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Posts Tagged ‘fashion icons’

El Museo Del Barrio 2016 Pre-Gala Bash

The lovely Isabel Toledo (1961-2019). Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images.

This week fashion designer Isabel Toledo died of breast cancer. What a loss!

I was a fan of Ms. Toledo, who as a teenager immigrated with her family from Cuba to the US. She and her husband, artist Ruben Toledo, moved to New York City in the 1980s hitting the pavement and knocking on department store doors looking for a place to sell their avant-garde fashions.

 

 

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Michelle Obama wears Isabel Toledo for the 2009 presidential inauguration. 

Ms. Toledo made fashion fame in 2009 when she designed Michelle Obama’s inaugural outfit – a shift dress and coat in what she called lemon grass. I recall reading in her memoir (Roots of Style: Weaving Together Life, Love, & Fashion) that they knew it was going to be freezing cold in Washington that day so they sewed layers of padding in the wool coat.

Prior to that in the 1990s, she shunned corporate driven fashion shows working instead with museums. Although she remained an independent designer, for a short time she was creative director for Anne Klein and designed a line of shoes for Payless and fashions for Lane Bryant.

What I like about Isabel Toledo’s designs is her use of textured fabrics and off colors. She was a unique creative spirit and how sad for us that she is gone.

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Manolo Blahnik, 1974

… everything that he did was to do with expressing himself. It was really only from his interest and passion that he dressed like that. He didn’t look like anyone else at that time because it was the time of hippies … and there he was like a creature from a completely different century. 

Penelope Tree, British former fashion model and friend of Manolo Blahnik.

This quote is from an interview with Ms. Tree in the documentary film, Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards.  She worked with Blahnik in London back in his early career. He initially wanted to be a fashion designer, but when he showed his illustrations to then US Vogue editor, Diana Vreeland, she encouraged him to design shoes.

Evidently. Blahnik liked his clothes and he was very particular. A man of taste, he insisted on well-tailored suits made of quality fabric in unique patterns. As Ms. Tree points out, he was wearing suits and more tailored clothing in an era when trends called for t-shirts and jeans. Today he’s still a dapper fella, sporting suits and bow ties.

I love a fashionable rebel!

 

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Gucci magazine ad, 2019.

You can lose nothing to your beauty but you want to put more and more just to be crazy.

Alessandro Michele, Italian designer and creative director at Gucci.

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An early Michele design for Gucci.

Mr. Michele took over the iconic Gucci brand in 2015 and quickly turned it around with a 12 percent growth in the first year. Initially I liked the new Michele/Gucci look. It was elegance with a twist – mixed patterns, unexpected color combinations, chunky jewelry but not too much. The look was big – exaggerated but still this side of good taste.

Then it got to be too much, at least for me. Busy ensembles and mash-up of colors, textures, and patterns – plaids with floral prints in bright colors, stripes with checks, added lace and embroidery making everyone look like a clown.

He got carried away with “more is more” and this crazy idea to be Crazy. Still, I admire the designer’s talent and I’m hoping he gets bored and dials it back. We shall see.

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It’s funny how clothes can be so emotional. They make you able to face the world in a spectacular way. 

Vivienne Westwood, British fashion designer and activist.

There’s a documentary on Vivienne Westwood just released and now showing at the Opera Plaza theater on Van Ness in San Francisco. But I have read that the designer is unhappy with the film, directed by Lorna Tucker. Apparently there’s way too much time spent on fashion and not enough focus on Westwood’s activism. She tweeted earlier this year that she does not want to be associated with the film.

Ah well, that’s too bad but it won’t stop me from seeing it.

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist is showing at the Opera Plaza through June 29th, 2018.

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The always dashing Tom Wolfe in 1980. Photo from the book Legendary Authors and the Clothes they Wore.

You never realize how much of your background is sewn into the lining of your clothes. 

Tom Wolfe (1930-2018), American author/journalist.

In addition to his writings of fiction (Bonfire of the Vanities) and non-fiction (The Right Stuff) Mr. Wolfe was know for his signature white suits. The story goes that in the early 1960s, he purchased his first white suit to wear in New York during the summer months. But he found that the fabric was too heavy and warm (I wonder what it was). So he sported his white suit in the winter instead and caused some attention because as we all know, white is only for summer! He continued to wear those white suits throughout the rest of his life and he often added details such as a vest, pocket square, and a hat.

RIP, Tom Wolfe. Your sartorial guidance will be missed.

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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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IMG_20180117_151930Marchesa Casati was quite the It Girl in early 20th Century Europe. With a family fortune backing her, she lived a large life in several Italian palaces and another one in Paris, bespoke and designer duds, jewels not just for her neck but also adorning the collection of the live exotic animals she kept close at hand – black panthers, snakes, and monkeys.

Infinite Variety The Life & Legend of the Marchesa Casati (University of Minnesota Press, 3rd ed.) by Scot D. Ryersson and Michael Orlando Yaccarino fills us in on all the details of the Marchesa and her surrounding admirers.

Her grandfather and father made their money in cotton milling during a time when Italy was a great exporter of the fabric. Luisa Adele Rosa Maria Amman was born in January 1881. Although pampered, Luisa was not the favorite of the family and not the beauty her older sister was, which made her a somewhat shy child.

As teenagers the girls lost both parents and inherited a great fortune. It was after marrying Camillo Casati at age 19 that Luisa began to reinvent herself, her style, and she discovered ways to spend her money. She was an unusual looking woman for the times standing tall and thin with a long neck, large dark eyes, and a mop of curly hair. Luisa decided to “exploit her type to the full” by chopping off her long tresses and dying it red and outlining her eyes with black coal.

Here she is described in 1920 by a Russian royal exile:

In the room where I was introduced, a woman of singular beauty was (reclining) on a tiger pelt with translucent veils outlining her slender body. Two greyhounds, one black and one white, were sleeping at her feet … I hardly noticed the presence of  an Italian officer … Our hostess raised her splendid eyes. They were so large in her pale face, you could not see anything but them. With a slow and undulant movement, like that of a royal cobra, she offered me a hand decorated with rings of giant pearls. The hand itself was ravishing. 

IMG_20180117_133130Sporting a new look and money no object Luisa was soon holding grand parties for which she created outlandish costumes. She caught the eye of artists Augusts John, Man Ray and a host of others who painted, sculpted, and photographed her. Isadora Duncan was a friend, Worth and Leon Bakst, costume designer for the Ballet Russes, are credited with dressing her.

Luisa overcame her timidity and successfully created a persona that men and women alike could not resist. She had that certain elusive something, which made her an early 20th century icon such as a modern day Lady Gaga. Indeed at first she reminded me of British fashion follower and muse Isabella Blow (1958-2007) but the Marchesa went way beyond the antics of Ms. Blow.

It was the aim it seems of the Marchesa to be seen, clothed or not, (she would have fit quite nicely into our modern world of selfies and social media). But why is the question I kept asking and this book did not answer. Although a great documentation of just about every outlandish party she ever held, what I found missing is any discussion as to what made this woman tick.

Infinite Variety is an interesting peek at an interesting woman but description after description of party after party and quotes about how extraordinary she was got repetitious. After awhile I got fed up with the Marchesa whose superficial ways cost her her only daughter and the family fortune. (Although I do applaud Luisa for stepping outside the conventions of the day. Something only a woman with money could do.)

For anyone interested in fashion, the Marchesa is worth knowing about since she was such an icon and muse even in recent fashion history to the likes of Alexander McQueen, Tom Ford, and John Galliano, but it’s hard for me to recommend a cover to cover read of this 259 page book. A brief skim and for sure spend some time with the images.

 

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