Monday, October 28, 2013

Halloween on Sycamore Street

It’s Halloween morning, and all the cats on Sycamore Street are up early putting the finishing touches on their costumes.  Rufus has been up for hours waiting for the man he lives with to get up and feed him, and he’s beginning to run out of patience.  Frankly, if the man didn’t have opposable thumbs allowing him to open tuna cans, he would have kicked him out long ago. 

Rufus decides to take matters into his own paws. 

This will be LuLuBelle’s first Halloween.   She’s excited but a little scared, so the older cats in the neighborhood will show her the ropes. 
Down the street, Mrs. Huttlemyer has been up for hours making her famous Chocolate Mouse Chip Cookies and Cinnamon Swallow Tarts.  Yummmm!!!  A stop at Mrs. Huttlemyer’s on Halloween is absolutely de rigueur for every cat on Sycamore Street. 

At the end of the street lives Dr. Crabapple, the Vet, who is to be avoided at all costs, especially on Halloween.  He stuffs slimy hairball medicine into marshmallows with happy faces hoping nobody will notice.  They do. 

Rufus’s next door neighbor, Vincent, is trying out his new costume.   He’s been practicing and practicing, but still can’t quite get the hang of flying.  So, he’ll just have to hide in the bushes again this year and jump out and scare people.  Last year, he scared two little kids so much they fell off their bikes.   Yep!  A two-for!  Vincent was quite the Halloween legend last year among the Sycamore Street cats. 

Of course, Maximilian, the rich cat down the block, never bothers with a costume.  Maximilian needs no tricks to get his treats.  He just puts on his best top hat and tie and goes from house to house charming all the ladies with his impeccable table manners.  This year, Maximilian has his heart set on winning the affections of the lovely Desirée. 

Desirée moved to Sycamore Street a few weeks ago and has already driven the male cats wild with desire.  The female cats desire nothing less than to scratch her tawny eyes out.  Desirée will clearly need someone to protect her as she trick-or-treats tonight.  Sounds like a job for the suave and debonair Maximilian, n’est-ce pas? 

And then there’s the infamous Veronica. 

It is rumored that every year after she and her brother, Gunther, return home from trick-or-treating, she turns him into a toad so she can eat his treats.  Just another Sycamore Street urban legend?  Nobody knows for sure, but Gunther always seems to have a frog in his throat the day after Halloween.  Hmmm. 


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Charm Offensive

Charm Magazine Cover 1946
When is the last time you met someone you would describe as charming?  Successful politicians are said to possess this quality, which they can turn on and off at will.  But, if you can turn it on and off, does that really mean you are charming or does it just mean that you are good at charming people when it suits you? 

Charm Magazine Cover 1954

As soon as I showed signs of puberty, my Mother enrolled me in the local Charm School, where we learned how to move gracefully (I had that one covered from ballet class), how to sit like a lady (legs together, slightly to the side, ankles crossed), how to get in and out of a car without showing too much of what God gave us (we all wore skirts and dresses back then), how to take proper care of our skin (always cleanse with a gentle hand) and how to curtsy to royalty should we be invited to tea with the Queen (I already had that one nailed, too, from ballet class.).   

Charm Magazine Cover 1956

I find the various dictionary definitions of “charming” to be inadequate, so I have come up with my own description of the charming woman: 

“The charming woman exudes femininity and confidence without being aggressive.  There is an ineffable air of sweetness about her.  She need not be beautiful or even especially pretty, but there is something in her face (a great smile?) and manner (a natural grace?) that draws you to her.   She puts you instantly at ease, and everything she says seems delightful.  She is a woman of depth and substance, but there is a lightness and easy elegance about everything she does.  Long after youth and beauty have faded, charm remains.” 

Charm Magazine Cover 1952

Can a woman claw her way to the top of her profession and still be charming?  

In fact, in the ruthless, take-no-prisoners world of business and politics, a charm offensive can be a woman’s most powerful secret weapon. 

Meet Dominique Reiniche, the President of The Coca Cola Company in Europe.  This 58-year-old mother of three from Lyon has a very simple recipe for success, « Se battre, travailler d’arrache-pied pour y arriver. »  (Fight hard and work hard to achieve your goal.)

But, above and beyond what it takes for a woman to become the European head of a global enterprise, when the global enterprise in question is The Coca-Cola Company, she really has her work cut out for her. 

Anti-Americanism has become such a cliché (Excuse me while I stifle a yawn.) that it’s hardly worth mentioning…….except to point out that The Coca-Cola Company represents everything that French intellectuals and the political left (Is that redundant?) hate about America – too big, too sweet, too happy, too everywhere.   If you want to be taken seriously in these circles, you must take every opportunity to rail against this huge American conglomerate whose product is reputed to create sugar addiction and obesity wherever it is sold.  

In the interest of full disclosure, I must say that I don’t drink soda of any kind, and I do find Coca-Cola sickeningly sweet, even the sugarless variety.  That said, however, millions of people all over the world, including la belle France, love their “coca.” 

