Monday, October 31, 2011

My Life in Hats

While looking over some old photos yesterday I realized that, among other things, I had inherited my Mother’s love of hats. Normally I avoid posting pictures of myself on my Blog; however, I have decided to throw caution to the winds just this once and share with you a few of my favorite hats.

Here I am with my Dad in my favorite Easter hat. The entire outfit, including chapeau, was made by my Mother.

She may have made her career as an opera singer, but I never saw her happier than when she had a needle and thread in her hands. Sadly, I did not inherit her sewing skills.

Incidentally, this is the biggest smile you will ever get out of a Frenchman of my Father’s generation. Can you even imagine a big toothy grin on the face of Charles De Gaulle? Impensable !!

I, on the other hand, clearly had no trouble giving a big, gap-toothed grin on command.

A few years after that photo was taken I had my one and only brush with fame.

Princess Grace of Monaco was to visit her hometown of Philadelphia and a big celebration was planned in her honor.

She would be welcomed by children of every nation wearing their native costumes. I was chosen to represent France and present a bouquet of roses to Her Serene Highness.

My picture appeared in the paper (I’m on the right) wearing the traditional headdress of the Alsacian woman. The huge black bow, courtesy of my Aunt in Alsace, was made of heavy satin with wires inserted to keep its shape. Wide ribbons ran down the back to my waist. The whole thing weighed a ton and needed an alarming number of bobby pins to stay on my little head.

When the big day finally arrived, we waited for what seemed like hours on a platform in the middle of Convention Hall. Their Serene Highnesses were running very late.

Suddenly the band began to play “True Love,” Grace’s theme song from her movie “High Society.” I turned to see this gorgeous woman float onto the platform. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Believe me when I say that no picture, moving or still, can ever do her justice. I barely took notice of the short man at her side, Prince Rainier.

The Mayor gave a welcoming speech, Princess Grace said a few words, the band struck up her theme once again and before I could even get the words “Votre Sérénissime Altesse” out of my mouth, off she went in a rustle of perfumed silk. In the interest of time, they had cut my part. I was devastated. I came so close…

Fast forward about 10 years to my summer of Gidget and Moondoggie.

My Moondoggie looked nothing like James Darren. He was a lifeguard on the beach at Atlantic City and he looked just like Brian Wilson of the Beachboys.

I had such a mad crush on him. This was his black fedora. He would wear it to shade his eyes while scanning the horizon. God he was hot!!

I got over the crush by fall, but I never got over my love for black fedoras.

Some loves are well worth hanging on to.

The blushing bride on her wedding day. Of course, there was no question as to who would make my wedding ensemble. It may have been my design but it was entirely my Mother’s creation. As soon as the lace arrived from Alençon courtesy of my Aunt in Normandy, my Mother set to work. Through the heat of a stifling summer, day after day in a small sewing room at the top of the stairs my Mother handsewed each bead and seed pearl into place on my beautiful Juliet cap. And somehow she even managed to find the time to whip up her own dress for the occasion.

And, of course, every woman wants to be Queen for a day.

This was the day I found the Fève in my piece of the galette des rois. In France, Epiphany, the Feast of the Three Kings, is celebrated every January 6th with the entire family.

The traditional cake at the end of the meal contains a small charm or Fève and the person finding it in his or her piece of cake is the King or Queen for the day.

Note that this comes at the end of a meal of many courses accompanied by many wines, hence the slightly jaunty (some might say crooked) angle of Her Majesty’s Crown.

And while we’re on the subject of royalty, I think I may have been having a bit of a Queen Mum moment with this hat.

This is the sort of style she always wore -- brim swept back with a flourish of feathers, fur, ribbons or lace on the right side.

The only thing missing is that wonderful royal wave of the hand and a handsome young footman in a black fedora to bring me my G&T.

Yes, I think I could definitely get used to that.

Well, folks, looks like we’ve come to the end of our tale and our trail.

And after a long hard day of rustlin’, ropin’, ridin’ and reminiscin’ there’s nothin’ like headin’ to the ol’ bunkhouse for some hearty victuals and a few swigs of Ol’ Red Eye, as in Cabernet Sauvignon.

Aaaah. There, that’s better.

Gosh, I hope I had a really good reason for wearing this hat??!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Conversation with Carrie - Why Is This So Hard?

Carrie (not her real name) arrives right on time for her appointment. She is a bright and pretty 30-something who has just been promoted to a prestigious position in her Company and my job is essentially to help her update, upgrade and polish her professional image.

As I spend some time getting to know her I quickly learn that while her career is on the fast track to success, somewhere along the line Carrie’s personal life has run off the rails. In and out of relationships since college, she has just ended an engagement with a man who, by her own admission, she should never have considered marrying in the first place.

“Isn’t there anything out there,” she asks, “between the beer-swilling gamer who lives in his parents’ basement and the moody metrosexual who uses up my La Mer cream? Is that my only choice? Why is this so hard?” Why, indeed!

Most of the women I work with come to me during a period of transition in their professional or personal lives. Sometimes these transitions are exciting and wonderful and sometimes they are difficult and anxiety producing, so I often function as Mother Confessor as well as Image and Style Coach; I always keep a box of tissues handy. Increasingly I am seeing clients like Carrie, young women who are all wondering the same things…………………..

Was it always like this?

Why is this so hard?

Is it them?

Is it me?

