Friday, March 29, 2013

The Shell Game

No lace please, we're basic

I swore I had a black shell hanging in my closet. You know the kind I mean— black, sleeveless, u-neck— maybe part of a twin-set once upon a time. Not a t-shirt tank from Gap/Target, not a camisole (lacy or otherwise). A stand-alone piece except there may not have been a reason to wear it alone. Alas! It hadn't even fallen to the floor or turned into a nest for the cat who uses an open door for an invitation. Well, black and white clothing both tend to show age, so I must have chucked it in a flurry of closet renewal.

I set off to the mall for a quick in-and-out shell replacement. Or so I thought. I didn't go into my favorite fashion stores as this trip wasn't meant for inspiration. I was looking for a nice double-knit, perhaps, (once again not a t-shirt). Not a wool sweater knit (for year-round wearability). Maybe one of those nice silk-and-something mixes that are such staples in the marketplace. I thought, How hard could it be?

Following is a list of all the stores I searched, with no luck, for a simple black shell:
Ann Taylor
J Jill
Banana Republic
Coldwater Creek (yes I even snuck in there)
Black House White Market
Brooks Brothers
Ann Taylor Loft
J Crew

There were t-shirt shells— too clingy and stretchy and casual. They were lace embellished, lace in total, ruched, draped and beribboned black shells. There were shells as part of twin-sets in every color of the rainbow— except black (not in the rainbow I know). When asked if I could be helped, it was interesting that sales associates didn't take me at my word, and showed me all these variations on a black shell, including sleeves. Were they that desperate to make a sale or just not listening or caring? The one salesperson who didn't waste my time was the one person on the floor at J Jill. She commiserated that basics are so hard to find (and said she liked my hair).

I'd run out of time, and it was getting to be rush hour. We had movie tickets and nothing for dinner in the house. The car was parked near Macy's, one of my least favorite places in the world to shop. As I bee-lined through to the parking garage, guess what I saw? A four-way (as we say in the trade) of shells and cardigans in a silk blend by that venerable brand, August Silk. Every color in the rainbow PLUS black. The shell fit well and was a decent price. I also bought the cardigan, out of gratitude and fear that one day I might need that too.

August, if you are reading, thank you. And may I send you my list of other basics that have disappeared as well?
Will be worn all months including August

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Audrey and Her Funny Feet

Here's a little Audrey Hepburn story for you.

I think of two things when I put on a pair of white socks (which is only with sneakers and for a workout). The first is my mother's sure-fire sign that a man was a loser: white socks with dress shoes. The only man I've found who did that was my date for the eighth grade school prom. He was thirteen. The second is the story about Audrey Hepburn and the white socks she wore in "Funny Face".

Now I love your funny feet

Audrey's character, Jo, is excited to be in Paris where she hopes to infiltrate "beat" society. She is wearing a black turtleneck sweater, slim black slacks (a little on the short side) and black loafers. When she begins to dance a jazzy number in a smokey "boite" (unfortunately probably one of the weaker sequences in the film), her white socks are front and center.

Fred Astaire is not looking at feet

No matter that the director, Stanley Donen, has achieved his intent— to have you staring at Audrey's nimble feet. At the time, and for many years after, the white socks were a sartorial faux pas I was sure Audrey would not make. In a way I was right. She hated the idea and fought (Audrey fighting???) Donen to ditch the socks.

I've heard the story before, but this is is from an April, 2012, interview with Stanley Donen about working with Audrey:

She was wonderful.... We only had one disagreement.... On “Funny Face,” there was a scene where she danced in a black slacks and top. She said [I want to wear] black socks and I said no, white socks. She said it will ruin [the uniformity]. You can’t have white socks. I made a test with her in the white socks and she kept saying black socks. We were right up to the moment of starting the sequence. I went into her dressing room and said, “Audrey. We are never going to agree — you will have to wear the white socks.” She said all right. When the rushes came in she wrote me a little note: “Dear Stanley, you were right about the socks.” She was glorious looking. She was a lovely, lovely person. We stayed friends.

Studio shots for publicity + no white socks = mystery solved

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mash Up

Call this a Mix-Mash?

