Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Golden Age

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At the Victoria and Albert Museum in London there is currently a wonderful exhibit called The Golden Age of Couture. If you are going to be anywhere NEAR London before January 8, don't miss it. It's fantastic.
Did you ever play that game where you pick which historical era you would like to have lived in? Well, for me, it would be post-World War II, the late 1940's through the 1950's. Oh, sure, I know it wasn't the most enlightened time socially speaking, and that our "Happy Days" perception of it in this country is rose-tinted and inaccurate. And perhaps there are more compelling periods to live in, intellectually or sociologically. But the truth of the matter is that I'm really not interested in living without either soap or mascara (not to mention a cocktail here & there), so I'm sorry, Versailles during Louis XIV is right out. But in 1947, there was soap, martinis, lipstick & eyeliner, good jazz, automobiles, and women got to look like this:

This is the Bar Suit from Christian Dior's 1947 New Look Collection. It's my ideal; my favorite silhouette of all time -- romantic and feminine and pretty darned swoony. Of course, I realize that the above is advertising photography and looking at it and saying that "women in 1947 looked like this" is roughly akin to saying "women of 2007 look like this" while perusing photos of Catherine Zeta-Jones at a red carpet event, but let's leave my fantasy alone, shall we? Had I been alive in 1947, I would ALWAYS have looked like this. End of discussion.

Hard as it is to believe, the New Look was rather shocking and revolutionary for its time. Remember, during WWII there was fabric rationing and all kinds of shortages -- this skirt, with its yards and yards and yards of fabric, was positively decadent. And many people now look on it as a step backwards for women -- during the War women had been brought into positions that were abandoned by men off fighting, working in factories and offices and making real strides forward in independence and power. After all the soldiers came home, the New Look signified women's return to a submissive role -- the soft shoulders, the wasp waist, the enormous, movement-inhibiting skirt.
Still, it's pretty hard to argue with this

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as a fabulous way to look.

The V&A exhibit focuses specifically on the world of post-War couture, so what they have on display is work from some of the most important designers of the 40's and 50's and it's truly wonderful to look at. The exhibit itself is... well, it's not the best-designed museum exhibit I've ever atttended, although it is chock-full of jaw-droppingly beautiful things. It's a crowded and not extremely well-organized -- don't take a large backpack or a child in a stroller, because there isn't a lot of space. There isn't a strictly organized traffic flow for any of it; so while I appreciate not being herded around like livestock, what I wound up feeling like was a rat in a maze, except not all the rats were going in the same direction so periodically there would be big clumps of rats that would reach a sort of impasse, or there would be one rat who wanted to spend longer in front of one dress or go back and compare it to another dress and that rat was prevented from doing so by the pack or just inconvenienced all the other rats by swimming upstream... okay, you get the picture. Enough with the rodent metaphor, and please don't think it in any way indicates that I don't think the exhibit is worthwhile, because it is not possible to feel rat-like while gazing on something like this:

This is the back of a gown by my beloved Cristobal Balenciaga, mid-50's. Breathtaking.

Balmain, 1957

Antonio Castillo for Lanvin-Castillo, 1957. The embroidery on this bodice is done by the firm of Lesage, still in existence today.

This tartan gown is by Jaques Fath from 1949. It was made for a member of British royalty, as I recall, for a state occasion. (Must remember to take notes!!)

Beaded and embroided pink satin shoes by Roger Vivier for Dior, late 50's. Swoon.

Gorgeous couture tailoring by Michael Donéllan in 1954. There is a large assortment of suiting by Donéllan, Balenciaga, Creed, Chanel, and others in the exhibit. A good suit is just as difficult (maybe more so) to make than a stunning evening gown, and the Fashionista in me was so frustrated that I couldn't climb up on the dais, take these things off the mannequins, and turn them inside-out to examine the cutting and seaming.

Balmain organza extravaganza, about 1950. Wheeeeee!!!

Silk brocade from Givenchy, mid-50's. This dress makes obvious why so many of Balenciaga's clients turned to Givenchy after Balenciaga closed his atelier.

Dior, 1957. I don't care who you are -- you put on this dress and you are instantly the most gorgeous thing in the room.

