Personal Style

Cut, Sew, Stitch Part III

Betty Catroux, Yves Saint Laurent, Loulou de la Falaise at the opening of the Saint Laurent Rive Gauche boutique in London, 1969 (Wesley/Getty Images)

Betty Catroux, Yves Saint Laurent, and Loulou de la Falaise at the opening of the Saint Laurent Rive Gauche boutique in London, 1969 (Wesley/Getty Images)

A month ago I went downtown to A Current Affair, an impressive Los Angeles vintage fair, and came home with a vibrant purple Yves Saint Laurent blouse. It’s always risky going to vintage fairs where many dealers, both local and from around the country, congregate to offer up their collections. Because there is so much temptation and very little time to think, a vintage fair can be a day of mixed emotions: from the joyful high you feel coming away with that one of a kind item, to the sorrowful regret you experience over holding back and returning home empty-handed. In my case, the happiness I felt buying an Yves Saint Laurent garment, was slightly blunted by the fact that I would need to remove the necktie in order to make the blouse modern and wearable. And so, the day after the fair, I planned a visit to my tailor.

Before: Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, early 1980s silk blouse from Siren Vintage LA

Before: Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, early 1980s silk blouse from Siren Vintage LA

After: with recut neckline, body and sleeves taken in

After: with recut neckline and shoulder pads removed; body and sleeves taken in

Though I’ve stood in my tailor’s studio many times over the years, contemplating what changes to make to a garment, this YSL blouse was different. Because of the removal of the necktie, a new neckline with a trim had to be constructed. Despite the fact that the necktie could still be worn as a type of scarf with the blouse and the original buttons and pleating remained intact, I felt a slight twinge of guilt at altering the 80s design. But through the process of disassembly, I came to see the blouse as something regenerated, a garment that enfolds the original while having a separate life from it. More than likely, in its original form, my blouse would have remained an inspiration garment for fashion designers, stored away in a studio –  frozen in time without a chance at a second life in a new setting.

I don’t think I’m kidding myself when I say that Saint Laurent himself would have approved of the transformation process – his Rive Gauche line was fundamentally about  experimentation and creativity. In a 1972 interview he explained his philosophy this way: “With ready-to-wear you can play around with the many parts of clothes and change them. In couture you can’t play with clothes.” After all, cutting and sewing is at heart about play and repurposing. Or put another way, it’s about the spirit of the idea taking flight.

 

 

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Weekend Style Inspiration

The Trench

With spring’s arrival I can’t help thinking of the trench coat. According to Women’s Wear Daily, it was Greta Garbo in the 1928 film, A Woman of Affairs who began the trend for women when she wore a tartan wool lined trench on set. Though I live in Los Angeles, where unfortunately it seldom rains, this doesn’t impede my ownership of several trench style coats. A quick scan of my closet reveals four: one in black cotton, another in tan heavy weight cotton, one in moss green wool, and a classic water resistant trench in beige. The ultimate age appropriate coat, the trench imparts a sophisticated tomboy air that is forever chic.

Greta Garbo on set in 1928

Greta Garbo on set in 1928

Lauren Bacall wearing Bogart's trench

Lauren Bacall wearing Bogart’s trench

Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn

Charlotte Rampling

Charlotte Rampling

Loulou de la Falaise; image Peter Lindbergh

Loulou de la Falaise; image Peter Lindbergh

Diletta Bonaiuti via Harper's Bazaar

Diletta Bonaiuti; image Tommy Ton

via Harper's Bazaar

via Harper’s Bazaar

 

Sofia Sanchez de Betak; Tommy Ton

Sofia Sanchez de Betak; image Tommy Ton

Costanza Pascolato

Costanza Pascolato

via Blueisinfashionthisyear

via Blue is in Fashion this Year

Tommy Ton

Tommy Ton

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Essays and Musings

Why Breaking the Fashion Rules Matters

In the mix: winter and summer - Vintage silk dress, feather scarf, Rodo wicker bag

In the mix: winter and summer – vintage silk dress, feather scarf, Rodo wicker bag

Why don't you wear a MM6 Maison Martin Margiela corduroy motorcycle jacket over a vintage silk cocktail dress and carry a vintage Walborg bag?

Why don’t you… MM6 Maison Martin Margiela corduroy motorcycle jacket, vintage silk cocktail dress, Walborg bag

Nora Ephron gave a commencement speech at Wellesley College in 1996 and said something I’ve cherished. “Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there.” This statement occurs to me each time I look in my closet, tasked with finding something to wear. Unlike many of my peers, I missed out as a child on experimenting with fashion. I was never one of those kids, who on the path to self-expression, masterfully paired clashing items of their wardrobe to create an improbably chic outfit. My sisters and I were closed off from this creative process: we wore a uniform every day from kindergarten through to eighth-grade. In the Catholic school atmosphere we grew up in, there was no room for sartorial experimentation.

A direct consequence of my uniform years is that, as a teenager and college student, I abided by the fashion rules. A lady doesn’t wear white after Labor Day; she matches her bag to her shoes; she doesn’t show her knees past a certain age; a lady avoids black, white and pants when attending a wedding. But rather than finding comfort in my execution of the rules, I often felt insecure in whatever I had on. I didn’t take any joy in getting dressed. Wearing all white in the summer made me uneasy, as did wearing dresses to weddings. In college, I didn’t understand why it wasn’t socially acceptable for a woman to wear a jumpsuit or even pants to formal events. Then, in my late twenties, when I was about to become a bride, I was cautioned on all sides against the color black and dressing in pants.

At this point, I knew it was time to rebel and break the rules: I wanted to be the bride who wore both black and pants. I also wanted to experiment with oppositions, combining those colors and fabrics that are conventionally seen as incompatible:  purple with burnt orange, burnt orange with green, navy with black, brown with grey, velvet with brocade, tweed with chiffon, and floral prints with military separates. And while we’re at it, why not mix winter fabrics with summer fabrics? And layer a tough chic motorcycle jacket over a ladylike dress? Let’s incorporate feathers and sequins into a traditional daytime look. But contrast and opposition are not ladylike. And society places a great deal of pressure on women to dress appropriately. In her commencement address, Nora Ephron, a rule breaker, recognized that women are encouraged to follow convention, to avoid taking risks, to be ladies.

Like Ephron, Loulou de la Falaise was the kind of woman who never bothered with the rulebook. A bohemian with whimsical style, de la Falaise met Yves Saint Laurent in 1968 and became his lifelong muse and collaborator.  A jewelry designer for the Saint Laurent house, she once described her style in a Guardian interview as tomboy gypsy.  In refusing to conform to various fashion decrees, de la Falaise was extraordinarily stylish. Shortly after her death in 2011, Hamish Bowles wrote in Vogue, “she provided a walking embodiment of what real style-personal, quirky, unexpected, inspiring-could be.”

It seems to me, that not following the fashion rules matters because in the process of jettisoning certain dictates and trends, you arrive at a point of discovery.  It’s a moment in which you come to recognize what it is you truly admire about fashion. It’s not rebelliousness for the sake of rebelling; breaking the fashion rules is far more complicated than that. When a woman wears what’s unexpected she demonstrates a fearlessness that’s both empowering and engaging. Because breaking the rules is honest-a woman is being true to her own unique style-and that’s awfully courageous.

Loulou de la Falaise

Loulou de la Falaise, Vogue 1970; photo Richard Avedon

Loulou de la Falaise with Yves Saint Laurent; photo Guy Marineau

with Yves Saint Laurent; photo Guy Marineau

Loulou de la Falaise

circa 2008; Rizzoli has just released the first monograph detailing the life and work of Loulou de la Falaise

 

 

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