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

Cut, Sew, Stitch

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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.

Melanie Griffith, "Working Girl" 1988

Melanie Griffith, “Working Girl” 1988

Madonna, St. Marks Place, 1983 by Amy Arbus

“Madonna, St. Marks Place, 1983” by Amy Arbus

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.

Tailored to fit: 80s Amen Wardy silk blouse (Recess LA) with vintage Ann Demeulemeester blazer

Tailored to fit: 80s Amen Wardy silk blouse (Recess LA) with vintage Ann Demeulemeester blazer (Resurrection Vintage, LA)

Before: 80s Oleg Cassini silk jacquard blouse (Recess LA)

Before: 80s Oleg Cassini silk jacquard necktie blouse (Recess LA)

After: with recut shoulders and neckline

After: with recut shoulders and neckline; body and sleeves taken in

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Essays and Musings, The Four Seasons of Vintage

A Report in the Spring

Carole Bouquet, 1980s Chanel Advertisement

Carole Bouquet, 1980s Chanel advertisement

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.

The Duchess of Windsor's 1940 flamingo brooch by Cartier

The Duchess of Windsor’s 1940 flamingo brooch by Cartier

The Duchess of Windsor and Prince Edward of Wales, 1942

The Duchess of Windsor and Prince Edward of Wales, 1942

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.

Vintage Oscar de la Renta faux pearl and antique gold brooch

Vintage Oscar de la Renta faux pearl and antique gold brooch

1950s Tropicana charm bracelet by Napier

1950s Tropicana charm bracelet by Napier

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Essays and Musings

What’s In a Bag?

Hitchcock's Marnie, 1965

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Marnie,” 1965

Since the beginning of 2016 I have bought two new purses, one in Los Angeles at a favorite vintage shop and the other from an EBAY seller in Michigan. To tell the truth, the one from the vintage store was actually purchased with a gift certificate to which I only had to add $2.09. But whatever the mitigating circumstances may be, I am guilty of having wanted and of having purchased two new purses within the span of two months. Though friends may think otherwise, this recent shopping flurry strikes me as out of character. You see, dear reader, despite having written about my love of vintage Rodo bags here, I have never considered myself a “bag lady.”

Through the years I somehow managed to circumvent the trap of the “it bag,” and with the exception of my Rodo bag collection, I had successfully avoided purchasing bags in any color other than black. A handbag seemed to me a utilitarian necessity of the modern woman’s wardrobe, allowing her to travel comfortably out of the home to work, to the gym, or to dinner in a restaurant.

Despite having seen Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and “Marnie,” it never occurred to me that a purse could accrue anything more than simple use value. And though I am not completely convinced by Freud’s theory linking purses and vaginas, from the first moment I saw a particular cherry red vintage Gucci shoulder bag, I didn’t care that it wasn’t black or that it didn’t serve any real function other than being a thing of beauty. Purchased four years ago, it still makes me happy every time I carry it out. Over time my perspective on purses has shifted, allowing me to see how they personalize an outfit much in the same way as jewelry does. And so, emboldened by the Gucci purchase of a non-black bag, last year I bought a vintage Celine candy red purse, and just last week from the seller in Michigan, a navy blue one. When it comes to evening bags, of the two vintage cocktail purses I own, neither one of them fits a phone or for that matter, much more than a driver’s license and lipstick. Decidedly not modern, these bags are for going out with your husband, as they are ill-equipped for a set of house keys.

Rear Window, 1954

“Rear Window,” 1954

I realize that the most extravagant bag purchase happened in January, when I spent the entirety of my gift certificate on a wooden hand painted Timmy Woods purse: a reclining smiley Saint Bernard dog that stingily fits a photo ID, a credit card, a Kleenex, one key, and a lipstick. On the first day I took it out to dinner and placed it on the table, I remember the reaction of a child seated nearby. Little more than six years old, she pointed and exclaimed to her mother, “Look, Mommy, look!” On another occasion, while I was in line at the bank, a woman approached me and asked if she could touch my purse. I have never owned anything that elicited so much attention and frankly don’t know if I’m comfortable with that level of exposure.

How did I end up at the age of forty-five owning both a vintage Kelly bag and a vintage dog purse? There is an obvious contradiction here in desire. A love of the high and the low: the refinement and exclusivity of the Kelly alongside the cheerful silliness of the wooden Saint Bernard. Freud’s theory of purses aside, the common thread uniting these bags is that they are vintage. Though from time to time I may flirt with the idea of buying and owning a new designer bag, I never veer off course in my exclusive interest in vintage bags. In this, if not in anything else, at least I am consistent. I suppose it is the nostalgia for another time as much as the craft and quality that anchor me to vintage. And I have to admit that the joy of the pursuit means a great deal to me. It is as gratifying to search for a particular bag, as it is to wait for it to appear in unused condition and for the right price.

Even if some of you reading this are like me and don’t consider yourselves bag ladies, wouldn’t you agree a bright pink version of the navy blue Celine purse would make the perfect bag for spring?

