I just picked up the latest vintage alteration from my tailor. This YSL silk satin fuchsia blouse was a lucky find that had never been worn but was several sizes too big. It needed to be taken in and the shoulders had to be recut. Inspired by vintage Vogue Patterns of Yves Saint Laurent creations, I asked my tailor to create a thinner necktie from the wide necktie fabric. The after photo, I think, shows the difference good tailoring can make in updating a vintage garment and keeping it wearable for many more years.
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.
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.
When I was a child the winter holidays fell into the two rough categories of food and style: traditional Italian dishes prepared by my mother and grandmother, and velvet dresses worn with patent leather shoes. Over the years I have held on to the traditional dishes while letting go of velvet dresses in favor of tweed pants, and the patent leather shoes have been replaced by waterproof nylon and leather. In recent weeks, my holiday style vocabulary has expanded to include fleece and Hot Chillys long johns.
I’ve traded cold and snowy New England for sunny and warm Southern California, New Year’s Eves in dimly lit restaurants and bars for the warmth and light of the desert. And this year, for my first New Year’s Eve on the beach, all my favorite things can somehow wondrously coexist – Italian food, the ocean, tweed, and base layers.
I’m encouraged as I write this by Robyn Davidson‘s words at the end of her story Tracks about her journey across 1,700 miles of Australian desert to the sea with merely four camels and her dog for company: “Sometimes I find these changes so upsetting…..other times I think that the homesickness is for an experience that could in any case never be repeated, and for people and ways of thought whose rightful place is in the past….Camel trips do not begin or end, they merely change form.”
I bought a vintage floral Rodo bag last Sunday and can’t wait to carry it out for dinner or drinks. As much as I’m hoping to expand my horizons by wearing it with tweed in the cooler months, I’m looking forward right now to pairing it with all black and gray. The nice thing about floral print objects is that even on gloomy days they will remind you of clear skies and warm breezes. And unlike real flowers with their fragile existence, my vintage floral bag, steadfastly alive, will be the repository of countless carefree memories.
Sometimes the simplest looks are the most energizing. I especially love clothes that are easy to wear without complicated shoes or accessories; elegant clothes that are suited to the everyday. And summer to me is the ideal season for showcasing such looks. Here are some of my favorite and inspiring nonchalant outfits for the warm months ahead.
Two new vintage items have come into my life recently, and except for writing this now, I haven’t spent any time second-guessing them. As I am not an impulse buyer, it’s a mystery to me how these objects happened so easily into my possession. When it comes to shopping, I have always adhered to a strict method, one which generally involves thinking long and hard about what I need before committing to a purchase. My process entails visiting the shoes or the bag or the garment in question at least two times, and then calculating how many items in my wardrobe the prospective object would reasonably coordinate with. Wary of the surge of emotion common to that initial moment of seeing, I’m rarely convinced by my first impressions. It’s happened on more than one occasion that I’ve gone back for a second meeting with an item only to discover I was wrong: it really wasn’t my style after all, or the piece that had obsessed me, now leaves me feeling cold.
I seldom doubt my hunches when I’m called upon by either friend or stranger to weigh in on a potential purchase. But even with the best of intentions there are bound to be flaws; my method tends to break down around vacations when I’m away from home. Feeling the pressure to make a decision on the spot, I have both followed through and walked away only to experience the same outcome: gnawing regret for my impulsiveness.
Though I would hate to think I’ve given up on mindful reflection, I’m thankful to the coup de foudre that brought a vintage Celine purse and a faux Mongolian lamb jacket into my life. Within the short span of two weeks, reason overturned, I embraced the surge of love at first sight, purchasing the items without hesitation; so far, I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. Both pieces are perfect for chasing away the chill and melancholy of a Los Angeles’ June gloom that has settled early over the city this year.
The other day, I got to thinking about the contemporary fashion designers whose vision I have consistently admired over the years. This list includes in alphabetical order: Nicolas Ghesquière for his past work at Balenciaga and currently at Louis Vuitton, Isabel Marant, Martin Margiela, Stella McCartney, Pheobe Philo, and Yohji Yamamoto. In trying to isolate why I’m drawn to these particular designers, a pattern emerged in my taste: natural fabrics, expert tailoring, a thoughtful regard for the past while looking forward to the contemporary moment – a knack for turning the classic on its head.
And so, it comes as no surprise that I happily watched the new short documentary about the Belgian designer Martin Margiela. An inspiring tribute to a groundbreaking moment in fashion gone by but not forgotten. Released with the support of YOOX Group, you can watch it here.
A few years ago, for the October 2012 issue of Elle Magazine, I wrote a short piece about personal style in which I referenced “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and the great influence Mary Richards, a single career woman living in Minneapolis, had exerted over my ideas of style. What I neglected to mention here in the Elle article is that in addition to watching reruns of Mary on TV, in my pre-teen years I also obsessively watched her friend, Rhoda Morgenstern. Hailing from a New York Jewish family, Rhoda was the more “ethnic” of the two women. Viewers saw in her and her occupation as a window dresser, the bold creative type alongside Mary’s midwestern professionalism.
The thing that made both these women special in my eyes was their independence and unique sense of style. While Mary, a television producer, favored neutral tones and sophisticated pants ensembles that erred on the side of minimalism, Rhoda consistently chose bright colors, prints and headscarves. She exuded a bohemian glamour that went against the grain of her traditional upbringing and overbearing mother. But both Rhoda and Mary displayed an admirable confidence in whatever they happened to have on for the day. In those years, my mind was captivated by the idea of stylish living, a lifestyle I knew nothing at all about but by which I was fascinated. And so, I gleaned from intensely studying these fashionable and funny women that great style is a reflection of one’s personality. Because of the ease with which they wore clothes, I came to believe that style had little to do with price or designer labels, and everything to do with attitude. In each episode it was comforting to know you could depend on Rhoda and Mary to put the best of 70s fashion on display for the cameras.
At this writing, it appears fashion is having a Rhoda and Mary moment. Judging from the myriad street style photos of the Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear shows, regardless of what’s being shown on the catwalks, people in the street have returned to seventies fashion: brightly colored prints, flared pants, light blue denim, suede, and colors like cream and camel. As for myself, this spring, I will not be getting dressed each day without first taking stock of what it is Rhoda and Mary would wear.