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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Weekend Style Inspiration

Cut, Sew, Stitch Part II

Back from my tailor, a vintage Yves Saint Laurent blouse. I think the before and after photos really demonstrate that proper fit matters.

Before: vintage Yves Saint Laurent silk polka dot blouse

Before: vintage Yves Saint Laurent silk polka dot blouse (Recess LA)

After: with recut shoulders, body and sleeves taken in

After: with recut shoulders, body and sleeves taken in

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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

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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Weekend Style Inspiration

The White Bag

Rodo, Firenze

Rodo, Firenze

I broke a six month old vow of not adding to my current Rodo bag collection when I bought a white faux reptile bag two days ago from an Ebay seller in Tennessee. Since last writing about the origin of my desire for these vintage Italian bags here, I gifted three bags to various loved ones, leaving me with eight bags. The catalyst for my unforeseen purchase I chalk up to the resurgence of white bags in fashion. And so, it is likely that right along, without being aware of my intentions, I had begun harboring the notion of acquiring one. Though white never seemed particularly suited to my wardrobe or to my sensibility (I’ve always felt more at ease with black or neutral or jewel tone accessories) it may be that after so many years of living in a city with year round sunshine I finally understand the charm of the white bag. It pairs well with all black ensembles, with pastels, and with bold prints, imparting both a carefree and jet set look to the wearer. I’ve made up my mind to love my new Rodo bag and to carry it without second guessing the purchase.

Now I can only hope that when this newcomer to the circle arrives, sometime next week I’m told, it will like me as much as I am inclined to like it.

My current Rodo bag collection

My current Rodo bag collection

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Personal Style

Aurora Sansone

A fashion editor at Vogue Nippon, Aurora Sansone is one of my favorite Italian stylists. She has a knack for blending color, texture and print, and as an admirer of menswear styling, Sansone adds the right feminine touches to her borrowed from the boys pieces, resulting in a sophisticated but uncomplicated look. I find her manner of dressing particularly inspiring, however, because of her instinct for wearing vintage pieces in a modern way. In expertly mixing contemporary fashion with vintage clothing and accessories, Sansone’s style is wonderfully charming and unassuming.

Milan Fashion Week Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear; image Tommy Ton

Milan Fashion Week Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear; image Tommy Ton

image Phil Oh

image Phil Oh

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Here, in this short video she shares her ideas about style with New York Magazine.

 

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Essays and Musings

Heroine Chic: Some Thoughts on The Blouse, Part II

Gillian Anderson, "The Fall"

Gillian Anderson, “The Fall”

"The Fall" BBC/Artists Studio/Steffan Hill

“The Fall” BBC/Artists Studio/Steffan Hill

In October last year I published a post about Lauren Bacall and my fascination with the blouse as the ultimate wardrobe staple of the heroine. After recently watching both season one and two of “The Fall” with Gillian Anderson, I am reminded again of the power of this feminine garment. In nearly every episode Anderson, as Superintendent Stella Gibson, wears a silk blouse to work at the police precinct in Belfast, Ireland. Rather than apologizing for her femininity, Stella, much like the heroines Bacall portrayed in the 1940s, dresses attractively. She is not interested in hiding in men’s style suits and sensible shoes in order to prove she is the detective in charge of the investigation of a serial killer. Rather her self-possessed authority becomes vested in soft blouses and heels: in her very womanliness.

What struck me most in watching the series, is Gillian Anderson’s inspiring portrayal of a capable and sensitive woman in command. She is the kind of seductively outspoken character that was once common in film noir, but that is unfortunately rarely seen on contemporary TV. Through the role of Stella, Anderson projects a powerful femininity that is as convincing today as it was in the 1940s.

At this writing, I’m optimistic enough to assert the return of the blouse as the quintessential symbol of heroine cool.

Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall

Rita Hayworth; image George Hurrell, 1942

Rita Hayworth, 1942; image George Hurrell

Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca

Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, 1942

Jackie Kennedy

Jackie Kennedy

Aurora Sansone; image Sartorialist

Aurora Sansone; image Sartorialist

Viviana Volpicella

Viviana Volpicella

 

 

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Essays and Musings, The Four Seasons of Vintage

Heroine Chic: Some Thoughts on the Blouse

Lauren Bacall,1944; photo Everett Collection/Rex

Lauren Bacall, 1944; photo Everett Collection/Rex

Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall

In the classic Hollywood movies I watched growing up, the blouse was the wardrobe staple of the heroine. As a teenager, I was fascinated by the clothing I saw on film. Even if my life in a small New England town didn’t bear any resemblance to the lives of the stars, my plan in closely observing the heroine was to learn how to dress like one. And so, when my sisters and I would go shopping at the designer discount chain T.J.Maxx, more often than not, I gravitated to the racks of blouses. Tucked into a skirt or worn with pants, long-sleeved or sleeveless, the blouse managed to look both elegant and cool.

