Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Loveliest Designer You Don't Know

Her own best model
Say you've never heard of Rocksanda Ilincic let alone how to pronounce her name? Well, she's my little London Fashion Week find. I'm not the first to the party. Her elegant day and evening looks have been worn by a list of glitterati including Gwyneth Paltrow, Bjork, Margherita Missoni, Kate Hudson, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny, Thandie Newton, Michelle Obama and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. The stuff of dreams for we mere mortals, but Rocksanda has also collaborated with two British "high street" shops, Whistles and Debenhams.

Spring 2013
Finally a clutch big enough to actually hold something

Rocksanda is a Serbian-born designer based in London. She first showed a collection in 2003. Though I have seen her listed as a "former model" serious research (ok Wikipedia) states that she first studied architecture in her native Yugoslavia before graduating with a degree in womenswear design from prestigious Central Saint Martins  in London. Rocksanda's is hardly a household name in America, but there is something fresh yet timeless and very interesting about her designs.
Michelle in Rocksanda with that guy
Kate hitting the mark yet again

She also designs lines of swimwear, handbags and children's clothes. She dressed the American Express concierges at London Fashion Week, whom I saw up close and personal. The frocks were so simple, stunning and colorful— a tuck and a fold here, a drape there and— boom— dressmaker magic.
Nice uniforms
This is someone who has something to say that is worth wearing. I'm intrigued.

One more of Rocksanda

Friday, September 21, 2012

An American at London Fashion Week

Setting the scene at Somerset House

By the greatest bit of luck, I happened to be in London during London Fashion Week. Though smaller in scope than New York's, London Fashion Week was nonetheless covered with great intensity by the media. It doesn't hurt that there are sixteen daily newspapers in London. The Times alone had three magazine supplements for Fashion Week, one including a best-dressed list of over-60s (hurrah). Stores promoted the week with special events. Rag and Bone spent two days constructing a "greenhouse" in the park across from our hotel (plus another day tearing it down) for a ten-minute fashion show (which included Kate Moss). Missed it— we were oggling pre-Raphaelites at the Tate Britain.

The scene was Fashion with a capital "F". I got a kick out of briefly being a paparazza at Somerset House, the principal venue for the shows. Everyone was photographing everyone else. It was also one of the few places in London that I truly saw "fashion". So the question remains how much fashion London actually embraces...

By another bit of luck and generosity on her part I was able to meet one of my favorite bloggers, the delightful "That's Not My Age", for a coffee and chat at Somerest House. I will protect her anonymity by publishing only a headless shot. Trust me, she has a head, and a very smart one. We had a great discussion on style in general, retail in particular, the new movie about Diana Vreeland (given a thumbs up), the dilemmas of growing up but not out of fashion, etc. Thank you, TNMA, for the time we spent together— truly one of the highlights of my trip.

7/8ths portrait of That's Not My Age 

Unfortunately this will not be a report of next season's trends as presented at Fashion Week. I doubt if even Madame Ramona and her crystal ball could see that, and I'm still not clear about this season. Following are a few pix I snapped:

Onward fashion's soldiers...
Not Patsy and Eddie... but a special place in fashion heaven for them both
Posing... (not Bubble)
Dressed to thrill...
Hostess wearing Roksanda Ilincic
Policewoman wearing police issue
Working girls working it

I could have spent days there, but those pre-Raphaelites at Tate Britain were calling.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

An American in London

A foggy day in London town...

When I worked in New York City, we New Yorkers (mostly engulfed in black) could spot a tourist at forty paces. In winter they always looked cold. I don't care where home might be, they wore an air of surprise that New York City could be damp, slushy, snowy and windy. Needless to say most wore no gloves or waterproof boots.

NYC tourists on the prowl

Summer tourists in NYC always dressed like they were at Disneyworld with we, the natives, being the exhibits. Shorts, halters, flip flops— scraping the bottom of the barrel when it came to wardrobe choices. Once the sun went down, it was the tourists who outshone us. Old movies had them believing New Yorkers really do dress for dinner or "The Theatre". If you've ever spent a night in a cramped Broadway theatre seat you'd know the dress code should be one step above sweats.

