Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pack It and GO!

Have stylist, will travel...

I love this time of year. Even if I don't plan to pack any suitcases myself, I relish helping customers at The Lovely Boutique Where I Work fill theirs. I'm in awe of their exotic destinations (Singapore! Figi! Iceland!) and can't resist throwing in recommendations for places I know (any restaurant owned by John Besh in New Orleans and be sure to walk the High Line in New York City).

I love to read packing tips, and every once in a while I'll even find some new ones. "Virtuoso Life" is a lush magazine sent to us by a travel agency who once arranged a trip to Italy. It might as well be called "Virtual Life". I will never get to all those wonderful places let alone need tips on buying art abroad and truffle hunting in Switzerland, but it makes for great armchair traveling.

These tips from stylist Christina Burns (above) appeared in a recent issue. One of Christina's clients is Travel Channel host Samantha Brown, who has always been my wish-I-could-look-like-her-when-I-travel inspiration.

Samantha and Christina

> Remember you'll be in your pictures. You can buy a postcard of the Eiffel Tower for a few francs, but the photo of you and the Eiffel Tower is priceless. It's worth thinking about what you're wearing.

> Research your destination and/or itinerary. Check weather forecasts and even websites of restaurants and hotels you'll be visiting. What's the vibe? Will you feel out of place in a t-shirt and jeans in a 4-star lobby?  If you're looking forward to zip-lining or spelunking, pack the necessary gear.

> Pack a Little Black Dress. Look for one that can be worn day or night. Probably indispensable.

> Bring a BIG scarf, one that can work as a sarong, to curl up in on long flights or spread on the grass at a park.

> Take a trench coat. I'm not a trench coat kind of gal myself, but I do have a lightweight variation for travel. And who doesn't want to look like Holly Golightly for a few days?

> Some quick tips: Inexpensive sunglasses, not your treasured$$ beauties. Comfortable ballet flats. Travel size of your favorite fragrance. Simple or delicate necklace to wear with everything.

> Treat yourself at the airport. Pick up a stack of gossip magazines or the latest best-seller. Vacation is treat time!

May I add...
> Never wear anything for the first time on a trip (especially shoes). Wear it to see if it wrinkles badly, is too sheer, rides up or isn't fabulous. Also try-on combos of pieces that may look great in your head. They don't always work in reality.

> Don't bring Really Good Jewelry. Keep what you do take in your carry-on or travel bag, not checked in a suitcase. I even have some "junk jewelry" I would hate to lose!

> Don't invest in a classy-looking suitcase. Expert travelers suggest using the most nondescript bag so as not to draw attention to what might be inside.

> Pack like a science experiment. You know those compression bags that squeeze the air out of your clothes with the promise to save space and avoid wrinkles? They really work. Packing may take a little longer, but you will end up with items organized and with more room. Need space for the souvenirs, right?

> Don't fear the carry-on. Compression bags (see above) will give you more room, but really you can take less. I've packed for several ten-day trips going carry-on only. It's worth the discovery that your bag didn't land with you. The trick is making the "personal item" as big as regulations allow. I use a soft-sided tote and carry my actual handbag inside it.

> Forget a handbag altogether when you can.  It's safer and will give you a hands-free day. Look for a flat cross-body bag in lightweight nylon with compartments. And don't load it up! 

Something like this...

> Look your best when you travel. Yes, air travel is time to be comfortable, but there's a big difference between easy and sloppy. If you're heading to a city, think about a casual shirt dress with a long cardigan or a safari jacket with unstructured pants and a button down. If you are heading to a resort, lighten your color palette but don't go full-out Boho Traveler till you get there. It may not be true, but if there's a chance I'll be upgraded to First because I look good, I'll take it!

> A very wise friend (EG you know who you are) says, "Bring half as many clothes and twice as much money".


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Stylish Read: "Lee Miller in Fashion"

That neck, that hair, that face...

by Becky E. Conekin
Lee Miller, where have you been all my life? It seems you've been hiding in plain sight. For all my studies of fashion, women in fashion, fashion photography, fashion magazines, etc. Lee Miller registered only as an unusual fashion model (not your typical '20s type) and the war correspondent photographed sitting in Hitler's bathtub. Already that tells you something about the woman, but it's taken till now for me to perform some due diligence.

