a very good excuse.

If magazines disappear, what will the writers of ransom notes do? What will become of mood boards? Magazine holders? The pandemic has already cleared periodicals from doctors' offices. Whatever the reasons for their demise, be it momentary or permanent, they will forever be a part of me. 

A good sign, available on Amazon


Friday, April 22, 2022

Stylish Read: "Chanel's Riviera"

Surprise! I thought "Chanel's Riviera" would be a dishy romp through the crazy lives of entitled aristos and bohemian writers and artists playing and living along the Riviera from 1930-1950. Coco Chanel, a creative genius and eagle-eyed businesswoman, catered to this crowd and counted them as friends. She had opened a ready-to-wear boutique in Biarritz in 1915 and built, "La Pausa", the only home she ever owned, in Roquebrune in 1929. While in Paris Chanel always lived in apartments and at the Hotel Ritz.

Chanel's "getaway", La Pausa

"Chanel's Riviera" is so much more. I've never been much of a Chanel fan. Aside from being a revolutionary designer, she became a difficult and seemingly bitter old woman. Don't expect a full-on immersion into Chanel here. She comes off better than I expected and may even have tried to arrange peace talks between the Allies and Germany!     

Serious fun at La Pausa (Chanel on right)

"Miss Dior", another Stylish Read, looks into the life of Christian Dior's sister Catherine, her time in the French resistance and imprisonment in a German concentration camp. "Chanel's Riviera" delves deeper with de Courcy's
well-researched study of France during WWII. This is a subject that has been neglected, certainly by the French, possibly with good reason. There is no easy distinction between being a collaborator and doing what it takes to survive. France has struggled with that and is only now coming to terms with it.

I can see how "Chanel's Riviera" leads the way to further reading about many of these interesting characters— the long-forgotten like socialite Maxine Elliott and the ever-popular such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. What remains foremost, however, is history that may be fading over time but should never be forgotten.  

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Time for a Tupperware De-Parting

Mrs. Maisel may have too much Tupperware...

You know how every once in a while you have to weed out those plastic containers taking up too much space in the kitchen drawer/on the cupboard shelf? You have more lids than containers or—worse—more containers than lids. They are stained, cracked or otherwise showing signs of wear.

In this season of wardrobe switching, you may sense the equivalent of too much Tupperware in your closet. It's time to take a good look at what's going and coming or staying put. 

We live in a sweet 1920's bungalow that was built—as per the usual—with very few closets. Thankfully the person who renovated before our move-in added two walls of shallow closets. I thank her every day. Nonetheless, half my wardrobe sits in plastic tubs behind a screen for half the year. I hate the switch because I am often faced with those past mistakes and/or current realities.

Too much Tupperware, clothing variety

There are other truths that hit me as I pack and unpack: the pilled, the grayed, the yellowed. There are the fashion fads of seasons past. It's okay to spark up your wardrobe occasionally, but you've got to know when to let go (adieu, peplums). 

Then there are The Mistakes. As you pack away winter and make the switch to warmer, this is a good time to admit you made them. Sometimes you can't commit and will save the decision for later. The time has come, and I am unpacking mistakes aplenty. There are:

> Things I ordered during Covid that I didn't have the wherewithall to send back when I could have.

> Things that will never fit again. I recently had to divest myself of many lovely belts because—well—I'll never see a 24" waist again.

> Things I shouldn't have bought in the first place. I wore them a few times, but it was never happily.

> Too many of the same, not all of them in good shape.

Which brings me to another bad habit: collecting. Some women collect vintage pieces, one-of-a-kind beauties, but not me. My collection is more the "two is a pair; three is a collection" variety. Switching clothes this spring I realize I am de-closeting multiples of blank pants and black sweaters and depositing multiple black pants (summer weight) and black t-shirts. Did I mention the several white shirts that live there year-round? Those white shirts barely leave the closet. I don't really like white shirts, but I decided I need to collect them.

There is not a lot of fun in this kind of acquisitioning. I'm never really thrilled when I add another. I just think, well maybe this pair will be The One or I think I'll need that some day. I should do it, but this is a very hard habit to break.

With apologizes to the handy and needed (in moderation) storage solution, I must remember from now on: 

N O   M O R E   T U P P E R W A R E !

Monday, April 11, 2022

Do Leggings Have Legs?

Far be it from me to hand down any pronouncements as to what is In and what is Out in fashion these days. I will leave that to Vanessa Friedman, Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic at The New York Times, who always manages to steer a path between the plausible and the ridiculous. Her column in today's Times addressed a reader's question about leggings. In a nutshell: Are leggings pants?

