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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Weekend Style Inspiration

The Bomber Jacket

Vintage leather bomber

Vintage leather bomber

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.

Imaan Hammam; via New York Magazine

Imaan Hammam; via New York Magazine

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Mariacarla Boscono; via New York Magazine

Mariacarla Boscono; via New York Magazine

Jean Damas; via Harper's Bazaar

Jean Damas; via Harper’s Bazaar

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Costanza Pascolato; via A Love is Blind

Costanza Pascolato; via A Love is Blind

 

Yoyo Cao; via New York Magazine

Yoyo Cao; via New York Magazine

Sarah Harris

Sarah Harris

Pernille Teisbaek

Pernille Teisbaek; via A Love is Blind

 

 

 

 

 

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Weekend Style Inspiration

1970s Redux It Isn’t

Saint Laurent Paris, Ready- to-Wear Fall 2016

Saint Laurent Paris, Fall 2016 Ready-to-Wear

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._AIT0476_AIT0050_AIT0763_AIT0394

 

 

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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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The Four Seasons of Vintage

Homesickness

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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.”

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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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Weekend Style Inspiration

Is Gucci Back?

Sofia Loren

Sofia Loren

Not since Gucci created the Jackie O bag in admiration of Jackie Onassis’s style, has Gucci been this exciting a brand to watch. Under the new creative direction of Alessandro Michele, the Spring 2016 Ready-to-Wear collection featured a mash up of venerable Gucci looks. The thing I pay attention to in runway shows is originality of design, and so I was skeptical when I first saw the recycled colors and prints on the runway. But ever a lover of vintage fashion, I quickly warmed to the collection. Michele’s reinterpretation and iteration of Gucci’s jet set past stands as a modern homage to that classic period. For those of us who cling to old definitions of style, the new Gucci is a spur to action, challenging our conception of contemporary elegance. In a world of fast fashion and endless product, the thing at stake now is individual style; it is only fitting that Gucci would once again be the fashion house to make the case for urbane chic.

Spring 2016 RTW

Spring 2016 RTW

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Jackie Onassis, 1970s with her Gucci bag

Jackie Onassis, circa 1970

1970s Gucci ad

1970s Gucci ad

A look from the Spring 2016 RTW collection

Spring 2016 RTW

Spring 2016 RTW

Spring 2016 RTW

 

 

 

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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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