It's Back: J.Crew Catalog Theater

Now that the FashFilmFest is over (but will return in 2013!) I'm back to blogging! What better way to get back into the routine than with a favorite? By request and popular demand, I've got a new edition of J.Crew Catalog Theater, from the April catalog... The models are sad, sassy, confused, and wearing things we've seen before. But don't hold that against them! They're models, they can't do any better...

J.Crew Spring Catalog Theatre!

It's been a very long time since the last episode of J.Crew catalog theatre and the only reason I can give you is that the stylists at J.Crew have seriously upped their game of late. I'm not going to lie - they've done a great job at making their pages both appealing and shoppable. That is, until now... (I hope my sister and her New York crew enjoy... I hear they love it when I get sacriligious.)

I was so happy to find this issue in my mailbox full of odd, ackward poses, models who are both pale and hungry, and very very strange styling choices.

There's a lot of ground to cover here, so indulge me. And yes, I edited out a few pages too - there was just too much good stuff...

Influences: Last Year at Marienbad

Two posters for Last Year at Marienbad, 1961

As we approach the final list of films for the FashFilmFest, I’ve been screening and re-screening a number of different films to hopefully narrow some selections. One film I’ve always had in mind is Alain Resnais’ 1961 film, Last Year at Marienbad. It’s under consideration, but I’m hesitant. Certain films you love without question; this is a film I’m always forced to question. What is happening here? Do I understand anything that’s happening? What is this place? Why am I so uncomfortable? Do I even like it? When it comes to Last Year at Marienbad, at any given time the answer could be either yes or no. Even when considering writing about this film (which I have many times in the past) I've also hesitated. Is there anything new to say that hasn't already been said? Perhaps not, but I can still state the facts of this film as a significant influencer of style, film, and fashion.

Delphine Seyrig in Chanel in Last Year at Marienbad

One of the more obscure French New Wave films of the early 1960s, Last Year at Marienbad has none of the color or humor of a Godard film, nor the youthful angst of a Truffaut, but it’s a film that designers and cinemaphiles come back to again and again for its style and unconventional narrative. It’s lengthy hallway shots, endless interiors, strange landscapes, and languorous story line have influenced everyone from Stanly Kubrick (especially in The Shining) to David Lynch (especially in Inland Empire). Peter Greenaway cites Marienbad as the film that had the most important influence on his body of work. In the fashion world, everyone from Marc Jacobs to Diane von Furstenberg have expressed their love of film, and as recently as Spring 2011, Karl Lagerfeld used the film as the theme for his collection for Chanel.

For his Spring 2011 show, Karl Lagerfeld re-created the black & white gardens of Last Year at Marienbad in the Grand Palais, Paris.

Stella Tennant in Chanel, Spring 2011. Inspired by Last Year at Marienbad. (Image from

Of course this is fitting because it was Mademoiselle Chanel who dressed Delphine Seyrig in the character of the woman, apart from two feathered gowns by production designer Bernard Evein. The clothing is impeccable. Alternating between light and dark, the dresses are either ephemeral or funereal. Resnais looked to the style of Louise Brooks in G.W. Pabst’s 1929 film Pandora’s Box for the woman, and even sought a special “silent film” film stock from Kodak in order to enchance the look of 1920s silent cinema. The look of the 1920s mixes well with the contemporary 1960s (both heydays of Chanel), or the 1960s looks are suited to the 1920s – either way, the seamless transition between eras creates some of the disorientation.

The famous mirror shot from Last Year at Marienbad.

Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box.

When re-watching this film, I gave myself over to the uneasiness that begins almost immediately. The whining organ music, empty hallways, sonorous voice-overs that fade in and out – the effect is like being drawn into someone nightmare from moment one, and in moment two you’re already looking for a way to wake up. The setting is elaborate and labyrinthine and the people posed here and there make them seem like bas relief figures on the side of a temple. People are silent or intensely focused, gossiping or watching. There seems to be a love triangle, but no one's actually very loving. There has always been a lot of discussion about a "rape" scene, and possibly a murder, but it's still difficult to tell what's really happening between the three main characters. Everyone else is socializing but no one’s really interacting. Drinks are imbibed, games are played, but it all has a menacing quality to it. There seems to be a lot of money around, but no one is happy and everyone is bored. Indeed, Last Year at Marienbad has been called one of the “most boring films ever made”, even as others hail it as a masterpiece for those very same reasons.

Seyrig in the white feather gown by Bernard Evein.

Carmen Kass in a blush-colored feathered dress from Chanel, Spring 2011. (Image from

Beyond the time-warp-surrealist narrative and down-the-rabbit-hole-and-into-Hotel-California feel, this is a beautiful film to simply look at. Every frame is considered and composed, almost like paintings in their stillness and precision. A recent editorial spread by Outumuro in Spanish Marie Claire magazine capitalized on the look of Last Year at Marienbad in a gorgeous homage to the film. It's no stretch to see how the famous "broken shoe" scene translates to our modern love of footwear...

The famous "broken shoe" scene from Last Year at Marienbad, and...

...recreated in Spanish Marie Claire by Outumuro.

Outumuro images from Spanish Marie Claire from The Terrier and Lobster

I think it is this visual appeal that keeps drawing designers, photographers, art directors, and yes, film directors, back to Last Year at Marienbad. Strange and misunderstood, it’s confusing mix of narratives keep generations of people conjuring their own opinions, while its eternal Gothic style provides its own frisson that’s difficult to ignore…no matter how much you may want to.

So will it be showing at the San Francisco Fashion Film Festival? I'm still unsure. As much as it's influential and intriguing, my vote is still undecided.

Influences: Cleopatra

Cleopatra Testing Poisons on Condemed Prisoners by Alexandre Cabanel, 1887.

Over the past few weeks I've been deeply immersed in Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. Having finished its detailed, dense, and scholarly 300 pages, I'm intrigued by this powerful Egyptian queen, who wasn't really Egyptian but Greek. Not merely a seductress, as Schiff demonstrates beautifully, Cleopatra was a politician, a living goddess, a mother, a diplomat, a generous patron, a scholar, a strategist, a lady, and yes, a passionate lover. What is even more intriguing is her lasting influence over the millenia. From Plutarch to Shakespeare to Cecil B. DeMille, this woman's political savvy, allure, and style have inspired art, film, music, dance, and fashion.

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra in 1964. Massive sets, location changes, budget overruns, a solid gold dress, and Le Scandale - did anyone actually think this movie would turn out okay?

Claudette Colbert at Cleopatra in 1934. I don't care for Colbert's Cleopatra - she's entirely too smiling and too saucy to really be right for the role. Indeed, as one of the last pre-code films, Colbert plays up the "Cleopatra as sex vixen" aspect. However, her costumes are spectacular.

As Chip Brown mentions in his National Geographic article "The Search for Cleopatra" from July, 2011: "When not serving as a Rorschach test of male fixations, Cleopatra is an inexhaustible muse. To a recent best-selling biography add—from 1540 to 1905—five ballets, 45 operas, and 77 plays. She starred in at least seven films; an upcoming version will feature Angelina Jolie." Along with all of this are the many paintings and drawings of the queen, many of which date from the academic period of the late 19th Century, when all things ancient came back into vogue. The most famous film depictions of Cleopatra are of course the Elizabeth Taylor version from 1964, but also the Claudette Colbert version from 1934. Before filming, DeMille reportedly asked Colbert "How would you like to be wickedest woman in history?" It is this myth of wickedness that Schiff's book helps to dispel. Rather than relying on her feminine wiles, one can see that Cleopatra had true intelligence and an inherent diplomacy needed to calculate political risk, assert herself as a world leader, and protect her kingdom. The long-lauded affairs with Julis Caesar and Mark Antony are in truth, merely sidenotes to the real political intrigues.

The coveted Pegasus Necklace from Stella & Dot. $198

Cleopatra was also a calculated image-maker. She knew how to orchestrate opulence in order to woo a crowd, or even a Roman general. She knew what to wear, how to speak, and she spoke multiple languages. Her image as a wealthy queen, and as the living embodiment of the Goddess Isis, was part of her power, and one that was carefully maintained. Even the city of Alexandria maintained the standard with its libraries, technological advances, golden statuary, marble walkways, perfumes, and lavish meals. Schiff describes her dress as being bedecked with "plenty of pearls, the diamonds of the day."

She coiled long ropes of pearls around her neck and braided more into her hair. She wore others sewn into the fabric of her tunics. Those were ankle-length and lavishly colored, of fine Chinese silk or gauzy linen, traditionally worn belted, or with a brooch or ribbon. Over the tunic went an often transparent mantle, through which the bright folds of fabric were clearly visible. On her feet Cleopatra wore jeweled sandals with patterned soles.

But other than this, what Cleopatra looked like remains a mystery. The cover of Schiff's book shows a woman with her face turned away - perfectly appropriate considering there are no frontal views of Cleopatra's likeness. All of her portraits are in profile, showing a somewhat large nose and prominent features. It is understood that while Cleopatra was not beautiful, her allure, charisma, and intelligence developed enough attraction to hold many in her thrall.

Louis Vuitton's "Desert Goddesses" ad campaign from 2004, featuring Naomi Campbell and shot by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott.

Perhaps it is this alluring mystery that has inspired so many for so long. That, and the luxury of ancient Alexandria whose gold, silver, and pearls seemed to flow through the streets. Indeed, luxury fashion designers often return to Cleopatra and Egyptian iconography for inspiration. In 2004, Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton developed his "Desert Goddesses" collection, with an array of black, gold, and turquoise looking like warm sands meeting the Meditterranean. In more recent seasons, Gareth Pugh sent gold and black striped looks down his runway for Fall 2011, offering a tough, almost robotic take on Egyptian motifs and headdresses.

Gareth Pugh, Fall 2011 collection.

Even more than mere fashion, the history of the age of Cleopatra lives on. HBO's series Rome offered a lush take on the relationships between the Egyptian queen and both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, while also showing a vivid portrayal of Octavian - the man destined to end the Ptolemaic Empire forever. Through many marriages and inter-marriages, both Octavian and Mark Antony's descendants were future Roman emperors including Tiberius, Claudius, Caligula, and Nero. The histories of these emperors are celebrated in all their gory machinations in I, Claudius from 1976. Mark Antony's Roman wife, Octavia - sister to Octavian, comes out as the kindest and most generous of all, taking guardianship of not only her own children (3 by a first marriage), and her two children with Mark Antony, but also of the three children Mark Antony and Cleopatra had together.

At the end of Schiff's account of Cleopatra, she dispels the notion that the queen committed suicide by being bitten by an asp. Instead, she suggests that it was poisoned figs that did the job, killing Cleopatra and her two attendants almost immediately. Poisoned figs serve as a leitmotif for Octavian, who, 40 years later, after securing his empire and launching the Pax Romana, was rumored to be killed by his own wife Livia Drusilla with poisoned figs. (Peter Greenaway picked up on the poisoned figs in the 1980s in one of my favorite films, The Belly of an Architect. Apart from the main character Storley Kracklite's obsession with Octavian Augustus' tomb, he shows his growing insanity by accusing his wife of poisoning some figs.)

