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yujawang1_erichcampingphotocreditIt’s hard to find clothes because I’m so petite. In my twenties, I’d put on my tight Herve Leger dress and heels, and it looked like I was going to the bar. Concert goers think, Classical music – it’s really serious. There are lots of rules, and the dress code, which I broke, was one of them. It’s irrelevant to what we’re doing. It’s just a piece of cloth, but once it’s on my body, it boosts my confidence, and that translates to the music. 

Yuja Wang, concert pianist.

There is a dress code for classical music performers – black. I have seen all versions of  black on performers from very elegant dresses in lace to bland slacks and sweaters.

Fashionista Ms. Wang is tossing all that aside and donning what she pleases, often very short, very tight, and in color. I hate to see the black tradition disappear, however, it seems from what I read about Wang, that a little fashion spice suits her personality and passion for playing.

Having said that, I do think Wang pushes the envelope a little too far when she chooses dresses like the one on the photo above. Come on! It’s no longer about the music with those slits. The shoes are what I call Stripper Shoes, which are fine for clubbing but not for weddings, christenings, elegant affairs of any kind including classical music concerts.

I suspect that the all black policy is intended to place the music first even above the performer. It’s true that colorful clothing really does stand out and may be distracting. There’s nothing wrong with a little sex appeal on stage but actually, I think passion for the music takes care of that.

 

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Cover design by Robert Smith.

Put this on your Summer Reading List: Vamps of ’29 by Alice Jurow.

Vamps of ’29 is a captivating and fashionable tale of three models in 1920s Paris, who, as it happens, are not just vamps but vampires, too.

Alice Jurow is a friend of mine from the Art Deco Society of California. Back in the 1990s Alice was the editor of the Society’s publication, The Sophisticate, and I wrote the occasional feature article.

In addition to editing Alice also writes, having penned articles on art, style, and architecture. She’s a big fan of writing fiction as well, with many a short story under her belt and now she has published her first novel.

I was pleased when Alice agreed to a Q&A with OverDressedforLife.

What was the inspiration for your first novel? How long did it take you?

Vamps of ’29 first grew out of one specific, fashion-related prompt. My friend Sally Norton (of Foggy Night Jewelry) was telling me about a Greater Bay Area Costumers Guild event; it was a vampire port tasting, and she said there would be a lot of 18th and 19th century costuming but she would love it if some of the “Deco gals” came as “vampires in little black 1920s Chanel frocks.” That image took root, and several months later I realized I wanted to write about it. Since I’m slow, and subject to distractions, the book took about four years.

What drew you to the well-covered topic of vampires?

I’m pretty squeamish, actually, so I was never really drawn to the genre  — but of course Anne Rice’s ‘Interview with the Vampire’ was so compelling and created such a complete world. And the oh so stylish movie ‘The Hunger,’ with Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie. But it was really Buffy [the Vampire Slayer] that sort of “domesticated” vampires, making them characters with personalities and humor. For a while I worried that my vampires were breaking too many rules of the genre (they can be seen in mirrors, for example) — but I did a bit of research and found that vampires vary quite a bit from one source to another. It is fiction after all – right?

Author Alice

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Author Alice Jurow. Photo: Heidi Schave.

There is a lot of scrumptious 1920s fashion detail in your book and I know you know so much about that era, but did you find you had to do some research? Where did you search?

The fashion details were already in my head, after years of being steeped in images and descriptions from the period — I could basically “see” what the characters were wearing in any given scene.  But I did quite a bit of research on other things, like train schedules and jazz clubs. It’s amazing how much is on the internet — and how much isn’t. I found some wonderful books in the Berkeley Public Library.

(Let’s hear it for libraries!)

How do you go about writing? Do you start with longhand or go straight to the computer?

There’s some writing I can bang out right at the keyboard, but with fiction I always start in longhand and then revise when typing.

Describe your usual writing environment.

Ideally it’s a beautiful afternoon in the garden … but barring that, a comfy chair in the living room. With a tiny cocktail or a lovely coffee.

When I sit down to write I have a my preferred notebook next to me and a couple of my special pencils, do you have favorite writing instruments to take notes?

I hate to waste paper, so I used to always write on recycled printer paper that had one side blank, but I worried about losing pages. So I switched to old notebooks that were only partly used. But I think I’ve used up all the ones around the house, so I may need to buy a new notebook!  Spiral bound, with pockets. I admire beautiful pens, but I write with ordinary ballpoints.

(I love that you don’t waste paper. I also use old notebooks, mostly leftover from college. But I do like choosing new writing supplies. I recommend Elmwood Stationers on College Avenue.)

I picture you at your writing table in your signature turban and red lipstick. Do you like to dress to get into the mood of your story?

I definitely dress to write, even if it’s just a gesture. Often I’m in jodhpurs — “writing breeches.” Red lipstick is essential.

(Always.)

Care to tell us what you’re working on next?

I feel that my characters aren’t done with me yet, and being immortal, they want to move on. They are in the 1930s now.

Thank you, Alice and congratulations!! We look forward to more from you.

Vamps of ’29 is available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

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Fashion sketches by Virginia Johnson published in Descant.

I paint all of my designs by hand. I use watercolor on paper. This is my most cherished part of the creative process. I welcome accidents in my sketches. In the manufacturing process, I try as much as possible to maintain a hand-crafted feel. I welcome print flaws in the fabric because this allows the presence of the human hand to show through.

Virginia Johnson – artist and designer.

This quote is from an essay Ms. Johnson wrote for the fashion issue of Descant, volume 38, number 3, fall 2007.

I agree with Ms. Johnson’s idea of slight imperfections in anything handmade. I’m reminded of something Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York (is she still a duchess?) said when she was asked if she was nervous about modeling for an upcoming fashion show: “No,” she responded with a grin. “I think perfection is overrated.”

