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Archive for April, 2018

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Iris Apfel. Photo: Roger Davies. Published in Harper Design.

Most people today don’t look very put-together or very pretty. They look like they fell out of bed or jumped out of a rag pile. I think athleisure is just ridiculous. It has its place if you’re at leisure or at a gym, but I think you owe it to your fellow man to look as pleasant as possible. It’s nice to feast your eyes upon something beautiful, not something that’s a mess. Recently I was at Le Cirque, and in walked this beautiful young lady, obviously from out of town. It was a Saturday evening, and she was all gussied up in a long dress. Her escort was nicely dressed too. But they were seated just across from two slobs, which spoiled the whole effect. If you want to lounge around, then don’t go out. 

Iris Apfel – fashion icon (at age 96).

I once met a woman who said to me that she just can’t be anywhere that isn’t pretty. That’s kind of a tall order in this world, but I understand what she means. Nothing feels as good, tastes as good, or lifts the spirit when in an unattractive environment.

Ms. Apfel says it like it is when it comes to how people dress these days. Look over any crowd on the street, in a museum, park, airport and notice that everyone looks like “… they fell out of bed or jumped out of a rag pile.” (LOL) Grown men in little boy shorts and baggy t-shirts, topped with a baseball cap. Women in tight-fitting yoga or workout clothes and flip-flops, often dingy bra straps exposed as if they were an added accessory. It’s not a pretty picture and frankly, it gets depressing.

I’ve come to just blocking it all out. The one upside is that those rare individuals who do make an effort stand out like a colorful wildflower in a patch of dried weeds. What a treat it is when I spot someone who looks nice.

This is not to say that we all should be “dressed-up.” Casual is good. A simple skirt and blouse; a pair of slacks and an Oxford shirt. It’s oversized, baggy, or too tight clothing that’s unattractive and particularly worn at the wrong time/place (anywhere outside of a gym). Even leggings aren’t necessarily a bad thing if made from a ponte knit and paired with a tunic.

But apparently Ms. Apfel and I are in the minority and I don’t think the fashion pendulum is ever going to swing back to everyone making an effort to dress well, or appropriately. Sloppy is the accepted norm and therefore there’s no incentive to reach toward a higher standard.

OK, I’m stepping off my (fashionable) soapbox now.

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1920s dress on the mannequin.

I was a little late to the party, as they say, but still just in time to catch Pina: The Philippine Cloth of Pride, Endurance, and Passion at Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles in Berkeley. Now in the final days of its run this exhibit closes May 4th, 2018 and features the wondrous pina cloth, which is made from the pineapple plant.

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Christening gown.

Pineapples were brought to the Philippines by the Spanish during the 1500s conquest. Actually it’s the leaf of the pineapple plant that provides the fiber, originally hand extracted and then knotted to form filament threads. The process continued as weavers, on hand looms, created a lightweight sheer cloth that became the “must have” fabric for all fashionable ladies of the late 19th century/early 20th century with the means to purchase the expensive clothing and home decor items such as tablecloths, napkins, and runners.

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Detail of pina cloth with embroidery,

The exquisite pina cloth, its loose weave perfect for warm humid climates, was further enhanced by hand embroidery usually in white but sometimes in color.

Pina cloth was popular among the wealthy in the Philippines (with both men and women) up until the 1980s when tastes changed and shifted over to less expensive cotton. But current designers and stylists are showing pina cloth again, attracted to the history and beauty of the fabric. The prices, however, are still high since there are very few pina producers around. To keep costs down, often pina is blended with cotton or silk.

This exhibit itself is located inside Lacis expanded space off the main store and requires one of the staff members to escort visitors. Many pieces are mounted on a black background while a few dresses and blouses are displayed on mannequins allowing for an up-close look. It’s a no-frills presentation in a simple, small space giving the attention to the fabric. There are examples of pina cloth from the late 1800s up to the 1920s. Most from a private collection.

For anyone interested in textiles and/or fashion history this is a rare opportunity to see antique and vintage pina and well worth taking a peek, but hurry … it closes May 4th. There are guided tours for two or more visitors but at specific times and a reservation is required. (Check the website.)  While you’re there, also take time for the just opened exhibit of shawls – The Fringed Shawl: Transcending Generations and Cultures.

Pina: The Philippine Cloth of Pride, Endurance, and Passion at Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles, 2982 Adeline St., Berkeley.

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Notice Fran Lebowitz doesn’t try to soften her look at all with an accessory such as a brooch.

I’m interested in the profoundly superficial; people’s innermost thoughts are never as revealing as their jackets. 

Fran Lebowitz, American writer.