Leggings are everywhere, but are they the last bastion of Covidwear or have they assumed an identity as real clothes? Vanessa says yes to the latter, but there is a leggings playbook we would all be wise to consider.

She acknowledges that during Covid lounging at home in what were basically tights, only thicker, was easy to get used to and hard to give up. She interviewed Tory Burch, who declared them as essential in our wardrobes as T-shirts and bluejeans. "Mixing them with ready to wear is simply how many women dress today, whether they're headed to the gym or not."

Vanessa believes that the techcentric variety, those in colorful hues or patterns, are best left to the gym where they were intended. Thicker leggings, in neoprene, leather (or pleather), ponte or denim, all plus stretch and slip-on capability, can become part of your wardrobe.

If you're not actually working out, don't wear leggings with a bra top or a Tshirt and sneakers. Likewise don't wear them with an oversize button-down shirt (too '80s).

Not this way
And here's where I think she hit the advice nail on the head: "...  think of them more like capri pants but ones that don't offer the option to tuck in your shirt. Pair them with ballet flats, chunky-soled loafers or ankle boots and a jacket or perhaps a tailored tunic top. You won't look as if you are breaking any unwritten sartorial rules, just stretching them."

I'll add my two cents, stating the obvious. You should have a finished look—hair makeup, accessories—as if you are so dressed purposely. Bear in mind where you will be going and who you will be with. There's a time and place and outfit for everything. Leggings are an interesting option worth investigating if you so wish. Your wearing them should add to the conversation, not give reason to shun them.

Leggings do not do well in the humid Houston summer, so there may be little need to think of them in my neck of the woods, but they aren't going away, and the autumnal equinox will be here in 164 days.



Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Lovely to Look at

There is fashion I love to look at that for one reason or another I will never buy. It doesn't mean looking won't make me happy. This is where Fashion serves yet another purpose. I've seen them called "inspiration boards", but my collection mostly inspires daydreaming or reminiscing. And why not? Isn't that just another arm of the fashion goddess?

The latest edition to the folder I save on my desktop is this gorgeous patchwork African fabric coat dress, custom made to order by an Etsy shop called With Flare. I spotted one being carried off beautifully by a woman at the theater last Saturday night. At $270 (and reversible) it's quite the steal, but I can't ever see all 5'2" of me swanning around in it. PS I was an usher in required black with a name tag and scanning gun, not part of the swanning crowd.

With Flare alright...
This beauty is part of Roksanda Ilincic's autumn/winter 2022 collection just shown in London. Roksanda does produce interesting, wearable apparel that I've long coveted, but this one is strictly for dreaming.

More swanning required...
Joann's Fabrics has had this cotton yardage in stock for a while, but I can't think what I could make that I would actually wear. It may come down to sewing a pair of pajamas because I can't stop thinking about it.

$8.99 per yard
This vintage shot reminds me how utterly and completely timeless beautiful fashion can be. I don't believe there has been a year since its 1950's origins that this wouldn't look stunning.

No idea how or why I ever came across this contemporary sweatshirt depicting the long-shuttered Moors restaurant in Provincetown. There were no t-shirts the summer I worked there, 1964. I don't even remember this logo, but seeing the sweatshirt brings back a Portuguese-fishing-boat-load of memories. In fact we waitstaff were required to wear our own t-shirts as uniforms. They were required to be wide-striped so the martinet of an owner could see us across the cavernous room. My stripes were never wide enough to suit her. I may have only just turned 21 but at 5'2" I knew to wear stripes in proportion to my size.

Long Lost Vintages Tees

Finally, I almost think I could pull this off, giant bow and all. I just need someplace to wear it...

Thursday, January 27, 2022

All Aboard for the Mini

The return of the mini has been giving me agita. I am way over 50 but know that when a trend becomes a style you better get on board or face being sent out to pasture like Tootle of Little Golden Books fame.

Tootle happy to go, me not so much

Alexandra Shulman, former editor of British Vogue, now writes for the Daily Mail and posted this guide to the "New Mini After 50". She's seen what Balmain and Dior (as well as others) have shown for 2022 and predicts the mini is back. How not to look like mutton dressed as lamb?

Alexandra's tips (in her words):

> A simple shaped skirt with nothing frou-frou allows us to experiment with the silhouette on top. A balloon-sleeved shirt tucked in and belted is a great option. In the evening simply unbutton and add a necklace or statement earrings.