Worth, late 50's

Spectacularly beaded & embroidered velvet from Dior, 1956. This dress is cocktail length. You know, so it's more practical...

More Dior, black silk velvet and faille, 1949-50.

This is my favorite. Red silk chiffon from Jean Dessés, 1953. I'm pretty sure this dress dances all by itself. This is the dress of my dreams -- in this dress I would be perfectly perfect. I would drink nothing but champagne. I would have no split ends. My feet would never hurt. I would be as witty as a Phillip Barry play. I would dance divinely, my dear. Men in tuxedos would pursue me, planning to buy me jewels. Other women might hate me. I would not care.


The exhibit also has a really wonderful section of photography, with work by people like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, among others, including this one:

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Dovima with the Elephants, Richard Avedon, 1955 (The gown is Dior.)

The models in the photos from this period are so elegant, so beautiful, so witty, desirable, glamorous, so soignée... so everything we idealize in feminine beauty. They are positively inspirational. (And made me want even more to never, ever again see some grubby, hollow-eyed teenaged girl in need of a bath and about a dozen good meals modeling clothes.) I saw this exhibit with my wonderful friend Caroline, who is probably the best amateur photographer I know (and could give a lot of professionals a good run for their money) and she took this photo of me as an homage to them:

I've got nothing on Dovima or Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, but I do what I can.

(You can see more of Caro's beautiful photos
here. Check 'em out, you won't be sorry.)

I was not allowed to take photographs at the exhibit, but the nice people in the gift shop foolishly sold me a book of postcards, not guessing that I had a scanner and nefarious motives. But do take a gander at the truly great website that the V & A has put together for this exhibit. It has tons of information, a really interesting interactive timeline, and great photos. Look it over and plan your wardrobe for when we finally achieve time travel...

Photos: Victoria and Albert Museum, Caroline Charles

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Shopportunity -- November 28 is having a big sale -- up to 60% off. They have wonderful, wonderful things on this site, and their sale prices can be pretty impressive. Do bear in mind, however, that sizing can be limited on their sale items, so try not to fall in love with anything until you've made sure it's available in your size. Here are a few pretties just in time for the holidays, all at really great prices: Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Elissa Coleman dress. Just lovely, although I can't agree with these accessory choices. A small clutch and a daintier shoe seem called for here. But oh, how pretty under the mistletoe with a glass of champagne in your hand. Wear makeup with a little gold in it, and put some golden shimmer on your shoulders.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Vera Wang Lavender -- lovely, easy dress, and made of jersey, in case you have to travel for the holidays. Would dress up very beautifully with some sparkly jewelry and special shoes, with a nice sparkly black shrug or special dress coat over it. If you're going for shimmer with some of the fab metallics around this season, this one cries out for silver. Like some really fantastic silver shoes. Like these:
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Moschino Cheap & Chic -- perfectly little top for a holiday cocktail party -- great with jeans or a skirt.

A few other notes: several people have asked me for information on the specifics of Hermes scarves, and most importantly, how to tie them. I'm going to do a little research and I'll get a post together about this in the next few days.

Also, you've probably noticed that there are some new banner ads here in the blog. Yes, I've gone a bit commercial. The blog is almost a year old now, and it's time this thing started earning its keep. I've been rather particular about whose ads I post -- it's only sites that I feel good about recommending. Also, being an affiliate to these sites means I should get more information on sales and special codes from them that I can let you know about, so that's all good.

Now go -- shop!!


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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My Favorite Mistake

Well, since Plumcake already outed me, I guess I'd better spill. Here's what I brought home from Paris:

I went on this trip determined to bring back two souvenirs, one each from London and Paris. My London item was another bottle of one of my Top Three perfumes, Tolu by Ormonde Jayne, about which I have spoken here before.

The other one was an Hermes scarf.

The scarf design is called "Jeu des Omnibuses et Dames Blanches." It was the very first design ever made into an Hermes scarf in 1928, and has been reissued several times in different colorways. (I'd love to see what the original looked like, if anyone knows how to get that info.) I'd seen the scarf in a magazine advertisement in the black and white colorway and was very taken with its graphic quality, but when I got to the boutique the scarf (carré, as they're sometimes known) revealed itself to have a background of mostly light gray, which is a color I try to never, ever wear next to my face. So the nice SA smiled and brought out this one. This is a vintage carré, which means it's a little smaller than the regular ones -- 70 x 70 cm instead of 90 x 90.

The detail on these things are really phenomenal -- these scarves are works of art, and if you do a little research on the interwebs (which I did), you'll discover that if kept in good condition they never depreciate. They're like buying jewelry. They get mentioned in peoples' wills. They never go out of style. It doesn't matter what size you are, they will always fit. These are just a few of the justifications I came up with for dropping a wad of cash on what is basically a big square of fabric.

I've been really doing more of the scarf thing in the last year or so, brought about mainly by four trips to Paris in the last three years. I have some great ones that I got from my mom & grandma, some nice vintage finds, and I've treated myself to a couple of Ferragamos from the outlet near here. I have friends who say they never wear scarves because it makes them feel sort of mumsy and frumpy, but when you see the way Parisian women pull it off it puts a whole new spin on things. Watch enough of these creatures walk past with various knots and bows across necks and collarbones and shoulders, and suddenly a big printed square of silk fabric tied about your person in some manner seems an absolute requirement for style and a signifier of chic.

It's also a great way to disguise your tourist status. Tie an Hermes scarf around your neck and put away your plan de Paris and it's almost a guarantee that before you know it people will be speaking blazing fast French to you whether you want them to or not. (Of course, if you still insist on wearing bright white tennis shoes and a sweatshirt embroidered with the name of your alma mater, you can be wrapped head toe to in Hermes scarves and it's not going to help. Make an effort, people.) That's what happened to me, anyway. It was flattering but disconcerting at times. "Je suis desolée, madame, votre francais est trop vite pour moi," is now a phrase that rolls off my tongue pretty easily.

Like I said, these are expensive little shmattes. And you can get them in the duty-free sections of the airport, but I believe that the money you don't save buying it at the boutique is paying for the absolutely delightful experience of walking into one of the most historic and exclusive fashion houses in Paris and knowing you're about to make a purchase.

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And the scarf counter is particularly lovely -- it runs a long distance down one side of the main room, and there is an army of black-clad SAs waiting to unfurl these beauties and spread them on the counter for you, to knot them around your neck, to hold them up to your face and cock their heads as they consider the color against your skin. One of the things I love about Paris is that customer service jobs (especially in high-end establishments) are not taken quite so lightly as they are here; they're not merely placeholder jobs that you do while you're finishing up college, they're careers. And so behind the scarf counter you see all sorts of people, from young men who couldn't be more than 23 to older women who've obviously been doing this a good long time and have now forgotten more about scarves and chic than I will ever even know. All dressed in black, bien sûr. And beautifully accessorized.

So I wore my scarf around Paris and I was very happy and then it came time to leave Paris and that's when some sort of madness struck me. It's a familiar madness, mind you, but no less dangerous for that.

I didn't have trouble getting to the airport the morning I left, despite the transit strike that was going on. From Saint Germain in a taxi it only took me about 40 minutes. Going the other direction, however, as all the folks who live in the Parisian suburbs and work in the city (and there are lots; like Manhattan, Paris is physically a very small city with lots of commuters) tried to get to work without the benefit of commuter trains, it was a complete nightmare. My cab driver, who spoke an interesting and entertaining combination of English, French, and Chinese (Franglese?) told me that according to reports from the other cabbies, he was looking at a three-hour drive to get back into town. And because of whatever rules & regulations are imposed on cabbies, he was not permitted to pick up a fare at the airport. So fully half his day was spent on one fare -- moi. I felt pretty crummy about this and made sure I tipped him.

Charles de Gaulle was the usual madness and crush of tourists, many of whose luggage situations made me feel like my enormous Samsonite (the Beast) was traveling light. (Seriously -- some of these people could have attached engines to their suitcases and driven them to wherever they were going.) Alas, my flight was delayed. And yet -- even though my plane was not boarding until two hours later than its originally scheduled time, they were closing the check-in line an hour before the original flight time. So I stood in line for 45 minutes and checked the Beast and was told that they couldn't re-book my connecting flight in Houston from this counter (I decided not to press the matter by saying something like, "Um, why not? Is your computer an underachiever?") (I was re-booked very quickly & efficiently a short time later by a very helpful clerk at the gate who was very nice to me while muttering under her breath the whole time -- in English and French -- about the stupidity of the people in the front of the airport. Makes me wonder if there's some sort of front-of-house/back-of-house rivalry that goes on and results in rumbles on the jetways late at night. Probably not.)

Long story short (oh, like that ever happens around here...), it was now about 10:30 in the morning and my plane was not due to board until three hours later and I was loose in Charles de Gaulle airport with too much time, a head slightly fuzzy from lack of sleep, and a credit card in my wallet.

I don't know if you've ever been in CDG airport. I've only been in the part of the terminal where American airlines fly people in & out of the US and it is actually a pretty unpleasant place. It's old & rundown and just generally not very inviting. The way they make up for that is to plop a panorama of delicious duty-free shopping smack in the middle of this florescent-and-linoleum hinterland. Lots of duty-free, from places like Galeries Lafayette and Longchamp... and Hermes.

As I walked past the Hermes boutique I beheld a classic scene: a well-suited French man carrying a briefcase, choosing a scarf for someone. He was very particular. It was taking a while to find just the right color in just the right design. There was a dune of silk piled up on the top of the display case. Like a child walking past a candy counter, I couldn't resist. All those beautiful colors were just beckoning to me...

Not too much later, there was this:

This one is called Jardin d'Hiver (Winter Garden) and the detail in this design is spectacular. Click on theses photos to get the larger version so that you can really see what's going on in this scarf.

And so. Here ends my tale of overspending. Actually, it doesn't end here, or I should say I fear it won't. Because I've discovered a wonderful site that is only going to feed my newest obsession, and look what I found there:

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I must have it. I MUST! It's my Shine on a scarf!!! Look!

The pattern is called Cave Felem, and if anyone knows where I can get one...

See? See? Oh, I'm in trouble...

Photos: Style Spy,,

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Shopportunity part deux -- November 26

YOOX.COM FashionTherapy 247

Oh, they have the pretty, pretty things. Like this:

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Cardigan from Pinko I'm absolutely in love with.

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Cute E. Pie pink shoes. Unbelievable price.

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Gorgeous Furla bag for (gulp!) 84 bucks.

Go!! Shop!!!


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Shopportunity -- November 26

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There's a code for free shipping from Cole Haan today: FREESHIP1

This is for today only, so jump quick! They have a lot of great shoes on sale still, and I've talked many times about how much I like Cole Haan shoes. Like these (click for links):

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(Okay, these aren't exactly a bargain, even on sale, but I'm just completely in love with these boots. Aren't they gorgeous?)

How about these beautiful jeweled d'orsays? Perfect for the holidays.

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Go, take a look around, maybe add a few things to your wishlist...


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Sunday, November 25, 2007

I Don't Think We're in Dillard's Anymore, Toto

So here's something you don't see at the mall...

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These are photos from the interior of the Galeries Lafayette, perhaps the most magnificent department store (grand magasin, en francais) on the planet. It consists of three buildings (Lafayette Coupole, which houses women's fashions, accessories, cosmetics, childrens' clothes, and more), Lafayette Homme (menswear) and Lafayette Maison, which has some of the very coolest & most beautiful housewares you're ever likely to find. The buildings are on the corners of Boulevard Haussmann at the Place Diaghilev across from the Opera Garnier in the 9th Arrondissement, and the stores have been there since 1905 (although the original store was in a different location and opened in 1896).

Here's some of the cosmetics section:

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and this doesn't even hint at the handbags, scarves, hats, gloves, jewelry, and other delectable delights that make up the ground floor.

I didn't take the photos above. My great weakness as a tourist is a morbid fear of appearing to be a tourist, so I'm very hesitant to whip out my camera in places like department stores. However, I absolutely had to take the following photos, which are of the Christmas window displays that were already up. (As my friend Dominique pointed out, there is no Thanksgiving in between Halloween & Christmas in France to slow down the holiday retail locomotive, and it's gotten just as bad there as it is here.)

Now, I'm not a big one for the cutesy stuff in general, but I'll have you know that every. Single. One. Of these bears was animated. I've never seen anything so adorable in my life. They were waving and bobbing and climbing in & out of backpacks and the flashes on their cameras were going off -- I became a 6 year-old standing in front of this window and actually laughed with delight. Notice the snapshots lying on the floor at the bottom of the picture? There were photos of the bears at all of the tourist spots of Paris -- the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Moulin Rouge. Absolutely delightful.

All of the windows were wonderful, but this one was my favorite, and happily was one of the only ones whose angle didn't cause terrible, photo-ruining reflections in the sunlight.

This brings me to some other photos that I took, of a display that so took my breath away I actually got over myself enough to pull out the camera and record it so that I could share it with you.

(Although I did take the photos without a flash, in the dim hope of avoiding all of the terminally chic SAs wondering, "Qui est cette freak americaine?")

This is in the shoe department (which in and of itself qualifies as the Elysian Fields for folks like me). Behold if you will every shoe care product imaginable, and a few I'd never even conceived of.

Shoe forms, arch supports, suede brushes, shoehorns, waterproofing sprays, cleaning creams, specially shaped stickies to ward off blisters, pads, polishes, buffers, buckles, laces... it was like a respectful shrine to the Shoeniverse.

If you don't think I stood in front of this display and had a little internal argument with myself over whether or not it was ridiculous to tote jars of shoe polish in my suitcase from Paris to Texas, you don't know me very well. It was torture to walk away from this display empty-handed, and now that I'm looking at the photo again I am swamped with regret.

To top it all off, it wasn't just products that were available, it was services. You can also drop off your shoes at this counter for repairs. How marvelous is that?

I was trying to imagine this counter in an American department store and I just couldn't. I think it has to do with the Quality Not Quantity ethos that the French embrace so wholeheartedly -- they have one good thing rather than four mediocre ones (civil servants excepted, of course). They don't do disposable quite to the extent that we do in this country, and since they have fewer things and the things they have are more expensive, they take care of their things. Which is a beautiful thing.

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You know what else is a beautiful thing? On the first floor (which would be the second floor here -- it's very confusing until you get used to it), the floor with the Lanvin boutique and the Galliano boutique and the Lacroix and the Max Mara and and the Vivian Westwood and the Prada and the Comme des Garcons and -- well, you get the picture... on the first floor there is a lovely little wine & champagne bar where poised, polished Parisiennes wrapped in fur and Hermes scarves perch elegantly and sip to refresh themselves after the effort of spending beaucoup d'euros on gorgeousnesses like this

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which I assure you is even more breathtaking in person. I resisted the siren call of the champagne bar, however, for fear of leaving even more of my personal fortune in les caisses of Galeries Lafayette than I already had. Actually, I was very good in there. The only thing I took home for myself was a lipstick. I felt I would not be a truly well-rounded person until I'd been ordered around -- excuse me, advised by an experienced Parisian cosmetics SA. (She was gentle but firm: the color I chose first was trop rose; it was Raspberry Truffle for me and I'd better get used to it. Even I am not foolish enough to argue with a Frenchwoman in a lab coat.)

There was one thing I left behind that I have serious regret over. I've been longing for a little jeweled minaudiere for evening, and have yet to find one at a reasonable (-ish) price that really spoke to me. But there was one in Galeries Lafayette that I fondled quite lovingly and actually made a repeat visit to. But I did not buy it. Oh, sometimes I despise myself for being so responsible. (Hey!! I heard that snort of derision!)

It was shaped like this:
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but instead of pearls (I already have a little pearly evening bag -- it was my mom's) it was covered in rhinestones. It wasn't even terribly expensive, but I was trying so hard to be responsible and good. And the dollar is soooooo abysmal right now... ::sigh::

Oh, see, now I'm sad. I think an application of Raspberry Truffle is called for.

Photos:,, Style Spy,,

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