The famous Cleopatra Earrings by Wendy Brandes. 18K gold with 1.36 carats of diamonds. $9,000

So what can we expect as a trend response from Schiff's wonderful biography and the upcoming film with Angelina Jolie? Probably a lot of gold, pearls, and Grecian sandals, but perhaps with even more regal jewels. As with all bio-pics, there is usually a strong fascination that results in the general public. It was the same with Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, and it will likely be the same here, with designers adapting classic Grecian draping to modern tastes. One of the best parts of the Cecil B. DeMille-Claudette Colbert version of Cleopatra was the way the film's designers adapted the look for the sleek shapes of the Art Deco period of the 1930s. Not exactly historically accurate, but really great style.

Cleopatra on the Terraces of Philae by Frederick Arthur Bridgman, 1896

One thing that will certainly change with upcoming depictions of Cleopatra is the charge that she was merely a seductress, not a leader. As Schiff concludes: "It has always been preferable to attribute a woman's success to her beauty rather than to her brains, to reduce her to the sum of her sex life...Cleopatra unsettles more as sage than as seductress; it is less threatening to believe her fatally attractive than fatally intelligent."

Images: 1) Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp 2) Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, 1963 by 20th Century Fox 3) Claudette Colber in Cleopatra, 1934 by Paramount Pictures - from Doctor Macro 4) Stella & Dot 5) 6) Fashion Gone Rogue 7) Wendy Brandes Jewelry 8) Public Domain

Influences: The Elizabethan Fashion Moment?

Taylor & Burton in a relaxed moment, 1960s.

I know that everyone has been thinking of Elizabeth Taylor since her death last spring, so I suppose an expectation for Taylor-flavored styles this fashion week isn’t too surprising. The fashion world loves an icon, and a recently-deceased icon surely needs her homage. But having just finished reading Sam Kashner & Nancy Schoenberger’s biography of the Taylor-Burton romance, Furious Love, I find the rumors of a Taylor-flavored influence a little interesting.

It began with Vanessa Friedman’s piece for the FT two weeks ago entitled "Liz Taylor's Gift of Glamour", calling out the particular brand of Elizabeth Taylor’s style & glamour as a likely fashion influence for this Fall. Even V Magazine is sending out its September issue (on newsstands this coming Thursday,) with an homage to Taylor in over 70 pages of images styled by Carine Roitfeld. It seems the Elizabethan moment is verified, so I wonder if the predictions for this week’s runways will be true. I also wonder if these fashion insiders will get it right.

Cathy Horyn’s piece "An Alluring Beauty Exempt from Fashion’s Rules", from the New York Times last March 23rd - the day Taylor died, is the best (and truest) summation of Taylor’s relationship to fashion.

"Because of Ms. Taylor’s physical effect, which audiences surely registered in “Butterfield 8” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” when she appeared at her most dangerous, in a slip or a stolen fur coat or an unchaste white sheath dress, you tended not to notice the particulars of her wardrobe.

Instead you noticed the heavily penciled brows, the lipsticked mouth, the riot of hair crowned with fresh flowers or jewels (typically the work of Alexandre of Paris) or the head scarf when she was on a beach or relaxing with her family, oblivious of the chaos her star presence was causing."

Given this, I found it odd that while discussing the V Magazine spread, Carine Roitfeld is quoted as saying “She [Taylor] had the kind of elegance that went far beyond clothes.” Elegance? I don’t think that’s correct. That is so like the French to call everyone "elegant", even when they don't deserve it.

Elegance is a “refined quality of gracefulness and good taste” whereas glamour is “an attractive or exciting quality that makes certain people seem appealing.” I don’t know that anyone has ever described Elizabeth Taylor as having good taste in anything but jewelry.

Elizabeth Taylor wears the 69.42 carat Taylor-Burton diamond (Krupp diamond) with Richard Burton at the 1970 Academy Awards.

While Taylor truly enjoyed the finer things, excess, food, drink, and a general fun frolic, she didn’t put much in mind for clothing. She did take a lot of chances (for better or worse), but between the furs and jewelry and extravagant hairstyles, the end result was mostly loud, distracting frivolity. It is almost as though she pursued a vulgarity in her look so that people would no longer see her ever-present beauty. This was certainly the case in her private language and manner. According to Furious Love, Taylor loved to swig beer, belch, and swear with the best of them, thereby downplaying her beauty and femininity by pointedly not acting like a lady.

Taylor (with Burton) challenges the notion of "good taste" with white hot pants and go-go boots. 1971

She was consciously vulgar; she tried to be, and succeeded. She knew that flaunting millions of dollars in jewelry was a bit outré, but she appreciated their beauty for themselves and wanted to share it with the world. According to Furious Love, she wrote: "One day somebody else will have them...and I hope that new person will love the jewelry and respect it as much as I do...I've never, never thought of my jewelry as trophies. I'm here to take care of them and to love them."

As Vanessa Friedman said in her article:

“…She was the id unleashed, with an unapologetic joy in consumption that those tired of today’s hair-shirted mea culpas may find truly thrilling…Her sense that fashion and sparkles are for fun, and that there is value in that fun, helped make her so compelling as a style icon, then and now. She didn’t ask for anyone’s approval and she wore her diamonds with great joy, even in her hair.”

This earthiness contributed to her allure, because instead of being ephemeral and untouchable (and elegant) like her contemporary Grace Kelly, Taylor was firmly planted on solid ground; it was just the looks that were goddess-like. (According to Furious Love, Burton “usually felt awkward around Princess Grace, whom he described as rather dull and in the class of people who are ‘in a somewhat false position and know it…’”)

The taste of Taylor: In the world's most expensive fur coat & a bikini, with Burton, Look Magazine, 1970.

Taylor’s fiery glamour and passion is what is more appropriate than any “elegance” she may have shown. Her love of jewelry far outweighed any love for fashion. In fact, I would go so far as to say that fashion maybe made her feel a bit insecure. Taylor always reverted to classic designers such as Halston, but for her red-carpet events she usually asked Edith Head to design something for her. Other than a designer, she chose a costume designer – she was dressing to fit the part of a movie star and went right to the top. But a costume is not fashion.

Vanessa Friedman asserts that the Taylor influence will translate into jewel tones, belts, metallics, and touches of tweed and fur. To me, this doesn’t sound too far away from what's normal, but we’ll see what happens. Aren't we already expecting an emerald-green trend for Fall?

An Elizabeth Taylor trend in beauty, makeup, and styling is one thing, but fashion? Beyond an increase in furs and bosomy-necklines (which we’ve already seen swelling, ahem, in the past few seasons,) I’m not sure that a true style influence that translates to the runway is entirely apt. If it can be done creatively and with Taylor's own brand of shock and humor (and even a touch of vulgarity?) then perhaps it will be correct. But designers are so very conscious of what's in good taste that I think it will be stretch for them to let loose and take a cue from La Taylor.

Cathy Horyn said it best at the conclusion of her piece on Taylor, saying “this kind of style had nothing to do with luxury or imprisoning taste, but it had a great deal to do with living.”

Images: 1) from Movie Morlocks, 2) Vanity Fair, 3) Shoe Blogs, 4) Internet

Influences: The Winged Messenger

Jimmy Choo Kevan Sandal, $2495 at SaksEarlier this week, Susan Joy wrote a short piece in the New York Times about the trend of be-feathered, be-furred footwear that's just arriving for Fall. While the piece was a jaunty bit of topical "how to wear it", I kept thinking about these luxurious delights for the feet and their implications.

At the surface these shoes are just fancy (and fanciful) designs. A touch of frou for the feet. Since we're all wearing tighter belts and shopping the closet, why not go over-the-top with some fantasy somewhere? Indeed, these little flights will set you back a pretty penny; those feathers don't come cheap. But considering how valuable the first pair of winged footwear was, I'd say we're getting them at a bargain.

The first pair of Talaria or "winged sandals", were forged from imperishible gold by the God Hephaestus, the son of Zeus & Hera and the blacksmith of the Gods. In other legends the sandals are said to be made from palm and myrtle, with no wings at all. When Hermes was born to the Pleiade Maia by Zeus, he immediately became a precocious trickster, deft musician, agile athlete, and cunning thief. He was fast, faster than any of the other Gods, so Zeus gave him the enchanted sandals for his role as messenger.

Brian Atwood, Sanchez sandal - $1100.00

In the fourth book of the Aeneid, the Gods are upset that Aeneas has been distracted from his duty by a love affair with Dido, so Hermes is sent to him with a gentle reminder...

Hermes obeys; with golden pinions binds

His flying feet, and mounts the western winds:

And, whether o’er the seas or earth he flies,

With rapid force they bear him down the skies.

Hermes was also one of the few Gods who could move between the mortal and immortal worlds, sometimes guiding the dead through the underworld and across the river Styx. Since he moved so easily between realms and people, the sandals could only have been his.

Winged Mercury detail, from the Capitoline Hill, Rome

In the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, it is Hermes who guides Eurydice out of the underworld, only to have her remain there because Orpheus turns to look for her. In the poem Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes, Rike describes him:

"the god of errands and far messages,

the travelling-hood above his shining eyes,

the slender wand held out before his body,

the beating wings at his ankle joints;

and on his left hand, as entrusted: her."

In Marcel Camus' gorgeous film Black Orpheus from 1959, Hermes is a streetcar conductor (fitting, considering that a streetcar takes travelers where they need to go) and friend to Orpheus. Later on, it is Hermes who tries to help Eurydice, and who also guides Orpheus to contacting her once she dies.

Diego Docini, Feather-Heel Pump $1220

As with all of the Gods, Hermes (also known as Mercury in the Roman tradition) can be your best ally or your worst enemy. Sometimes his tricky nature comes out, making things a general mess as he sits back and laughs. Thus, when "Mercury is in retrograde" we all need to be on our guard! So, while Hermes and his winged sandals continues to symbolize speed, travel, agility, athleticism, commerce, and communication, when he's in a bad mood he can mean just the opposite.

All of this symbolism makes the implications of this new flock of shoes even more interesting. The changeable nature of fashion, commerce, communication, etcetera? Yes, I'd say we're all familiar with that in spades. There's also the implication of femininity being equated to birds, as in "birds" - the slang term for a woman - and all of its ideas of exoticism, delicacy, and freedom.

The original winged sandals also wielded tremendous power. Perhaps the gods of fashion are giving us some extra oomph to get through our daily duties? Alright, so that's a stretch even for me. My first instinct regarding these shoes is to say "YES", and then back off a bit to hear myself say..."those are kinda silly".

Nicholas Kirkwood

Then what is going on here? Do the designers really think we're willing to spend $1000-plus on a little bit of feathered detail? Forget about the practicality issues, will these feathers and pelts even survive after one wear?

If they were trying to capture the essence of the friend/foe that is the Winged Messenger, I'd say: mission accomplished. These shoes are sexy, exotic, delectable, whimsical luxury at its best, and they'd surely garner a lot of attention. But would anyone take you seriously?

Don't look now, but I think the Gods are laughing.