It's going to be harder to commit crimes of fashion this season as it's looking like such a brawl already. Neon with lace! Color blocking with lace! Neon with neon! Sailor stripes with lace! Neon sailor stripes!

While the runway shows for Fall 2013 were in fact heralding a return to some minimalism and interesting Shapes, the goods trickling into stores for Spring/Summer 2013 are baroque embellishments of what we started to see last year. A baroque period usually means austerity— or sanity— will shortly follow, so it's up to you how much you go for broke.

Jill Sander minimalism in my crystal ball

What's interesting is designer neon looks the same as cheap neon. Below are looks by Christopher Kane in NEON LEATHER LACE (that's three— count 'em— three trends together). Forever 21 is probably doing them in plastic as you read this (four trends). Just to show that the trickle-down effect sometimes really is a trickle, Christopher Kane's was from Spring/Summer 2011. Let's assume this will be the last season for it, so if you're a fan of neon, wear it now before the lights go out.
Way back when...
You just can't improve on the original Breton sailor t. Or can you? Brigitte Bardot's (and Pablo Picasso's and Chanel's) iconic shirt is never "out" but sometimes a little "far out". Hopefully the t-shirt won't go away, but isn't a sailor stripe with neon lace a little— well— outre?

Ne trop pas

For some reason a love letter to a crush is often called a mash note. So if you're loving the eggbeater whirl that is in fashion this season, and are a girl who just wants to have fun, have some, just not all at once.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Just an Old Bag

If there was ever a reason to brown bag lunch to work or school or just to the park, this is it. The Jill Sander coated paper lunch bag was shown in the Fall 2012 runway presentation so it's hardly breaking news. Evidently the bag, which retailed for $290 sold out at the Soho store. It followed a line of leather lunch bags that are really quite chic (and which sold for $690).

The coated paper bag inspired quite a run of tongue-in-chic do-it-yourself-ishness, of which this is an example:

If everything tastes better al fresco, how much better will it taste after it's traveled there in a designer paper bag?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Do You Iron or Steam?

This blog post will get you in hot water no matter your answer. It's a hot topic, for sure. But this is a burning question. No more puns, I promise.

There are presently three irons in my cupboard. Once was my mother's, guaranteed to scorch anything it touches as it has one setting: ON. But this was my gateway iron! I ironed handkerchiefs. And we all had 'em then. Kleenex was for colds. My dad's were easy (but big and mostly boring white). My mother's were pretty but tricky (the scalloped edges). My sister's were colorful and sophisticated. Mine were too Little Girl to suit me. Ironing handkerchiefs was therapeutic, but I think I did it only when I really truly ran out of things to do. The cord is quite frayed by now, so this would not be the iron to choose.
The other two irons have Teflon bottoms and many little jets and perforations for the steam and multiple settings. One is quite a bit heavier than the other as I thought weight might make the difference. Alas neither one iron as well as anything my mother ever turned out on Old Scorchie.

Then I discovered The Steamer. Not the little travel variety that spits and hisses at you with too short a cord. No, I mean the big mamma-jama beloved by retail establishments and photographer's studios the world over. This would be THE JIFFY STEAMER, from the world's largest and oldest manufacturer of wrinkle-removing products.
Be there in a Jiffy...

The Jiffy Steamer was invented in 1940 originally as an invention to steam men's hats. It replaced the old tea-kettle-on-a-stove approach to bending and molding felt. A garment steamer soon followed, and today the company makes 16 different models— from mini to industrial-grade. My love affair began as an assistant on photo shoots, lending a hand where needed. Speaking of hands, if you haven't burned yours on a steamer at least a few times, you haven't learned how to use one. It's part of the process.

The steamer makes short work of the most annoying aspects of garments— ruffles and sashes— and breezes through everything else. A steamer can "iron" material without mashing it down or leaving behind a dreadful shiny finish. It's as easy as ironing handkerchiefs though not as relaxing. Once burned, always alert.

It's a shame we don't have time to steam everything we put on the floor at the Lovely Boutique Where I Work, but we will always steam a garment for a customer who asks. Of course all the mannequins' clothing is steamed with virgin rainwater from the Peloponnese Mountains (just kidding). Someone named our steamer and wrote "Stanley" in permanent marker on the base.

