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IMG_0292One more London story! On my visit last October, I set out to find the Beau Brummell statue. Erected in 2002 the statue stands just outside Piccadilly Arcade on Jermyn Street.

It’s not easy to find. But we did and much to my surprise we also found a couple of bums hanging at the feet of Mr. Brummell. I suspect they were not not there to pay homage. Ha! I doubt they had any idea who this man was or his importance in fashion history.

George Bryan “Beau” Brummell (1778-1840) was London born and a general man-about-town with royal connections. He was known for gambling and unusual sartorial choices. In the British Regency period (1811-1820) the trends for aristocratic gentlemen were embroidered coats and waistcoats (Brit speak for vests), knee breeches, white stockings and shoes with gem encrusted buckles. They sported tall wigs, white powder makeup with red stain in their lips and fragrance.

It was too much for Mr. Brummell who pushed back with a simply tailored “suit” the first of its kind – a white linen shirt underneath a tan waistcoat, black coat with tails, fitted pantaloons paired with tall boots, a cravat (predecessor to the tie), and top hat. No wigs, no makeup and most of all no scent! He believed in bathing everyday, which was not the done thing at the time.

The story goes that it took him several hours to dress each morning and men would line up outside his flat in Mayfair hoping to secure a place inside to watch how he did it. Among the admirers was the Prince Regent, later to become King George IV.

He had quite a lasting influence on men’s attire.

I’m a fan of Mr. Brummell’s for his contribution to fashion but also, he was an interesting character with high style standards and a quick wit. I was more than a little annoyed by these two men just sitting with no intent to leave, even after noticing my photo taking. But I after awhile I began to enjoy the irony and humor of the dapper dandy standing confident and tall over a couple of shoddy fellas. I imagined him poking his walking stick at one guy and offering a nice swift kick to the other. Indeed, at the feet of Mr. Brummell is exactly where these two belong.

Have I piqued your interest in Brummell? I recommend the biopic called Beau Brummell: The Charming Man (2006).

And/or the biography by Ian Kelly, Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Dandy (Hodder & Stoughton).

 

 

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My mom has (jokingly) started calling me “Mom” …  since she now needs a little more attention. So, I say let’s celebrate moms of all kinds.

Happy Mother’s Day from us to you!

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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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I could go to 10 Avenue George V wearing the most uneventful outfit and emerge with the certainty that to the knowing, or even to the ignorant, eye I was well dressed. A Balenciaga could be outlandishly showy or, like mine, almost plain. What they all had, uniquely, was poise – a savant equilibrium that was quiet even at its most extravagant – and this poise was passed onto the wearer. It was my blue light wool Balenciaga suit that enabled me to take out a notepad and quiz Eleanor Roosevelt at the Hotel de Crillon as if I were (almost) entitled to. 

– Mary Blume, columnist and author of: The Master of Us All Balenciaga: His Workrooms, His World (FS&G, 2013)

16864778_1621459711199312_3192038558631594158_nMs. Blume was a lucky young woman when in the early 1960s, after having arrived in Paris to work as a journalist, she was introduced to Florette, Christobal Balenciaga’s top vendeuse.* Florette took to Ms. Blume and often invited her into the storied fashion house to peruse the designs and buy a few older pieces at a sizeable discount.

The luck continued and more recently Ms. Blume was able to interview 90-something Florette before she died in 2006. The devoted vendeuse still had a sharp memory, providing for Ms. Blume a detailed look at the inner workings of the Balenciaga fashion house, from the time she was hired in 1936 to the day it closed in 1968. The result is the biography (and fashion history) – The Master of Us All Balenciaga: His Workrooms, His World.

A great book! I particularly enjoyed the bits about how fashion houses operated in those days – far less commercial – and I appreciated Ms. Blume’s detailed inclusion of the historical context in which Balenciaga was working. Lot’s of stories on other designers of the era (Dior) as well as society ladies, models, and … the vendeuses.

*A vendeuse worked in designer fashion houses with clients helping them choose pieces from each new collection. She collaborated with the seamstresses in fittings and saw to appointments and the overall satisfaction of her clients. She was part saleswoman, part stylist and a very important member of the staff. A good vendeuse was invaluable to any designer.

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amelia-earhartWhen I’m flying in my little plane, I usually wear a sports costume with a rather full skirt and a close-fitting hat. Sometimes I slip a leather windbreaker on under my coat, for the temperature drops as one ascends.  … Usually on a solo flight, I wear low-heeled shoes, because with low heels it is easier to keep my feet braced on the rubber bar … On the Friendship flight … the trip was pioneering one, and comforts were not thought of. For instance, there was no step from the pontoons to the door, and I couldn’t have jumped into the plane in a skirt. Further … we had dumped everything to sit on, to save weight. Squatting on a rolled flying suit, or kneeling on one knee, or sliding between the large gas tanks wouldn’t have left much of ladylike ensemble.

Amelia Earhart (1897-disappeared 1937), pilot and first women to fly solo across the Atlantic. This quote is from an essay Ms. Earhart wrote for Harper’s Bazaar in 1929.

Ha! And we think we have it hard flying these days.

Ms. Earhart created her own style for flying, which often included trousers, button down shirt topped with a leather jacket and a scarf. Looking at photos it seemed she felt more comfortable in sporty attire than the more traditional feminine frocks of her era.

Speaking of flying and attire, as I get ready for traveling this week I’m pondering what to wear in flight. It is tough in these days of overcrowded airplanes balancing comfort with looking presentable. Anything tailored is too restricting, skirts are impractical for sitting, and who wants to risk our really nice pieces of clothing to the grit and grim of airline seats?

I usually go simple in corduroy pants and a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt. I add a scarf and my trusty beret for a little chic factor – accessories can upgrade any outfit. Outerwear might be my tweed coat or this time of year I think I’ll go with a puffer vest. Oxfords rather than sneakers also keep the look sharp. (Although, sneakers are looking pretty darn fashionable lately.)

How about you, my fashionable readers? How you do manage to look nice and stay comfortable while flying? Vintage-loving readers, how do you keep vintage while traveling?

Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

 

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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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