So there I was last week, a tourist in London, one of my favorite cities in the world. London is one of those places that much as it changes, as much stays the same. New York City reinvents itself; London has apps. You get the Old London, oozing history, cheek-by-jowl to what seems to be the new international capital of the world. This is Now London, hopping with people and restaurants, shops, museums, shows— too many to do and see in any one vacation. So you have to have Future London— those things On the List for next time. Otherwise, how could you leave?

My plan was to pack in black and disappear a la Japanese stage hand in a Kabuki production. Except for a nice plaid coat, I did. Was that a success? Not really. Most everyone in London wears either unadorned black or gray or black-and-gray. The flashes of style I saw (outside of Fashion Week which shall be another post) were in the shop windows or on women speaking languages other than the Queen's English. I quickly wished I had opted for my usual more colorful style, but since I had chosen to be an Observer, this is what I observed on London ladies:

> Nautical stripes abounding
> Colored denim did make an appearance— any color as long as it's red
> Dark tights with light-colored shoes— so wrong
> Summer handbags with fall-ish looks— granted the weather was changeable but ya gotta pick one season
> Either no makeup or too much on beautiful young faces
> Kate Middleton is a type. There were way too many look-a-likes to be merely an homage.
The real Kate was in Bora-Bora

Perhaps the biggest shocker was the cost of apparel. Generally speaking the "good stuff" was about 60% higher than we would be used to paying in the US. Even TJX (the British TJMaxx) and H&M were priced significantly higher than at home. My favorite Zara seemed to be the same. Sadly, no wonder the best lookers were in the shop windows. No doubt it would be very frustrating to be a fashionista with limited funds in London.

I also read, while there, that British women "don't believe in being coordinated". They think this is the territory of Americans and Europeans. The tone of the article made it seem, not exactly a virtue, but at least a reason for the sense of style disconnect I observed. Please, dear British readers, don't construe these observations as biting the hand that fed me so well this past week. It is with deep regret that I unpack my suitcase without a return ticket in hand.

Last observation:  French women really do know how to wear scarves.

Friday, September 7, 2012


Merry Mary

For those of you stateside a heads-up that Mary Portas is someone we need. I've written about her before. In a retail/fashion manner she is the British equivalent of a tough-love Oprah Winfrey. She has taken on saving the "high street" (Brit for "main street")— independent retailers falling to the wayside due to Big Box stores and shopping malls—, has revamped the tatty image of charity thrift shops, critiqued fashion retailers from Asos to Zara and put the money where her mouth is by opening her own boutiques within House of Fraser department stores.

With all this activity she still manages to hit the nail on the head succinctly, as in this 10-minute cocktail for getting ready for the day:

If life is a cabaret, what better than the image of a fashion cocktail? And in case you can't decipher the ingredients, here they are:

We all have crazy days where everything flies out of our brains and we can barely remember our names, let alone how to p[ut an outfit together. This is where the Pret-a-Portas Cocktail comes in. When you need to be up and out of the door in 10 minutes, with a mere five minutes to spare on clothes, this is the moment to think: "Cocktail".

Behind every great outfit is your simple chic foundation
my NO-BRAINER DRESS is a perfect example

Here's where you add your FASHION UPDATE with a SHOT of the SEASON'S COLOUR or a

this is where you go to
with your favourite jewellery AND ACCESSORIES

Kate White, now that you are no longer Editor-in-Chief at Cosmo— are you up to the job?
You wouldn't even have to change your hair

Monday, September 3, 2012

"See You in September"

Such a great picture but probably can't use it after today

"Have a good time but remember
   There is danger in the summer moon above.
Will I see you in September
Or lose you to a summer love?"
 "See You in September" by Sherman Edwards and Sid Wayne

It's not easy to pin down the start of summer but oh-so-easy to say goodbye: Labor Day. That's it. Done. Finished. No matter the weather (hothothot here) or your place in life (definitely not going back to school tomorrow) Labor Day is not only The End but also The Beginning. It just feels different, and pursuits like playing board games on the screened porch or eating drippy ice cream cones on a park bench feel somehow frivolous rather than purposeful after today. 

