Monday, April 23, 2018

Who is Sylvia?

Sylvia Plath 1932-1963

Sylvia Plath was my first encounter with disappointment, hers and mine. After hearing so much about it, I finally read that 1963 novel, The Bell Jar. I was a young woman in New York, working at a fashion magazine—"Glamour", a competitor of "Mademoiselle", where Sylvia had been a summer intern. Instead of an optimistic, lighthearted look at life in New York City, this was decidedly the other side of paradise. Beautiful writing notwithstanding, Sylvia's sharp observations and inner turmoils color The Bell Jar. Many have responded to it, but then and there I was not having it.

Over time I took The Bell Jar less personally and have come to appreciate her sensitive but tormented soul, stilled early by the demons she wrote about. Her suicide has us asking, "What if?". What if she had written more? What if she had found the answers? What if? What if? In this proto-feminism age her husband Ted Hughes became something of a villain. His own efforts to clarify that did nothing to dispel the notion.

Sylvia's kilt as worn by its lucky bidder

I just read a piece in the New York Times about a sale of Syliva Plath's personal items. They were ordinary—the plaid kilt from her time studying at Smith College, three watches with worn wristbands, an inexpensive costume jewelry pendant, some mundane dresses, and a pale turquoise portable typewriter. These were offered at auction by her daughter, Fiona Hughes, now 58, a painter and poet, who was only a toddler when Sylvia killed herself. She chose to let go of the possessions of a woman she barely remembers so they wouldn't disappear into the flotsam and jetsam of items in her own life, their provenance erased over time. You can copy and paste to read for yourself:

Her dress, her watches
Sylvia Plath's clothes have made their way into other collections. Her Girl Scout uniform and prom dress are part of the Smith College Historic Clothing Collection. The uniform is presently on display at Washington's Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, part of the exhibit, "One Life: Sylvia Plath." It was chosen by curators over the prom dress as its many badges point to her being an early Type A individual.  

Sylvia's Girl Scout uniform on display

I have a fake fur hat that belonged to my mother and that she wore often. I can't part with it. After her own mother died a friend sent me the plaid blazer my mother had made for her. She knew that would mean a lot—a remembrance of them both. So it is with celebrities. I would rather own a scarf that belonged to Audrey Hepburn, one she may have worn,  than a photo personally autographed to me. The clothing and trinkets we wear capture us for others, even those we don't know.

Our clothing says that these are our choices. Aside from a uniform, clothes we choose to wear have gone through our thought process. There was a reason we picked that style or pattern. That's why celebrity watching on the red carpet holds little interest for me. The looks are impersonal, the work of a second or third party.

We may never know Sylvia Plath as she struggled to know herself. What touched her though, touches us.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Madras Has a Moment

Going for Baroque

I have a soft spot for Madras. Just thinking about the dark green and navy plaid skirt I owned in the early '60s reminds me of undergraduate years in art school and working summers on Cape Cod. Back then wearing Madras as an art student would not have been considered ironic. And I worked hard in Provincetown to buy the hand-crafted leather sandals worn with it. I remember that skirt like yesterday. I'm not sure I ever washed it.

The way we wore it

The immediate reference to Madras is preppy America circa 1960, but it's been around far longer. From first Dutch and then English traders to India in the 17th century, Madras first  arrived in America as a donation to the present Yale University in 1718. Sears offered a madras shirt to American consumers in its 1897 catalog.

Mad Man wearing Madras

Authentic Madras must be woven in and around Chennai (formerly Madras), India. It must be handwoven with the same pattern on both sides. The nature of the fiber makes for tiny bumps known as slubs. It's rare for Madras not to be woven in plaids, but there are stripes and solids. Another popular style of Madras is patched Madras, small squares of fabric stitched together before the garment is cut. That has always been my favorite—a veritable Whitman's Sampler of color and chaos. Then there is bleeding Madras, which would run like the devil when washed. The payoff would result over time in very faded Madras.