My ongoing frustrations with finding a good iron and lack of enthusiasm for opening, closing and storing the ironing board (covered in leopard print though it may be) prompted me to look into getting a Jiffy of my very own. I was surprised to find the same Jiffy J2 used by the pros costs a reasonable $160. A lot for an iron perhaps, but not for something so quick, effective and fun to use (except for that learning curve thing).

So put me on the steam team, please.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Women We Love: Rita Moreno

Rita and a few friends on Sunday Morning

Did you happen to catch CBS Sunday Morning this past weekend? Rita Moreno was featured in an interview, and— well— you gotta love her. Possibly best known for her role as Anita in the film "West Side Story", Rita Moreno has (and is still having) a long career— and a lot of fun. At 81 she is a bundle of energy.

As the "Latin Liz"

Rita Moreno emigrated from Puerto Rico to the Bronx at 5. She was performing from an early age and made it to Broadway where she was discovered by Hollywood talent scouts. She had a few bit movie parts before being promoted as "the Spanish Elizabeth Taylor". The roles that followed were laughably stereotypical but did lead to meeting Marlon Brando (long and tempestuous affair) and Elvis Presley (to make Marlon jealous). She earned an Oscar for "West Side Story" in 1961 and is one of very few performers who are EGOTs— winners of an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony.

Better film roles did not automatically follow, but plenty of Broadway and television work did. Broaway credits include "Last of the Red Hot Lovers", "Gantry" and "The Ritz". TV appearances span the "Electric Company" to "The Love Boat", "Rockford Files", "Miami Vice" all the way up to a recurring role in Fran Drescher's latest, "Happily Divorced".

I've never heard anything negative about her. She comes across like a wise cracking broad in Tinkerbell's body. Adorable. She performed a one-woman autobiographical show in 2011 and has recently released a memoir:

Has she "had some work"? Well, maybe. She gets a pass. Could she ditch the floppy attire and distracting costume jewelry? Yea, maybe. Should she change a thing? Nope. Sometimes being who we are is the best person we can be.

If you can Hulu "Sunday Morning", see for yourself. She's a lulu.

Some Sunday morning high-stepping with Moe Larocca

Friday, March 8, 2013

Rachel, Rachel

I'm just sayin'...

I know I'm not alone in my fascination with stylist/designer/reality television diva Rachel Zoe. Not content to style her way into our consciousness via dressing red-carpet celebritites, for the past several seasons Rachel Zoe has helmed her own reality tv show on Bravo. By helm I mean she not only stars; she's the executive producer. I assume that means she knows what's being put forth about Rachel Zoe, the Mad Superwoman or the Super Madwoman (am still not sure).

My husband has an expression for it: "like watching a bad accident". I just can't turn away, and in fact have set my dvr to record every minute of the new season that began Wednesday night.

For the uninitiated, those without cable or those who are indeed able to turn away, Rachel Zoe chronicles the "life" of Ms. Zoe, a 41 year-old Hollywood stylist turned fashion designer as she attempts to juggle her uber-busy double— nay triple— life. The Woman You Would Least Expect to be a Mother now has a child. By all accounts she is bananas over him.

Yes there is a nanny, a driver and unseen house help. She still manages to make us feel for her poor, overextended self. I mean, it's obvious she doesn't even have time to eat. Rachel Zoe is slim bordering on anorexic. You can see it in the collarbones.

Men feature prominently in Rachel's life:
> Rodger, disheveled but sexy husband. He straddles the line between whipped dog and resigned enabler and will be played by Bradley Cooper in the movie version.
> Joey, hairdresser/makeup artist best girlfriend
> Skyler, adorable toddler (already trying on some high heels I'm just sayin'...)
> Brad Goreski, much put-upon former assistant who is now in his own reality universe. He appeared briefly on Wednesday's episode and was patently snubbed.
> Mandana, the VP, not a man but acts the part convincingly. She makes the tough decisions and tells Rachel how it really is.
Skyler and Rodger
With Brad in happier times
The best Man

What do we learn from watching The Rachel Zoe Project? There is such a thing as too thin? A fancy handbag will change your life? Rachel is a proponent of style without substance. It's also her way or the highway. While she respects the greats, she doesn't hesitate to mash up every fashion style in the last hundred years and call it her own. The show is less about fashion than it is about the business of fashion. And I'm always, always thinking: She knows what's being filmed and edited. Why would anyone want to show herself in this light?

