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Spectators were my go-to shoe for Gatsby Summer Afternoon.

I like spectators. They’re very … mmm … get out of my way, here I come!

Lucinda Marshall, fashion follower, retired antique jewelry dealer, my mother.

This was Mom’s response when I told her what shoes I planned to wear to Gatsby Summer Afternoon.

Well, I didn’t really want to send a “get out of my way” message. My choice was more about comfort since I would be doing a lot of walking and the color combo of blue and white was a good match with my dress. But I know what Mom meant. Spectators are a statement.

Spectator shoes were originally designed for men in 1868 by British shoe maker John Lobb. They were a two-tone Oxford style and intended for playing cricket. In the 1920s the style grew in popularity for casual daytime wear but thought of, by British gentlemen, as rather flashy and therefore a tasteless choice. Edward, Prince of Wales was a big fan in the 1930s and wore spectators often. His approval eased the way for other men and soon the “tasteless” label faded.

The style became an option for women in the 1930s in Oxfords or pumps and have been around ever since. Aside from the two-tone (in white and black, tan, or navy) what distinguishes a spectator is the brogue decoration around the edges of the shoe.

Today spectators are still a stylish choice. Not in or out of fashion, but a vintage classic appropriate for spring and summer.

01. The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season by Rene Magritte, 1943. The start of a new period for the artist.

A day spent surrounded by art is both refreshing and inspiring. So, on a recent weekday afternoon I happily made my way to SFMOMA to view the current exhibit Rene Magritte: The Fifth Season, on now through October 28, 2018.

Rene Magritte (1898-1967) was a Belgium Surrealist painter known for his use of everyday images such as pipes, umbrellas, and his famous bowler hats. Having enjoyed a successful career in the early part of the 20th century, as he reached middle-age Magritte shifted away from his style and explored other techniques and approaches to making art. Affected by WWII and German occupation of his homeland, in 1947 he commented, “I live in a very unpleasant world now. That’s why my painting is a battle, or rather a counteroffensive.”

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Night Sky with Bird, 1945.

Rene Magritte: The Fifth Season features more than 70 works from the artist’s late career, thought of as his “Fifth Season” 1943-1967. During this period he stayed with his fascination of images but he played with different brushstrokes, used gouache (watercolor) instead of oil paints, and he even used different mediums. (Due to a shortage of materials during the German Occupation, Magritte used bottles as canvas perhaps tapping back into Surrealism.)

The SFMOMA exhibit is timed, meaning that tickets are sold for particular time slots. I joined the 3pm group, which was a reasonable size that moved at a decent pace allowing for comfortable viewing. Not one of us posed in front of the art for endless selfies – how nice was that? Very! There are seven galleries each keeping with a theme of images or subject.

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A Sense of Reality, 1963.

One of my favorite galleries was Gravity and Flight, not so much because the works appealed to me, but because some of them, one in particular, made me uncomfortable. Part of the joy of viewing art is thinking and feeling. When I first spotted Le sens des realities (A Sense of Reality, 1963) I immediately thought, “Oh that looks like an old dried potato.” I knew of course it was a rock, suspended in air. As I took time with the large painting, I felt uneasy expecting, wanting that rock to fall! I studied the ugly grayish mass and the more I stared, noticing blue undertones, the less repugnant it became. This huge rock floating in the beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds is oh-so-Magritte – unexpected and incongruous. The best part is the crescent moon at a distance right above the rock.

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A section of Sheherazade, 1950.

Something else that caught my attention was the repetition of a little object that I spotted in three paintings. It reminded me of a yo-yo but it’s a bell. One of Magritte’s many icons that, like the apple, dove, clouds, he used time and time again, sometimes as the focus of a piece or often just another added object.

I spent about an hour and a half in the exhibit but the rest of the day thinking about it. Viewers can spend as much time as they like but once out of the galleries there is no re-entry.

Rene Magritte: The Fifth Season at SFMOMA is an excellent opportunity for some thought-provoking fun! Don’t miss it.

Click here for more information. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Son of Man by Rene Magritte, 1964.

