Personal Style

Cut, Sew, Stitch Part III

Betty Catroux, Yves Saint Laurent, Loulou de la Falaise at the opening of the Saint Laurent Rive Gauche boutique in London, 1969 (Wesley/Getty Images)

Betty Catroux, Yves Saint Laurent, and Loulou de la Falaise at the opening of the Saint Laurent Rive Gauche boutique in London, 1969 (Wesley/Getty Images)

A month ago I went downtown to A Current Affair, an impressive Los Angeles vintage fair, and came home with a vibrant purple Yves Saint Laurent blouse. It’s always risky going to vintage fairs where many dealers, both local and from around the country, congregate to offer up their collections. Because there is so much temptation and very little time to think, a vintage fair can be a day of mixed emotions: from the joyful high you feel coming away with that one of a kind item, to the sorrowful regret you experience over holding back and returning home empty-handed. In my case, the happiness I felt buying an Yves Saint Laurent garment, was slightly blunted by the fact that I would need to remove the necktie in order to make the blouse modern and wearable. And so, the day after the fair, I planned a visit to my tailor.

Before: Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, early 1980s silk blouse from Siren Vintage LA

Before: Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, early 1980s silk blouse from Siren Vintage LA

After: with recut neckline, body and sleeves taken in

After: with recut neckline and shoulder pads removed; body and sleeves taken in

Though I’ve stood in my tailor’s studio many times over the years, contemplating what changes to make to a garment, this YSL blouse was different. Because of the removal of the necktie, a new neckline with a trim had to be constructed. Despite the fact that the necktie could still be worn as a type of scarf with the blouse and the original buttons and pleating remained intact, I felt a slight twinge of guilt at altering the 80s design. But through the process of disassembly, I came to see the blouse as something regenerated, a garment that enfolds the original while having a separate life from it. More than likely, in its original form, my blouse would have remained an inspiration garment for fashion designers, stored away in a studio –  frozen in time without a chance at a second life in a new setting.

I don’t think I’m kidding myself when I say that Saint Laurent himself would have approved of the transformation process – his Rive Gauche line was fundamentally about  experimentation and creativity. In a 1972 interview he explained his philosophy this way: “With ready-to-wear you can play around with the many parts of clothes and change them. In couture you can’t play with clothes.” After all, cutting and sewing is at heart about play and repurposing. Or put another way, it’s about the spirit of the idea taking flight.

 

 

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Essays and Musings, Personal Style

Making It After All

MTM4In 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.

Mary Tyler Moore, 1970s

Mary Tyler Moore, 1970s

Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards

As Mary Richards

 

 

 

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Essays and Musings, Personal Style

On Packing

Ingrid Bergman, "Stromboli" 1950

Ingrid Bergman, “Stromboli” 1950

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.

Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, Santa Marinella, Italy 1950s

Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, Santa Marinella, Italy 1950s

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?

Ingrid Bergman, "Journey to Italy" 1950

Ingrid Bergman, “Journey to Italy” 1950

Audrey Hepburn and Andrea Dotti, Rome 1971

Audrey Hepburn and Andrea Dotti, Rome 1971

Audrey Hepburn, Rome 1972; image by Lino Nanni

Audrey Hepburn, Rome 1972; image by Lino Nanni

Audrey Hepburn with her son, Sean, Rome 1972; image Girani Reporters Associati

Audrey Hepburn with her son, Sean, Rome 1972; image Girani Reporters Associati

 

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Essays and Musings, Personal Style

The Look of Love

Vintage Viktor & Rolf jacket

Vintage Viktor & Rolf mohair jacket

With the excitement of back to school clothes already come and gone and with Halloween costume season currently in full swing, I have been contemplating the question of how much men notice what women wear. It’s sometimes happened that women I’ve met while shopping, have lamented the clothing purchased for them by their special someone: brightly colored loungewear, patterned onesie pajamas, ankle length floral dresses, impossibly high-heeled shoes, and sexless architectural shapes. The main problem, from what I can tell, is that they are given clothes that don’t bear any relation to how they see themselves or to how they wish to be seen by others. I am not persuaded that such misguided choices, which women find dispiriting, are proof of men’s inattention to a woman’s individual style. I am not sure it is an indication of a blindness or of some kind of myopic distortion. And I think women would feel better about a man’s vision of the female wardrobe if they understood it most likely has its roots in childhood fantasies.

