Each year in December A Current Affair brings together in downtown Los Angeles some of the best vintage dealers from around the country. The pop up vintage marketplace is a fun way to spend a few hours browsing vintage clothing and accessories from various eras. It’s a great place to shop for gifts or for an outfit for upcoming holiday parties. And if you love vintage like I do, it’s an opportunity to find that special piece to round out your collection of vintage accessories. I think the best thing about the show is the fact that you see women of all ages who are interested in buying and wearing vintage.
This weekend I am making preparations for a two week summer vacation in Greece – departure is scheduled for Wednesday, and I am judiciously considering what clothes to bring. When I first thought about packing for the trip, I looked through 1970s photographs of Jackie Onassis in Greece. The photos inspire with a wavy haired Jackie, dressed stylishly for dinner in the city or equally voguish, clad in flip-flops and a poet shirt over bikini bottoms on Skorpios. Though I will not be going to the Ionian islands but to Athens and Folegandros, a small island in the Aegean Sea, my ambition is to have the same fashionable ease and comfort as Jackie.
Glamorous images of the jet set aside, from what I can tell, there are two kinds of travelers: the doers and the planners. Those belonging to the first group pack a suitcase without giving the job much thought, simply pulling things from their wardrobe they would like to have along on the trip. This takes steady nerves and a general disregard for end results, as you may arrive at your destination only to realize you haven’t brought the appropriate clothes. The second group is the one to which I belong: a planner, I compile a list of the outfits I will need for each day’s activities. My tally includes accessories such as jewelry, bags, and scarves and takes into account the necessity for suitable shoes. This is perhaps the greatest burden of a planner: leaving behind your favorite high-heeled shoes. For if you fall into the second category, you are no doubt also a realist, and know from experience that you will never wear all the beautiful shoes you love while traveling.
And so, it comes down to the essentials for a Greek holiday involving some days in the city and some days at the beach. My list entails a swimsuit, floral pull-on pants for a cover-up, flip flops, a sunhat, an elegant pair of strappy wedge sandals for dinner, two pairs of lightweight sneakers for touring around, plenty of semi-sheer cotton shirts, four pairs of dressy pants, and a cotton summer jacket for evenings. Accessories are limited to three necklaces, one bracelet, two handbags – one for daytime, one for dinner. It’s important to note that all the shirts pair easily with the pants and can be seamlessly mixed and matched to create several distinct outfits. (Planners avoid checking luggage, preferring to travel light).
Though organized in my packing, I am open to the unexpected which travel brings us into contact with, immersing myself and seeing with fresh eyes all that is unfamiliar. As Emily Dickinson, I too, dwell in possibility and spreading wide my narrow Hands/To gather Paradise-
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.
At a social gathering in November last year someone asked me what I wear when I’m not dressed up. I am usually dressed for work or for a special dinner or for a party, and so the question got me thinking about how you present yourself to the world in a casual way. In my case, because I like a uniform, I stick to a general formula: top plus pants plus nice shoes or sneakers plus jewelry plus bag. I find many women, who pull off casual day dresses with great conviction and style, prefer them to pants when they’re not dressed up. While dresses do away with the stress of puzzling over what separates go with what, I favor pants for the everyday. The few dresses I own are vintage and belong to the category of special occasion.
Although I resist each year making any New Year’s resolutions, the weekend after the holiday, I spent time pondering the question of casual clothes. What constitutes a put together, or in today’s fashion parlance, effortless look? In evaluating the situation I had no choice but to confront my doggedness. You see, dear reader, when I find a contemporary designer who suits my silhouette and my sensibility I stick with them. You might suppose the realization of this fact in the new year of 2015 to mean I have come to reassess my intractability regarding designers. Not at all. From the holiday sale period to the current arrival in stores of the new spring collections, I have continued to be squarely focused on one designer: Isabel Marant.
Since 1998 when the first Isabel Marant store opened in Paris in the 11th Arrondissement, I have been obsessed with the label. Why does the Parisian designer attract me in this unfaltering way? Why when I’m not dressed up, am I wearing the designer responsible for spawning such trends as studded boots, the high top sneaker with the concealed wedge heel, lace dresses and Navaho print jeans? I had moved to the 11th with my husband in the fall of 1997 and so my first encounter with the designer’s clothes was at the original shop on Rue de Charonne, a few streets away from our apartment. (Humble beginnings for a brand that currently has stores in many cities throughout the world and is frequently photographed on celebrities.) That academic year in Paris, as a relatively poor twenty-seven year-old graduate student, I never dared purchase anything from the designer’s compact shop with the wooden interior. When I regularly passed by the window, occasionally stopping in, it was only to wistfully admire the glamorous bohemian appeal of the collection.
But for some twelve years now, with few exceptions, I have been wearing Isabel Marant. Her clothes strike the right note of casual chic: singular garments that do not call out for attention. All the same, can one have too much of a good thing? In considering the issue, I have come to realize that what I admire about Isabel Marant is her ability to evoke a particular mood. The pieces I am drawn to are never the wildly successful editorial ones. Instead, I am enticed by the quieter garments that emerge each season – the uncomplicated shirts and pants that mix easily with my wardrobe. In referencing disparate eras like the 1950s or the 1980s, and by reworking certain iconic American pieces like the t-shirt, denim, the military shirt, and the cavalry coat, Marant has a knack for elevating workaday clothing through cut, fabric, and print. These clothes rouse in me a nostalgia for clothing I owned at various stages in my life, or for clothing that is reminiscent of the understated wardrobe worn by French actresses in certain films I admire. I appreciate too the transparency of her aesthetic: her collections are clearly indebted to such venerable designers as Yves Saint Laurent and Issey Miyake. And like these heroic designers of the past, Marant consistently works with natural fibers. With so many contemporary brands in the same price point making clothes from synthetic fabric, her garments are produced in cotton, rayon, linen, wool and silk. Fashion today prizes disposable clothing but Isabel Marant’s pieces wash and wear beautifully over the years and can be easily found for resale on Ebay.
There is a nagging thought in my mind that someone who champions vintage clothing as much as I do should not be seduced by a contemporary brand reinterpreting American sportswear. But this is the rational mind at work – the old desire from that year in Paris is still in me, my regard for the label arising from the past, from youth. I cannot not shop for Isabel Marant. In this new year of 2015 I have learned that no amount of self-awareness or reflection can change what our hearts admire.