Lee takes a bath, 1945

Elizabeth (Lee) Miller was born into an upper-middle class family in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1907. She was an inquisitive, headstrong child fairly indulged by her parents. Her spirit of adventure took her to misadventures in Europe (under the guise of schooling) when she was 19, followed by a move to New York City to study art and become a dancer in George White's Follies.  After a chance encounter on the street with Conde Nast (as in the publisher of Vogue) she became one of The Bright Young Things about town. He saved her from being run over by a car— surely the NYC equivalent of being discovered at Schwab's drugstore. She was a favorite model for Edward Steichen, then head photographer for Vogue.
By Steichen, second from right
By Steichen for Vogue

In New York Lee designed theater sets, modeled and honed an interest in photography nurtured by her father, a talented amateur.  In 1929 she set off again to Europe determined to study with the Surrealist Man Ray, who didn't accept students. She no doubt charmed him as much as she was charmed by him. They worked together (and were lovers) for three years until his jealousy wore the charm thin. While they were together she was the one to discover solarization in a darkroom accident. That process became one of Man Ray's trademarks. Lee was also photographed by George Hoyningen-Huene and Horst P. Horst for French Vogue (affectionately called "Frogue" by the staff [love that]).

Solarized by Ray
Immortalized by Ray

Lee returned to New York City and, with the backing of a couple of wealthy admirers, rented two connecting apartments in midtown Manhattan— living in one and setting up a photography studio in the other. She took portraits of the well-heeled and celebrated as well as precise advertising photography for upscale clients like Elizabeth Arden and Saks Fifth Avenue. She began working for American Vogue, sometimes taking fashion self-portraits for the magazine. It was then she said, "I'd rather take a picture than be one." She was successful enough to weather the Depression and her work was shown in galleries devoted to photography.

Fashion self-portrait by Lee Miller

In 1934 a former beau from Paris, an Egyptian businessman, came calling. Lee married him and left for Cairo. She soon found Egyptian society suffocating, especially after meeting British surrealist artist and poet Roland Penrose. Not long after, she decamped to England— and Roland. With war looming the United States government ordered its citizens to return home, but Lee stayed behind. She found photography work at English Vogue.

Not a stage set but London during the blitz

It is  here that "Lee Miller in Fashion" takes a fascinating detour and looks at how and why Vogue was able to boost morale during the blitz and the long war years following. Women in all walks of life were urged to put up a good front (and back) and not forget the importance of grooming, hair and makeup. I learned some interesting tidbits, such as: Furs were not rationed in England during the war, though prices were set by the government. This was to prevent fur from going on the black market.

Though she recorded the devastation with her camera and worked hard putting out Vogue under difficult conditions, Lee became increasingly frustrated that she couldn't do more for the war effort. With the arrival of American service personnel, Lee seized the opportunity to become a bona fide war correspondent, uniform and all. Soon after France was liberated she joined American forces in Paris to report on life there for both American and British Vogue.


French Vogue  had suspended publication during the Occupation, but some couture houses remained open. The editor of French Vogue had managed to produce four "albums" of fashion during that time, had the plates made surreptitiously in the countryside, and the bound volumes sold in Monte Carlo for international distribution. The  now-forgotten couturier Lucien Lelong managed to thwart the Germans, who wanted to take the entire archive of French fashion stored at The Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and restablish couture houses in Austria or Germany. That sounds good enough for a movie plot right there.

Lee was very much affected by what she saw in Paris and filed stories with photographs that were sensitive, first-hand observations. As the Americans moved east towards Germany, so did Lee, leaving Paris and fashion behind. She was with the troops in the Alsace Campaign, the liberation of Brussels and the "last leap across the Rhine". She was also present at the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp. She movingly wrote for Vogue about what she saw, and she never forgot it. This book has some lengthy excerpts of her writing; I'd really like to read more.