A perfectionist myself, that really struck me and I’ve remembered it ever since. It can be very liberating when working on any creative project to let go and see where the craft leads. (I admit my quest for perfection still plagues me when it comes to some of my writing projects.)

If we worry less about the outcome and just enjoy the process, that’s where we find art.

 

 

 

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There are a lot of fashion looks strutting around the Cannes Film Festival – day and evening. Much of it not my cup of tea but here are several favorites:

 

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Cute and sassy daytime Moschino outfit worn by British model Cara Delevingne. The red beret makes the look.

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Androgyny in teal is the look of choice for model Aymeline Valade. Hard to pull off but the pop of color helps.  Dangle earrings soften the ensemble but I would switch out the Oxford shoes for a 1940s peep-toe heel in black and pull up the hair for more feminine/masculine contrast.

 

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Stunning in red is model Sara Sampaio. Dress by Zuhair Murad. A classic silhouette allows the color and fabric do all the work. I like her hair casually pulled back and no jewelry at the neckline is perfect.

 

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Elegant simplicity worn by French model/actress Lily Rose Depp from the Chanel resort line. I love the cap sleeves set off with unexpected detailing. It looks like the sides are partially bare, which adds interest. Soft ivory color with gold accents is perfect for spring and this event.

 

 

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Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons spring/summer 1997

What’s so inspiring about Rei is that for her the body has no bounds, and fashion itself has no limits. That to me is what her legacy is — the body and the dress body in fashion is limitless … When you think about what’s been achieved in the last 40 years and the types of things we take for granted now — the unfinished, asymmetry, black as a fashionable color were pioneered by Rei. But beyond the formal aspects of that, she has always rebuffed the status quo … I feel if Rei didn’t exist we would have to invent her to explain the last 40 years because her impact in fashion is that big.

– Andrew Bolton, curator of the current Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC exhibit, Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between. 
This quote is from an interview with Mr. Bolton for Women’s Wear Daily.
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Paired with ballerina flats. Look at the tight shoulders. Kind of like she’s wrapped up.

I was just reading about Rei Kawakubo in a book about avant-garde fashion (Fashion Game Changers: Reinventing the 20th Century Silhouette, Bloomsbury). She says there is no meaning to her designs and yet people seem compelled to find something behind (between?) the unexpected bumps, pads, layers and outrageous silhouettes.

I find her fascinatingly inaccessible. I don’t know what to make of her designs except that they are:

1. Completely noncommercial.

2. They look like they’re challenging to wear.

3. They remind me of Leigh Bowery, the British club kid of the 1980s who also came up with some wild unflattering silhouettes.
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Leigh Bowery original design, 1980s.

There is one very big difference between the two – Mr. Bowery played in a dark and freaky arena, by making everything larger than life. Not to mention his makeup and masks. Ms. Kawakubo stays within the non-freak zone by using (sometimes) feminine prints and colors and showing her clothing on lovely mainstream models. She certainly bumps up against freak (pun intended!) but with a light, quiet hand.

I would say that perhaps Ms. Kawakubo uses the body as a canvas, so to speak, for her sculptures. And in doing so she has, as Mr. Bolton points out, impacted fashion.
Fashion model Anna Cleveland, an attendee of the recent Met Gala calls Ms. Kawakubo’s designs, “Walking art.”
Click here for more information on Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between on now at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Fashions by Mainbocher.

While visiting Chicago last month I took the opportunity to view the exhibition Making Mainbocher: The First American Couturier at the Chicago History Museum.

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A young Mainbocher.

Main Rousseau Bocher (1890-1976) was Chicago born and raised but as a young man he set off for adventure, first to New York City and later to Paris. He sported many hats before becoming a couturier, including an opera singer and a fashion illustrator for Harper’s Bazaar.

Quite spontaneously in 1929 he opened his first fashion house in Paris calling it Mainbocher – pronounced mon-bo-shay. For that touch of French chic he blended his first and last names. Known for his embellished ball gowns and smart suits, he soon became the go-to designer for socialites and celebrities of the time. American Wallis Simpson donned a Mainbocher piece for her wedding to Edward VIII in 1937.

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Butterfly evening dress in silk crepe, 1945.

In 1940, the early days of WWII,  Mainbocher decided to close his Paris house and reopen in NYC. There he established himself as the first American couturier, attracting the attentions of the elite chic. Additionally he designed for Broadway plays and was commissioned by the American military to design uniforms for the women’s voluntary services.

And all this is just a brief overview! Making Mainbocher: The First American Couturier follows the designer’s diverse career in detail and features 30 garments from the museum’s permanent collection as well as illustrations, photos, and audio interviews with some of his clients back in the day.

Located in a smallish gallery, this exhibit is just the right size allowing for a second and third walk around and a good gander at some of the fashions on display.

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Uniform for women’s voluntary services, WWII.

Making Mainbocher: The First American Couturier is on now through August 2017 at the Chicago History Museum. Any fashion enthusiast in the area should check it out!

 

 

 

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This quintessential hippie look is not usually my style but I was immediately drawn to it, particularly the denim skirt. I think perhaps because of my recent adventure into sewing, I see clothing a little differently.

IMG_20170406_184212208I’m inspired by the idea of reuse and patching denim pieces to create something new. But even more exciting to me is the exposed hand stitching in various bright colors. There is something very charming about that.

In our modern era of massed produced fast fashion it’s exciting to see handcrafted clothing that people took time with and cared about.

Find some Summer of Love favorites for yourself at The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll on now through August 20, 2017 at the de Young Museum, San Francisco.

Be there or be square!

 

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