So happy to watch a new Azzedine Alaia documentary by the stylist Joe McKenna. The short video, which has been released online, is intimately shot with footage of the designer in his showroom and studio. What is so inspiring about Alaia is the fact that he has never veered from making clothes the old-fashioned way: using fitting models and his own designs and patterns. The admiration of designer Nicolas Ghesquiere and critics Suzy Menkes and Cathy Horyn makes clear why Alaia is a master craftsman still working successfully outside of the fashion system. You can enjoy the video here: https://www.joesfilm.com
In my late twenties, newly diagnosed with cancer, I lived in Brooklyn, and under the care of a kind and gifted oncologist did treatment at NYU Medical Center. That year of treatment happened to coincide with the terrorist attacks of 9/11; in fact, my very first chemotherapy round of six monthly doses, occurred two weeks before the unforgettable morning of September 11th. The timing meant that my hair had begun to fall out in chunks on that day. I found it on the pillow when I opened my eyes and later, on the shower floor. If you’ve ever experienced this kind of catastrophic hair loss, you’ll know how unnerving it is. At the age of twenty-nine, I wasn’t prepared for going bald, let alone for having cancer. I didn’t own any clippers and was at a loss as to removing the remaining scattered patches of hair; in the chaos and fear immediately following the attacks, the bridges and subways were closed, making it impossible to get to my hairdresser in Manhattan.
So I called a friend who lived in Park Slope, and asked him if he could shave my head. Accompanied by my husband and by my friend’s partner, we all four went up to the rooftop that looked out towards Manhattan. In the empty horizon you could see two rising columns of black smoke where a day earlier the World Trade Center Towers had stood. I still have the before and after photos. From time to time I look at my husband posed with his arms encircling my waist, the sky falling behind us as a backdrop, bluer that I remember it being that day. In one photograph I have hair and in the other I don’t.
You might think that I got used to the idea of having cancer and of being bald, but I struggled against the image of outsider, the image of someone to be feared because of her condition. And so I immersed myself in the bright and deceptive world of TV and cinema. Submerged in this fantasy realm, I was free to identify with iconic women who had the wherewithal to make it through. One woman stood out in particular: Mary Richards. Mary was a great favorite from numerous childhood years of watching TV. Mary Tyler Moore’s iconic character was my heroine: a stylish woman who used humor along with courage to move gracefully through the day-to-day. She fearlessly bucked the trend of wife and homemaker, seeking independence instead. Today, with so much uneasiness about the future, alongside the hopefulness of the recent Women’s March on Washington, Mary Richards’ ability to make it after all remains profoundly relevant.
I’ve written before about Mary’s influence, and on this day of Mary Tyler Moore’s passing, I am sharing here as a tribute, the article published in Elle magazine.
If you’re looking for inspiration this holiday season, it’s worth checking out the latest Yves Saint Laurent exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum on view until January 8, 2017. The show will travel on to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts from May 6-August 27, 2017. But if you can’t make it to the museum, the exhibition catalogue by Rizzoli offers a multidimensional look behind the scenes of Yves Saint Laurent. After looking through my copy yesterday, I think the book would make a great gift for yourself or for the fashion lover in your life. Highlights include many previously unseen documents from the Fondation Pierre Bergé and Saint Laurent’s maison de couture or paper doll collection fabricated out of cut paper when the designer was only a boy. Click here for a look at the current exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum.
I spent two weeks in early September in Italy, a country to which I traveled with a small suitcase containing three vintage purses. I feel compelled to reveal that after diligently visiting various vintage and consignment shops in Rome and Naples, I came home to Los Angeles with three more purses, a bracelet, a sweater, and a pin. When I travel to a foreign city, I always make time for vintage shopping. It’s not only a great way to explore different neighborhoods but one of the best ways to make new acquaintances with people who live and work in the area. Though vintage is not as hotly pursued in Italy as it is in the United States, you will find small shops with edited and very affordable collections of Italian designer brands, such as Missoni and Valentino. And for a fashion jewelry lover, the most unexpected and thrilling shop I visited was Fabio Piccioni, a bigiotteria in Rome. In addition to boasting an extensive collection of coral jewelry and sparkly tiaras, Fabio’s store is stacked floor to ceiling with all manner of costume jewelry.
Here below are the shops I visited and the treasures I found.
A few months ago, my husband and I decided it was time to visit Italy again. Since booking the airline tickets and renting an apartment in Rome’s Centro Storico, I have been in a muted state of anxiety over what to pack. Despite the fact that I’ve been traveling to Italy on and off since childhood and am wildly excited to once again walk the streets of Rome, I feel bad about my vacation wardrobe. The truth is, since about my thirties, I always fly into a panic before a trip abroad. If you saw my wardrobe, you would politely say there was no need to panic. After all, it looks as if I have all the necessary basics. But that is just the problem: the basics. When it comes time to pack for a two-week trip, practicality retreats and fantasy takes over. In order to explore the streets of a European city, I suddenly feel guilty about choosing sensible outfits. It seems as if the least I can do is to make the effort to approximate through my clothes the mystique of the cities I will be visiting.