Even though the tiffs may be fake and the anxieties played to the camera, there is an occasional whiff of genuine humanity, of who these characters may really be as people. If I've read too much into that, this production is indeed the greatest thing since sliced bread.*

* The origin of which was hotly debated in a New York City taxi on Wednesday's premiere.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Black and White and...

This riddle works a lot better if you are eight years old and asking someone face-to-face. Pretend.

What's black and white and read all over?

The answer? Ha! A newspaper!

What's black and white and red? Ha! Bill Cunnigham's "On the Street" in today's New York Times (newspaper) Style Section (aka Women's Sports). Graphic black and white morphing with black and red. We have Marc Jacobs to thank, perhaps, for initiating the black and white thing. Maybe we have Stendahl to credit for the red and the black. Bill's commentary sites red with black as popular in the '30s and '40s.

What we don't have is a mash-up of black and white and red. I'm going to make that happen when I wear my new Zara zebra print coat with red skinny jeans. The jeans are in the closet; the coat is on its way via UPS from Zara Central.

Blue will become red

Zara and I have a long, friendly relationship with coats. I think they make the most elegant and interesting in the fast fashion universe. Most coats drown my small frame. Theirs are cut along dressmaker lines. While they may not be the warmest in the world— needing scarves, layers, a hook-and-eye or two— they're cozy and chic enough for me to forgive Mother Nature throwing Texas a cold snap. Gee I hope it arrives before we warm up!

Friday, March 1, 2013

The New York Hat

"The New York Hat" is a 1912 silent feature directed by D.W. Griffith for Biograph Pictures from a screenplay by Anita Loos (she of "men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses"). Mary Pickford plays a poor small town girl who receives a gift of a fancy hat from New York City that causes a lot of trouble— for her and the hat. All ends well for Mary, but the hat is is a goner.

New York City has always been a fashion mecca. Remember, it was sold for beads. To say you bought it in New York...well! That gave it depth, provenance, justification and style. I've also discovered there were such things as The New York Store in nine small towns here in Texas, but that's history for another time.

When I was eight, my parents drove my sister and me to New York City. We stayed at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel (gone), ate at Rumpelmayer's (gone), saw a stage show at Radio City Music Hall with a movie (do they still do that?) and shopped at Lord & Taylor and F.A.O. Schwarz (both still around).

My mother and 17-year-old sister perused Lord & Taylor while my father sat there looking worried and counting his money. They both bought coats which were worn with great fanfare back in Cleveland as they were New York Coats.

My F.A.O. Schwarz shopping trip probably set the tone for a lifetime of Appreciating Luxury Goods. I had managed to pull together $5.00 from my allowance and birthday money for the trip. I purchased— drum roll please— one doll dress, for $4.98. It was a pale pink ruffled thing that was displayed protected under glass, so rarefied and pedigreed was it. The whole shopping expedition took less than five minutes. I have no idea why I didn't fill up my suitcase with dresses from Woolworth's for all my dolls ($5 in 1950 money = $48 today). For one thing we also had Woolworth's in Cleveland. This was (at the time) the one-and-only F.A.O. Schwarz. And Tina, the recipient, was— after all— my favorite doll.
Tina was definitely not Barbie

What was it that propelled me to give myself a thrill I still remember (and don't regret)? It was— drumroll again— the delicious excitement of walking into a store you might only dream about with money in your pocket you were ready to spend without thinking twice.

I rarely do that today and never in such a big way. Sometimes I'll buy the face cream I might get at Macy's from Saks instead just to tote around a Saks bag. Or I'll eat lunch at Neiman Marcus, which gives me gainful reason to be there and will only cost $15. This is not the same thing or the same thrill.

Supposedly both Elvis and my Uncle Herb bought automobiles with cash. Maybe I'll try that next time.

Beware— New York can be habit forming