Bang Envy - Sylvie Vartan

For our next installment in the Bang Envy series we have the fun and fabulous Bulgarian-French singer, Sylvie Vartan. Blonde and bubbly, Vartan was one of the original yé-yé girls of French pop, making a name for herself in the early 1960s as a teen pop sensation called la collégienne du twist - the twisting schoolgirl.

Born in Bulgaria to a French-Armenian father and a Hungarian mother, Sylvie Vartanian emigrated to Paris with her family in 1952, when they shortened the family name to Vartan. Both her brother, Eddie Vartan (father of actor Michael Vartan), and the strict nature of her French high school spurred her interest in American rock-n-roll; her early favorites included Bill Hayley and Elvis Presley.

After finishing high school, Vartan signed with Decca Records and began recording an EP "Quand le film est triste" which went on sale in December of 1961. In 1962, she had recorded a French version of "The Loco-Motion", as well as "Tous mes copains" - both of which went on to become major hits. In the same season, she released her first album entitled "Sylvie".

In total, six of her thirty-one songs released in 1962-1963 went on to the European top 20.

In 1962 during a performance at the Olympia, Vartan met the famous Johnny Hallyday. In the winter of 1963, the pair went on tour together and were then married in the spring of 1965. The Hallyday-Vartan marriage made the duo the "golden couple" of France in the 1960s and 1970s. Their son, David Hallyday is also a singer-songwriter, continuing the family tradition.

With The Beatles in 1964.

I would die to have this bouffant bob.

With husband Johnny Hallyday.

In 1964, Vartan appeared again at the Olympia, headlining a concert with The Beatles and Trini Lopez. At this concert she played the hits from her new album Sylvie à Nashville, which included "Si je chante", "La plus belle pour aller danser", and new songs in English written by Paul Anka.

Because of her performances, Vartan created a "rocker-girl" style that had never been seen before, thus cementing her reputation as a yé-yé girl. Where others sang while standing in front of a microphone, Vartan sang, danced and moved around on the stage, keeping her act dynamic. Later on, she created complete, choreographed numbers with scores of costumes and backup dancers.

With Francoise Hardy in 1967.

Vartan continued to perform throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, both as a pop star and as a jazz singer. She and Johnny Hallyday divorced in 1980. Today, she is married to producer Tony Scotti with whom she adopted a Bulgarian daughter named Darina. Vartan has been honored by the French government as a Chevalier of the Ordre national du Mérite in 1987, and as a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur in 1998. (She became an Officer of both these orders in 2006 and 2009 respectively.) In 2005, Vartan was appointed by the World Health Organization as a Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal and Child health in the European Region.

Sylvie Vartan in 2011 - from

Influences: Cheetah Chic

Phyllis Gordon with her cheetah, shopping in London, 1939

I came across this image of actress Phyllis Gordon out shopping with her pet cheetah a number of months ago, but it's been on my mind ever since. I'm enchanted by the inherent insouciance of it all. Imagine trotting out to do a few errands in the neighborhood and bringing along your favorite big cat just for kicks! This is the essence of luxury and chic.

I'm not at all what one would term a "cat person". I'm cool with cats, but wouldn't choose to have one over a feisty and funny terrier. I've been known to cat-sit here and there which isn't altogether unpleasant, although I'd prefer a cold wet nose over a sandpaper-tongue. So it is interesting that I find myself completely jealous of those eternally-stylish women who through history have sported cats as an accessory. Not just any cat, but a full-grown cheetah or leopard. Hands down, this is beyond stylish and everyone knows it - no Yorkie in a Louis Vuitton bag could compete.

As Jessica Kerwin Jenkins writes in Encyclopedia of the Exquisite, "by the twentieth century the cat's sexy, slinky reputation was appreciated by bohemians, intellectuals, and some extremely glamorous women, who upped the ante by taking in leopards as pets...As they proved, no animal makes a more stunning sidekick than a glowering great cat."

Women casually strolling with a cheetah on a leash sounds like something out of an old Hollywood urban legend. You know the scene: fur coat to the floor with a sharp cloche hat and five big cats on a chain, preferably while walking briskly down a train platform with the steam rising and a porter trailing with a mountain of trunks. My whole life I've longed to be this woman.

Marchesa Casati with her leopards, by Paget-Fredericks ca. 1920s

When I first started reading about the Marchesa Casati, I became enchanted with her pet cheetahs. According to legend, the Marchesa would take her private gondola across the Grand Canal late at night just to walk her pets through the Piazza San Marco. True to form, she would perform this ritual while completely naked but for a fur coat. Imagine running into that after too many Bellinis at Harry's Bar!

Marchesa Casati with her pet cheetah, 1912

Josephine Baker was also known to sport a leopard named Chiquita around Paris in the 1920s when she was the most flamboyant act in town. Diana Vreeland saw the pair out at the movies once and loved how Chiquita pulled Baker into her white Rolls Royce in a single bound: "Ah! What a gesture!...I've never seen anything like it. It was speed at its best, and style."

Josephine Baker & Chiquita

Gloria Swanson also seems like the type who would have had cheetahs close at hand. In Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond seems to be surrounded by leopard skins in one way or another. Even the seats of her Isota-Fraschini are upholstered in leopard skins. This detail in the production lends itself to the once-glorious past of Norma Desmond, recalling glamorous days of dancing the tango with Valentino.

Desmond's character probably had some basis on one of the original movie starlets, the great Pola Negri. Although she made her mark in early silent film in Europe, Negri signed a contract with Paramount and came to Hollywood in 1922. (It was she, not the fictional Norma Desmond, who met Valentino at a classic Davies-Hearst costume party at San Simeon a few years later. The two became lovers until Valentino's death in 1926.) Like the Marchesa Casati, Negri also had a weakness for cheetahs and walked hers frequently down the real Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood's heyday.

Negri's love of cheetahs came full circle much later on when in 1964, Negri starred with Hayley Mills in Disney's The Moon Spinners as Mrs. Habib, a character with a pet cheetah named Shalimar. While filming this teenage caper flick in London, it is said that Negri caused a sensation walking the cheetah nonchalantly through a hotel lobby. It sounds as though Negri not only knew the essence of glamour, but that she also had a true sense of humor too.

Hayley Mills & Pola Negri in The Moon Spinners, with a cheetah in the background.

To seal Hollywood's fascination with the luxury of keeping a big cat, there's also Bringing Up Baby - an entire screwball comedy devoted to the antics surrounding a rich woman's pet cheetah.

Film stars with cheetahs seems to be a classic combination. If they didn't keep them as pets they were certainly photographed with the cats as props; I would guess it is because of the wild, exotic, and animalistic connotations. You can't really argue with that. Indeed, the earliest Hollywood stars seem to have been photographed with cheetahs time and again in their ultra-glamorous, fantasy-driven publicity stills.

Bebe Daniels and a cheetah.

Joan Blondell and a cheetah.

I suppose that it isn't entirely practical to aspire to keeping a cheetah in this day and age. But was it ever practical? No. It's their impracticality that makes them so very stylish. All of these women seem to have been a bit "unleashed" while accompanied by a big cat on a leash. The sexy, outrageous, glamorous, diva-ish behaviour just seems to go hand in hand with this type of indulgence. Anything that's so truly luxurious as a pet cheetah could only be utterly, exuberantly beautiful in itself.

For more images of starlets & cheetahs, be sure to visit this post from the Pictures blog.

All images from internet searches.

Picasso, The Steins, and Modern Art in San Francisco

Pablo Picasso, Paul as Harlequin, 1924. Musée National Picasso, Paris

One of the highlights of my Spring reading included Amanda Vaill’s Everybody was So Young, a fantastic biography of Sara & Gerald Murphy. Their presence is at the very core of the Occidental art world after World War I. They supported the artists that created the “Lost Generation” culture not only financially, but also with their loyal friendship. The Hemingways, Dos Passoses, Picassos, Porters, MacLeishes, and Fitzgeralds all met together around the Murphy family. As it usually happens, this book was just the beginning of this year’s fascination with this time period in art, writing, and culture. It seems Woody Allen is also obsessed with this time period, and luckily a few San Francisco art museums are too.

The only glaring flaw I found in Woody Allen’s charming new Midnight in Paris, was that of the omission of the Murphys. How could all of these other wonderful artists and writers come to life without a mention of them? (It is thought that Picasso even may have had an affair with Sara Murphy, having drawn her a number of times on the beach in the south of France. Hemingway was also known to have a crush.) Personal criticism aside, the film provides a lovely glimpse into the Parisian art world of the 1920s and gives lively form to the relationship between Pablo Picasso & Gertrude Stein. If you’re even awake in San Francisco this month, you’ll surely be aware of two major art exhibitions involving these two. Picasso – Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris is now open at the de Young Museum, while The Steins Collect graces the walls at the SFMOMA.

Just as Balenciaga & Spain was heightened by its neighboring “fashion” exhibit, Pulp Fashion – The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave, we now have an entirely new dialogue between masterpieces, collections, museums, and even between one singular artist. The fact that the two museums showing these exhibits are only a few miles apart makes it all the more wonderful for the city of San Francisco.

Both shows provide a unique perspective on Picasso, but it is when the shows are taken together that the artist becomes even more complete.

The Picasso exhibit at the de Young draws from the Musée National Picasso in Paris. In 1968, France passed a law that allows inheritance tax to be paid in works of art – as long as the art is important to the French national heritage. This law, called dation, was perfectly timed for the death of Picasso in 1973. The bulk of the collection was amassed in 1986, upon the death of Jacqueline Picasso. It was then that Picasso’s heirs – Paolo, Maya, Claude, and Paloma (the jewelry designer) – made a new dation to the French state from their father’s own collection.

Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Dora Maar, 1937. Musée National Picasso, Paris.

Because the collection from the Musée National Picasso is comprised of the artist’s own personal collection, it is vast but also a little overwhelming. As anyone who’s studied Picasso knows, his great works are so momentous that it’s difficult to see anything else in the room. However, when his works are mere attempts or not pushed far enough, they show their battle wounds right at the surface. While some of the great Picassos are among the collection of the Musée National Picasso, the collection shows the artist’s preferences for smaller, quieter, more personal work. Some of the works are even unfinished sketches, or mere gestures made by the artist’s hand. Is this why he kept them? Was there something in a line, a form, a figure, or a sketch that though only hinted at, it was enough for Picasso to want to hold onto it his entire life?

In this regard, I think the exhibit is the perfect classroom for art students and lovers of the creative process. It shows how Picasso worked, how he developed ideas, and how he experimented. It also provides an overall timeline of his career, showing how his work changed while it still remained inherently Picasso.

Two of the best paintings shown are presented in a genius pairing right next to each other. The famous Portrait of Dora Maar is hung with Seated Woman in Front of a Window. The two women appear to be talking to each other, from their respective chairs but each shows an incredible difference in style - remarkable given that both were painted in the same year, 1937. Here are two paintings in which Picasso is fully realized.

Apart from these, I also loved the examples of Picasso’s Analytic Cubism with Sacré-Coeur from 1909-1910, as well as Man with a Guitar and Man with a Mandolin, both from 1911.