Fran Lebowitz is known for her signature style of suits paired with wingtip cowboy boots and button down shirts with french cuffs. Or on more casual days – Levi’s 501 jeans.

She found her style early in life as a twenty-something newbie to New York City. It was 1970 and she crossed paths with Andy Warhol, who soon asked her to write a column for his magazine – Interview.

In her youth she sported jeans, Oxford shirts, pullover sweaters, and penny loafers. A simple preppy look, which was not uncommon at the time. At some point she decided that was “too childish” so she dumped the sweaters and went looking for men’s jackets and suits. A foot problem led her to cowboy boots, which she has to have custom made as they don’t come in wingtips.

A social commentator with a sense of (dry) humor and a sharp wit, Ms. Lebowitz has written two books and numerous essays mostly on American society. Law and Order fans may have spotted her playing Judge Goldberg in several episodes.

She’s a regular at NYC Fashion Week and hobnobs with the likes of Carolina Herrera and Diane von Furstenberg. She shares her tailor, Anderson & Sheppard, with Prince Charles and her shirts are from Hilditch & Key on Jermyn Street in London. (If Beau Brummell were alive, he’d be impressed.)

In 2007 she was inducted into the Vanity Fair International Best Dressed Hall of Fame.

So what does Lebowitz’s suit jacket say about her?

  • She likes things just so.
  • She’s confident.
  • Willing to spend on quality.
  • She does things her way.
  • Completely committed to the masculine look.
  • She likes her jackets a little on the big side.

 

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Dorothy Parker in 1935.

They looked alike, though the resemblance did not lie in their features. It was in the shape of their bodies, their movements, their style, and their adornments. Annabel and Midge did, and completely, all that young office workers are besought not to do. They painted their lips and their nails, they darkened their lashes and lightened their hair, and scent seemed to shimmer from them. They wore thin, bright dresses, tight over their breasts and high on their legs, and tilted slippers, fancifully strapped. They looked conspicuous and cheap and charming. 

Dorthy Parker (1893-1967), American author.

Quote from The Standard of Living, 1941.

Favorite words in this quote: adornments, besought, fancifully, conspicuous, charming. Stylish words that are not used much anymore.

As for the idea of not painting our lips and darkening our lashes? Perish the thought!

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IMG_20180322_114748Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have. they say, more important offices than merely to keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us. 

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) – English author. This quote is from Ms. Woolf’s 1925 novel, Orlando.

Virginia Woolf’s sense of style was very much of her era and social set – bohemian 1920s. We might call it “effortless elegance” today. She favored long cardigans and printed skirts that draped so nicely on her tall slender figure. She didn’t go with the popular bob hairstyle but instead, staying just askew of fashion, she sported an untidy bun at the nape of the neck. Strands of long beads and fringed shawls were among her accessory choices.

She often referred to clothing in her novels and commented in her diary that “I must remember to write about my clothes …”

 

 

 

 

 

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IMG_20180325_113517751_HDRPeople laugh at fashion. ‘It’s just clothes,’ they say. Right. Just clothes. Except, not one of the people I’ve heard mock fashion was naked at the time. They all got dressed in the morning, picking clothes that said, ‘Hey, I’m a successful banker.’ Or, ‘I’m a tired teacher’ … a decorated soldier … a pompous judge … a cheeky barmaid … a lorry driver, a nurse … You could go on for ever. Clothes show you who you are, or who you want to be. 

Ella, 14 year-old character in the Young Adult novel, The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington.

The Red Ribbon tells the story of Ella, who as a prisoner of “Birchwood”  (a WWII concentration camp in Poland) struggles to keep hold of her dreams to become a dress designer. With her advanced skills as a seamstress she works in the camp’s sewing workshop where young women make clothing for the wives of Birchwood officials.

I heard an interview with author and costume historian Lucy Adlington on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour. Promoting the book she talked about her research and the facts behind slave labor in the camps, including the making of beautiful clothing. Ms. Adlington based her novel on the true story of the Upper Tailoring Studio at Auschwitz, which was put in place by the Commandant’s wife, Hedwig Hoss. She had skilled women prisoners recruited  to make bespoke clothing for her, other officials’ wives, and female guards. Eventually there were 23 seamstresses working in the Upper Tailoring Studio, one of the better jobs to have in such a place.

This is a very interesting piece of fashion history woven into a well crafted novel of horror and hope. Although at times it’s shocking and upsetting, I highly recommend it for just that kind of truth.

I have also read Ms. Adlington’s non-fiction fashion history book, Stitches in Time: The Story of the Clothes We Wear (Random House UK, 2015). Another excellent read for those who love all things fashion history.

Check out her web-page: http://www.historywardrobe.com/index.html

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