Friday, October 25, 2019

Stylish Read: "A Thousand Days of Magic"

"A Thousand Days of Magic" by Oleg Cassini was published in 1995, the year after Jackie Kennedy died. Cassini was a Hollywood costume designer turned fashion designer who died in 2006 at age 92. The son of a Russian count, he grew up in Europe and emigrated to America with his brother Igor, who became a celebrity reporter known as Cholly Knickerbocker.

Cassini, handsome and urbane, was his own best public relations team. He hobnobbed with society on both coasts and was married for a time to actress Gene Tierney. I first remember seeing him in the movie magazines on dates with Grace Kelly. He met Jackie through his relationship with the Kennedy family and became her designer-of-choice during the Kennedy administration, the thousand days of magic in the book title.

Cassini's life deserves a book of its own, which he did write ("In My Own Fashion"). He really was part of the White House "in crowd", invited to private parties in Washington, Florida and Cape Cod. There are "lampshade photos" in the book to prove it.

There is a little hyperbole—Cassini claims he was the first designer to be a celebrity in his own right and takes credit for almost all the clothes Jackie wore. He just doesn't mention her relationship with Chez Ninon, who copied Paris designs for her like the pink suit worn on that fateful day in Dallas.

Jackie probably would not have appreciated Cassini reprinting her letters to him (including her dress measurements), but they are fascinating to read, and he is kind and generous to her. She remains quite the heroine of "Camelot",  meticulous, articulate and fascinating.

Cassini designed over 300 articles of clothing for Jackie during that time—a staggering amount—but she was a very public First Lady and didn't like to be photographed wearing the same outfit twice. He also arranged for the accessories—shoes, hats, handbags and gloves—for each outfit.

While Cassini had his own ready-to-wear line, Jackie's clothes were considered couture and one-of-a-kind. They were constructed in Bergdorf Goodman's workrooms. The Nancy Drew in me uncovered a possible conflict. Cassini takes credit for the famous pillbox hat Jackie wore for Kennedy's inauguration. A recent documentary on Halston gives him the credit. Halston was Bergdorf's in-house milliner at the time. I see the real story being more of a collaboration...

What makes "A Thousand Days" special is that Cassini has arranged the book with his sketches for Jackie reproduced next to photos of her wearing the clothes. This is fascinating both to see how a design looks on paper versus the figure and how close the finished garments are to the original ideas.

Cassini had certain style tricks that are often repeated—big covered buttons, dropped waists, dropped shoulders, gentle A-lines, bateau necks (Jackie's favorite), a bow or beaded trim—all in the color palettes she preferred. Nothing looks particularly revolutionary today. In fact you could still wear everything, and I wish I had a few of those beautiful coats and dresses. What's important to remember is just how new it was for the time. Here was a beautiful young woman wearing the simplest yet most elegant things. The contrast between Jackie and any other woman in the photos is amazing.

Although mine was a library copy, I'm happy to say "A Thousand Days of Magic" is still in print. I know there are many tomes of a more serious nature on the Kennedy administration. This one captures its impact on the public and our fascination with Jackie from the beginning. Like the Kennedy saga itself, this book is one for the ages. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

What's Nuuly, Pussycat? Part Two

My post on Anthropologie's new clothes-for-rent service, Nuuly, garnered a fair amount of interest. I must confess I'm still thinking about it. Is it a good idea, the wave of the future? Does it only fuel our basest consumer instincts ("I want it all, and I want it now") with an even less admirable "but I don't want to commit"?

I also discovered Nuuly is not the only retail-related enterprise to join the wardrobe rental market. Ann Taylor, Express, New York and Company, Banana Republic and Vince are clothing landlords as well.

Why am I always surprised to find I'm not the first to know something???

This initiative caught my attention because I worked at Anthropologie for many years and would not have thought they would go there. But we are living in interesting times, and this is interesting.

Among readers of the blog only one person declared "never". She just does not like wearing clothes worn by someone else. Some were intrigued but will pass as they don't have the need or desire for a constantly changing wardrobe.

Those who love the idea also love Anthro and see this as an opportunity to further embrace the brand. One reader, Maggie, has already received three shipments from Nuuly (after being on a three-month waiting list). She thinks of this as a way to economize and have some fun too. So far she's quite pleased.

