The Four Seasons of Vintage

Winter

On the beach with my husband

On Cayucos beach with my husband

I am writing this from Los Angeles after having spent last weekend at the beach in the Central Coast. It is warm and sunny outside. A light breeze is gently rocking the shade against the window in my study. My husband and I have rigged a Christmas tree in one corner of the living room and placed colorfully wrapped gifts beneath it. Our dog lies close to the fragrant branches.

Up until ten years ago, the Christmases I knew were cold and sometimes rainy, or if we were lucky enough, they were just the right amount of fluffy white. I can’t say I miss the experience of a cold setting for the holidays; there is something both energizing and soothing about a temperate backdrop at this time of the year. And from a sartorial perspective, there is no beating the satisfaction of wearing open toe shoes with a cashmere coat.

But what I have always valued above the setting of Christmas are the friends and family you spend the days with, and with whom you experience all the many rituals. These holiday memories have proven over the years to be truly seasonless.

Bedford Winery, Los Alamos

Bedford Winery, Los Alamos

 

 

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Essays and Musings

Some Remarks on Allure

Anna Karina and Barry Newman in the 1972 film version of The Salzburg Connection

Anna Karina and Barry Newman in the 1972 film version of The Salzburg Connection

On a winter afternoon in 1987, shortly after my sixteenth birthday, I visited an elderly neighbor who was cleaning out her daughter’s room, and came away with a novel that singlehandedly changed my view of style. The neighbor’s daughter had moved out some years earlier but her books had remained. Patiently lining the shelves, they waited for her to pick up from where she’d left off reading. My expectations in going were low. There was quite an age difference between the daughter and I, and in looking through the many books, I was doubtful there would be any that would appeal to a teenager. With some relief and not a small amount of surprise, I pulled a thick paperback entitled Decision at Delphi from a pile ready for Goodwill. The book cover design was decidedly from a previous era. It featured a slim, wavy haired brunette with a look of fear on her face and a camera around her neck. She wore a bright pink sleeveless shift dress and a smudge of red lipstick. Her only accessory was a pearl bracelet. In the shadow of the marble columns behind her crept a man in a tan suit. The cover boasted the words: straight from the best-seller lists another magnificent novel of suspense by the incomparable Helen MacInnes. A quick inspection of the copyright revealed the year 1960.

With so much changing in my life at the time, getting my driver’s license, beginning to work after school and thinking about colleges, I was transitioning from girlhood to adulthood. Although since the age of nine I had been traveling to Italy with my family to visit my grandparents, I longed for independence and adventure. As far as I was concerned, a grown up trip to a faraway place like the temples of Greece had all the hallmarks of glamour. Intrigued by the cover image, I wanted to learn everything I could about the author who was responsible for creating such a story. At the local library I discovered that Helen MacInnes was Scottish and the wife of a classics scholar and MI6 British intelligence agent, Gilbert Highet. The couple moved from England to New York City in 1937. Highet taught at Columbia University, continuing with his job as an intelligence agent, while MacInnes wrote twenty-one espionage novels over the years. She died in 1985, publishing her last novel one year earlier.

What strikes me most in a MacInnes novel is both how accomplished and stylish the heroines are. They are outspoken career women who get tangled up in international intrigue, and as a bonus, end up finding their true love. Like James Bond, they are well dressed and impeccably groomed while fighting against Nazis and cold war terrorists. Though most of her novels are written from the perspective of the male character and set during periods of history in which gender roles and expectations were far more fixed than they are today, MacInnes managed to create the kind of appealing heroines that even I, as a sixteen year old growing up in a mill town, could imagine knowing. They were the self-assured, capable women I fantasized about becoming. MacInnes’ heroines didn’t apologize for their femininity and soft edges. But this doesn’t mean they dressed for men. Her heroines dressed to please themselves and through their intelligence and nonchalant style they piqued the interest of the male characters while garnering their respect.

I realize MacInnes’ bestsellers will never be required reading for aspiring feminists. But her books revealed to me a world in which women could be themselves. They could live a glamorous life, working and traveling and exploring the world with as much flair as any man.

That winter I knew I was so taken by the 448 pages of Decision at Delphi that I borrowed and read every Helen MacInnes novel available through my local library. What I did not know then, was that five years later I would find another of her famous paperbacks at a postcard shop in Santorini. There, in the harbor I would wait for the ferry to travel to Crete with the man I would eventually marry. And we would read together of a dark lake in the Austrian Alps as we crossed the sea.

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Weekend Style Inspiration

Girls with Glasses

After years of sticking with my contact lenses, I recently bought eyeglasses. Here’s to girls who wear glasses….

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly

Rihanna

Rihanna

Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett

Eva Mendez

Eva Mendes

Christina Hendricks

Christina Hendricks

Sophia Loren

Sophia Loren

Iris Apfel

Iris Apfel

My new glasses

My new glasses

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Personal Style

Marie

Marie works as a sales assistant in Burbank at one of my favorite vintage stores, Playclothes. She’s a gamine from Brittany who has a knack for effortlessly mixing vintage pieces with contemporary clothes in a playful chic way. Here are her answers to my seven essential style questions.

Target sweater and vintage leopard pants

Target sweater and vintage leopard pants

What do you find glamorous?

Glamour for me could be a low cut bias satin gown with barely any jewelry, or jodhpurs with a white shirt. It’s really about an understated elegance.

Who are your favorite designers?

Oh, I have a few! Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier, Sonia Rykiel and I will add Vivienne Westwood to keep things fair with all the French.

How would you describe your style?

I usually mix contemporary and vintage pieces, so I would say my style is eclectic. I like whimsical or unusual costume jewelry. I particularly love the look of the 1960s’ New Wave. My favorite hobby is to go thrift store shopping; it’s like a treasure hunt. Lots of my favorite pieces come from these outings.

What scent/perfume do you wear?

I have been wearing Eau du Sud by Annick Goutal. But for an evening out, I like to wear Jardin de Bagatelle by Guerlain. I love the scent of vanilla. Occasionally, I’ll wear Eau Sauvage by Dior; although it’s a men’s cologne, it brings back memories…

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

I actually have a lot of things! When I fall in love with something I usually keep it forever. But there are two things in particular that I’m attached to. I have a pair of black cigarette pants I bought in France about twenty years ago. They have kept their timelessness and go with everything. I also have a collection of Breton striped shirts. It is rather an embarrassing addiction because I’m from Brittany.

Who are your style icons?

I really admire Jane Birkin for her casual androgynous style. There is nothing better than a good pair of blue jeans with an oversized white shirt or sweater. I also love Charlotte Rampling and appreciate how gracefully she is aging. Lauren Bacall is forever a great source of inspiration.

What have you learned about style over the years?

To be daring. I don’t believe in following trends and think using your imagination is so much more interesting. It’s important to know your body and what works with your shape. Clothes are a means of self-expression; I see getting dressed in the morning as my little art project.

Elbow details on Target sweater

Elbow detail

Flea market find

Necklace constructed from flea market find

 

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