 Reportage from Luxembourg, 1944

And then the war was over. It was back to London, back to Roland and rebuilding her life in England. Not surprisingly peacetime brought about a disenchantment with fashion. For a few years she continued to photograph for Vogue. Writing became more and more difficult as it came from such a deep place. Eventually Roland asked Vogue to stop sending her writing assignments for everyone's good. She and Roland married, had a son in 1947 and eventually moved south of London to Farley Farm. She packed away her files of photos, negatives and contact sheets and devoted herself to gardening, gourmet cooking and entertaining the many artists and writers she and Roland had as friends. There were always offers to write, which she always declined. She died in 1977 at age 74.

Lee and Roland

Their son Antony discovered the hidden work after her death and wrote the aptly titled, "The Lives of Lee Miller". In recent years there have been museum exhibits and more recognition. Farley Farm is open to the public, and her archives are available to scholars.   

Picasso, Antony and Lee at Farley Farm

Lee Miller's life was more complex than I've summarized here. There were twists and turns and many unanswered "why"s. She didn't leave a memoir, but she did lead a life in fashion and in full.

A few years ago it was announced that Kate Winslett would star as Lee Miller in an upcoming film. That would be fascinating, and don't you think she would be a great choice?

Kate Winslett to be Lee Miller?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Eyes Have It

I had my "eyes" on this dress from Anthropologie for a very long time. When I finally tried it on, no amount of wishing or hoping would make it work for me.

Reluctantly I let it go. What a happy surprise to see this lovely totally rocking the same dress. Everything worked, from the blue tassel earrings and cut-out lace-up sandals to her casually pulled back hair. 

Another life lesson learned: Sometimes it doesn't have to be you looking fabulous to make you happy.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

In Pursuit of Audrey

Behind the scenes, Avedon on left
Audrey Hepburn was born on May 4, 1929 in Brussels, Belgium, the daughter of a Belgian baroness and an Austrian-English businessman. Audrey fans know her life story as well as the plot of their favorite Audrey movie. They also know she never took a bad picture.

Of the many photo shoots over too few years, "Paris Pursuit" is the penultimate. Appearing in Harper's Bazaar in September, 1959, the portfolio was put together by the legendary Diana Vreeland, then Bazaar's fashion editor, and shot by Richard Avedon, one of Diana's and Audrey's favorites. Avedon was responsible for the magic that is "Funny Face", the 1957 musical about fashion magazines, models, clothes, love and Paris. An Avedon-like character (played by Fred Asaire) is Audrey's love interest.

"Paris Pursuit" has a playbill, dialogue in typewritten script-form and guest stars. In addition to Mel Ferrer, Audrey's husband at the time, the "cast" includes Buster Keaton, Zsa Zsa Gabor, the model China Machado and raconteur Art Buchwald. It fills 18 pages in the all-important September issue. The designers represented are Dior, Cardin, Chanel, Gres, Laroche, Patou, Ricci, Balmain, Griffe, etc.— anyone who was anyone in 1950s Paris couture.

The plot concerns an actress named Jemima Jones (Audrey) pursuing and being pursued around Paris by an American millionaire named Dallas O'Hara (Mel). The story line and dialogue are droll in the extreme and wouldn't win an Oscar. In the days before Photoshop, maneuvering those multiple images would have been the test of a master retoucher's skill. There's never been another fashion editorial quite like it.

Please enjoy this Audrey treat on what would have been her 88th birthday.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Cat Sat on the Mat

These "kats" hung on the wall. And, as I found out, it's pronounced EE-KAHHT. The Museum of Fine Arts Houston is hosting "Colors of the Oasis— Central Asian Ikats". The majority are mid 19th century textiles and coats from Uzbekistan.

At first glance the coats look like the most gorgeous bathrobes ever. Soon wonder takes over, along with the realization you will never ever find a bathrobe so glorious. If Boho had a motif it would probably be ikat. The intricate patterns and muted colors conjure up windswept deserts, fanciful tents, dancing and ceremonies. I was surprised to learn that this painstakingly laborious technique dates only from the 19th century, defying the industrial revolution taking place.

