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Archive for June, 2012

I gasped when I heard that Nora Ephron had passed away. I’m not a gasper, but Ms. Ephron was special.

Of course I’ve seen many of her films (You’ve Got Mail is one of my favorites), but it was just a couple of years ago that I read her books.

It started with an excerpt in Elle magazine from Ms. Ephron’s 2010 collection of personal essays, I Remember Nothing. In Elle she shared her experiences working in the 1960s as a mail girl at Newsweek and a reporter at the New York Post. I devour stories about women journalists from that era. It was a different world back then; not easy for women but their struggles make great stories and Ms. Ephron was a funny and natural storyteller.

Plus there was a photo (see above) of her looking fabulously chic and smart standing inches away from Robert Kennedy. I love the handbag in particular, which is ironic because Ms. Ephron hated handbags as she wrote in her 2006 memoir, I Feel Bad About My Neck –

“I hate my purse. I absolutely hate it. If you’re one of those women who think there’s something great about purses, don’t even bother reading this because there will be nothing here for you.”

Well I do think purses are pretty great, but I kept reading and became enamored of Ms. Ephron, her honest dry humor, and her master crafting of a good essay.

For a week last summer I was home from work with a nasty cold and I happened to have I Feel Bad About My Neck on CD. For most of one day I sat up in bed and listened to Ms. Ephron chatting away just as if she were sitting in the corner keeping me company. She talked about writing, about her family, and the big love of her life – her NYC apartment. I’d dose and rewind, dose and rewind. Snuggled up right next to me the entire time was my cat, Mr. Pru.

It was a memorable day, actually. Especially since, as it turned out, those were some of the last close moments I’d have with Mr. Pru, who at 18 years old was near the end of his life. Unexpectedly I had to put him to sleep not two weeks later.

That is one nasty cold I will always remember fondly. Part of the memory is Nora Ephron’s charming voice filling my bedroom, like a comforting visit from a friend.

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Brooks Brothers costumes for The Great Gatsby.

There have been five film versions of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s best known novel, The Great Gatsby and come December we will have another. Those of us with a fondness of 1920s  fashions are certainly looking forward to the visual feast.

A feast it will be! WWD recently reported that Brooks Brothers supplied all the costumes for the male actors and extras. Working with the film’s costume designer Catherine Martin, Brooks Brothers provided re-creations of 1920s wardrobes including suits, tuxedos, and leisure wear. All the clothing was made in the company’s factories located in Massachusetts and North Carolina. (U.S. Made – I like that!)

Founded in 1818 in New York City, Brooks Brothers was the first shop in America to offer ready-to-wear men’s clothing. The company quickly became known for its classic collegiate style. Indeed, Fitzgerald himself was a Brooks Brothers man.

Ralph Lauren’s Jay Gatsby costume in 1974.

Ralph Lauren provided the men’s fashions for the 1974 film dressing Robert Redford, Sam Waterston, and Bruce Dern. What a coup for the upcoming designer with a brand new business. Although the film itself was a flop, costume designer Theoni V. Aldredge won an Oscar that year and Bloomingdale’s sold an adapted clothing line inspired by the film.

For now the production company is mum on who has designed the women’s costumes but Tiffany & Co. provided the jewelry.

We have to be patient and wait until December 25th for the film, but in the meantime we can recreate our own 1920s party with The Gatsby Summer Afternoon coming up on September 9th.  The Art Deco Society of California is furiously working on what has become THE costume event of the year. You betcha I’ll be there, Old Sport.

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A men’s wear designer never loses sight of the relation between shape and function, which, transferred into women’s wear, can give great results.

Designer Giorgio Armani speaking to WWD about men’s wear designers moving into women’s wear. Recently, Hedi Slimane was hired by YSL and Raf Simons hopped over to Christian Dior.

The fashion industry is now wondering – is there a major style change afoot for women’s clothing?

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Image courtesy of Sourcebooks.

What’s a girl to do when facing unemployment and mounting credit card debt? Well, in 2008 website copywriter Gretchen Berg reluctantly decided to sign up for a two-year stint teaching English at the American University of Iraq. Then she wrote a memoir about it – I Have Iraq in My Shoe: Misadventures of a Soldier of Fashion (Sourcebooks 2012).

Although Ms. Berg has a fondness for travel and has been to all seven continents, she is clear right from the start that Iraq is not on her must-visit list. She’s in it for the money -$75,000 (tax-free) to be exact, which will more than cover her debt and buy a few pair of designer shoes to boot.  

With a lot of self-effacing humor, Ms. Berg takes readers along on her visit to Erbil in Northern Iraq where she does her best not to venture outside the campus compound (called English Village). She brings as much America with her as possible dragging nine duffel bags full of stuff including a blender and Sex and the City DVDs. For the necessary home comforts, she’s forced to pay close to $3000 in overweight baggage fees.

I started out with I Have Iraq in My Shoe entertained and hopeful that Ms. Berg would change her mind about not wanting to stray too far from the compound. About a third of the way through I realized that wasn’t going to happen. I do have to admit I would not even go to Iraq for the same reasons Ms. Berg doesn’t want to go exploring – safety, heat, the second-class-citizen status of women, excessive cigarette smoke – so I tip my hat to her for at least getting there.

Ms. Berg does such an excellent job describing her compound residence that I started to feel claustrophobic myself and aching for a change of scenery and topic. Since she used the fashion spin, I was disappointed she didn’t do a little research about fashion in Iraq. Perhaps discuss with her female students about what role fashion might play in their lives and how they feel about the restrictions. But I also realized that Ms. Berg isn’t really into fashion, just shoes which she continued to buy online while in Iraq and have them sent home. (She does give us one bit of interesting fashion information: While at a local shopping mall Ms. Berg observed that as long as a woman is completely covered and wearing a hijab, skin-tight colorful clothing and high heels are acceptable, at least in Northern Iraq.)