The start of summer (maybe because it has such a slow one) seemed like one had all the time in the world. Now the fall beckons, rapidly leading to High Holy Days, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Channukah, Christmas and New Year's Eve (I celebrate 'em all). Every one calls for something special to wear. The easiest is Thanksgiving: an apron.

Everything goes with turkey...

This year it's not a question so much of switching closets. Currently my fall/winter closet is a stack of oversized Tupperware cubes hiding behind a screen in the bedroom. I feel a change in fashion attitude, like switching style horses. It seems to happen every five years or so. This year I will not hang back and wait for that perfect black cashmere pullover to go on sale. I will "make do" with less, as long as that less is of really, really good quality. I will experiment a little more, perhaps, but I'll also wear what I love with aplomb. I won't force myself into anything for the sake of style. I really seriously don't like jeans; people are surprised that I even own any. I'm going to dye my hair red till Clairol goes out of business (then buy up all of Nice and Easy #110 online). 

I'll have what she's wearing

And while we're on the subject, here's a fashionable dessert that requires very little labor. Affogato is not short for "I forgot the avocado" but means "drowned in coffee" in Italian. Easy, easy, easy, I've convinced myself it's low in calories (depending on the size of your scoop and the doo-dads you add).

3 ounces hot espresso 
(use 1 rounded teaspoon Medaglia D'Oro Instant Espresso to 3 ounces water)
1 scoop vanilla, coffee or chocolate ice cream 
(preferably gelato as it's creamier and melts in a swirly way— go ahead and splurge)

Place scoop of ice cream in cocktail glass. 
(martini or rocks or sour) 
Pour some of the espresso over it. 
(add more as you eat)

You can dust the top with cinnamon or add a dollop of whipped cream or sprinkle with chocolate curls or serve with amaretti or biscotti. You are sure to remark as you slurp the last little bit, "Ahhhh...fogatto".

Pass the Affogato please

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A New Leaf

It may be summer in the city (Houston) but fall is on my mind. Pretty hard to ignore the signs when we are surrounded by pumpkins in the supermarket and Halloween decorations in the 99c store. The average daily temperature of 95 degrees be damned, days are getting shorter. Number one reason I know it's fall? I'm bored with summer clothes.

The Houston Chronicle's fashion editor, Joy Sewing (what a great name for a fashion editor), published a spot-on piece this week with great tips for tip-toeing into fall while still cranking the AC full blast.

These are Joy's ideas to see you through the transition from fall-is-a-state-of-mind to falling leaves (parens are mine).

Adding some Fall to your Summer:
> Dress up a summer top with a lightweight scarf (in a paisley or textured pattern).

> Wear summer brights like yellow, orange or blue with neutral tones (khaki, olive, grey).

> Take summer's color-blocking trend into fall by mixing summer brights with complementary jewel tones such as red with rust.

> Put away the capri pants and switch to full length slim pants. (Colored denim is still on trend, opt for deeper tones. Likewise patterned slim trousers in paisley, animal prints, deep-toned ikats and florals)

> Slip a tailored blazer (in a jersey knit rather than wool) over a sundress.

> Switch from sandals to pumps (or ballet flats).

Some other thoughts:
> Pair a short summer tunic dress over dark skinny denim with a chunky leather heel.

> Choose a leather belt instead of straw or fabric.

> Replace your summer bag with a leather one. Try yellow or green for a color pop.

> Go for a deeper shade of lipstick such as coffee or claret.

> Make a date with yourself in the next few weeks to switch your wardrobe around and promise to be ruthless this time.