In tie-dye, you tie off segments of fabric and dye the piece to create a pattern. In ikat you somehow figure out the pattern first, dye the individual threads (with natural dyes) then weave the cloth. Oh my. Although the museum included a video, the "somehow" is still a mystery.

Delicate and time consuming to create, it's no wonder ikats were prized as ceremonial garments and dowry pieces and passed down for generations. The majority are cotton, but some are silk. The man's coat below has a silk exterior lined with ikat and must have belonged to a very wealthy person. It's the Uzbekistan equivalent of a cloth coat lined in mink.

Yes, ikats were worn by both men and woman. The men's shapes are more "kimono"; the women's more intricately pieced with tucks under the arms for ease while dancing.

Uzbekistan is a republic in central Asia situated south of Kazakhstan and north of Afghanistan and was once part of the Soviet Union. Ikat dress was a unique character of the area but was considered bourgeois when the Bolsheviks took over. 

Mid 19th century mother and son

The museum is not the only place to find ikats in Houston. This is the famous "Biscuit Paint Wall" on the side of a home furnishings store in my neighborhood.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Playing Dolls

Following is a lovely essay by Durell Godfrey that appeared in the Easthampton Star. She is a friend of many years yet I was surprised to find that she too was heavily involved with her dolls. She is (lucky her) still playing dolls. Read on and enjoy.
by Durell Godfrey
When I was a kid I played with dolls. I was an only child and (maybe consequently) I had a lot of dolls. These were not mushy baby dolls; they were “fashion dolls.” This was the 1950s, folks, pre-Barbie.

My favorite dolls were Madame Alexander dolls (they came in two sizes: 12-inch and 8-inch) and what were called Ginny dolls, which were only eight inches tall. That’s what I asked for at F.A.O. Schwarz at Christmas and birthdays, by size and hair color. I think I had about 10 by the time I outgrew them in sixth grade or so.

My mother could never understand why my dolls didn’t have names. She encouraged me to name them but I never did. I referred to the dolls as the 12-inch dolls and the 8-inch dolls when requesting a present of a new doll or clothing for the dolls I already had. Happily for me, my grandmother was a superior sewer, and she would come up with fabulous outfits for them (and me). Her creations featured lace, tiny buttons and dimity prints, old-fashioned puffed sleeves, and pantaloons. Occasionally something satin would show up, or sometimes a bit of fur. My grandmother went to the theater a lot, and she was very sophisticated.

My dolls were clotheshorses. Their job was to put on clothes. My job was to decide what they would put on. I was a fashion editor in training.

An activity that kept me busy for hours was to put all of my custom-made and store-bought dolls clothes in a pile on the floor. Then each 12-inch doll and each 8-inch doll could “pick” one dress. After each one picked a dress she would wear it and then each got to pick another until all the clothes were sorted evenly. I can’t remember what happened after that. Maybe I would have lunch.
I never messed with their hair the way some kids did. I treated them like princesses. They were models and they got to be admired.

One of my friends, with whom I spent many rainy girly afternoons, would not play this doll clothes sorting game with me. I would let her pick a doll from my lineup and let her doll pick out clothes but she declared that her doll was poor and lived in a tenement and could only have one dress. I just could not understand this. It frustrated the hell out of me. Why wouldn’t her doll want to play dress-up?! Her doll would sit on an upside-down chair (read: tenement) and watch my doll. It was never fun to have it so inequitable, and eventually we would play checkers or draw. Having a doll who was poor was just not a concept I could grasp. Years later my mother mentioned that her parents were both social workers and I suppose that explained some of it. (Or maybe she just didn’t want to play that game.) I do not know what happened to her, but I grew up to be a clotheshorse.

According to Google, “clotheshorse” is considered a derogatory term. I do not have a problem with the title. For me, it’s clothes-play, not so much the buying of an outfit as the assembling of a look. That’s the fun part. Shopping my own closet, I really play dress-up every day.