> Long blazer jackets (belted if you wish) are the modern pairing rather than anything with a whiff of the cropped boucle jackets of the 1980s, while a roll, funnel or simple crew neck is an easy option, again kept long and crucially loose. This is not the time to embrace the embonpoint (aka your bosom).

> I would aim for neutrals—navy, white, black—and consider textures such as suede and leather which add sophistication. Bold prints can also be terrific, but avoid anything too ditsy, such as a pastel floral. 

> The model above is 51 and wearing dark semi-opaque tights (very dense black can look a trifle frumpy), but for evening try a pair of patterened sheers...which add an elegant glamour when teamed with a simple black top and skirt.

> Teenagers pair theirs with Doc Martins, but rebel-cool is a hard one to pull off past a certain age. Low-heeled leather boots are better...or a block-heel square-toed mule. High, spiky heels are best avoided.

What will happen when we hit Summer and tights will be out of the question? I'm not throwing away my favorite midi skirts just yet...

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Adieu, André Leon Tally

That would be adieu, a final goodbye, not au revoir, a see-you-again-soon. André Leon Talley held a master's degree in French studies so would appreciate the difference. He died yesterday at age 73 in White Plains, New York. 

There will be many deserved tributes to and assessments of him. Much will be written of Andre's life, his backstory, his rise to a position of great influence in fashion, his fall from favor while still retaining a mythical aura. He was six foot six and of a closely-guarded overweight (couldn't have been healthy) and was clearly the center of attraction in any room.

André at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts

Some celebrities are like that. They command attention without saying a word. If you are ever in their presence you never forget it. I felt that in an auditorium with Muhammed Ali. I imagine JFK and Elvis had it. I've written about my non-dinner with André before:
He came to Houston as curator of an Oscar de la Renta exhibit and sat for an interview with Clifford Pugh in 2017. We were in the first row (and why not?). The lights dimmed, and he appeared, sitting. He never rose to leave until the auditorium was empty. Walking was very difficult even then.

He was a trailblazer for equality who wore no sandwich board. One would, of course, ruin the look of his caftan. He never campaigned for it but his unique world view proved diversity is the crucial spice. I can only imagine these last few years were difficult ones. He was not a man who would enjoy prolonged isolation, despite his claims he was happy puttering around his house in White Plains, just north of New York City. He's been missed and he will be forever missed. 

Adieu, cher André

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Stuff of Dreams?

Just as I'm watching old episodes of "Mad Men", along comes the January 2022 issue of Vogue (shivering in at 92 pages), with Olivia Wilde on the cover in a black bra and high-waisted black skirt by Michael Kors Collection. I was looking for the tagline, "I dreamed I hitch-hiked through the desert in my Maidenform bra."

The successful Maidenform ads are referenced in the second season of "Mad Men" when their (fictionalized) competitor Playtex wants the (also fictional) ad agency Sterling Cooper to dream up a similar new campaign for them. In the '50s and '60s those ads were everywhere, from news weeklies like "Life" to fashion glossies like, well, Vogue. They were so numerous over time they almost seemed to parody themselves:

Etc., etc. etc.

"Mad Men" is a rather bitter indictment of advertising agencies and their cavalier attitudes toward promotion. Almost exclusively run by men in the 1950s, they didn't seem to care as much about giving women what they wanted as telling them this is what they were desperate to have. 

I long assumed those Maidenform ads were cooked up by a lecherous crew of "boys" on Madison Avenue, but the origins were more innocent. Harry Trenner was an account executive for Maidenform at Weintrob Advertising in NYC. He and his wife Florence were sitting around the kitchen table in their New Rochelle home when they came up with the idea, probably laughing all the time. The outlandish premise seems like a variation on going to school without your underwear, nightmare fodder when I was a kid. The client bit and ran with it for many years.

The cover of Vogue is no laughing matter. This one was shot by star photographer Annie Lebovitz. Ms Wilde appears in another "bralet" (combo of "bra" and "bracelet"?), wearing an outfit in your basic chartreuse Gucci-logo satin. Yes, it's hard to take this stuff seriously, but I continue to be very, very worried. Sooner or later some mortal will, to be followed by many willing mortals who shouldn't.

Another feature was an oversized brown leather Prada motorcycle jacket shown in 14 photos on Emily Ratajkowski. No price was given but others on the Prada website were $6,000. Will I now have to crawl around the attic hunting for my 1980s Schott leather jacket? I know it's there somewhere. Maybe I could do it in my Maidenform bra...