Although I understand the exhibition’s curators wanting to focus exclusively on Picasso, the Musée National Picasso’s collection also includes works that the artist collected from colleagues such as Cézanne, Degas, de Chirico, and Matisse, among others. It would have been nice to see some of these pieces included in order to give the collection greater context.

Of course, The Steins Collect at the SFMOMA is the perfect opportunity to gain such a perspective. Showcasing the collections of Gertrude, Leo, Michael & Sarah Stein, and tracing their roots directly to the SFMOMA, The Steins Collect is not only grand, but also moving in its intimacy.

This exhibition not only shows the works the Steins gathered during their years among the Parisian avant-garde, but also their own paintings, drawings, letters, and family snapshots. It is truly mind-boggling how many major works passed through the Stein family over the years. As collectors, they purchased the best of what they could afford, creating a collection of remarkable and daring pieces for their time. This makes the exhibition less of a jumble and more of a tightly focused journey through early modern art. Works include Renoir's Study, Torso Effect of Sunlight from 1876, a minor, but charming Manet entitled Ball Scene from 1873, Matisse's Joy of Life from 1905-06 now at The Barnes Foundation, as well as his remarkable Blue Nude: Memory of Biskra from 1907. Other artists in the collection include Gauguin, Cézanne, Manguin, Weber, Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard, Vallotton, and of course, Picasso.

Henri Matisse, Woman with a Hat, 1905. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The Steins' early support of Henri Matisse and his Woman with a Hat from 1905 (now the darling of the SFMOMA’s permanent collection,) made the Steins the center of modern artistic circles at the time. So many people came to see the scandalous Matisse that they had to hold open houses on Saturday evenings for years to accommodate requests. The Steins' support of Matisse was loyal and steadfast, carrying on for decades. I was particularly charmed by a series of lithographed Matisse nudes from the mid-1920s, shown in a series.

Here too is Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein from 1905-1906 (which features prominently in Midnight in Paris,) as well as some truly remarkable works from his blue and rose periods.  Indeed, Strolling Player and Child from 1905 from Sarah & Michael Stein’s collection is considered to be the transitional work between Picasso’s blue and rose periods. Young Acrobat on a Ball and Boy Leading a Horse, both from 1905 also show this exceptionally beautiful time in Picasso’s oeuvre, and echo back to sketches seen at the de Young exhibition. It is also in The Steins Collect that one sees a series of heads Picasso created after seeing an African mask Matisse brought to the Steins one afternoon. These heads then found their way into the masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon from 1907, Three Women from 1908 (at the SFMOMA), and Three Figures Beneath a Tree from 1907-1908 on display at the de Young. The Stein collection also includes work from Georges Braque - Picasso's significant counterpart in the development of Cubism.

Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, 1905-06. The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York

The beauty of The Steins Collect is also in the way its curators re-created the Steins' spaces. Lfe-sized images of their apartments show exactly how the family hung their collection, while the associated exhibition room has those very works on the walls. It’s a simple presentation, but it makes perfect, cohesive sense.

Between these two exhibitions San Franciscans currently have a rare treat to experience some exceptional artwork. Indeed, I think that the shows are made even better by their juxtaposition to each other. Taken together, there is an even more intense dialogue created about art, society, family, and the creative process, and from some of the most important figures in the 20th Century’s cultural history.

In other words, do not miss these!

Picasso, Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris is at the de Young museum until October 9, 2011. Tickets are $25 for adults; advanced reservations required.

The Steins Collect is at the SFMOMA until September 6, 2011. Tickets are $25 for adults.

Film: Life Lessons from Working Girl

It's graduation time again, and a lot of shiny new people will be emerging from the collegiate bubble into the "real" world. That is, the world of the work-a-day week, timecards, lunches at the desk, sneakers to commute and heels in the bag, and rows and rows of cubes. Okay, so maybe it's not so bad as all that, but when the real world hits for the first time, it hits pretty hard.

I was surprised to learn that one of my recent co-workers (who had recently graduated from college) had never seen the film Working Girl by Mike Nichols from 1988. I cannot conceive of someone NOT having seen this film when I watch it at least once a year, if not more often than that. From the moment the snare drum snaps to a shot of the Statue of Liberty, this film has me. The anthemic, soaring voice of Carly Simon on "Let the River Run" almost brings tears to my eyes in anticipation. From the first second, this movie goes right at the heart of the American spirit of capitalism and makes it exhilarating, despite its dirty backroom machinations. The writing is sharp, the cast is tremendous, and you'd be hard pressed not to love every one of these utterly flawed, delightful characters.

For me, Working Girl is sort of an I Ching of the business world. It gives lessons, makes you laugh, breaks your heart a few times, and still you come out with a happy ending. So, in my opinion, the film is an essential for anyone entering the working world.

So, here are my favorite lessons learned from Working Girl...

You don’t get ahead in this world by calling your boss a pimp.

“Never burn bridges. Today’s junior prick – tomorrow’s senior partner.”

Even if your boss is a pimp, a bitch, a pain-in-the-ass, or the company’s own dirty embarrassment, NEVER let them know that you know that. You don’t want to be the clean-up crew, but you can probably handle being a good cop to your boss’s bad cop. It’s called being nice.

People who are cavalier about burning bridges “so they’ll light my way” are just being stupid. You never ever know who can and will help you in your future career. Believe me, on day one people are already noticing your work ethic, and they aren’t likely to forget how much grace you have under pressure. They also aren’t likely to forget the good work and favors you’ve done on their behalf. You make them look good and they will always remember you, even years down the line.

They’ll also remember the nasty phone call, the shit attitude, the curt email response, and the oh-so-ferocious way you light that match and set that bridge on fire.

Never trust a bitch that has a weight machine in her office.

That’s just on principle.

Never trust a bitch that says “trust”.

Remember that guy at the frat party in your freshman year of college who wanted to take you out his window onto the roof because you could hear the band better from up there? Remember how the whole proposition didn’t seem to set quite right with you? Yeah. Hear that voice.

If your instinct tells you that someone is phony baloney (especially if it’s your boss,) then you aren’t likely too far off from the truth. Again, you don’t need to bring this to their attention, but just know where you stand and trust your instincts.

And just in case you forget: anyone who tells you to come to them with YOUR ideas should be a suspicious character no matter what. Do not trust them, ever.

Remember your first taste.

(As the chandelier lowers.) “Why does it do that?” “For cleaning.” “Are you kidding me?” “No.”

A Warhol quartet, Louis XVI desk, orchids… Your first time behind the curtain of affluence will always make an impression. Remember it well. The textures, the fragrances, the flavors, the service…the world is very different behind that curtain and that’s a good thing to know first-hand. Absorb it through your very pores so that you’ll know it when you get back there some day.

Dress like a woman.

“It’s simple, elegant; it makes a statement – says to people: confident, a risk-taker, not afraid to be noticed. Then you hit-em with your smarts.”

Dressing up always makes an impression. It’s important not to be overdressed nor intimidating, but to always be memorable. The success of the black sequined dress Tess borrows lies in it’s juxtaposition to every other outfit in the room. Remember, before Donna Karan, women didn’t know how to go from work to cocktails as seamlessly as they do today. It’s clear that all the women at the party have come from work, which is why they all look drab and frumpy.

“You dress like a woman, not how a woman thinks a man would dress if he was a woman.”

Today our wardrobes are much more versatile – especially when it comes to the transition between work and play. But even if you’re leaving right from work to go on to a social event, never forget the power of a quick freshen-up. New makeup, a spritz of perfume, and a quick hair re-dux will make you look and feel pretty. And pretty is always powerful.

Fringe times ARE crucial, but meet like human beings, for once.

“I promised myself that when we met we’d drink tequila. No chardonnay, no Frog water. Real drinks.”

Someday some guy will surprise the hell out of me by NOT talking about work within the first five minutes. Hopefully that same guy will know how to order a good brown liquor, and will also have a solid knowledge on the finer points of flirtation. Not everything needs to be “business cards and you must know so-and-so”, and it’s refreshing when it isn’t. The best relationships, romantic and platonic, are founded on things other than a business connection. The man that knows this is the one you want to keep.

The mantra “Don’t fuck up” is as good as any.

The point is, before heading into any important meeting, luncheon, conversation, or whatever, it’s always a good idea to visualize and prepare. Set the intention before heading into the room, conversation, whatever. The more you see yourself succeeding in a difficult situation the more likely it is to happen. Think of and process as many possible outcomes as possible, exploring the situation from every angle.

Know what to do with the surplus cash on the balance sheet – it may be the only time you’ll have to get this creative, but it will be worth considering.

Be able to play secretary AND boss…and give yourself a promotion.

“You’re up against Wharton and Harvard grads.” “Christians and lions, Tess…”

The art of being both secretary and boss is the art of the fake-out. Maybe it’s illusion, maybe it’s just plain fraud, but when handled with grace it’s just plain smart. Imitation is the highest form of flattery and observation is the best way to learn and master (and surpass) someone’s skill set.

On the flip side, I cannot tell you how many Wharton and Harvard grads I’ve known who had no idea how to set up a conference call or schedule a meeting room in Outlook. Never mind the CEOs and brand presidents I’ve known that didn’t know how to raise their hand at the curb to hail a taxi. These are important life skills that should not merely be handed off to some underling because you think yourself too important to be bothered. To quote the great song “Underdog” by Spoon – “You got no time for the messenger/got no regard for the thing that you don’t understand/ you got no fear of the underdog/that’s why you will not survive”. If you can only be a boss with no idea about the secretary part, you’ll always be missing half of the work equation.

As an underling, you can learn a lot from a boss, but chances are they won’t always take the time to learn from you.  (If they do however, hang on to them and follow them anywhere because they’re clearly invested in your success!)

Know that you’re going to get burned.

“I’m not the same pathetic trusting fool I was a few days ago.”

Things fall apart. The one wonderful boss that actually believes in you may get transferred, have a baby, move half way around the world, or any number of things that will take them away from your career. As much as you may plan your own career path, life will happen and catch you up short. Maybe you’ll get laid off (I did, and I still think it was the best thing that ever happened to me,) maybe you’ll get transferred, maybe the IPO will be delayed, or maybe that next round of funding never happens. The only thing you can be sure of is that somewhere, someday, something totally unexpected will get tossed in your direction.

When it does, you have a choice: wallow in despair or make it work for you. Even on your worst day (professionally and personally) you can usually still salvage something or at least figure out a new tack to take. How you recover from these situations will test you, but will also let you show your mettle in ways you won’t even realize.

Knowing how to read a balance sheet is just as important as knowing how to crash a wedding.

“He’s here and we’re here, that makes us…” “Total idiots.” “In the right place at the right time.”

Opportunities don’t always come knocking, sometimes you have to go find them on a dance floor, awkwardly, in the middle of a society wedding at the Union Club. People chalk a lot of things up to being “in the right place at the right time,” but what about camping out in the right place because the right time is bound to happen? By developing your sixth sense – the one that anticipates opportunities – you’ll start to learn where to find them.

Know your pitch.