What we have is a humorous read about the ups and downs of an American woman stuck in a place she does not want to be. For the most part I Have Iraq in My Shoe is engaging enough. The narrative is straight forward and Ms. Berg does poke fun at herself and her co-workers, who are an eclectic bunch united in partying and staying put in the compound. But other than the men in Iraq have terrible body odor, there’s very little cultural insight.   

Still, if you’re in the mood for a light summer read with plenty of good humor give this one a try.

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Photo: Perry Hagopian

If getting fashion right were easy, everyone would look sensational. They don’t.

Tim Gunn speaking at a recent runway show in Palo Alto, California.

A few summer fashion tips from Mr. Gunn:

  • A voluminous top should be paired with slim pants.
  • Short shorts are for the very young. “You don’t want to look like Grandma Jezebel.”
  • Maxi dresses are appropriate for a party around the pool, not dressed up with heels and jewelry as women are doing in Los Angeles.

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Debi Mattingly’s  jewelry caught my eye immediately when I received photos from her publicist. Designing since the early 1990s, Debi is inspired by family and her childhood living in Louisiana. Her work is quietly unique and a big hit with the Los Angeles crowd including Demi Lovato, Laura Vandervoort, and Ellen Hollman.

What inspired you to start your own jewelry line?
I started out as a professional mixed media artist in the early 80’s with my own gallery, but a lot of my customers would see jewelry I was wearing and ask about it. After ten years as a successful artist, I decided to design & create wearable art. I was “discovered” by the film/television industry, through friends of mine that were screen writers  and costume designers, that exposed my work to the industry; so I started my own jewelry line in the early 90’s that was inspired by my cultures (Cajun/Creole and Muskogee Creek Indian).  I received my trademark, debi lynn designs, in 1994.

Where are your pieces made?
All of my work is made here in Houston, TX.  I have been blessed to have two studios – one as my showroom/studio, Yaya Chique, and my manufacturing studio where my employees help to make the orders for wholesale and/or limited editions.  I make all my one-of-a-kinds in my private studio.

How does your ethnic background influence your designs?
Growing up on the bayous of Louisiana, my grandparents were my biggest influence. The bayou was my back yard and I would play for hours in the woods looking for treasures. I remember my Meme having beautiful bottles hanging all over the porch with an eclectic mixture of treasures hanging from them that she would find. And to this day, all of my jewelry is designed around the look of those bottles. (What she would call her spirit bottles.)

Now my father’s side of the family is Muskogee Creek Indian from Alabama.  I would visit my Granny all the time and play for hours along the riverbanks and creeks of the Alabama River. Along with our spiritual traditions, I was taught how to bead, weave, and make jewelry and clothing that was worn traditionally by my ancestors.  As a designer I have been blessed to have grown up with beautiful and spiritual cultures, and they greatly influence my work and creative process.

What is your creative process?
I develop a new line of jewelry 3 times a year using the same main materials: leather, old beads, old stones, vintage fabrics and metals. 

I never do a sketch on paper – I see it in my head. I know what I want a piece to look like, but then sometimes it takes a while to get the technique right.  Making sure it will lie correctly, won’t scratch, won’t fall apart, and mainly will last a lifetime. 

Sometimes a design can take months to develop and get it just right and other times it comes together in under an hour. I just never know where the materials will lead me.

Who is your customer?
My customer is female, 28 to 42 years of age although I do have a lot of customers from my age group – the original hippie!  I am getting more men wanting my work now, especially the rock ‘n roller.  The debi lynn customer feels comfortable with who they are and always wants something different that not everyone else has.  I aim to create something unique that doesn’t cost a fortune!

How do you think your distinctive style works with other styles?
When I design a piece of jewelry, I make sure that I am aware of the fashions for the upcoming season, especially the color palette. When I get ready to design for the next season, I research to see what new movies/TV series are set to come out for the following year and I can pretty much guarantee that customers are going to want similar styles in their jewelry. I also watch the Country & Rock ‘n Roll music industry to see what new and upcoming singers/bands are getting some popularity. I watch to see what their style is.

As a jewelry designer, I want to make sure I am not taking away from or fighting with the current fashions but that I am complementing the new looks.  By doing this, my designs can go from the red carpet to street style all in the same moment.

Who is your creative hero & why?
Who else, but Ralph Lauren!  He is definitely a Master Designer in all things. It still amazes me to this day how he can reinvent himself every season and only get better. I always ask myself, “What would Ralph do?” And this is with everything from designing to running a business.

What are you working on now?
I am finishing up the fall line for this year and will also be doing a Holiday & Resort line. For the H&R designs I am going to be using antique Afghanistan jewelry that I have had for about  eight years, and the proceeds of the sales will be going to the “Women for Women Organization” (http://www.womenforwomen.org) to specifically help the women in Afghanistan. I am also working on my designs for next spring. I LOVE the color palettes and fashions for next year! 

What is your favorite go-to piece of jewelry and why?
I wear all of my own jewelry and sometimes I mix it with some vintage pieces I love to collect.  As a designer, I won’t create or sell it unless I am willing to wear it myself and same goes with my clothing.  In fact, since I create my own clothing my customers have been asking me to design a line of clothes. Maybe someday, who knows where my journey will lead me?

Well heck, Debi, I knew we were on the same style page. I’m a big fan of Ralph as well. I really like his consistent references to the 1920s. Thanks so much for taking time to share your story and jewelry with Over Dressed for Life.

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I always wear my sweater back to front, it is much more flattering.

Diana Vreeland, Fashion columnist for Harper’s Bazaar 1937-1962.  

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