And when the seasons change I re-acquaint myself with clothes I haven’t seen for months by trying everything on. Warm weather to cold and back. Two times a year I go through that ritual. In between I do things with other people’s clothes: I volunteer at the Ladies Village Improvement Society thrift shop in East Hampton.

One of the things we clothes-loving volunteers do is sort and categorize all the clothes that are donated week to week and season to season. Does this sound like all my doll clothes in a pile with the dolls picking? Yes indeedy. We are grown-ups and we have fun like little girls.
We ask aloud: “What was she thinking? How could she give this up? Did she retire and not need office clothes anymore?” Hence the Armani suits and stiletto heels, the mink coat, or the Oscar de la Renta ball gown. We also wonder why people donate gym clothes straight from their gym bags, but that’s another matter entirely.

When we have finished sorting — summer, winter, designer, and specialty collections like bathing suits and leopard-printed things — the clothes that are season-appropriate hit the floor, priced to sell.
And then my real fun begins. I dress the thrift shop mannequins every Monday. While the shop is closed for weekly restocking you will find me with three mannequins, bald and naked (them, not me), and a rolling rack of curated outfits for my “girls.” I want them to look great when the doors open each Tuesday.

Oh you beautiful dolls

Some might think you just put clothes on the bodies, but I am here to tell you that it’s more complicated and intimate than that. The mannequins have faces and their faces have real character and their postures give them attitude. Like real people, some clothes actually look better on one than on another. I often change their outfits even after I have gotten them all dressed. I take into consideration that the athletic looking one should not be wearing something ruffly; I have tried and that stuff just looks wrong on her. I know that sounds silly, but in truth it’s merchandising. How can you make someone want to buy something if it looks crappy on the model?

There is a fourth model, and while I refer to her as one of “the girls” she is really just a torso (no face, arms, or legs). I don’t feel I need to cater to her attitude as far as outfits go. She does wear jewelry well, however, and often gets something with a deep V neckline. The other dames I dress have removable arms and hands. To get them into clothing means that the floor gets littered with random hands and arms and wigs. 

Interestingly, the L.V.I.S. gets many donations of wigs. Some of the wigs are very beautiful and were no doubt very expensive. We can’t really sell them. Consequently I have a bin of wigs I sort through each week for the girls. One wig might look good with one outfit and wrong with another. One wig will suit one mannequin, while the same wig will make another look slutty. There is a wig I call Meg Ryan hair, which looks good on all three of the girls. There is a gray wig with bangs that I am partial to, but it does not look good with every outfit. Sometimes the girls are all blondes, sometimes brunettes. I love doing this.

To some of you readers this may sound like the dumbest waste of imagination, but for others of you this is a dream job. Admit it.

Each week I pick a fashion theme. For Easter the girls were in bright pastel colors. The week before everyone was wearing flowered dresses for spring. Sometimes they are in black-and-white stripes, and they have been known to all wear denim jackets. Once they all wore gingham shirts, but accessorized to give them entirely different looks. My aim is to educate and inspire, much like the editorial pages of a fashion magazine. Yes, you can wear this with that, and have you considered a yellow pashmina with that red shift?

Well, you could say (loudly) that I do get carried away choosing the right scarf or bag or earrings for each dame, but for me it is fun. I want the outfits to get sold: The aim is to have the girls look so good that people want to buy what they are wearing. Some outfits only last a day or two and are replaced quickly by the sales staff. Come in Tuesday mornings to see the girls in their fullest fashion glory.

The mannequins are really my own very big fashion dolls. Unlike my childhood dolls, these dames will soon have names! In May, there will be an opportunity for everyone in town to name each mannequin. After the hunt for names is over, the dames will be called by their names forever. (I know what I call one of them behind her back, but I am not sharing that yet.)

Here’s how it will work: There will be ballots at the cashier that people can fill in and place in a jar for the whole month. There will be space for four names in the order of how they are standing in display. The ballots can be filled again and again. Kids are encouraged to participate. The ballots will be put into a container and behind closed doors each mannequin will magically pick her own name.