Vintage Timmy Woods, Celine, Gucci, and Walborg bags

Vintage Timmy Woods, Celine, Gucci, and Walborg bags

 

 

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Essays and Musings

Outward Bound

Marmot rain jacket

Marmot rain jacket

Heavy rains have descended on the Pacific Northwest recently, causing flooding and power outages, along with some tragic deaths. All I know of these storms is what I read on the various internet weather sites. I live in Southern California, a region that is only rarely visited by such storms. I heard about flooding in Portland, Oregon just this morning, too late to think about turning back: my husband and I fly out from Los Angeles early on Sunday. It will be my first trip to the Pacific Northwest, and the weather forecast is predicting rain with snow for our weeklong stay in Oregon.

My fanciful vision of Portland, full of bearded men who knit and tattooed women who embrace a natural beauty, has become overshadowed by the threat of severe weather for which I’m not accustomed to dressing. Because I will need to be prepared for both city and country (we’re planning on doing some glamping and a fair amount of hiking and waterfall seeing) about a month ago, when I began to make a mental list of clothes to bring, I discovered that I had none. The fact that up until two weeks ago I owned neither fleece nor any waterproof clothing, did not greatly surprise or panic me, as I have lived in a deluded ignorance of wet weather for the past thirteen years. Despite a closet full of coats in various styles, on most days, regardless of the season, I have no need of any outerwear at all.

My recently acquired Pacific Northwest wardrobe includes but is not limited to the following: a Columbia full zipper fleece, a pair of Ex Officio stain and water resistant pants, a Marmot waterproof seam taped jacket with an attached adjustable hood that rolls into the collar, and a pair of Nike Kynsi waterproof boots. I am most excited by the Marmot jacket that boasts a chin guard. As it turns out, the fulcrum upon which my new Pacific Northwest wardrobe rests is the base layer – athletic shirts made out of breathable fabric that wick moisture away. Though I had never before heard the term base layer and needed the sales assistant to explain its meaning, a sense of pride washed over me when I realized that I already owned three of them.

Dressing for place and climate have always been as important to me as dressing for the occasion. It’s only in this way that you are able to forget yourself a bit in order to immerse yourself in the new. I’m optimistic my wardrobe will put me at ease with the weather and make me thankful for the quiet days spent outward bound.

Columbia fleece, Ex Officio pants, Nike boots

Columbia fleece, Ex Officio pants, Nike boots

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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 vagaries.

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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Essays and Musings

In Defense of Fantasy

David Bowie Ziggy Stardust

David Bowie Ziggy Stardust

I can’t say for sure how many days I have been thinking about it, but recently, I have been thinking a lot about prints. I suppose it is the natural outcome of poring over images of spring and fall trends which have saturated my eyes with a print revival: gingham, floral, bohemian, 60s Mod, and 70s Ziggy Stardust. Prints used to belong to other decades, evoking powerful images of times gone by, but now they are unmistakably contemporary, worn as they are in a modern world where more and more people don’t have to get dressed or even leave the house to go to work.

In discussions about prints with people I know, I’ve observed some strong reactions that fall into the category of love it or leave it. For some, prints evoke a nostalgia for the glamour of past generations, serving to enrich the wearer. For others, prints are associated with heaviness, succeeding only in weighing down the wearer under a riot of color and patterns. In thinking over the question of prints, I keep coming back to one of the Italian words for pattern- fantasia– a word that anchors prints to the realm of dream or make-believe. Could wearing prints make you somehow less serious or realistic than someone who wears neutral solid colors?

Although I am no expert at summing up my style in two or three easy words, I have an image of myself as having a playful, classic look, with a wardrobe based on subdued pieces. And so, over the weekend I was stunned, when, while seeing my hairdresser, I heard myself singled out as a print wearer. I had never before regarded my wardrobe as welcoming of print, nor had I ever realized just how much print I actually wear until my hairdresser, a young man in his twenties, made the observation. Though recently I had gone so far as to try on various tops in gingham and floral, I hadn’t dared cross the line into actual ownership. But here was someone who had known me for several years and who saw me in a way I could not or would not see myself.

After returning home from my appointment, I looked for evidence of my excess, and there it was, plainly on display in my closet: the many brightly colored and patterned vintage blouses worn happily over the years, the recent acquisition of striped shirts, floral pants, the checked blue and white Balenciaga knit bought on sale three years ago, the 80s fuchsia and green floral dress purchased last year, the vintage Ungaro black and white plaid jacket, the multicolored vintage Missoni knit jacket, the tweed suit I got married in in 2000. Why had I refused to acknowledge my affinity with prints?

In the 1990s, minimalism ruled in fashion casting a shadow over the extravagance of 1980s’ shapes and patterns. After graduating from college in the early nineties, I got the message that standing out in a print could hamper one’s chances of being taken seriously in the professional world. Bold prints and exuberant colors suggested the free spirited unruliness of the wearer. And so, in an attempt to blend in, I hid my love of prints and embellishment in a restrained wardrobe full of brown, black, gray, and navy solids.

I have to laugh now when I think about how unaware I was of this attempt at disguise that apparently fooled no one but myself. What makes the return of prints so attractive to me today, is that it is unmistakably modern for both women and men to wear fanciful dress without the risk of being tagged unprofessional. At last, in my middle years, I’m at peace with my youthful attraction to fantasia and all that it connotes.

Missoni vintage knit jacket

Missoni vintage knit jacket

Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga knit

Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga knit

Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Louis Vuitton

Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Louis Vuitton

Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Lanvin

Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Lanvin

Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Saint Laurent

Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Saint Laurent

Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Dries Van Noten

Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Dries Van Noten

Spring 2015 Ready-to-Wear Altuzarra

Spring 2015 Ready-to-Wear
Altuzarra

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Essays and Musings

Souvenirs

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Back home in Los Angeles, nearly two weeks after my recent trip to Greece, I’ve been looking through the many tourist photographs accumulated on my phone. One set of pictures strikes me in particular: the images of the window and door coverings of houses on Folegandros. After several days in Athens and Hydra, my husband and I stayed for a week on this serene Cycladic island. Already wistful for the days spent hiking along goat paths to arrive at various beaches where we would spend the afternoon, in our last hour on the island, we strolled through the Castro – an area built like a fortress located in the village of Chora – past some of the oldest buildings on Folegandros. Under the intense afternoon sun my eyes were drawn to the pristine and delicately embroidered curtains which shaded the brightly colored windows and doors of the white washed houses. The care and time involved in creating and maintaining these fabrics seems indicative of an old way of life without regard for modern touches such as blinds (which require neither ironing nor mending); a world which does not overlook the smallest of details for the sake of convenience.

As I look now at these photographs I see that my shadow is reflected in some of them. I hope this trace of my presence on the island will serve as a talisman to keep the stillness and simplicity of those days alive in my psyche, at least for a little while longer.Unknown-8Unknown-4Unknown-5Unknown-6Unknown-7

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Essays and Musings

Dearly Beloved

Vintage Thierry Mugler dusty rose ensemble

Vintage Thierry Mugler dusty rose ensemble

A few summers ago a stylish older acquaintance took me out to tea at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills and then invited me over to visit her closets. I got to look through a lifetime’s worth of vintage dresses, jackets, coats, feather boas, and boots. After I tried on some items she had pulled from a deep corner of one of her neatly organized walk-in closets, I came away with two vintage pieces by Thierry Mugler – a lipstick pink bolero jacket and a dusty rose ensemble: a jacket, with signature Mugler snaps, and a pair of matching short shorts. Despite never having worn the shorts, I regularly wear the jacket with casual pants and the bolero over sleeveless dresses. That afternoon ranks high in my memory for its treasure hunt aspect as much as it does for its display of generosity. I had never before seen such well-manicured closets; impressed by the experience, I vowed from that day on to cultivate the habit of regularly cleaning out my closet.

Even for someone who takes pride in having an edited wardrobe, it’s not an easy thing to dispose of one’s belongings; everything entering a closet puts down roots. Women’s fashion magazines are full of advice about getting organized for such a chore. Their recommendations usually break down into categories: items you’ve never worn and/or have forgotten owning, small sizes that you hope one day to fit into, trendy items in outlandish colors or prints, nostalgic pieces such as concert t-shirts or the cutoff shorts you cheerfully wore in your youth, and the bridesmaid dresses you were obliged to buy. Invariably, the verdict comes in in favor of dispensing with these groupings.

I’ve added over the years to the above categories the following shorthand criteria: selling the clothes I’ve grown out of, gifting others to friends, and passing along items to Goodwill. In a matter of hours, having satisfactorily completed the job of sorting, I could bask in my success at maintaining a functional wardrobe. Knowing what to store for future use is the most challenging aspect of closet cleaning. It’s difficult to part with a pair of shoes, once cherished, that have long since begun gathering dust, when you don’t know if in subsequent years you will want to wear them. Objects with purely sentimental value are far easier to handle, as they take hold of you, stubbornly defying every attempt to remove them with their continued promise of happiness.

Now, in my forties, burdened by the decision of what to disperse and what to keep, I find myself clinging to the items in my closet. This may in large measure be due to the fact that after years of being so careful about the things I have kept and the things I have disposed of, I’ve finally reached a point where each object has been so thoughtfully considered that the idea of letting go strikes me as impossible. It’s likely that there are people who don’t regularly clean out their closets and regard such an undertaking as cold hearted. How could anyone ever part with something that in the face of all reason they had at one time so desired?

In thinking it over, I can’t say I have ever regretted the things I’ve disposed of. Rather, it’s happened on more than one occasion that I’ve felt remorse over what I did not acquire. To me, regret lies in what we haven’t allowed ourselves to experience first hand, or what we haven’t given ourselves the freedom to know.

Parting with certain wardrobe items is akin to setting off on an unfamiliar path, one less encumbered by the past. I’m usually happy to see my things go to another home. I like to think I’m giving my possessions a chance to live on in a new setting, as my beloved Mugler jackets have come to experience an afterlife of sorts since arriving in my closet, one memorable summer afternoon.

Vintage Thierry Mugler jacket

Vintage Thierry Mugler bolero jacket

 

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