The lessons learned while growing up in a neighborhood of rough and tumble little boys would come in handy when those once rough and tumble little boys began ringing my doorbell not to come out and play but to take me out to dinner. We knew what the rules were in those days, which doesn’t mean we didn’t break them. Still, the rules were there if we needed them. “I’m just not that kind of girl!” could be used when appropriate and most men respected it. Sounds laughably old-fashioned now to modern ears, even to mine; however, along with those outdated rules were the clearly defined male/female roles that went with them. The rules are gone; and the roles are gone.

While the rewards have been numerous, the price paid appears to be confusion. Today, young men and women don’t seem to know how to relate to each other; nor do they seem to have a clear idea of what it is they really want from each other.

A wise man once said that a woman marries a man hoping he’ll change, and a man marries a woman hoping she won’t. As the prison warden says to Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

Or is it a failure of expectations?

Working with Carrie is a delight, and as we are going over my list of wardrobe basics, the must-have items that should be in every well-dressed woman’s closet, she suddenly laughs and says, “Do you also have a list of basics for Mr. Right?”

The amount of literature and internet sites devoted exclusively to helping men and women find each other, understand each other and live happily ever after is staggering.

Just this month, Madame Figaro interviewed a handful of 40-something Frenchmen for their take on Ce que Veulent les Hommes (What do Men Want). Their responses were interesting but hardly groundbreaking. Men have pretty much always wanted the same thing from women. If they get it, they’re happy, if they don’t, they’re not……nothing new here…….and that only confirms my admittedly unscientific theory based entirely on my own observations – women have declared the old rules null and void and are not sure whether or not to replace them and, if so, with what? As a result, both men and women are wandering around in a state of confusion.

In traditional western societies men were the makers of law, while women were the guardians of the culture. As such guardians, men took their cues from the women in their lives when it came to social interactions.

Maybe it’s time for young women to figure out exactly what it is they really want from men. Sit down and make a list of the things that are really important to you in a man. There isn’t a woman alive, myself included, who can resist the desire to make a few improvements here and there to a potential mate. Just keep this in mind…’s easier to fix clothing flaws than it is to fix character flaws.

The holidays will be here before you know it.

Along with your gift list, maybe you should make an even more important list and check it twice!

You never know.

Santa might just have something extra special in his sleigh for you this Christmas.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Bedroom Beauty Bar

We have the French to thank for the word entrepreneur. Unfortunately, we also have them to thank for the word bureaucratie, one of the two major killers of the entrepreneurial spirit, the other being the frivolous lawsuit, for which we have only ourselves and our legal system to blame hélas!

You’ve all heard the stories -- a little girl’s lemonade stand set up on her front lawn to raise money for pediatric cancer is shut down by the police because she needs a business license, peddler’s permit and food permit to operate, even on her own property.

The blizzard of government regulations that have blanketed businesses in just the last few years alone have many small business owners wondering if the American dream of owning your own business is still worth pursuing, let alone possible to achieve.

Is that “can do,” “where there’s a will there’s a way” entrepreneurial American spirit really in danger of becoming one more item on the list of “Things That Aren’t There Anymore?”

According to an article in the WSJ “Mixing Makeup for the Webcam” the next generation of budding beauty entrepreneurs, à la Estée Lauder, can be found right now in the bedrooms of America’s teen-aged girls.

In pink-and-white bedrooms across the country an array of beauty products competes for space with lacy pillows and stuffed animals as these self-proclaimed beauty gurus demonstrate for friends and increasing numbers of fans via webcam how to mix your own makeup and skin care products and custom blend colors that are just right for you.

Call me as “corny as Kansas in August,” but this makes my heart sing with “can do” optimism. These young girls are stepping up to the realities of tough economic times and saying, “Hey, I don’t need to spend a fortune on makeup to look my best. I can do it myself and for a lot less, thank you very much. Just watch me!” And their young fans are watching them by the thousands. I have always believed that not following directions can take you to much more interesting places. Just because it says a product is for “this” doesn’t mean it can’t be used for “that,” n’est-ce pas? Yes, Pa.” And I say, “You Go, Girls!”

Estée’s uncle was a chemist who specialized in beauty products and fragrances for women.

Drawn to his business, after graduating from high school she devoted herself entirely to Uncle John’s business. Her flair not only for naming products (e.g., Super Rich All-Purpose Cream and Dr. Schotz Viennese Cream), but for marketing and selling them to beauty salons and shops was so successful that she soon secured valuable counter space at one of New York’s most prestigious department stores, Saks Fifth Avenue.

It was at Saks that she would perfect the personal, hands-on style of selling that would make her an American success story. And with the introduction of her most popular fragrance, Youth Dew, a bath oil and perfume in one bottle, her international reputation was secured.

Could Estée Lauder have created her wildly successful and enduring international beauty empire with the same indefatigable energy, enthusiasm, intelligence, audacity and sublime chutzpah inherited from her Jewish immigrant parents if she had to do it all today? If I were a betting woman, and I’m not, I’d put all my chips on Uncle John’s niece.

There’s something in the American soil that makes us keep on trying and keep on hoping. It may lie fallow for a generation or so, but eventually that soil brings forth fruit and a new generation of budding entrepreneurs begins to bloom. Tomorrow’s Estée Lauder may be today’s teenager mixing up a pot of lip gloss in her pink-and-white bedroom. Only time will tell.