The Bowler … poses no surprise. It is a headdress that is not original. The man with the bowler is just middle-class man in his anonymity. And I wear it. I am not eager to singularize myself. 

Rene Magritte (1898-1967) – Belgium Surrealist painter. Quote – 1966.

Bowler hats were a popular informal choice for European middle-class men starting in the mid-19th century. Magritte used the simple chapeau in his work at first in the 1920s. Then again in the latter part of his career. The bowler is the iconic image most associated with Magritte.

Oh how the world changes. Back in the day, a bowler represented the every man blending into obscurity. But today a fella sporting a bowler is very much a surprise, a standout, and anything but anonymous.

A man in a hat? How surreal!

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Eleanor Lambert, circa 1930s. Photo by Cecil Beaton.

In January 1943 … fifty-three editors from across the United States came to Fashion Week for the first time. The Collections were all to be shown in the glorious, million-square-foot neo-Rococo Plaza Hotel. which, standing at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street in Manhattan, dominates Grand Army Plaza and overlooks the tangle of Central Park. Here, in the hotel’s majestic, gilded ballrooms, the writers and editors were given a privileged look at the newest styles six months in advance of the upcoming season. 

 

The woman behind the very first Fashion Week in 1943 was Eleanor Lambert (1903-2003), a fashion publicist. Ms. Lambert was all about marketing American fashion and fashion designers. Not only did she come up with the idea of Fashion Week she also founded the International Best Dressed List and the Coty’s Fashion Award.

Up until Fashion Week, regional fashion journalists were limited in their reporting to what fashions were available in the local department stores and boutiques. Ms. Lambert offered journalists from across the country an opportunity to meet designers and see in person their latest designs during an extensive fashion show. What she had in mind was additional and broadened fashion coverage and of course increased sales for her clients.  It certainly was a game changer for fashion journalism.

This is one of many fashion tid-bits I found in the book –  Charles James Portrait of an Unreasonable Man: Fame, Fashion, Art. By Michele Gerber Klein (Rizzoli). Ms. Lambert is one among many individuals (artists, socialites, designers) who circulated around and crossed paths with Charles James. Their stories make for an interesting and informative read.

Fashion Week is still with us. NYFW happens September 6-14, 2018.

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Photo: Vanity Fair, March 2018. 

I prefer quality to luxury. Luxury can become tacky when it’s too much. You have to have the perfect mix of good taste and charm. 

Diego Della Valle – president and CEO of the Tod’s Group, a leading Italian fashion brand.

The man behind the popular Tod’s driving moccasin is also the man behind the reconstruction of the Colosseum in Rome (he pledged $34 million).

To give generously to one’s community – that’s pure good taste!

 

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Late last month I ventured to Woodland Hills, CA for my very first Costume College, which is an annual “costuming arts conference” brought to us by Costumer’s Guild West, Inc. Attendees enjoy three days of workshops and lectures on all things period costuming and history. There are also special events such as an opening night social, a grand ball with a red carpet! Afternoon tea, a small marketplace, an exhibit, photo ops, and I’m sure I’ve left out something. Each year has a theme and this year it was – Dressing the Royals.

Costume College has been around for 26 years and over time it has grown from a mostly local event to attracting people from all over the country and the world. In 2017 there were just over 400 attendees – this year CC topped out at around 650. That’s a big leap in one year.

It seems cosplay (big in the LA area) has sparked an interest in period costuming prompting people to check this out. I would also suggest that the current desire for “experiences” might also play a role. I spoke to a few people who were first timers. One woman from LA has been involved in reenactments but she had only recently heard about CC. Another is a regular at various cosplay events and wanted to expand her costuming adventures. There were young and not-so-young, women and men but mostly women. Almost all of the people I spoke with are serious sewists – the more complex the outfit the better.

 

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The lobby on Friday morning.