Having a chic, slender Frenchwoman as its European head is a master stroke.  Caps off to Coca-Cola for choosing this charming lady as the European face of the Company.  After watching several interviews with Dominique Reiniche in French and English, I have added Mme Reiniche to my short list of charming, high-profile women. 

In the following brief interview in French for Madame Figaro, she talks about Coca-Cola’s program to encourage the entrepreneurial woman.  For those of you who do not speak French, just concentrate on her body language (leaning forward to show openness and interest; a graceful movement of the hand; warm smile, etc.) and her carefully composed attire.  The black leather biker jacket is just fabulous (Who says you can’t wear leather after 50?).  It’s modern and earthy, and the casual drape of the bright scarf softens the look and adds a feminine flair.  Impeccably coiffed (even from the back) and made up, she exudes confidence and approachability. 

For a great lesson in how to lead a charm offensive, click HERE

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bagging Some Basics for Fall

I had a very successful shopping expedition last week.  In no time at all, I added some great new basics to my fall/winter wardrobe.  By now, you all know about the versatility of a wardrobe of neutral basics (see “A Wardrobe for All Seasons”).  

And, it doesn’t get more neutral and basic than black and white; so, now that White House Black Market carries petite sizes (Wahoo!), I went straight there to bag some black trousers. 

White House Black Market Bootcut Seasonless Pants - $88
I snagged these great slim cut, black pants in petite size 00!!  Yeah!  The gabardine material makes them absolutely seasonless.  They fit like a glove and a bit of stretch (6% spandex) makes them comfortable no matter how you move in them.  The boot cut is perfect over any heeled shoe or boot, and the two-button waistband sits beautifully just a smidge below the waist.  Oh, and you have the option to machine wash or dry clean.  Don’t you just love having choices? 

They did not have a good selection of petite tops, at least in the Cherry Hill Mall store, but the salesgirl, Nicole, who was super helpful and delightful, assured me they would be getting a larger selection of petite pieces over time and, in the meantime, they could order anything I liked on line for shipment directly to the store, thus avoiding a shipping charge chez moi.  I may take her up on that. 

 Shopping hints:

·       When you find a helpful and knowledgeable salesperson, like Nicole, in one of your favorite clothing stores, make her your retail BFF; 

·       Make sure she knows exactly what you’re looking for as soon as you go in to the store – “I’m looking for a pair of black pants today;”

·       Let her bring things in to you when you are in the dressing room (Note:  She knows the inventory better than you, so it saves you time.);

·       Let her bring things in to you she thinks might work with the pieces you have chosen.  Again, she knows the inventory and it always pays to try things on (Note:  If you want special attention from your retail BFF, shop during the week when there are fewer customers.);

·       As she learns your taste and your style, she will give you a “heads up” and put items aside for you. 

BTW, White House Black Market has added a lovely teal color to their collection, which they call “Lotus.”

On to Talbots to check out a great tweed jacket I spotted in their fall catalog.  Tweed jackets are a great wardrobe basic that look fabulous with jeans, pants, skirts, dresses, etc.  They are the perfect jacket to transition to winter coats.  In fact, except on a bitter cold day, a tweed jacket layered over a flannel shirt, woolen sweater and cashmere scarf can pretty much take you through the winter, especially if you spend a lot of time in the car.  I find a full-length coat can feel restrictive when I’m behind the wheel. 


Talbots’ Houndstooth Riding Blazer - $179
This classic, wool-blend jacket looks even better on than it does in the picture.  I couldn’t resist.  The faux-suede collar and elbow patches remind me of my college days when they were all the rage.  The two-button closure with short last is perfect for us petites.  The darting at the waist is so flattering and the peplum detail in the back gives it a bit of flair. 

Of course, (wo)man does not live by neutrals alone. 

Talbots’ Wool-Blend Shetland Blazer - $149
Hello, beautiful blazer in teal.  Actually, I was on the hunt for the perfect navy blazer when this classic Shetland blazer crossed my path.  Talbots’ color palette for fall features lots of teal and purple, colors that are in my personal (autumn) color palette.  So, Marianne, my retail BFF at Talbots said, “Why don’t you try it on in teal, and if you like it, we’ll order it for you in navy.”  Clever girl, Marianne.  Not only did it fit perfectly, but the color was just gorgeous with my skin tones, as I knew it would be; so….how could I resist?  While it’s good to have a plan, it’s also good to be flexible.  (Note to self:  Add teal to my list of neutrals.) 

Talbots’ Pima Cotton Crew Neck Tee - $29.50

I may have struck out on the navy blue blazer, but I did find this great Tee in deep Indigo (shown here in gray).  A classic top like this will be an absolute go-to piece for years to come.  When it comes to accessorizing, the possibilities are limitless.

Talbot’s Foulard Wrap Top - $49.50

I also grabbed this great wrap top with a subtle brown-and-white check that can be paired with solids, bold prints or stripes.  Mixing prints is easy, once you get the hang of it.  (For more information on mixing prints, go to “How to Mix and Match Patterns.)  Is there anything more flattering than a wrap top or dress on a woman with curves?  I expect to get a lot of mileage out of this piece. 


Talbot’s Paisley Wrap Top - $49.50
Of course, I just could not pass up this lovely paisley top in soft jersey knit.  There’s that beautiful teal again that I’m finding so hard to resist this season.  Oh well, Oscar Wilde once said that the only way to avoid temptation was to give in to it. 
Oh, and here’s the best part……………everything in the store was 25% off for Talbots charge customers.  Now, that’s the kind of temptation you should rush right out and avoid, if you catch my drift. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I Like a Little Lace

I was married more than 35 years ago in white satin and lace.  My wedding ensemble was a collaborative effort:  I designed it, tante Jeanette sent the lace from Alençon for the bodice and my Mother worked in her sewing room at the top of the stairs through a long, hot summer.  Each bead in the Juliet cap and lace bodice was hand sewn. 
While the satin was beautiful, the dentelle d’Alençon (not easy to see in this faded photograph from the pre-digital era) was exquisite. 

Yes, dear Friends, I have been married long enough for my wedding pictures to have taken on that vaguely Rembrandt-esque hue. 

Jacob Ferdinand Voet (1639–1689)
Portrait of a member of the Chigi family 1670
In the 15th century, Alençon lace made its mark in the world by winning first prize in a lace making competition against the finest lace makers of Venice.  By the 18th century, it had become the most sought after and expensive lace in the world.  

By the 20th century, machines had largely replaced the work of handmade lace.  But in Alençon, les dentellières (lace makers) still labor for weeks on a single piece of lace in a state of intense concentration that demands total silence, what the French call un silence religieux.  The process is laborious and exacting, but the delicacy and intricate beauty of la dentelle du point d’Alençon, now classified by UNESCO as one of the world’s treasures, simply cannot be reproduced by machine. 

Alençon lace still figures prominently in haute couture collections. 

This magnificent ensemble by Paco Rabanne is made entirely of Alençon lace. 

The white Alençon lace sleeves of this stunning cocktail dress by Christian Lacroix add a touch of softness to the strong vertical lines in the skirt and bold red satin wrap. 

You don’t have to be a blushing bride to wear lace, but, there’s something so eternally soft and feminine about a beautiful, young bride in lace.   And Alençon lace is still the lace of choice for the discriminating bride. 

This gorgeous Jim Hjelm bridal gown in champagne charmeuse with an overlay of ivory Alençon lace has a lovely vintage feel to it.  The crystal belt accentuates a tiny waist and the modified A-line is a silhouette that flatters almost every figure.  And just look at that intricate neckline!!

The bodice and pleated skirt of this strapless stunner by Lazaro is made entirely of ivory Alençon lace.  A bride making a grand entrance in this gown would have everyone catching his/her breath. 

And, speaking of catching one’s breath………………

The groom would need total CPR on his wedding night if his bride walked out of the bathroom in this pink satin negligee (vintage1930s).  Again, the lace is from Alençon.  Wouldn’t you just love to have this in your wedding trousseau? 

Dolce and Gabbana White Chantilly Lace Dress

As I said, you don’t have to be a blushing bride to wear lace, but you do have to be careful about how and how much you wear.   The white lace cocktail dress should probably be left to the young and sleek, even if it has a bit of stretch in it, which most modern lace fabrics do.  Lace has a vintage feel to it, and, while we all love a touch of vintage in our wardrobes, “looking” vintage is not something a woman my age should go for.  Some can pull it off, but most of us look like we’re wearing grandmother’s tablecloth. 

The most flattering way to add lace to the wardrobe of a femme d’un certain âge like moi, is to do it with completer pieces and accessories. 
I love this lace-overlay jacket (featured in  The cut is flattering (i.e., slimming), as are the three-quarter sleeves, which shows the thinnest part of any woman’s arms, and the color is just yummy.  Paired with a white Tee-shirt, skinny jeans and statement necklace, this young lady has really rocked the lace look. 
This black, woven lace jacket from Free People will quickly become a go-to piece in any woman’s wardrobe, whether you pair it with a skirt, jeans or a cocktail dress. 
Here's an idea for your next cocktail party outfit.  Take a plain sheath dress, add a great necklace and a pair of black lace gloves.  Instantly, the whole outfit moves up a style notch or two.   Is there anything more elegant than a woman holding a flute of champagne in a gloved hand? 
There are so many lovely lace touches you can add to your outfits: 
n  Jackets
n  Brooches
n  Headbands
n  Hats
n  Handbags
n  Collars
n  Gloves
n  Scarves
n  Shoes
The possibilities are endless.  So, while we can’t all afford to wear la dentelle d’Alençon, any woman at any age can afford to add a lovely touch of lace to her look.