This, I find, is harder to do when you are a woman of a certain age. How to look casually glamorous in comfortable shoes for sightseeing and walking on cobblestones in ninety-degree heat? Today’s trends – the charming floral mini dresses, the sweeping boho skirts, the high-waisted, wide leg pants worn with a midriff t-shirt, the kimonos paired with cut off denim shorts are not tempting options. It seems in the words of Linda Wells, former editor-in-chief of Allure magazine, speaking with Cathy Horyn in 2007, “The choice is to wear something juvenile or be a total killjoy.” Despite the shift in trends and the fact that the options for women’s clothing have expanded exponentially over the years, Wells’ comment rings as true today as it did back in 2007. In refusing youth driven trends and low quality fast fashion chains, I sometimes feel like I am resorting to normcore by stubbornly adhering to my personal style. This, dear reader, is the reason why the last few days have found me craving the kind of clothes Audrey Hepburn wore while living in Rome with her second husband, the Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti.
That I turn to vintage photos in order to inspire my packing doesn’t greatly surprise me; just before sitting down to write this, I began going through photographs of Ingrid Bergman in the 1950s Rossellini films, “Stromboli” and “Journey to Italy.” In flicking through the film stills, I realize it is not just the glamour projected by these images of Bergman or the stylishness of the paparazzi shots of Hepburn that I am after. Rather, the images impress me with the ease and confidence of these women of a certain age. Instead of the typical girlish movie star photographs, these pictures document grown-up faces and experiences. When Bergman starred in “Stromboli” she was in her thirties and had just begun an affair with Rossellini that would cause a scandal in the United States for producing a child out of wedlock. The Roman photos of Hepburn reveal a woman in her forties, in her second marriage, raising her son from her first marriage; these are not the better-known “Roman Holiday” pictures of the ingenue in her twenties, floating about the ancient city in ballet flats. In a time when blogs and fashion magazines regularly preach to women about age appropriateness, the images of these two fashionable and graceful women make the claim for considering proper fit and quality before age. Maybe the focus should shift to what’s suitable for one’s body and lifestyle – ageless dressing – over what is age appropriate.
As I begin to pack, I comfort myself with fantasies of a new definition of basic: tailored, well-made clothes in durable fabrics that can be worn many times and personalized with accessories. (I’m thinking vintage and sustainable fashion here). Could it be what’s old is truly what’s new again?
Back from my tailor, a vintage Yves Saint Laurent blouse. I think the before and after photos really demonstrate that proper fit matters.
When I was a child I spent the summers in Italy and the winters in New England. While this may not sound like much of a significant formative experience, it set the course for how I feel about tailoring. It was the 1970s, and I had a doll named Emily who was better dressed than I was. Her clothes were custom made while mine were off-the-shelf. She had two tailors: my mother, who cut the fabric and operated the sewing machine, and my grandmother who finished the details by hand.
Summering in Italy and wintering in New England meant that Emily needed the right clothes. Her winter wardrobe focused on print dresses, pants, and long sleeve shirts, while her summer wardrobe included sundresses and the perfect red bathing suit for the beach. I grew up surrounded by the hum of my mother’s old Singer sewing machine, flanked on all sides by various baskets, heaped high with spools of thread and buttons and scraps of fabric. Despite my grandmother’s repeated attempts to teach me how to sew buttons and to stitch by hand, I never developed any real skill beyond threading a needle. My passion seemed to lie in the process of tailoring rather than in the actual mechanics of sewing. I loved choosing the fabrics for Emily’s clothes and watching the cloth take shape into a finished form.
If my mother and grandmother are to blame for my appreciation of tailoring, they are also to blame for my general state of rapture when it comes to vintage. As a teenager, I learned the pleasure of hunting through old clothes – a pleasure that was partly derived out of necessity – as my mother’s deep-seated thrift prohibited spending on designer items. Unlike today, when wearing vintage is considered both coolly sophisticated and environmentally conscience, donning secondhand clothing in the 1980s branded the wearer with a distinct air of the alternative. Those were the days of Laura Ashley and the Gap and Jessica McClintock. While it’s true, at least in the 80s, that vintage clothing became more socially acceptable through the influence of movies like “Pretty in Pink” and images of pop culture stars like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, it still wasn’t something that many teenagers and college students openly embraced.
Not too long ago, I read a quote by Diana Vreeland that really struck me. “I always say I hope to God I die in a town with a good tailor…” No one has taught me more about the transformative power of adapting clothing to the wearer’s specifications than my beloved tailor, Tatyana. Hailing from Kazakhstan, where her sartorial training included engineering, Tatyana has a fundamental knowledge of construction and a grave regard for fit. Although proper fit is generally acknowledged as the hallmark of notable style, most people would never buy anything secondhand that required alteration; for them it is too great a chore. But I am convinced there may be some readers who, like me, derive satisfaction from the process. The allure of vintage lies in its ability to speak to both memory and metamorphosis: you are able to quite literally take a garment that is too big and perhaps too evocative of another era (think mountainous “Working Girl” shoulders) and reshape it into something that harmonizes with the present. Rather than a destructive act, the tailoring process celebrates the past, and reincarnates it, washed free of any melancholic nostalgia.