My introduction to how men see women’s clothes came when, unemployed and in my middle thirties, I arrived in Los Angeles from New York. Having left the East Coast for the foreseeable future, along with my job teaching Italian at The Fashion Institute of Technology, I decided it was an opportune time to try my luck as a middle and high school English teacher. Though students at FIT always took notice of whatever I happened to be wearing in class (usually with the intention of learning how it was made) it wasn’t until I taught thirteen and sixteen year-old boys that I got a true sense for how the opposite sex thinks about women’s clothes. I noticed right away that save for the occasional addition of a sweatshirt, the boys typically dressed in jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers every day of the school year. Though their clothes gave me no cause to suspect they harbored any interest in fashion, on more than one occasion, the boys looked upon my wardrobe as an object of fascination.

Viktor & Rolf Fall 2002 RTW in blue on the runway

Viktor & Rolf Fall 2002 mohair jacket in blue on the runway

There is a fundamental contradiction in teenage boys: they are as direct in their observations as they are equivocal. It wasn’t uncommon in the middle of a lesson to have a student raise his hand only to ask a question about the logistics of what I was wearing. Could the two columns of buttons on a Dries Van Noten cardigan be buttoned on either column? Was my cropped black Viktor & Rolf utility jacket with large pockets on the chest a Soviet army issued military coat? Certain silhouettes and fabrics, I discovered over time, were associated in their minds with the things they had some familiarity with – historical figures about whom they were reading or classic films or individual cultural reference points, with a good dose of pop culture thrown into the mix. On one school day I wore a vintage Givenchy necktie dress and several of the boys remarked that I looked like Anne Frank. In a 1980s Cerruti oversized chartreuse sweater I reminded them of iconic rap stars they had seen on TV. Rather than shying away from their perceptions, I welcomed the chance to understand the mechanics behind male associations with women’s clothing. And, as though to bring things full circle, for Halloween I wore a silk YSL necktie blouse with wide leg trousers. Students had a hard time pinpointing who I was embodying but after a few broad hints, they eventually guessed I was trying my best to look like Jackie Onassis.

I’m not sure if the boys learned anything about a woman’s personal style from the outfits I wore that school year. But I came away with a solid belief, reinforced over the years by anecdotes and by personal experience, that men not only notice what women wear, they create narratives around clothes, perhaps as much if not more than women do: a graffiti print handbag reminds one man I know of Woodstock, while for another, a Margiela wool trench coat evokes images of captivating female spies. Almost every runway show by male designers from the recent Spring 2016 Ready-to-Wear collections is full of elaborate sets and fanciful themes, and Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton gives credit for his show’s inspiration to a favorite boyhood film, the 1982 “Tron.” Clicking through the runway images, I notice that the male designers far outweigh the female creative directors in their use of intricate concepts. Proof, I think, of what most women learn merely by evaluating the bewildering clothing gifts from the men in their lives: our projections are bound by the youthful imaginings of what we find familiar.

I am convinced women should not be so quick to judge; the sartorial fantasy men construct around their significant other is simply the look of love.

Louis Vuitton Spring 2016 RTW

Louis Vuitton Spring 2016 RTW

 

Vintage 1970s YSL blouse

Vintage 1970s YSL blouse via 1stdibs

My vintage Givenchy dress

My vintage Givenchy geo print dress

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Personal Style

Tracking a Mood

“You gotta have style. It helps you get down the stairs. It helps you get up in the morning. It’s a way of life. Without it, you’re nobody. I’m not talking about lots of clothes.” –  Diana Vreeland

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart

Katherine Hepburn

Katherine Hepburn

image Rick Smolan

Robyn Davidson; image Rick Smolan

Nikki Giovanni, c 1968 (Photo by Pictorial Parade/Getty Images)

Nikki Giovanni, c 1968; Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn

Edie Sedgwick

Edie Sedgwick

Bianca Jagger

Bianca Jagger

Stevie Nicks

Stevie Nicks

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Personal Style

Eva Fontanelli

A stylist and fashion editor for Elle Italy, Eva Fontanelli is not afraid of color or print. I love her playful but very grown-up style that incorporates feathers and sequins into daytime wear. Though thoughtful, her look is never studied which makes it all the more charming. Whether wearing neutral tones or vibrant colors, she projects an unselfconscious air that never fails to inspire.

image Tommy Ton

image Tommy Ton

via The Sartorialist

via The Sartorialist

via All the Pretty Birds

via All the Pretty Birds

via A Love is Blind

via A Love is Blind

via The Sartorialist

via The Sartorialist

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Personal Style

Robyn Davidson

image Rick Smolan

image Rick Smolan

When Robyn Davidson, an Australian writer, was twenty-seven years old she set out on a nine month trek across the deserts of west Australia, from Alice to the Indian Ocean. In 1977, accompanied on her 1700 mile excursion by her dog and four camels, Davidson agreed to write about her experience for National Geographic. The photographer, Rick Smolan documented her progress, capturing breathtaking images of Davidson’s journey. In response to the overwhelming attention she received after returning home, Davidson wrote her story of the adventure, Tracks which was adapted for film in 2013 and stars Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver. The film is not only remarkably faithful to Davidson’s account but to her personal style, recorded by Smolan’s images with such beauty and empathy.