In high school, I participated in regional and state student council, and as secretary, I thought wearing a blouse would be the best way to convey my competence. For an after school job, I worked at the local bank, where many of the female executives arrived dressed in skirt suits, paired with white or jewel-tone satin blouses. While reading the employee manual one day, I decided the blouse fit the description of “professional attire” and was the ideal choice for my part-time position as a teller.

I have little doubt that my attraction to the blouse as an emblem of sophistication is due in large measure to Lauren Bacall. What strikes me most in considering those images of her in a blouse is how self-possessed and capable she looked. In her many roles as the heroine, Bacall projected a heady seductiveness that famously blended outspokenness with ironic humor. She was the kind of heroine who made me believe that in speaking her mind, a woman could be both tough and sexy. This projection of strong femininity seems as glamorous to me now as it did when I was a young woman, just beginning to experiment with fashion.

Of course, my hometown in Central Massachusetts was a far cry from the settings that Bacall’s heroines found themselves in. And the silk blouses I owned in the 1980s, with their towering shoulder pads and full sleeves, didn’t fit impeccably like those the iconic actress wore. Even though I currently live in Los Angeles (not too far from Hollywood) nothing’s changed: I still gravitate to 80s blouses when I go vintage shopping in whatever city I happen to find myself in. But now I have a tailor. She snips out the pads and reshapes the sleeves to give me the look of a modern day heroine.

Vintage silk blouse;bag;1990s Chanel turnlock necklace; Vintage Paco Rabanne cuff

Vintage silk blouse; 90s Chanel turnlock necklace; vintage Paco Rabanne cuff; Winfried Kralle vintage embossed bag

Silk wood print blouse

80s Levante silk wood print blouse; 60s unsigned necklace; Hermès Kelly long wallet as clutch

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The Four Seasons of Vintage

Fall

Vintage Jaeger Polka Dot blouse with Chanel turn lock necklace

Vintage Jaeger polka dot blouse with 90s Chanel turn lock necklace

Vintage Ungaro Blazer

Vintage Ungaro blazer

Ten years ago my husband came home from work one day and asked me how I felt about California. I wasn’t surprised. He’d been looking for a new job in academia, a word defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the scholastic life.” The new job he wanted was at UCLA in the Art History Department. But he didn’t necessarily want to move out of New York. At the time, he couldn’t imagine living in any other city, and friends warned about the West Coast with its dizzying temperate climate. I couldn’t wait to move. I wanted to experience swimming outdoors in the sunshine year round, and the lack of any need for pantyhose. “But how can you be sure you want to move?” my husband cautioned. “You’ve never visited California and are a product of the East Coast. You don’t even know how to drive.”

It’s true: after college I moved to New York City, living there for years with my husband. When we first arrived together in the early nineties we lived in SoHo. We had a railroad apartment on the fifth floor of a five-floor walk up. In the summer the one bedroom apartment baked under the black-tarred roof from where we had a view of the water towers.  You could see the corner of 6th Avenue from the living room.

I won’t lie. I didn’t drive, never really needed to. All the same, I was happy to move. Moving felt right: the right time of my life to relocate to a new and exciting city, the right time to change all my familiar habits and routines, the right time to become a brighter version of myself. One of the biggest challenges was a sartorial one. It required redefining how I saw the seasons – getting used to the idea of fall as a hot and dry season rather than as a cool and breezy one, experiencing winter and spring with lots of sunlight, and early summer as cool and cloudy.

Ten years after moving to Los Angeles, I have my own car, but what’s more, I’ve mastered the skill of dressing for the seasons.  It’s officially fall so I’m wearing a light cotton fabric for day and adding a heavier cotton layer for night. I couldn’t be more pleased with the move to California.

A Fall outfit ready to go with Hermes Kelly long wallet as clutch. Just add bottoms of your choice....

A fall outfit ready to go with Hermès Kelly long wallet as clutch. Just add bottoms of your choice….

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