You don't have to join to browse Nuuly's many offerings—2,586 in various categories. It's not just Anthro. Product comes from all the Urban Inc. brands—Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Free People and a new one, Nuuly Vintage.

There is a lot of denim, and I mean a lot (502 pieces)—mostly jeans and jean jackets. Short of a bathing suit, nothing is harder to buy online than jeans. Nuuly member Maggie has her favorite brand and isn't even tempted.

A plethora of denim

I toyed with the idea of signing up and found a few things I liked but found in many cases that "All sizes of this item are rented". That leads me to believe Nuuly only has a size run on offer, not multiples.

Out of luck on this
The vast majority of clothes were super-casual or date-night specific. While I always felt even an older customer could find things to buy at Anthropologie, Nuuly has weeded out those more sophisticated pieces. But then I know perfectly well I am not the demographic Nuuly is targeting.

There seem to be many summery looks for being late in October.


Nuuly Vintage features much vintage denim and graphic tees from the past. I  assume the latter are dead stock. I can't imagine a sweatshirt from Carnegie Tech, which became Carnegie Mellon in 1967, would still be wearable 52 years later.

Old school sweatshirt

Nuuly Vintage offers some of the treasures we used to uncover at Army-Navy surplus stores, such as parka liners that retail here for $125. You can find these on Amazon for $30 or less.

Nuuly Vintage, $125
Amazon, $30

There are a half dozen or so designer pieces on the site (Loewe, Norma Kamali, YSL, Versace, Celine), hardly worth the bother I would think. The Versace was a pair of jeans in size 25 and out-for-rent.

Temporarily out of stock

What happens if you fall in love and don't want to send your new love back to Nuuly Ground Zero? That's why retail prices are included. You are offered a discount, but it can be random—anywhere from 9% to 45% off. Better not to fall in love with those Versace jeans, though. They list for $1500.

Oh, and I was right thinking Urban would have its own dry cleaners. "To support the logistics of the new company, Urban built a 300,000 square-foot facility outside of Philadelphia...Within that warehouse is a full-service dry-cleaning system, which Urban hired dry-cleaning specialists to run".

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

It Had to Happen: Anthropologie's Newest Shopping Idea

I've often joked I wish we could just rent our clothes. I love variety and am always tempted by the new. I've bought as many things I tire of quickly as pieces that last, and I am tired of that. Along comes Anthropologie with a new clothes rental service called Nuuly.

Full disclosure: I worked at Anthropologie for 12 years. My forte was being in the fitting room, guiding and suggesting. I was one of a half dozen associates brought to Philadelphia to develop the Personal Stylist program, and I'm proud to say I helped shepherd the program in its beginnings.

I never dreamed Anthro would come up with the various initiatives it has, from its brief stint in workout gear to its odd emphasis on beauty products, to eternal discounts (once as rare as hens' teeth) to offering plus sizes (formerly scorned upon). There have been some misses—the upscale Liefsdottier line and the BHLDN bridal line (still around but much altered).

The folks at Anthro central in Philadelphia have come up with another idea, and this sounds like a winner: Nuuly. It's a clothes rental service. I have no idea what the letters mean. Could it be "New You Truly"? Six pieces for $88. Wear them for a month with an option to buy or send them all back and pick out another six. No shipping or cleaning charges. Sounds too good to be true, BUT what a brilliant idea, and boy-oh-boy am I tempted.

If you've ever trolled the Anthropologie website you know how exhausting it can be. There is much more online, more than in stores. Some of it is quite pricey. Naturally those are the things I like. Nully has its own site for making selections. It's pretty extensive, featuring more Fashion pieces than Basics and including some of those pricier items.

One obvious downside is the usual one when buying clothes online: how will it look on you? One or two of your six choices will undoubtedly not make it on your back during the month. You will be out of luck if something needs shortening.

I worry about the company, too. They say you don't have to deal with cleaning or repairs. I assume all garments will be sent out newly refreshed. Does that mean part of the huge Urban campus will become a dry cleaning plant? Will you be advised not to drink red wine while wearing your white sweater? And is this truly a money-making proposition? $88 barely buys a t-shirt at Anthropologie. For those many thousands hooked on Anthro, will not that $88 satisfy the itch that might have been scratched spending so much more?