So unlike my childhood dolls who remained nameless, soon I will be dressing Clara or Monique or Jemima, Carmen, Prunella, or Daisy, Murgatroyd, Melania, Ivanka, Sophia, Emma, Gabriela, Isabella, Zoe, Clementine, or Betty. Stay tuned.

Durell Godfrey says this picture explains why she's partial to the gray wig with bangs

Thursday, April 6, 2017

"The End of an Era"

Quintessential Jenna

That's the New York Times, writing today on Jenna Lyons parting ways with J Crew. I don't style myself as a reporter here at the blog, but Jenna and J Crew were enough of a fashion moment to warrant a few thoughts.

In case you haven't heard, Jenna Lyons' contract will not be renewed, and she has stepped down as president and creative director of J Crew. Jenna has been with the firm since 1990. She worked in a fairly low-on-the-totem-pole capacity but stood out (at 6 feet tall) for her personal style, the quirky way she paired J Crew basics with vintage and utilitarian finds. Spotted by new owner Mickey Drexler in 2003, she was anointed to lead a J Crew revolution.

Jenna says...

Jenna at J Crew encouraged women to wear a tuxedo jacket with jeans or a chambray shirt with a ball gown. Sequin pencil skirts with a twin set were fine for day. A camo jumpsuit decked out in chunky costume jewelry and strappy heels rocked the night. Makeup was less; lipstick was all; confidence your greatest accessory. She made nerdy glasses chic and did it all effortlessly.

Powerful even in PJs

How could this not inspire millions of women that it was OK to have fun with fashion, raid Grandma's jewelry box and mix-and-match classic pieces like a third grader playing dress-up? After a while the look became a cliche, but I bought into it because that's what I like too.

Jenna's ethic was classic J Crew for almost 15 years. Fashion is nothing but fickle. Today's Style can be tomorrow's Cliche, and no one will tell you until something like this happens.

What will become of my brocade pants and ballet flats? Will J Crew return to its madras and broadcloth past? Where will Jenna Lyons land next?

I have a feeling she'll do alright. A magazine editor's slot? Her own label? I'm not so sure about us. The same New York Times today predicts the new fashion will be "protective, oversize, soft and enveloping". Now where did I put that sleeping bag???    

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Victoria Beckham Beckons

Tucked inside my subscription copy of April Vogue was a stand-alone magazine. I caught the words Spring and Vogue but didn't connect the title to Victoria Beckham and/or Target. Loved the shirtdress on the cover. The table of contents features shots of Victoria in a cute little black cap with ears. A figure on the inside cover wears a black dress with a pretty scalloped neckline. But wait a minute— something is off. This is not Victoria; she's definitely a plus-sized model. Scrolling down to info on the cover dress, I see it is $35. What??????? Are we missing a few 00s? Then it hits me. The tasteful black and white bulls eye next to her name signifies this is Victoria Beckham's collaboration with Target, available April 9.

News to me! But if I had known, I might have yawned. Target's collaborations have been less than thrilling lately, and Victoria Beckham is not a name that thrills. I've questioned her credentials as a designer. She looks good in everything, though who wouldn't weighing 94 pounds and on the arm of one of the planet's most handsome athletes? She also never smiles.

There is, however, something charming and fun about this collection. There are 200 pieces, ranging in size from XS to 3X, including styles for babies, toddlers and girls in five themed collections:

The vibe is playful and fun, with a nod to pop art, swinging London of the Mary Quant era and re-imagined English florals and paisleys.  “It just goes to show how fun the whole collaboration has been. This is about empowering women, empowering young girls, and making everybody feel like the best version of themselves, and having fun at the same time," explained Beckham. She was also inspired by motherhood and doing things with her six-year-old daughter Harper. In fact the many related designs may even bring back mother-daughter dressing.

Harper and Daddy
Nothing is over $70 with most pieces in the $20 to $40 range. Some of the collection will only be sold online, though for the first time plus sizes will be available in store. And I predict all of it will sell out soon.

Here are a few of my favorites. The romper may not come home with me, but I applaud its cheeky chic. Fortunately I can wiggle into a child's extra large, so the rain jacket might.


Best of all, there is also a coloring book, a sticker book and this: