Monday, August 30, 2010

Fashion Flashbacks!! The Shrimp and The Twig

Too old for hot flashes......old enough for Flashbacks! And lately I’ve been having them like mad, Flashbacks that is, every time I catch an episode of “Mad Men” or see its influence on this fall’s fashions.

I came of age during the 60s, and every time I think of that decade two fashion icons instantly leap to mind -- Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy. Their careers bookend the 60s and their fabulous faces and forms embody the beauty zeitgeist of the period.

Jean Shrimpton, affectionately known as “The Shrimp,” burst onto the modeling scene in 1960 and is widely considered to be the world’s first Top Model – just ask her successor, Twiggy, who considered her a mentor and inspiration.

After helping to launch the miniskirt, she became the official symbol of Swinging London. Everything she did was news, and she was endlessly photographed at all the trendiest places on the arm of every drop-dead, gorgeous hunk in the music and theatrical world.

Like every young girl my age, I worshiped her – collected her pictures, devoured every news item about her and bought the products she endorsed. My first lipstick was from the Yardley Slicker collection. It was a pale pink confection called “Pink Parfait” and it was………....wait for it……………..frosted!! I know, I know, but it was the 60s and we frosted everything – our lips, our eyes, our hair. Besides, most 13-year-old girls don’t start out with “Vixen Red.” You have to work up to that.

Twiggy, née Lesley Hornby, was dubbed “The Face of 1966” by the Daily Express and by 1967 was an internationally acknowledged Top Model. Whereas in the early 60s The Shrimp had replaced the more mature, curvaceous models of the 50s with her youthful, coltish curves, Twiggy’s androgynous, pre-pubescent charms would become “The Look” of the late 60s.

Although The Shrimp would always occupy a special place in my heart, my girlfriends and I were just wild about Twiggy. We chopped off our hair, we wore brown oxford ties, and we affected her knocked-kneed pose to the exasperation of my Mother who kept reminding me how much money she’d spent on ballet lessons and “now look at the way you’re standing!!!!” But I didn’t care. My Mother was clearly too old to get the whole Twiggy thing.

So, what has become of my two favorite faces of the 60s? Well………………………

After seeing the handwriting on the wall in the 70s, Jean Shrimpton made a tactful and graceful retreat from the camera.

In 1979, she married photographer Michael Cox and together they bought the Abbey Hotel in Cornwall, UK, which they still own.

As a model, Shrimpton was known for her work ethic -- never late, never temperamental, always professional. Somewhat bemused by her own success, she always insisted that it was the makeup and lighting that made her look beautiful. I find that incredibly hard to believe.

In fact, although there must be thousands of gorgeous photos of The Shrimp in public and private collections all over the world, not one adorns the walls of the Abbey Hotel.

These days, Twiggy is still very much in the public eye. She models, has hosted her own TV shows in the UK, has been a judge on “America’s Next Top Model,” endorses products, and, in case you hadn’t noticed, she has finally filled out.

Following the sudden death of her first husband in 1983, she married her current husband in 1984. She devotes a great deal of her time to charitable causes, such as breast cancer.

But, what I really love about this survivor of the beauty wars is that she has made a point of being in the public eye without worrying about the odd wrinkle or two, to which I say,

Long Live The Twig.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fall Fashion Flashes

New York – The End of an Era?? FLASH!! Fashion Week in New York (Sept. 9 to 16) will not be taking place in Bryant Park (see AP photo), but in and around Lincoln Center.

But that’s not all that’s new. Elaborate printed invitations have gone the way of….….well…….last season’s trends. Invitations were sent via e-mail and guests received bar coded confirmations which they must pass through scanners to gain admittance to the Shows. Anna Wintour, don’t leave home without it.

Can a market for all those beautiful vintage invitations, some little works of art in their own right, be far behind? Keep an eye on e-bay.

(l to r: Céline/Dries van Noten)

Prim and Proper Ladies – FLASH!!
With more than a passing nod to “Mad Men”, the lady-like, buttoned down look will be everywhere this Fall. It’s a clean, classic look which can be easily accessorized, or not, and suits almost every body type; however, if you have a little too much tummy and do not have a clearly defined waist, you might want to avoid Dries van Noten’s little shirt waist dress, which is designed to draw attention to a slender waistline.

They’re Back!! – FLASH!!
And just when you thought you’d seen the last of them, pantsuits are back. No novelty for those of us who wore them to the office in the 70s and 80s, the new version is designed to appeal to 20-somethings and 30-somethings for whom the whole idea of tops matching bottoms is a novel concept – like TOTALLY!!!

(l to r: Armani/Chloé/Valentino)

And, just in case you’re thinking you can just pull your old pantsuits out of the back of the closet and be good to go, think again. That boxy jacket with shoulder pads the size of a small Latin American country just will not cut it this Fall. The new silhouette is sleeker, jackets are fitted, fabrics are lighter and unlined and they’ve added a welcome bit of stretch.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, it may be time to rediscover ‘em.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Quick Fix for Your Fall Wardrobe

Very soon we will be saying au revoir to lazy summer afternoons and bonjour to busy autumn days. Vacations will be but a memory (boo!) and the kids will be back in school (woohoo!). Now is the time to do an inventory of your fall/winter wardrobe (boo!) and to find out, drum roll please………….if your go-to black pencil skirt still fits (woohoo?? boohoo?) In short, now is the time for a little closet therapy – what to keep, what to donate/throw away and what needs a little TLC or sprucing up.

What would you say if I told you that the quickest, easiest and most economical way to change the look and add a dash of je ne sais quoi to a dress, blouse, jacket or skirt is to change the buttons??

Would you say, “Lead me to the nearest fabric store???”

Buttons have been around since the Bronze Age. For those of you not up on your History, that’s about 3,000 years. Until the 16th century they were mainly decorative, and then a clever French tailor looped some thread onto a piece of material, sewed a button onto another piece and voilà the hitherto decorative button now had a practical purpose.

A century after that, the first button holes made their appearance and voilà voilà --- a marriage made in heaven!!!

For some, the button simply holds two pieces of fabric together, but for the French, this magical accessory has the power to transform a petite ginette, or simple little dress, into a fashion statement.

From the petites mains who spend their days sewing jeweled buttons onto haute couture creations, to Maman who passes down her box of special buttons to her daughter to be used and reused for generations to come, the French know what the perfect button can do for a garment.

As a little girl, every time I opened my Mother’s Button Box, it was like peering into a treasure chest of dazzling jewels. A former model and opera singer, my Mother was never happier than when she had a needle and thread in her hands. From this stylish, glamorous woman, I learned about fit, fabric and how to select the perfect button.

And so, when it came time for me to marry, there was simply no question as to who would make my wedding ensemble. I would design it and my Mother would create it.

The lace for my bodice and veil came from Alençon, but the seed pearls and beading that were hand sewn, one by one, with endless patience and love, through the heat of a stifling August, in a small sewing room at the top of the stairs, came from a black velvet pouch in my Mother’s Button Box.

That velvet pouch had been lying in my Mother’s Button Box waiting for me since I was a little girl.

So the next time you pass a fabric store, stop in see and what treasures you can add to your Button Box.

If you don’t have one……………..start one!!

Your daughter and your daughter’s daughters will thank you………..and think of you………..every time they open it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

How to Become Parisian in One Hour

Did you know that the hottest One Man Show in Paris is in English? Every night French stand-up comic Olivier Giraud teaches an English speaking audience “How to Become Parisian in One Hour.” In his hilariously insightful show, which could easily be re-titled, “How to Become Insufferably Arrogant in 10 Easy Lessons,” Parisians may be the main target, but Americans and fellow Europeans become great comic fodder for collateral damage. And Parisians, who normally take themselves rather seriously, have been flocking to the show to see what all the fuss is about and to laugh at themselves.

Giraud’s imitation of the Parisienne walking into a nightclub with the proper look of disdain, pursed lips and a toss of the hair is worth the price of admission alone.

Naturally the arrogant waiter gets the Giraud treatment, and I don’t know anyone who has visited or lives in France who does not have an arrogant waiter story, or two. I have many of my own, and this is one of my favorites.

One evening in Paris, my husband and I sat down at the terrasse of a café for a bite. We were tired and it was late, even by Parisian standards. The café was full inside and out and the busy waiter threw two menus at us as he whizzed past. We had barely opened the menus when he reappeared stamping his foot in annoyance that we had not yet made a selection. The minute my husband spoke to me in English, the waiter rolled his eyes and stalked off.

As I looked into the café, I saw our waiter sitting at the bar knocking back shots of Armagnac. “Well,” I said to my husband, “this is a new one. I’ve never seen this before.” We may have been tired, but I was not about to give up without a fight. Besides, now I was intrigued.

By the time the waiter returned, I had decided on my plan of action – a two-pronged charm offensive à la française-américaine. I would couple my French language skills with that quintessential American quality which can be found in abundance only in America – Niceness. The French can disarm you with their charm, which they can turn on and off at will, but Americans are by far the nicest, most helpful, most sympathetic people in the world, and over the years I have seen more than one haughty Frenchman crumble in the face of it.

As he stood there in front of us tapping his foot, I looked at him, smiled sweetly and said in French, “Monsieur, you are clearly having a bad day. I’m so sorry.” The next thing I knew we were having an Oprah moment. His girlfriend had moved out the night before and a colleague had not shown up for work that day. Not only did he serve us beautifully after that, but it was Armagnacs all around on the house after dinner.

If you are going to Paris for the first time and plan on eating in a restaurant, here are a few things to keep in mind concerning the Paris waiter:

1) He is not an out-of-work actor/model/singer/musician as is usually the case in the USA. He is a professional who knows his business, which is food and wine and how to serve them;

2) As a tourist/customer, you are seen as an annoyance, ranging from minor to major depending on your behavior and his mood that day. Try not to take it personally; and

3) He will always reserve his best service for his regular customers, which, from his point of view, is good business. You will probably not return but they will.

Olivier Giraud’s One Man Show “How to Become Parisian in One Hour” can be seen at the Théâtre de la Main d’Or in the 11th arrondissement in Paris.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Princess Bride

Despite the odds against “happily ever after,” every year thousands of young couples gaze into each other’s eyes and swear eternal love and devotion; and Summer is High Season in the wedding business.

While the image of the demure blushing bride may have been replaced by that of the fire-breathing bridezilla aided and abetted by a multi-million dollar wedding industry bent on convincing her she can have anything she wants no matter how expensive, ridiculous or tasteless, some things do not change. Little girls and not so little girls still dream about their wedding day, and if you ask them what they want to look like on that special day, they will all tell you the same thing --- “I want to look like a Princess.”

And so, on a bright June afternoon, my husband and I are seated on white folding chairs on the perfectly manicured lawn of an exclusive country club awaiting the appearance of yet another breathless Princess Bride. No expense has been spared – designer gowns, professional make-up artists, a celebrity hairdresser and his staff called in for the occasion. No detail has been left to chance – except for one!

The music begins, the Bridesmaids follow the Flower Girl strewing rose petals in their path, and a tiny tingle of excitement runs through the assembled crowd as we approach the moment we have all been waiting for. Like a gossamer vision, the Bride appears on her Father’s arm and begins her slow procession down the aisle in a beaded ball gown so magnificent that every woman in the audience gasps. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes obvious that this is more dress than our Princess Bride can handle. The heavy, voluminous skirt seems to have a mind of its own and is becoming increasingly uncooperative with each step – now veering sideways, now lurching forward. Needless to say, we all breathe a sigh of relief when she reaches the safety of her bridegroom waiting under the rose-covered gazebo.

Ladies, the perfect ball gown does not a perfect Princess make. It’s not enough to talk the talk; you have to know how to……….. walk the walk, so to speak.

On a June morning in 1953, this one cold and rainy, another young Princess is about to be crowned Queen of England at Westminster Abbey. For weeks, Elizabeth and her six Maids of Honor have repeatedly gone over every detail of the ceremony that will be broadcast live around the world.

She has spent hours parading around Buckingham Palace with lengths of sheeting attached to her shoulders to get the feel of the long velvet train that will go over the heavily beaded coronation gown. She even wears the seven-pound crown while working and taking tea in order to get accustomed to the feel and weight of it.

For the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, no detail has been left to chance. The world will be watching.

In the press of pre-wedding activities, set aside some time to practice walking, sitting and even climbing stairs in that fabulous dress you fell in love with. Get comfortable with how it feels, how it moves and how you move in it. It is time well spent on a detail that can make all the difference.

While the world will probably not be watching as you walk down the aisle at your wedding, the world of people you know and love will be.

They will be there to see their Princess Bride and to get caught up in the magic of her special day. Don’t break the spell.