Will I try it? Well, as I said, I'm tempted, although I'm not lacking in clothes (an understatement). What I don't have is a five-days-a-week job or a dating life. n.b. I don't miss either. With a modicum of restraint, I think I'll pass.

When I was a little girl one of my favorite pastimes was leafing through my mother's catalogues and "choosing" what I would order. It was great fun to imagine going here or there wearing this or that. I must have spent hours pretending on rainy or winter afternoons. I have a feeling that's exactly what I will do with Nuuly.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Tie One On: The Pussycat Bow Blouse

Zara, $69.90

What's always in style but never (before now) a trend? What's been around forever but doesn't look old? The answer, my friend, is not blowing in the wind. It's the pussycat blow blouse, beloved of school marms, secretaries and fashionistas for decades.

This pussycat has been napping as nobody really wore one for years. It was romantic Hollywood fluff in the '30s and gave the power suit a feminine touch in the '70s. If you had one in your closet, you probably didn't have the heart to give it away. Now, rejoice, as the pussycat bow is having a moment.

Joan Crawford in the '30s
Iconic 1970s  Helmut Newton image

The bow-blouse trend is being seen at a wide range of retailers, from Neiman Marcus... Banana Republic.

My favorites are at Zara, who offers a huge selection, at reliably reasonable prices. I scrolled so you don't have to.

Zara, all $39.90
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  
Zara, all $49.90

How to wear it? So you don't look like a school marm or a secretary, wear a bow blouse with some irony—as part of a menswear look (ie casual work pants)...

Zara, $39.90

terrorizing the neighborhood in black leather...

Zara, $39.90

thrown on oh-so-casually over denim...

Zara, $39.90

Of course, you can always go full Hollywood pairing it with satin, brocade or velvet. You can even leave the bow untied. Just don't trip.

Zara, $25.99

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Clearly 2020


You are going to see so many riffs on "2020" as the year approaches, you might as well get used to it. As a kid I thought about 2000. I would be so old! It turned out I was 58. I've never thought ahead to 2020, but here it almost is. You can do the math.

Vanessa on the job

The 4-city marathon of shows (New York, London, Milan and Paris) has just finished. As reported by the lovely fashion editor of the New York Times, Vanessa Friedman, and distilled by Elizabeth Paton, we now have a sneak peek at trends for Spring 2020.

The Row

L O N G   S H O R T S
I would like to think this trend was influenced by my reporting on how awful women look wearing short shorts in the city as tourists. Alas, long shorts keep trying to be a thing. Street style stars love them; real women not so much. But longer and fuller shorts may have a chance. Not much different than a mini skirt, yes?

Bottega Veneta

S U P E R   S I Z E   B A G S
So much for the fanny pack trend. 2020's bags are bigger than ever. We women can't leave anything at home after all. Start doing your shoulder exercises now.

Bottega Veneta
Alberta Ferretti

O R A N G E   I S   T H E   N E W   B L A C K
Really. Orange and variations like apricot and saffron were seen everywhere. Not the easiest color to wear, you will stand out. Obviously do not pair orange with black.

Christopher Kane

C U T!
Besides the usual midriffs and bare shoulders, designers treated fabric to further punching and perforating in a deliberate manner. We are not talking shredded anything.

The 70s Ferragamo Rainbow sandals
Aquazurra, Spring 2020
S E V E N T I E S   S H O E S
Bring out the clunkers! Those chunky, colorful shoes are back. We almost broke our necks on them, but they were fun. Perhaps saner versions will emerge.

Christian Siriano
S U M M E R   S K I N S
It's never too hot for animal prints, which were hot hot hot for fall. Spring will see more prints than fur (faux or otherwise), snakeskins and jungle foliage touches.


2 0 2 0  I N   T H E  1 8 T H   C E N T U R Y
The ruffles, poufs, jacquards and florals of 18th century European courts (as in off-with-her-head) were popular for their gender-bending possibilities as much as their sheer romanticism.

Once again it's a bit "anything goes" and "what goes around comes around". If you can say one thing about fashion, it does keep going.