Once upon a time I was into Victorian ballroom dancing and I had a local seamstress make a Victorian gown for me, but that’s as far as I went. Other than the 1920s-40s, I’m actually not that interested in costuming for myself. So at CC I focused on the fashion history lectures, which were a mixed bag. I noticed quickly that the quality varied. The presenters who were academics gave strong in-depth lectures on their subjects and were able to answer just about any question thrown at them. Lectures given by people who worked in or owned businesses that related to their topic, such as historical shoes, were excellent.  But there were some instructors that had simply chosen a topic they liked and done basic internet research and those presentations were thin. Given that everyone who works Costume College, including the instructors, are volunteers perhaps this is not surprising but nevertheless, disappointing.

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Waiting to walk the Red Carpet.

Speaking of volunteers, I tip my hat to the board and every one of the volunteers who spent months putting CC together. I could see how much work it must be and it seemed on the surface to go smoothly. I also want to give a shout out to the Woodland Hills Marriott. I usually don’t care for big corporate hotels, but this one was a pleasure! I had a few minor problems over my stay and the staff were friendly and went out of their way for me. My room was spacious and clean. The two swimming pools were kept immaculate.

Back to CC. The organizers ask attendees if they’d like to take a volunteer shift over the weekend and I was happy to do that. At the last minute my original assignment was changed to crowd control at the Red Carpet. People in costume are invited to walk a red carpet on Saturday evening before the Grand Ball. My job was to direct them to a staging room before walking. It was an intense two hours as people in packs kept coming and coming off the elevators donning all array of costumes. Given the theme I spotted many a Queen Victoria. I also saw Renaissance, Regency, Georgian (a very popular choice), Victorian, Edwardian … even a 1920s flapper. There were Steampunk ensembles and a couple of odd sci-fi creature type costumes. After awhile the scene became a whirlwind of time travel, but the nearby Starbucks sign kept me grounded.

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The Queen Victoria Trio.

What did I wear? For the daytime lectures I wore vintage inspired pieces that I made myself, or were custom made, paired with vintage accessories. My look was pretty consistent with what I wear everyday anyway – 1920s/30s. As I mentioned I’m not into extravagant period costumes so I avoided most of the special events. I did briefly pop into one or two and even though it is stressed that no one HAS to wear a costume, I felt pretty uncomfortable. Plus people who attend year after year know each other and kind of stick together. It’s tough for newbies.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one not into dressing up. After my volunteer shift I stopped into the Hospitality Suite for a bit of rest and refreshment, I chatted with a couple of women who told me that they enjoy making costumes but not dressing themselves. They explained that there are really two camps at CC – the making and the crafting and the dressing and showing.

I believe that! I noticed that some people had multiple elaborate costumes, a different one for every event. We are talking hoops, corsets, layers of undergarments, wigs, hats. Oh my! I kept thinking – how does one travel with all that stuff and indeed there was a lecture on that very topic. (On a side note, it was a visual shock Monday morning to see the same people roaming around the lobby in leggings and flip flops.)

Overall I enjoyed my first Costume College. I learned new things, met interesting people, and found inspiration here and there. I’d say it’s an experience worth the effort at least once.

Interested? The theme next year is: What’s That Fabric.

 

 

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Austine Hearst models a Charles James coat for a 1954 Vogue fashion shoot. Photo from the book Charles James: Portrait of an Unreasonable Man. 

Sometimes in my family, they remade old clothes over and over. They would go up to the attic, choose an outmoded dress, and restyle it: take the buttons off one thing and put them on another. In the South in that period before and following the Civil War, when the attic began being filled, they saved everything, so that in my girlhood there were just endless resources: pieces of ribbon, bolts of lace, boxes of feathers, and pieces of fur, buttons, and buckles. Nothing was ever thrown away. 

Austine Hearst (1920-1991), American journalist, fashion model, and socialite.

Perhaps Ms. Hearst (nee McDonnell) was an original promoter of restyled/recycle fashion. She certainly was an admirer of and good friend to fashion designer Charles James, who created the famous Clover Leaf Ball Gown. Ms. Hearst modeled the gown in the 1954 March of Dimes Fashion Show.

The story goes that with the gown came a short evening jacket. Hours before the fashion show, Ms. Hearst had five dozen fresh gardenias attached all over the jacket. It was reported by Bill Cunningham that the scent was “intoxicating.” While walking the runway, she removed the jacket and flung it into the audience. Aaaa choo!