After seeing the film and learning more about Davidson through her book, I fell in love with her bold curiosity, resilience, and compassion. In looking through Smolan’s photographs, I couldn’t help but notice how contemporary Davidson’s clothing appears and was struck by her words: “I liked myself this way, it was such a relief to be free of disguises and prettiness and attractiveness. Above all that horrible, false, debilitating attractiveness that women hide behind.” In Smolan’s photos, Davidson appears unselfconsciously at ease, projecting a natural elegance and an unassuming beauty.

So much is made today not only of finding one’s personal style but of having the ability to articulate it. In her self-possession Davidson offers proof of real style: knowing who you are and being comfortable in your own skin.

Image Rick Smolan

image Rick Smolan

462832599rick smolan

With her friend Jen who flew out to meet her

With her friend, Jen who flew out to meet her; image Rick Smolan

Journey's end: at the Indian Ocean

Journey’s end: at the Indian Ocean

With her dog, Diggity in 1977; image Rick Smolan

With her dog, Diggity in 1977; image Rick Smolan

At the Australian premiere of Tracks in 2013

At the Australian premiere of Tracks in 2013

 

 

 

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Personal Style

Megan

Megan is a sales associate at Stella McCartney in Los Angeles. She’s a tall brunette who radiates an unexpected charm that’s equal measure rock chick glamour and girl next-door sweetness. On a recent sunny afternoon, we sat down in the garden behind the store and chatted about style.

FullSizeRender[3]What do you find glamorous?

A good mood.

Who are your favorite designers?

Stella McCartney. It’s shocking that more designers aren’t taking a stand against animal cruelty and inhumane practices like she has. It is an honor and a privilege to work for such a mindful and revolutionary brand.

How would you describe your style?

Artful, classic, experimental, and fun!

What scent/perfume do you wear?

Byredo’s Bal d’Afrique.

Is there anything in your wardrobe that you are purely emotionally attached to?

Everything and nothing. I have become less attached to the clothes I’ve collected along the way. But I can’t part with pieces I have inherited from my Dad, like his vintage Porsche sunglasses, or beautiful items I’ve discovered while living and traveling abroad: the Sonia Rykiel silk embroidered jacket I found in Paris, a sterling silver ring I purchased in the south of France, and my first Doc Martens boots my brother bought me in New York City, circa 1991.

Who are your style icons?

My Mom. She’s beautiful, tall, and carries herself in such an elegant way. I am also drawn to musicians who have incredible visual charisma like Poison Ivy of The Cramps, who I saw back in Omaha, Nebraska in the 1990s, Patti Smith, and Debbie Harry, who I saw perform in Lawrence, Kansas in 1996 at the Nova Convention Revisited.

What have you learned about style over the years?

Style is personal; for me, it is always evolving. I love the art of dressing and observing how others compose their looks. I’ve always enjoyed taking photos and making drawings, maybe in an effort to preserve and remember how we live, how we decorate our lives.

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Personal Style

Maria Luisa

Maria Luisa Poumaillou; via Garance Dore

Maria Luisa Poumaillou; via Garance Dore

The Venezuela born buyer Maria Luisa Poumaillou, who helped begin the careers of Helmut Lang and Jean Paul Gaultier, along with many other fashion stars, died Tuesday of cancer. In 1988 Poumaillou opened the doors to her eponymous boutique Maria Luisa in Paris, famous as an important shop selling well known designers alongside up and coming new talent. While this is by now a familiar store concept, with the likes of Kirna Zabete in New York and Maxfield in Los Angeles or Colette in Paris, it was ground breaking at the time. In reading about Poumaillou, I was greatly touched by her elegance, innovation, and confidence – she credited Martin Margiela as an inspiration that helped her to keep her business going – and in a past interview with Business of Fashion her words offer encouragement to all those pursuing their vision: “You’re only good at what you really love. So, be true to yourself. Be daring and keep a very open mind.”

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