I don’t think I am fooling myself when I say tailoring is my greatest luxury; the sea change it affords is deeply gratifying. As a daughter who has had a lifelong fraught relationship with her mother, the collaborative process of alteration is a means of staying connected to the happiest and most cherished times with my mother. Reconstruction of the vintage clothes I buy strikes me as an attempt at understanding, an attempt to control the outcome. It’s as if all the youthful hurt might be redeemed through this simple act of transformation.
Over the span of our twelve-year relationship Tatyana has altered countless vintage blouses and dresses. Each time the result is the same: I recapture both that childhood wonder at watching a garment transform under capable hands and the echo of the lost intimacy with my mother and grandmother. Maybe all along I have been chasing after the traces of this lost relationship, the cuttings and threads of maternal care, of maternal love. And the vintage fabric that is proof it all existed.
I wasn’t really prepared to buy a brooch this week, and it may have been impulsive on my part, as it comes on the heels of having purchased a charm bracelet last month. Though I love fashion jewelry, and regularly wear a necklace, I had never really thought about owning a brooch, or for that matter, a charm bracelet. The truth is I don’t know for how long I have wanted such a bracelet. Possibly since the 1980s, after seeing a Chanel perfume commercial in which Carole Bouquet sports an extravagant charm bracelet with a red suit. My attraction to brooches is recent, a desire born only a few years ago at a dinner party in Los Angeles. After meeting a woman of advanced style who wore a remarkable brooch against her simple black blazer, it suddenly occurred to me how wonderfully sophisticated owning a brooch would make me feel.
The fact that these traditional pieces of jewelry reveal divergent tastes doesn’t trouble me. On the one hand, there is the brooch, regal and glamorous, conjuring images of the Duchess of Windsor, impeccably dressed and groomed. And on the other, there is the charm bracelet, girlish and flirty. The bracelet I acquired last month is a Napier from the 1950s, the heyday of the charm bracelet before it fell out of fashion during the women’s movement. As soon as I saw it I knew it was the most perfect of things: constructed from pearlized Lucite and styrene beads in Easter egg colors that the Napier company called “moonstone pastels.” Completely impractical, a charm bracelet garners smiles as it clinks with each step you take, with each wave of your hand. It clangs brightly, keeping you company when you are home alone or out driving. As for the brooch, I discovered the ideal one on EBAY from a seller in Louisiana. A vintage Oscar de la Renta, it is resplendent with its faux pearls and center crystal.
Despite having written about fashion jewelry here, I neglected to mention that charm bracelets and brooches are the showboats of any outfit. Both are rich in historical connotation: the brooch dates as early as the Bronze Age when it was used as an indication of ethnicity and class, while from pre-historic times the charm bracelet was worn as an amulet to protect against the evil eye. Today, in an age obsessed with the practicality of the iPhone and the Apple Watch, to wear either a brooch or a charm bracelet is to be reminded of the joy that the quixotic still has the power to shower over us.
I have wondered why it is only now, in my middle years, that I am embracing the brooch and the charm bracelet. The only satisfactory answer I have come up with is that as the world accelerates its championing of all things utilitarian and technological, the more the antiquated and the superfluous – things lacking any real use value – rise in appeal. Vintage objects tell a story, their beauty is not impersonal. Beckoning from beyond, they help us to stay connected to an ever receding past.
Although I live in Los Angeles, a city in which outerwear is more of an accessory than a requisite item, in my closet there are many coats. There are also many blazers. What there was not, until exactly six days ago, was a bomber jacket. After a Saturday car ride over the hill to Burbank I came home with a vintage 90s leather bomber jacket in raspberry red. Maybe it is just a coincidence that the bomber is back in fashion, but I don’t know how I managed to do without it for all these years. Originally worn by pilots in World War I, and later redesigned by Leslie Irvin who set up a manufacturing company in 1926 supplying the Royal Air Force during World War II, the bomber’s appeal spans many decades. Pairing equally well with skirts, dresses, and high waisted pants it’s both a functional and stylish wardrobe basic. Here are some of my favorite contemporary interpretations of this classic.
Hedi Slimane showcased Part I of his Fall 2016 Ready-to-Wear show for Saint Laurent on Wednesday night at the historic Palladium here in Los Angeles. As a vintage lover, I had resisted the rebranding of the fashion house when he took over as creative director in 2012. But this show stole my heart. The looks were lush and sophisticated and modernly elegant. An abjuration of both normcore and the fashion dictates of good taste, Slimane’s Part I showing convincingly recalled the best of Yves Saint Laurent’s 70s tailoring and silhouette. Yet the strength of the collection lies in how it turns YSL’s iconic pieces on their head, through such modern touches as sharp leather jackets worn with silk brocade skirts, velvet tuxedo jackets layered over sequin tops, and the high/low combination of strict houndstooth menswear suiting with metallic leather boots. What’s most compelling to me about this kind of dressing is the offhanded nature of juxtaposing your Sunday best with your weekend casual. Shows like this get the imagination churning and always inspire me, when I’m confronted with what to wear, to think a bit differently about pairings.