Thom Browne Fall 2018

Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren always have some Madras in their collections. J Crew is a fan. And a man in Madras still makes my heart go pitter-pat.

So while the popularity of Madras waxes and wanes, it's never really "out". And sometimes it's very "in". On Thursday Uniqlo is unveiling its collaboration with JW Anderson (thanks to D.O. for the heads-up), featuring two pieces of Madras in a blouse and long wrap skirt. They are just enough to give the collection some preppy authenticity, but not enough Madras for me.

Uniqlo $29.90
Uniqlo, $49.90

May we have some more please?

NOTE: A reliable source tells me that the Madras at UNIQLO is actually plaid seersucker. That means someone else needs to bring back Madras, and I need to post a love letter to seersucker!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Women We Love: Maye Musk

Let's wish an early "Happy Birthday" to Maye Musk, who will turn 70 on April 19. If the name sounds familiar, Elon Musk, a founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors, is one of her three children. But Maye Musk was not suddenly discovered when Elon became rich and famous. She has been modelling for over 50 years, has masters degrees in dietetics and nutritional science and is an author and motivational speaker. Oh yes, she's one of Cover Girl's latest finds and their oldest spokesmodel.

Maye with son Elon Musk

Born in Canada, her family were adventurous nomads who moved to South Africa when Maye was 2. Educated there, she married an engineer and had three children before a divorce in 1979. It was Elon who decided to move to Canada after high school. Maye followed with the other children.

She had been a model since age fifteen, always expecting to be told she was over the hill, but work was steady. She continued modelling in Canada and earned a few more degrees in nutrition-related studies.

Maye's many modelling assignments
Certainly the last few years have been a whirlwind of activity as Maye is being "discovered" all over the world. Besides Cover Girl, she has walked runways, is the inspiration for a collection by Sachin + Babi, appeared in a Beyonce video and on a James Bond video game. She has done campaigns for Target, Virgin Atlantic, Revlon and Kellog's and is now pretty much a celebrity in her own right.

In an interview you can see here (copy then paste the link):
Maye comes across as charming and delighted to be "near her peak." She also rightly considers herself an inspiration for younger models who may think they are getting too old to find work.  She tells a great story that at 42 she was "the oldest model in Canada" and was hired to portray a grandmother. Now she is told "you don't look like a grandmother", and she has ten grandchildren.

Quirky in Barney's spring campaign
Relaxed off set
Like all great models she is quite an actress and can project haughty, sophistcated or blase as well as chic or playful. Her brilliant white hair is a great assest, but like many women she had to decide when to let it happen.

As it was a "mousey brown" (I can relate), she started putting in highlights and was pretty much a blonde by her late '50s. She was tired of the effort and decided to see what was underneath "even if I never work again." She admits the blonde with a growing-out white halo may have looked strange, but she was determined and never resorted to wearing hats. What evolved is a gorgeous white which, when cropped into a modern cut, has been her crowning glory.

At one time she had put on enough weight to qualify as a plus-size model, but used her own knowledge to slim down and now: "I know all about the science behind healthy eating, but science does not give you willpower. When you get older, you have to eat better than you used to because if you let yourself go, it’s really hard to get back on track."

Maye's 1996 book on healthful living has long been out of print but a copy is available on Amazon for $1073. I have a feeling she may be writing another soon.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Learning from Oscar

This year's Oscars returned to the glamorous event I've always enjoyed, albeit with some touches of sly humor by host Jimmy Kimmel. Sometimes only the faux pas make an Oscar telecast fun, but this one moved along well and made me appreciate movies all the more.

Often I don't understand the brouhaha over Oscar dressing, as I wouldn't wear some of those get-ups to a dog fight. Last night stylists (for the most part) channeled elegance. We can learn from that. We can even learn from the few red carpet faux pas.

Both Gail Gadot and Allison Williams laid on the sparkles, albeit in a restrained manner. Gail's pendant necklace perfectly solved the cleavage issue. Without it that neckline might have been too severely bare. Allison's dress could have gone matronly, but was restrained just enough.

I also loved Nicole Kidman and Saoirse Roanan's big bows, but those might be don't-try-this-at-home moments.

And Oscar winner Allison Janney looked regal in her long crimson gown. It walked beautifully too. It was a vibrant shade of red; in black it might have been a little too wicked-witch-in-"Snow White."

Greta Gerwig knew she was going to get a lot of screen time, and she dressed as Oscar's best date in a golden shade of yellow.

Alas, Selma Hayek was a lesson in needed restraint. I wanted to rip those chains off (at the very least). That tiered lavender cupcake was definitely one of the night's missteps.

The best fashion takeaway from the Oscars was Emma Stone's silk two-piece pantsuit. I'm not sure about the pink bow belt, but that outfit proved how much you can do with a pair of black silk pants and a nice jacket. She stood out because she didn't shout.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Women We Love: Yolanda Hadid

Yolanda Hadid is a self-proclaimed mama bear. She has also been a member of that jolly improv troupe known as "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills." Never would I have thought I would be writing about one of them, and in truth I'm not. Yolanda Hadid was in the cast for four seasons, from 2012-2016. I've never seen the show.

Mama Bear Yolanda is the mother of supermodels Gigi Hadid and Bella Hadid (and son Anwar Hadid). They are the children of her marriage to real estate developer Mohammed Hadid. Yolanda was born in the Netherlands. She was discovered by legendary model star maker Eileen Ford and successfully modeled internationally for 15 years. She married Hadid in 1994 and settled in Los Angeles. They divorced in 2000.

Gigi, Yolanda and Bella

Yolanda married composer/producer David Foster in 2011. He had previously been married to Linda Thompson, former longtime girlfriend of Elvis Presley, who had formerly been married herself to Bruce Jenner. I'd like to be at one of their family reunions... In 2012 Yolanda contracted a severe case of Lyme disease.  She was so debilitated she revealed she had "lost the ability to read, write, or even watch TV." The marriage didn't last. They were divorced in 2016, and she took back the Hadid name.

"Making a Model" cast of hopefuls with Yolanda
I never intended to watch "Making a Model", but it came on right after "Project Runway" and was set in my beloved New York City. So I decided to chill with some probably mindless tv. Imagine my surprise when I became fascinated by Yolanda Hadid.

The show gave a group of very young, inexperienced models the opportunity to win challenges with "the possibility of a modeling contract" for the winner. Yolanda early on established herself as a mentor to the girls, teaching them the hard truths about modeling and tools they needed to succeed. She also became a mama bear leader to the girls' mothers, urging them to encourage their daughters with positive feedback as well as letting them know not everyone can be a winner every time.

She used her own experience with her two gorgeous, successful daughters, Gigi and Bella as examples. Despite their glamorous appearances on the runway and in magazines, the girls appear to be natural, unspoiled, and very fond of their mother.

Of course she looks great. Her makeup, clothes and hair are appropriate for a woman her age (54). Her wardrobe is hip but understated and is of excellent quality. The fit is perfect. Hair, makeup, accessories are subtle and polished.  She looks toned but—thank the Lord—is not reed slim. Her look may not be my particular style, but I love how she puts herself together.

My interest in Yolanda is the sum of her parts. If she wasn't so patient, encouraging and insightful about her young charges and wise in advising their mothers I wouldn't care how well turned out she is.

The series had a short run on Lifetime. The last 4 or 5 episodes were lumped together one Sunday morning a few weeks ago (not a good sign for a series' chances of renewal).

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Stripe Up the Band!

Fervent followers of fashion will be getting into lock-step to follow this trend, because it's everywhere. STRIPES. Mostly black and white, but colors and rainbows, thick and thin, horizontal, vertical, diagonal and every which-way.

Back in the day—not so long ago—trends would hit high fashion first and trickle down to the high street (aka fast fashion). Now everything erupts spontaneously at the price point you prefer. That was never so clear as yesterday's visit to the mall. Shopping choices range from Neiman Marcus at the top to Forever 21 grazing bottom.

Everyone not only showed stripes, many were flouting them in window displays and come-hither merchandising determined to direct you inside.  I haven't seen this many stripes in one place since the dance sequence in "Jailhouse Rock".

One could not help notice that stripes are attached to some last-year trends—ruffles, flounces and bell sleeves. They are so not going away. As usual I am torn between what I love (a nice flounce or modified bell) and not becoming a member of the pack. I like stripes too. It's a real "what to do?, what to do?" moment.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

End of the Carolina Herrera Era

Monday evening Carolina Herrera took her final bow as Creative Director of her fashion brand. She is NOT retiring. She is becoming Global Brand Ambassador (ie she can do whatever the hell she wants).

CH rather inauspiciously began her line in 1980. She was first viewed as a dilletante, a  well-dressed social butterfly without the stamina to head a fashion house. She has proven naysayers wrong many times over. The line is valued for its elegant but approachable take on fashion— clothes women can really wear, or aspire to. Full disclosure: her perfume "Carolina Herrera" is my absolute favorite.

At 79 Carolina has really nothing to prove. There is no question she won't retain a strong interest in the company, but when CH says she is turning the reins over to Wes Gordon as her successor, no one doubts she means it.

With Wes Gordon

Carolina is yet another departing the scene for various reasons. From Oscar de la Renta's death to Donna Karan (changing horses) to Ralph Lauren (gradually stepping back) to Diane von Furstenburg (stepping down), the "old guard" are leaving. As they go so does a certainty in fashion, a refinement and elegance we knew to expect. With the exception of Ralph Lauren the labels continue without their namesakes (and with varying degrees of success).

I have a feeling Carolina Herrera the company will be okay. Wes Gordon is a young designer with an "old soul". His past work would seem to honor Carolina's, and he has been collaborating with her since last spring. Industry scuttlebutt has noted a contentious two years at the company as CH rather dug in her lovely heels over changes initiated by the parent company, Puig. Bravo, Mrs. Herrera. As tough as you are beautiful. And buena serte!

Here are some looks from that last collection for Fall 2018:

An homage to Mrs. Herrera's personal signature look. Bravo!

Friday, January 26, 2018

What My Older Friends Know

Not only should we have younger friends as we grow older— even much younger friends— we should have older friends, too. I laugh because my older friends— women in their 80s and 90s— tell me at 75 I'm still a kid. I look up to them as if I were one. I am in awe of their energy, interests and outlook on life. When I grow up I want to be like them because...

They stay busy. More women are working longer at something they enjoy. It's about choice as much as possible. More time has given them the opportunity to volunteer. My mother-in-law decided to "help take care of old people" when she was in her 80s. They've mastered hobbies they might have dabbled in before. They are taking classes. They are burning through the 100 Greatest Books or putting the family history in order (creative scrapbooking included). They are visiting new places, revisiting old places and keeping up with children and grandchildren.

They stay current. They go to movies, concerts, the theater and museums. They are more likely to read newspapers, magazines and watch news programs because now they make the time.

They like exercise. It's a gift (to be able to do it), an insurance policy (as it does so much for you) and a pleasure (the feeling of accomplishment and well-being). They know a substantial part of good health is up to them; genetics and fate will of necessity sort out the rest.

They eat better. Less sugary treats, less alcohol, smaller portions. They don't consider this deprivation so much as reality. Metabolism has slowed. None of my older friends denies herself a cheeseburger or a chocolate chip cookie. Just not every day.

They sleep more. If they used to get by with 6 or 7 hours they know they feel so much better with 8. Some will even take a nap in the afternoon. One friend said she starting doing that with a visiting grandchild. She lay down to encourage him to rest and found she enjoyed a little cat nap so much she has no guilt taking one without her visitor. Come to think of it, my grandmother did that with me. And all this time I thought she needed a nap!
They still like clothes. Being trendy may be less important, but my older friends still want to look up to date while staying true to themselves. Once I may have thought them a little rigid, but I see now when you know what works it simplifies making choices. Oh, and shoes better be comfortable!

They don't complain. I never hear anyone moan about how they used to look. If their hair is thin, it's thin, not "Oooh I used to have beautiful hair and now it's so thin!" There's a difference. Without exception my older friends are philosophical about health issues. They are not worry warts or deniers but understand life's expected challenges. And when the outlook appears dire... well, that's where I've seen true grace. Bless you, dear June.

They have younger friends. And here we come full circle. My older friends have younger friends. I'm lucky; one of them is me.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

One That Got Away

There are many things I wish I'd said "yes" to in my shopping life. Nothing gives me quite the pang of regret as the one that I let slip through my fingers five years ago. We were spending a week in London. We've been many times over many years, always staying at the same hotel (which has changed names three times). A special treat is the day I leave my husband to fend for himself and go shopping.

This is not window shopping or finding an interesting little shop I may have read about. This is serious, I-am-buying-stuff shopping. Although I swore I'd never do it again, I traversed the whole length of Oxford Street. I went into every H&M, spent what seemed like hours in TopShop, Uniqlo and Primark, trying to bring back my favorite kind of souvenirs, the ones that hang on hangers. I did buy a jacket at Zara that I could have found at home, but I wanted something to show for my London trip, and it was getting chilly.
On the way to the hotel I left the tube at Kensington High Street. This was once the stop for Biba, both the original stores and Big Biba when it took over Derry & Toms department store. Biba is long gone. I think it's a Marks & Spencer now, but Kensington High Street has its own enclave of shops (including Urban Outfitters and GAP). There is also the British branch of TJ Maxx, called TK Maxx in the UK.

At this point my shopping had been just meh. I was discouraged and nothing looked interesting anymore. Then I discovered that TK Maxx had a Runway section like its US counterparts. Not much there either except... this... one... dress...

The label said "Vivienne Westwood Anglomania". It was $106. I am a whiz at calculating pounds into dollars when it comes to shopping. It was also size L (I'm usually XS or S), but I took it into the changing area to try. I can't tell you how long I debated over that dress. It was a little big, but the shape was so amorphous— it's called the twisted elephant dress— who would know? The photo print is of a Rubens painting, "The Rape Of The Daughters Of Leucippus". I didn't know that at the time, but something was definitely going on. Would I really want to wear that? Well, if Vivienne Westwood chose it, the answer would be "yes". So the rape scene didn't stop me.

What did? I can only think utter exhaustion and frustration. Sometimes I will buy five little things without thinking but shrink from making that one bigger purchase. I was afraid I would be sorry I had wasted my money.

Well, guess who's sorry now? I thought about that dress and went back a few days later. It was gone. But not forgotten. The years since I've searched for it on ebay and have gotten thisclose to plunking down two or three hundred dollars to scratch that itch, but I could never bring myself to do it.

I've learned a lot about Vivienne Westwood since then. Anglomania is her ready-to-wear line, still a bit pricey with t-shirts at $140 dollars. So I guess $621 is not too much for the genuine article. That's the going price on ebay for my lost love, now being offered by a lass from South Yorkshire who only wore it once. I'm thinking she wore it for a year and never took it off. Why else sell such a treasure? She lists it as THIS ITEM IS VERY HARD TO GET HOLD OF NOW AND NEVER COMES UP ON EBAY! THIS IS REFLECTED IN THE PRICE. You bet.

By the way, the wonderful Ms. Westwood is still creating beautiful havoc at age 76. I haven't given up hope yet.

Vivienne with husband Andrea Kronthaler