“I said that the man who in 1971 looked into the future and saw that it was named microwave technology, the man who applied Japanese management principles while the others were sill kowtowing to the unions, the man who saw the Ma Bell breakup coming from miles away… This man did not get to be this man, you, I mean, by shutting himself off to new ideas. Am I right or am I right?”

Research, research, research. This will help you so much more than you may actually think. If you’re heading into a pitch or proposal, be sure to have read up on everything about the person or company your’re going to be courting. What’s their current share value? How did they do last quarter, last year? What are their current plans for growth and how do they expect to do it? Most importantly, what’s the vision you’ve come up with for their grand plans? Even if you’re just the coat check girl sitting at the reception desk, this information should always be fresh in your mind. Know how to take the temperature of a company, a department, a leader… Keep your eyes open and observe: trends, attitudes, moods, the air in the lunch room. It’s all there, you just have to put all the pieces together and start your spin.

You are not steak.

“I’m not going to spend the rest of my life working my ass off and getting nowhere just because I followed rules that I had nothing to do with setting up.”

Remember that you have a voice – in business and in your relationships. Accept the times when you make mistakes (which will happen), but be practiced at the art of gracefully asserting yourself. Don’t be afraid of your own power, and don’t be afraid to break the rules when you feel that it’s the right thing to do. In fact, make your own rules!

I know this is a tricky one when you’re first starting out, especially as you’re learning. But always keep it buried in your back pocket.

Don’t let good people get buried under a little piece of tape.

Have integrity and ethics. Don’t throw people under the bus; take responsibility for things. If you’re wrong, admit it, but if you’re right then know how to back up your position in three different ways.

Business relationships can be fragile at the get-go, but once you’ve made a few partnerships you will start to feel the loyalty. Sometimes you’ll be challenged, sometimes you’ll be an ace, but either way you need a solid team on your side. When you find those talents, remember them and keep in touch no matter where you go. These are the bridges you definitely don’t want to burn.

Wise up and don’t take the whole thing so seriously.

Read the People page. It’s true, you really don’t know where the big ideas will come from, so stay open to all of them by being open to everything. Even the most ridiculous things.

Emerging markets can emerge without you on your birthday. When in doubt, go to a party on Staten Island. You may be the best-dressed person there, but you’ll probably have a very fun, memorable night.  Singing and dancing around the house in your underwear won’t make you Madonna, but it will probably make you laugh.

“Power to the People.” “The little people.”

The first few years will be filled with many lessons. You’ll learn a lot and you’ll climb higher, if that’s what you really want to do. As you get higher and grow in importance, talent, and ability, never forget where you started. Chances are it’ll take a long time to become the biggest fish in the corporate pond, but after a few years you’ll no longer be the smallest either. But know that those years as a small fish may be the most important you’ll experience. They’ll give you drive, ambition, humility, wisdom, street smarts, and all those little skills that the people at the top should always be grateful for.

Gumption, Ms. McGill.

“You can bend the rules plenty once you get upstairs but not while you’re trying to get there. And, if you’re someone like me you can’t get there without bending the rules.”

If things aren’t working for you, you can always move on to something better. If you need to, you can always shake things up. When you’re young it’s a bit easier to do, but age doesn’t really matter. If you want to make something happen you can do it. It may be risky, it may be all-or-nothing, it may mean a lot of sacrifice, but it will probably be worth it in the end.

Keep good records, write down your ideas, and keep your elevator pitch polished and concise. You never know who may be riding with you or if they have a fat checkbook that needs to invest in something or someone. Namely, you.

Speculation: Miss Middleton's Wedding Dress

I’ll confess that the matter was on my mind long before Little Augury threw me the gauntlet that asked me to weigh in on the hottest topic on the blogosphere: Catherine Middleton’s mystery wedding dress. I typically shy away from subjects that are so mainstream, but the question is interesting to me. The whole thing has such a significance, a symbolism that is rare in the modern sartorial language. It needs to make a singular personal statement while maintaining some time-honored rules and regulations.

For the ceremony at Westminster Abbey, the design will need to balance modesty with grandeur. Because of the location, the dress demands a “covered up” style, which will make anything strapless completely out of the question. (Now that’s a rule a girl can get behind. Dress designers, consider yourselves on notice: a lot of people actually don’t like strapless. Deal with it.) Because of the scale of the Abbey, the design will need to be bold, but tasteful.

Princess Margaret in 1963. Gown by Norman Hartnell.

Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips, with Prince Edward and Lady Sarah Armstrong in 1973. Gown by Maureen Baker.

Luckily, there is a long precedence of beautiful royal wedding gowns that Miss Middleton can use for inspiration. My personal favorites are Princess Margaret's from 1963, and her niece Princess Anne's from 1973. Both are extremely simple and elegant, very regal, and entirely within the styles of their own eras.

I sincerely doubt the Bride will choose anything remotely flouncey or princess-shaped. The connotations of Princess Diana’s gown by the Emanuels in 1981 would be too prevalent to ignore. To reiterate the 1980s excess, there is also Sarah Ferguson’s outrageous, bling-y and embellished gown by Lindka Cierach just five years later. I think it’s obvious that Miss Middleton will avoid anything that resembles either of these designs. Besides, giant silk taffeta or duchesse satin cream puffery just isn’t her style. Bows of any shape and size are doubtful.

And what is Kate Middleton’s style? Classic, romantic, and for lack of a better word, safe. Not that this is a bad thing – she always looks incredibly chic and stylish, but nothing she wears is ever too very different or surprising. Miss Middleton is a classic Sloane Ranger, to use the popular parlance. This term is applied to a stereotype of young, upper-middle class women and men who are seen around the Sloane Square neighborhood of London, located in a the very well-heeled area surrounded by Knightsbridge, Chelsea, and Belgravia. (Diana, Princess of Wales was one of the original Sloane Rangers back when she was merely Lady Diana Spencer.) In France the same group is called a BCBG, while here in the US we call them “Preppies”. In the 1980s, Peter York and Ann Barr created The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook and The Official Sloane Ranger Diary, both of which were published in partnership with Harper’s and Queen magazines. (I wonder if Michael Williams has a copy?)

Marchesa, Fall 2010.

So what does trim and tidy sartorial precedence mean in the context of a royal wedding gown? I would venture that with so much on the line, Miss Middleton might just pull out a few surprises. My guess is that the Bride will go more romantic than strictly classic, with a slim, simple and floaty style that has both elements of luxury and sophistication.

Monique Lhuillier, Spring 2011.

Because of her interest in art history and the Renaissance, Miss Middleton may choose the type of Tudor simplicity seen in Princess Anne's gown, but updated for the 21st Century. It would need to be very updated, of course, but I can see her looking to such a classic gown style which is in keeping with her romantic nature. A simple gown topped with an embellished blazer piece for the ceremony could be just the thing, but with the private dinner-dance happening later in the evening, I'd bet that Miss Middleton will have a second, party-ready dress to wear.

Alexander McQueen, Fall 2010 & Spring 2011.

For the last ten days or so, Sarah Burton’s team over at Alexander McQueen have been incredibly silent. Yes, the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute Gala which is honoring the late Mr. McQueen is coming up on Monday evening; that camp is undoubtedly busy creating couture for the many party patrons that are sure to attend. However, I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of the house taking care of the royal wedding as well. Miss Middleton may be classic, but she is modern and in this vein there is no one to match the house of McQueen.

The designer’s final collection for the Fall of 2010 was perfectly regal in every way. The rich fabrics, hints of Tudor details, vivid reds and blacks, as well as sumptuous gold embroidery are all ideal for Westminster Abbey.

A design from Libélula's Bespoke Wedding Gown collection.

But Miss Middleton is also democratic in her fashion choices, going with everything from Top Shop to Issa London in the past few years. Therefore, Yvonne Yorke’s prediction in The Huffington Post stating that little-known designer Sophie Cranston of Libélula was chosen to create the dress is entirely believable. Believable, but a little too much of a dark horse for me to have a lot of confidence in this selection. Also, Miss Yorke’s annoyingly shrill, self-righteous tone on this “scoop”, plus the blatant effort to out this designer (if it is her) when so many are respecting Miss Middleton's privacy and desire for secrecy, makes me dislike the Libélula notion just on principal. I also question why no other news outlet has picked up this rumor as fact.

Libélula’s designs are pretty and yes, modern, but they’re also a bit ho-hum. Perusing the lookbook, I’m having a difficult time imagining any of these soft, floaty confections gracing the nave of Westminster Abbey with any kind of presence. Yet it could happen: The Emanuels were young unknowns when Lady Diana Spencer phoned them with a special commission.

Audrey Hepburn as "The Quality Bride" in 1957's Funny Face. Gown by Edith Head.

Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, 1956. Gown by Helen Rose.

A lot of people are speculating that Miss Middleton's gown will be very Audrey Hepburn in it's classic, simple style or perhaps reminiscent of Grace Kelly's "ice princess gone frothy" wedding gown designed by Helen Rose in 1956. It's easy to draw comparisons to Hollywood in the case of a royal wedding, but I think these opinions are a bit simplistic, and totally unrelated to Miss Middleton's taste.

Again, I think Miss Middleton will choose a slim, simple style with a lot of movement and none of the poofy stiffness of her predecesors. She will probably be very natural, with her hair loose, and possibly a nod to Queen Victoria with a crown of orange blossoms instead of a tiara. A hint at the romance and luxury of the Tudor era is indeed a possibility, and I think the house of Alexander McQueen will serve the task perfectly.

As I looked through some family pictures this evening I found some of my parents' wedding photos, and remembered why I love the Tudor styles for weddings. My Mom wore something similar when she married my Dad in 1973. The dress was purchased off-the-rack at I.Magnin here in San Francisco. In fact, my Mom claims that the dress was so cheap that the veil cost more just to have the lace matched. They will be married 38 years next month.

Bang Envy - Britt Ekland

My, it's been a while since we had a good Bang Envy post around here! I'm not sure when Britt Ekland occured to me - I've been collecting her images here and there for some time and filing them away (as I do for all of my BE posts) and then coming back to them again & again to try to edit down to the best ones. While the Bang Envy category is full of French & Italian ladies of note, this may be our very first Swede...and the Swedes know a thing or two about allure - things we should all learn!

Although she was a model throughout the 1960s, it was her 1964 marriage to Peter Sellers that really brought  Britt Ekland into the public eye. Although the marriage was short-lived, Ekland went on to be one of the original "IT" girls of the 1960s-1970s, dating rock stars and even doing her time as a a Bond Girl opposite Roger Moore in The Man with the Golden Gun in 1974.

From the movies to the romances to the rock & roll, Ekland's life is a lovely mix of glamour, humor, style, and playfulness.

Classic Swedish glamour... modeling shots from the 1960s.

In one of the greater urban myths of 1960s Hollywood, Peter Sellers fell for Britt Ekland after just seeing her photograph. He then proposed to her after just one face-to-face meeting. After having daughter Victoria, the pair split in 1968. In 1973, Ekland had her second child, Nic Adler, with producer Lou Adler.

With Peter Sellers, circa 1964.

 I LOVE LOVE LOVE this look - the beret, the tunic with the pockets, and most of all the tassel necklaces. It's very Bonnie Parker meets Patty Hearst, with a little bit of Emma Peel mixed in. The perfect cocktail of so many different icons of the era, but reduxed and toned down for real life.

Ekland in a leopard cat suit, Vogue 1965 by David Bailey.

After a while (especially as the 1970s dawned), Ekland moved away from her classic "Swedish straight" hairstyles and signature bangs to a more natural, honey-blonde color & free-flowing style that was totally in tune with the new decade. In 1973, Ekland sealed her cult-goddess status in the folk horror film, The Wicker Man. Ekland's singing & slapping the wall while naked scene from the movie was considered so risqué that even now it's hard to find an original print in the United States.

Ekland on the cover of Esquire - a classic George Lois era - from 1969.

Ekland as one of the more provocatively-named Bond Girls, Mary Goodnight, from 1974's The Man with the Golden Gun.

Ekland met Rod Stewart in 1975 via mutual friend Joan Collins, and the pair lived together for nearly two years. After this, she went on to relationships with Phil Lewis from Girl & L.A. Guns, as well as Slim Jim Phantom, with whom she had her third child, T.J., in 1988.

Rod Stewart and Britt Ekland from Life.

Ekland still remains close friends with Sharon & Ozzy Osbourne, and remains a figure in the rock & roll scene. In the 2005 HBO biopic The Life & Death of Peter Sellers, Ekland was portrayed by Charlize Theron who invited her to attend the film's premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

Today, Ekland raises funds for Osteoporosis and Alzheimer's charities, and makes an occasional appearance on television. What a life, eh? So many things I'd love to ask her.....

Film: Umbrellas, Six Ways

I was going to make this my Bon Weekend post, but I just couldn't decide which of these images to post! Today's weather has me thinking of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. When I went to look for an image, I found all of these amazing posters... One of the things I truly love about classic film is how the essence of a story is reimagined and re-illustrated depending upon the country. Depending upon the language and culture, the imagery and symbolism of a film can change dramatically, but it's still communicating the same message.

TV: A Conversation with Darren Criss of Glee

Darren Criss (left) and Chris Colfer (right) as Blaine & Kurt from Glee in Entertainment Weekly.

I know. Poetic & Chic has a long-standing "no celebrity" policy, but when the celebrity in question is a fellow alumni not just of high school (St. Ignatius College Prep), but of grammar school too (Schools of the Sacred Heart), I had to bend the rules.

After a few weeks of missed connections, I finally got a phone call from Darren Criss. "Hi, it's Darren..." he began, "I’ll tell you right now, I’m rather long winded. So, brace yourself for that." Indeed. Our long and insightful conversation covered everything from his new Chicago play Starship, his love of high school theatre, thoughts on one day hosting Saturday Night Live, and the controlled chaos that is the cultural phenomenon called Glee.

So let’s just start with the obvious: You guys were at the Golden Globes last Sunday. (Glee won for best TV series, Musical or Comedy), and today you’re on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. What has this week been like?

It’s funny – I’ve been so inundated with work for this company that I’m a part of in Chicago – our show opens in 3 weeks, so I’ve been supervising that and just putting every atom of my being into it. So all this great stuff is happening that I haven’t properly soaked it in as much as I should.

But it’s been fun – the Golden Globes and the photo shoot and then the magazine coming out today, it’s been my reprieve from all that work, so it’s certainly been a lovely reminder that once Starship is open I have something fun and promising on the other side. I’m very lucky.

Tell me about Starship. Are you starring in it, or are you doing the music?

Yes, I’m writing the music. It’s an idea that I had developed for a while, and the wheels were already heavily turning on it and then I got cast in Glee. So I knew that while I probably couldn’t be in it, I could still write the music and be involved on the creative side. The music for me is almost like me being there in person. I’ve put a lot of my own soul and quirks into the music.

You know, it’s been very hard but it’s been fun and I’m just trying to make it work. I hope we can open it up in 3 weeks – I hope we can pull it off!

I have no doubt it will be successful, especially in Chicago, which is such a great city for that type of theatre.

Which is why we moved the show to Chicago. We came to a crossroads and we were deciding what it was we wanted to be doing with this entity “Starkid” – this brand, this production thing. We figured that if (much further down the line), if there was a television production we figured we would do it after we had our enjoyment in theatre, and the place for theatre is not really LA, so we decided to go back to Chicago. That was literally a month right before all this stuff happened.

So television’s not really your thing, you really want to be back in theatre?

I don’t really think it’s a matter of what my “thing” is; as an actor you’re inherently kind of a mercenary. Glee has certainly opened up the opportunity door a bit as far as maybe having a little more say in what I want to be doing. I’m still in a position where I’m watching things play out. Obviously I’m happy to be on Glee – I love the show, I love working on it, and that show happens to be on TV, but had this opportunity manifested itself into a feature film then I would be doing that. My heart will always be in theatre – I come from theatre. As an actor, there are many joys of the theatre that you just won’t find anywhere else.

Despite the fact that Starkid is a theatre entity, it is something that is completely made from scratch and made with love. It’s something I care a great deal about. So it’s something I’m extremely, personally passionate about and invested in.  But you know, if the door opened up and someone wanted it to be a new Broadway play, I mean..hell yeah. I’d love to be a part of it – that would be tremendous.

We’re very flexible – we’re not so rigidly in the theatre world. If we [Starkid] were approached (and we have been), to develop screenplays then that’s something that we’re very capable of doing. We just like to incubate things in the theatre. That’s the best place to really find a lot of stuff. The work can find its body a lot better.

Are you guys planning to take Starship to New York?

We’re doing the show because we’ve always wanted to do it, and we’ll see what kind of attention we get. You know, if somebody says they want to pick it up for a TV series, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Broadway is certainly an option and we’re open to all things. It could go in a lot of different directions. It was kind of written that way actually. We did plan for it to have some kind of future embodiment.

So you guys started by doing these online videos. I know that a lot of people in the past couple of years have really been discovered that way. Do you think this is a genre that is going to be getting bigger and bigger in terms of talent discovery?

No question. The cool thing about YouTube is that it gives everybody a chance. There’s kind of this “do-it-yourself” mentality now, and if you’ve got it, it’s relatively inexpensive to put something out there on the internet for the world. People’s palettes are changing in a sense that they’re open and really receptive to reality, and to the “realness” of things.

I think people respond to kind of this relate-ability and non-polished quality, which is really cool for me because I was terrified when we had this reaction to A Very Potter Musical. I was really afraid because there’s kind of this unfair finality about the internet. No one thinks about context – it’s just very unfair. I was worried because we put it [A Very Potter Musical] out on the internet just for our friends. When people started watching it, I thought “oh no!” because there was no kind of production quality control, but I think that is why people like it. It’s not polished, there’s not a whole lot of hands in this pot, it’s just a few kids having fun.

It [the internet]’s definitely made the audience. The “fan world” has become a little more democratic. The views speak for themselves and then they get passed around virally. It’s a really interesting time to be involved in the entertainment business.

I think that’s also one of the contributing factors to the popularity of Glee. People are sharing the song parts of the show much more on YouTube, than people that are actually watching it when it airs.

And they’ve been really good about their online media. They’re making things more interactive. Also, because of the internet, because of things like YouTube and Twitter…fan connectivity is a lot easier than it was just a few years ago. People really feel like they’re part of people’s lives. The time was right for something like Glee. The mileage that it’s gotten (via the internet) has always helped.

One number in particular, “Teenage Dream”, I saw today on YouTube has almost 10 million views for that one song. When you watch this song, the chemistry between Kurt and Blaine is so clear which is why I think that song is so compelling. It’s a fantasy moment – Kurt walks in the door and it’s all love, popularity, friendship, acceptance, and in this beautiful room, and the enthusiasm comes across so clearly. How was that scene directed and how many takes did you do for that? I feel like it’s such a beautiful, lighthearted moment, but there’s so much more going on there.

You know it’s funny – and I don’t want to deny you the magic you feel watching that. I can watch something like that objectively, (but obviously I’m a little biased), but in the moment, you don’t think about it, you’re kind of just doing work. What you guys see is not what I see. I see about a million lights, I’m sweating my butt off, it’s completely silent, or maybe the music is playing but you don’t have kids cheering, and you have a bunch of cameras in your face, a lot of people running around, a lot of wires, and you’re just hoping you can hit your marks and you’re singing the right words, you’re trying to stay in the moment as an actor… there’s a lot of things that kind of get in the way of your focus. I’m just trying my best to be present, basically, and try and serve this character.

Sometimes Kurt isn’t even there. Sometimes he’s sitting down, or there’s a camera in front of me - it depends on the shot. It is work. And you do your best to just do your job. And then you hope that as a result of that that there will be this kind of extra x-factor that’s added.

I have to ask you – you went to Stuart Hall, right? Because, I also went to Convent.

Oh, great, so you get it! Can you imagine? Can you imagine being me, showing up to the set and seeing the blazer and seeing the staircase and those rooms? I was like oh my god, how did they know?

The uniform (of Dalton Academy) is very eerily similar. The only thing different is the edging on the blazer.

Exactly. That’s so funny. They have the marble staircase like in the Flood Mansion, especially the interior – the wood, the moldings, are all like Stuart Hall. It’s unbelievable.

Darren Criss (center) & The Warblers on the set of Glee at The Cravens Estate.

So is that a set, or is that a home?

That’s a beautiful home [The Cravens Estate] in Pasadena. The Red Cross owns it and they usually rent it out for weddings. It’s beautiful in there.

So what do you think about this character, Blaine? To me there’s nothing wrong with him. So, when is the dark side going to come out?

Oh yeah, totally. Here’s the thing: there’s no better way to introduce a character in any story than to introduce him as seemingly perfect. Then, that’s where the drama lies: you await the fall of the king. Also, like any great story, you can’t do it overnight. It takes time. I look at a guy like Mad Men’s Don Draper being this kind of classic anti-hero; when you meet him he seems so great, or at least he’s got this exterior, and then you peel back the layers and you see the weakness.

So, not to compare Blaine to Don Draper, but I’ve been excited to see what would happen. You know Ryan (Murphy) has said to me that’s he’s not interested (and I’m not interested either) in Blaine being this kind of knight in shining armor character. As fun as it is, when we meet him and introduce him that way I think that’s not going to do anybody a lick of good. There’s only so much knowledge you can get out of that. I think it will be very important to explore the dark regions. When we meet him, he does immediately admit to this kind of cowardice and to this background – that he did in fact run away from his problems. He certainly has a lot of regrets there, which is the reason why he immediately gravitates towards Kurt. Yeah, I think things are going to start to shake up a little bit with Blaine. The character definitely has a lot of potential to go there.

How does the song selection process happen? Do the cast members have input? Is there a song that you’d like to sing on the show?

I’m still the new guy, but I feel little bit more comfortable now. I used to feel very wary about saying anything. As it gets friendlier, Ryan will ask: “Is there a song you want to do?” I’m like, “you know what man, you’ve given me such incredible songs that beggars can’t be choosers… I’m just happy to be here!...Can I get you coffee? Anything you want…you guys have changed my life…”

I don’t know what the process is - they keep an eye out for things. The cool thing about the songs that I sing with The Warblers is that they get The Beelzebubs from Tufts University to rearrange them, so even if it’s a song that I wasn’t crazy about, which has never happened, they change it up into a very unique vocal arrangement and make it something new and fresh and different anyway. The Beelzebubs have really done a knock-out job with the songs. Dalton is reminiscent of a lot of East Coast, all-male schools where there’s a lot of traditional and rather famous groups in the acapella world. These all-male groups have been around for a very long time in the Ivy League world, The Beelzebubs are one of the oldest. They do all The Warblers songs – that’s their voices on the track.

It’s only recently that I’ll tell him (Ryan Murphy) songs that I think are kind of cool. I’ve told Ryan a song and… I won’t tell you what song it is but there’s a song coming up that I kind of put in as a suggestion. (Whether or not he listened to me, I’m not going to make any claims) …but I remember mentioning the song and now it’s showing up and that’s kind of cool. He’s very open to work things off the cast.

The Hollywood momentum is crazy. Are there any special cameos that you can share?

I have no idea. I don’t know anything until the last minute.

Do they hold back on telling you guys?

No, they’re just busy. Glee is incredibly chaotic, it’s a really hard show to do, I mean you’re shooting like four or five music videos a week. Plus, writing the new ones, casting the new ones, doing production and editing the new ones, and you’re doing 22 a year. You know, they’re not twisting their mustache like “he he he, we’re not going to tell them, it’ll be great”, it’s more like “we’re working as fast as we can and we’ll get it to you when we can.”

Darren Criss by Mitchell McCormack for Interview magazine.

I saw your red carpet interview at the American Music Awards where you mentioned that you wanted Christopher Walken to be on the show?

Yes. That would be mine. I would love Chris Walken to be my kooky uncle or kooky grandfather, I guess, or anybody in Blaine’s family. He’s just one of my favorite people on the planet.

Have you met him?

Oh God, no. I’ve never met Christopher Walken – good lord, I would die. He’s just a legend. He comes from a Vaudeville, practical theatre background. He’s a great dancer, he’s a great singer… God, I’d love to have Chris Walken on the show.

So if you ever got to host Saturday Night Live, would you want it to be as an actor/comedian or as a musician?

I’ve seen JT [Justin Timberlake] pull it off, so I’d like to do both. I don’t know if I’d do it as well as JT, but I’d love to. I’ve been really blessed in a number of ways, but the cool thing about me… It’s a comedy show, it’s a dramatic character or a serious character at least, and people get to see that side of me. But I do come from comedy and theatre, so it’s nice to know that I don’t think I’ll be pigeon-holed in one way or the other…

But yeah, I’d love to do both. Saturday Night Live…that would be…phew!

Do you have any favorite memories of theatre at St Ignatius?

Oh my God, a ton! High school theatre is super-special. That’s when it’s all about fun; all the really wonderful sincerity that can be in theatre is still a learning process. Quite often I’ll go see high school productions of things, or I’ll find out some high school is doing a play and I’ll see it. It kind of reminds me of where I come from and why I’m doing all of this. You know, before contracts and being an adult, really…it’s nice to be in touch with this time in one’s life where it’s about having fun with your friends.

One of my many mantras in life is that I take my work very seriously, however I don’t take myself seriously at all - that was what high school theatre was about. Theatre at SI was super-special because of its really well-rooted tradition, there’s a lot of great theatre traditions that anyone who’s gone through SI will know about. It was really special for me and I’ll always have that connection with my friends at SI who did theatre because it was this little club of crazies.

The cool thing about SI is that once you get into the Ignatian side of it and you get into the Jesuit side of things, and you start delving into the realm of spirituality – tying that into young people and theatre is something really unique & special. I’m careful of my words because I don’t want to make this religious, but just in general, tying in that notion of spirituality interlaced with artistic expression is a really cool thing to be exposed to and a really cool way of evaluating the arts at a really young age. Because for me, I don’t do what I do for myself. I do it for other people. There’s a certain shared experience there (in performance) and that’s what makes things special.

What would you advise to some kid at SI in the theatre group? Or not in the theatre group, but a writer or musician – something that’s otherwise creative. How do they take that next step? SI is a place where a lot is expected of you, obviously to whom much is given much is expected. Going the artistic/bohemian route isn’t necessarily what they always want us to do, and yet you can do it and be successful. But I think there’s a lot of fear inherent in making that choice.

Yeah, as you know, there are no rules. There’s no one path for anybody. I think…I was going to say be true to yourself, but there’s a balance between being true to yourself and being realistic. Knowing your limits. As bohemian & romantic as it sounds – is that who you are? Do you come from a background where that makes sense to you? I think it’s important to keep taking that which is on your plate and utilize it toward what you want to do. Don’t look at what’s on your plate as an obstacle to what you want to do. Going back to the internet, there’s so many different paths now to do so many different things. The important thing is if you’re a writer, an artist, anything is just do it. You can just create.

Nothing happens overnight. People think it does. People tell me “you’re an overnight success with Glee”, and I guess that’s so in the public eye. But, I went to college, I did this in high school, I went to conservatory as a kid, I’ve worked a long time as an actor. Yes, I know I’m young, but there’s a process here. It’s important to recognize that when you’re young. Things don’t happen over night. The journey is okay, in fact it’s the best part.

I had a huge dry spell before Glee. I was really struggling. I was going to move to Chicago, I couldn’t get any work as an actor, so I was really going to pursue being a musician. I was an hour away from calling my acting team and saying “we need to take some time off from this”, and I was gonna go that way, so you never know. Be open to all avenues. I’ve always had my goals, but by no means have I had my blinders on, which has made me happy. It’s good to have dreams, but it’s good to not alienate yourself from the endless possibilities. You know, it’s always being gracious and grateful for the things that you do have until it needles its way into the future path of what you do want to do. I’m so glad I went to college; I’m so glad I grew up. (Well, I haven’t really grown up, but on paper I’ve grown up.) There are parts of me that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t finished college. But that was really for me. I enjoy school, I enjoy academia, and it’s something that I think has been really important to my development as a human being and I’ve always been that person that wanted to go back to school and I fully intend on doing that in my later years.

Before I let you go, any insight into the Super Bowl Sunday episode?

Yeah. It’s going to be 1.21 jiggawatts of pure grade-A entertainment. It won’t take you back in time, but it’s just a lot of big, adrenaline-filled entertainment. It’s going to be like an hour-long half time show. Because there’s an audience that may not necessarily watch the show, the first ten minutes of it is like…bonkers. A lot of bells & whistles for sure.

Is that the episode that “Bills Bills Bills” is going to be on?

That’s the one. I love that song. I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but I’m excited too…

Hamish Bowles talks Balenciaga & Spain

Opening on March 26th, Mr. Hamish Bowles' new exhibition Balenciaga and Spain brings over 100 pieces of priceless haute couture to the de Young museum. Expanding the retrospective from its showing at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute in New York (that exhibit offered only 50 pieces), the exhibition will highlight the master couturier's work through traditional Spanish themes.

As Mr. Bowles' was in town this week to prepare for the exhibition, I was lucky enough to sit down with him and learn more about the inscrutible designer and Mr. Bowles himself.

Balenciaga, Bolero jacket of burgundy silk velvet and jet passementerie embroidery by Bataille, winter 1946.

Collection of Hamish Bowles, photograph by Kerry Komer.

P&C: Allow me to begin by reading you this quote from Francine du Plessix Gray's novel October Blood, which is overall an enteraining satire on Carmel Snow...

"In the center of the living room there sometimes sat Cristobal Balenciaga, Mother’s best friend in Paris, dolorously sipping chamomile tea. Infrequently exposed to clothes other than his own, he mostly came to curse at the vulgarity of the costumes being paraded in Mother’s suite. He was a thin, depressed, nomadic Spaniard with perennial dark glasses and some twelve houses spread over the map of Europe, all of which he hated. He would spend a few days at his hacienda in Seville and leave it, complaining of the noise, go to his chalet in Switzerland to cure his sinuses and sell it the following morning, complaining of the insects. His only passion besides his work was looking for antiques, and he could spend a month piling up Renaissance tables and Persian rugs to furnish a flat in Barcelona which he’d leave after a night because he disliked the Gaudi building across the street. He traveled everywhere with a long-haired dachshund called Zurbarán and carried in his pocket several immaculate linen handkerchiefs with which he wiped the dog’s bottom after each sidewalk performance. When he and my mother greeted each other every summer he would scrutinize her dress with a tragic air, hands on her shoulders, to be sure that she was wearing one of his originals, and then tug at different parts of her collar, sleeves, waistline to show that she was not wearing it properly.”

Is this an accurate description?

Hamish Bowles: (Laughs) Bettina Ballard does describe him as obsessed with antiqueing, piling up antique rugs... yes, that he was constantly working on apartments in Madrid, and then not being able to sleep there because of the noise… It is very true to say that he could not understand the clothes produced by his contemporaries. By extension, couldn’t understand why his friends & clients would choose to wear them.

There is a story in Bettina Ballard['s autobiography In My Fashion] – about an occasion where Balenciaga was accompanying Ballard to an event and she asked him to do up the back of her Dior dress, which had 30 buttons up the back… He kept muttering "Christian est complétement fou!"- "he's completely mad!" So, there are some very funny resonances. But he (Balenciaga) disdained from involving himself in the public side of the house, focusing on the technical, behind the scenes work & producing the clothes themselves… For special friends he would be involved in the fittings.

In fact, it was sort of a nightmare! He shared with Chanel this obsession with the way a sleeve was set. He would sort of torment his tailors – they would have to take sleeves in and out time & time again. Bettina Ballard has a funny story about this suit that she was having made, [it] was so battered & bruised by his constant thing, that she ended up wearing the perfectly made, line for line copy that was made by Ben Zuckerman – one of the very high end 7th Avenue copyists – she wore HIS suit, and Balenciaga never noticed.... He was a fastidious technician.

Cristobal Balenciaga circa 1952, copyright Bettmann/CORBIS images

From your description in the intro, it was more about how reclusive he was; I find that’s so common when you read about Yves Saint Laurent, or Chanel, - these people were sort of crotchety, and known for being in their own bubble of a world. Is that a factor for being a design genius in a way?

I don’t think so. I think a lot of Balenciaga’s contemporaries were extremely… they flourished in social situations. Jacques Fath gave endless parties, Dior even. I certainly think that Chanel in her day was extraordinarily social, and sort of a lynch-pin of a certain kind of artistic society in Paris in the old days. (I mean she did become sort of a crotchety old woman late in life,)… Saint Laurent had his own demons to contend with.

Balenciaga was naturally quite shy. He had an intimate circle of friends, mostly people he was involved with through his work. He just didn’t have time for a mundane life really, or the inclination for it. His great partner in life – D’Attainville, died in 1948, and Balenciaga became sort of increasingly retiring after that.  But I think his focus was just on his work, perfecting & honing his craft.

I loved what you said about how he would use his client’s physical quirks to develop a specific design detail…shortening the sleeves, doing a special collar. Today, when you see designers work on Project Runway for instance, they’re stumped when faced with a "real" body type. Do you think that that is something that can be learned, or did Balenciaga have a natural talent for it? Can you practice at that and learn how to design for your clients in a more specific way, using not the standard stick-figure model?

I think that Balenciaga’s whole apprenticeship and training was as a tailor and then as a dressmaker. In that capacity, his entire working life would have been one-on-one interactions with clients. Day-in, day-out he would be making clothes to fix specific body types, and you know for clients that would each have strong opinions about what their physical assets (and debits) were, and they would conspire together to enhance or minimize those as the case might be. That was his whole training.

When he opened his own couture house in Spain, he would go to Paris to buy the sample garments of the designers whom he admired, and he would bring those back to his couture establishments in San Sebastian and Barcelona and Madrid, and he would adapt those to the needs & demands of his clients. So I think that he’s constantly aware of different body types, and I think that in his collections he was careful to put in things that would suit, that would be adaptable to clients with different needs and looks and body types.

It’s a different world today. He was making – he was doing couture. Each garment that he made was made specifically for a client. So, it’s like made-to-measure.  In ready to wear, it’s not so easy to do that. And I think also body types have changed in a way, but it’s just a different craft; it’s bespoke and ready-to-wear and they’re just worlds apart.

Balenciaga, house photograph of evening ensemble.

Dress of black silk crepe with "chou" wrap of black silk gazar. Winter, 1967. Balenciaga archives.

What do you think about the end of couture? Do you think it will ever disappear? There’s a lot of fear about that today, I know that Chanel has been buying up a lot of the different craft houses like Lesage and opening the schools…Do you think that there will always be a couture market?

I think there will always be clients that want very special pieces and can afford to acquire them. I think that couture, like everything, will mutate. I think there are a lot of younger designers who wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves to be couturiers per se, who’re certainly using couture techniques and maybe a couture approach in their work. And, I certainly think that, now more than ever there’s a real interest in embroidery and embellishment and the possibilities of pleating and all those kinds of techniques that are very very couture-based. I think there are lots of young people who are very keen to learn those crafts. It’s very striking to me, going into couture workrooms now, and going to Lesage and those great couture suppliers and seeing how many young people there are there that really want to learn those crafts, and that might not have been the case a decade or two ago. So that kind of gives one hope for the future.

And I think just the general kind of global engagement and fascination with fashion now that’s come thru the kind of television programs you’ve spoken to – and just the instantaneous dissemination of information through the internet I think has really widened the world of fashion and I think made people more intrigued by all kinds of different areas of fashion. I certainly think haute couture and special pieces are very much a part of that.

Balenciaga. Detail of cocktail dress of fuchsia silk shantung, black lace and black silk ribbons. Summer, 1966.

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Eleanor Christiansen de Guigne Collection. Photograph by Joe McDonald/FAMSF

Even with the expense of those kind of details? I remember in the Valentino documentary where he was going through his archive and he found this beautiful piece that had been done by Lesage and he said “You’d have to sell the bank of Italy to make that now”! The expense of it is getting astronomical, it seems.

Yes, it is. But there will always be women who just want that special thing and can afford to pay for it. You know, it’s like a custom sports car, or a rich-person’s toy…or art. So, I think there’s always a place for it, yes.

It is of course a very costly thing to do. Despite the cost of these garments, it’s a major loss-leader for any house. I think there are new ways of doing embroidery. I think there are incredible embroideries coming out of India that will change some of the pricing levels of that particular craft. And China, and so on. There are all kinds of approaches. And the wonderful thing about fashion is that it constantly mutates and reinvents itself – that’s the point of it. I think an approach to couture is something that will change like that too.

With that in mind, I was thinking about what you said about how long the shows were for Balenciaga. There were 200 models and they would take about 2 hours. Whereas today, there’s a maximum (usually in ready-to-wear only) but a maximum of 35 – 40 looks, they’re on and off the runway in 15 or 20 minutes, and then the line gets edited further before it ever goes to market. So, what do you think about that? Is there room for these designers to create and develop given the constraints of the season?

You have to think that in a Balenciaga show like that he’s basically showing his collection, his pre-collection, he’s showing everything that would be today in a designer’s showroom. It would be the options for the buyers that exist in the showroom off the runway, but he’s just showing the entire collection.

It’s so funny watching the videos of some of those shows, which luckily exist from the 1960s – I think 1960 – 1968, because clients get up in the middle of a show. You know, they have a hair appointment or a lunch at the Plaza D’Athénée, they leave and then sometimes come back…you know, for evening dresses or something. Or they’re just there because they need a coat or something, so they don’t need to stay for the cocktail dresses. It’s really funny – they sort of come & go. But you know there was no music. It was very austere, certainly couldn’t take photographs, you couldn’t sketch. You could just write down the number of the dress the mannequin was holding in her hand.

Gruau for Balenciaga, 1949.

I was thinking about the sketching and fashion illustration…I’m a big fan of Gruau, and he did a lot of wonderful images of Balenciaga; I feel like fashion illustration is something you don’t really see any more. It’s still taught, and it’s something that people dabble in, but it’s not really the art form used the way it was 50 years ago - as a commercial art form. Everything is photography-based now. So do you think that could ever come back – the fashion illustration?

Ah…I think it’s unlikely myself. I think great fashion illustrators will emerge and hopefully their work will be showcased in an appropriate way. I think that in the 20s & 30s often a detailed line drawing was a much more exact and precise way of describing an outfit than a photograph that might have had indeterminate reproduction in a magazine. So, informationally it had a different weight. We just live in a different world. I love illustration, fashion illustration myself – I’m very excited to see it.

I come out of the luxury fashion world, and I wondered what you think of this new world of the corporate fashion of LVMH and PPR group, and would a brand like Balenciaga have survived that?

Well, Balenciaga always resisted any kind of licensing agreement. Where Dior, Balmain, Jacques Fath all had licensees in America doing sort of high-end American ready-to-wear lines, he refused ever to do that. He refused any kind of endorsement. But still, his business was run along remarkably sound lines, so he just didn’t feel the need to do it. So I can’t imagine that he would want to be involved in the kind of corporate structures that now exisit, but he certainly had a very keen business sense and his business was very very well run and very profitable.

He had a hard-scrabble background, he was very pragmatic in the way he set up his companies. You know, clearly careful and scrupulous with money, to where it managed the way his businesses were run. He had business partners early on. The histories of those relationships are not that well documented…

Luchino Visconti's "The Leopard", 1963

I was recently watching The Pink Panther, and I found out that Yves Saint Laurent did the costumes for the principal characters.

Only for Claudia Cardinale. I think Givenchy did Capucine, and Saint Laurent did Claudia Cardinale...

I was wondering if Balenciaga he had ever received movie offers? Because you’d think he would be ripe for partnering with Luis Bunuel, or …

He did the costumes for Arletty in a 40s movie called Boléro, and...a couple of his actress-clients wore his clothes in their movies rather than him actually costuming them. It just wasn’t something it seems to have interested him. It was something Dior and Balmain did, Jacques Fath did, Chanel did. I think he just wasn’t interested, really.

So, what film do you go back to over & over for inspiration that you find interesting each time?

The Leopard – I love The Leopard. As sort of fashion movies, I really like The Red Shoes – it has great costuming. L’Année Dernière à Marienbad… I could always watch The Women...

Do you have more film projects yourself coming up? I know you were in Marie Antoinette, and Gossip Girl most recently…

And Wall Street 2… I don’t have any plans, but it’s always fun to be asked.

Do you ever think about writing or directing?

That would be intriguing, yes. Both of those options would be intriguing, yes.

And what about Oscars? Do you watch them, at home, or do you go?

I certainly watched the Golden Globes, I was much engaged. I’ve never been no, but I enjoy watching them.

What about the Royal Wedding coming up in April? Any thoughts on Kate Middleton? Are you a fan…?

I think she’s played it all very well, indeed. She’s stayed inscrutable which is a great challenge this day and age.

Do you think she’ll go with the Emmanuel’s?

No. I can’t imagine she would want to associate herself that closely with her late future mother in law. You know, it will be interesting to see. I think she’s made very sensible choices so far. So it will be intriguing. I wait with breath baited.

As we close, what do you recommend for any kind of a young designer, or even a writer, who writes about fashion & culture and things like that…What’s a good way to develop your visual sense, or your aesthetic sense? What’s a good way to gain exposure?

I think it’s just sort of saturating yourself in what’s going on in contemporary culture and going to museums and art galleries, and going to the theatre if you can, and certainly going to the cinema. I think it’s just being open to all kinds of cultural influences and zeitgeist – that’s how the zeitgeist is created. So, just being sensitive to that.

Balenciaga. Suit of mustard yellow linen; Summer, 1950. Collection of Hamish Bowles.

Photograph by Joe McDonald/FAMSF

And what was your first exposure to Balenciaga?

My first exposure, well, I was aware of him, and then the first piece I bought for my collection I was about 11 or 12 I think, was an early 60s Balenciaga suit at a charity sale. And, at the same sale there was a bolero – it was for a ballet company. A bolero had been donated by Margot Fonteyn, the great prima ballerina, and it was auctioned and sold for 60 pounds which was far more; it was 120 weeks worth of pocket money – so I couldn’t afford that.

But, incredibly enough, about 5 or 6 years ago I went to a vintage store in Los Angeles and found the same – I found the jacket there, and it’s going to be in the exhibition. It’s a wonderful matador-inspired bolero and a detail of the embroidery is the dust-jacket for the catalog. So you’re going to see it in all its glory!

Balenciaga and Spainopens at the de Young museum on March 26th.

Film: Après-Ski Chic from The Pink Panther

Fran Jeffries (left) sings "Meglio Stasera" in The Pink Panther from 1964.

To honor the recent passing of Blake Edwards, TCM played a number of his most famous films earlier this week. Among them was The Pink Panther from 1964. Although this is always an entertaining film (the exploding bottle of champagne still makes me crack up!), I had never really noticed how chic it is in all of its mid-1960s glamour. Sure, the two female leads are played by Capucine and Claudia Cardinale, but did you also know that those two were dressed exclusively by Yves Saint Laurent for the film? No, I didn't either.

But there's one utterly fabulous and diverting scene that doesn't present YSL's looks front and center. Instead, it offers one Fran Jeffries singing Henry Mancini's lesser-known standard "Meglio Stasera", or "It Had Better Be Tonight" as it's known in English. While sporting a fine vocal ability, Jeffries was primarily a nightclub singer who later made a splash doing not one but two different Playboy features; one at age 35 in 1971 entitled "Frantastic!" and one at age 45 in 1981 entitled "Still Frantastic!" Watching this clip you'll understand why...

Fran Jeffries swings this song right out of the chalet. It's an amazing three minutes that captures the essences of the sexy and stylish sixties. It's a cold night in Cortina d'Ampezzo with all of the well-heeled elite having parked their sleds (and Rolls Royces) outside in order to gather around the fondue pot. Jeffries, playing the character of the "Greek Cousin" gets up to entertain. Lucky for her, a cute group of jazzy Italians in fuzzy sweaters also plays percussion (and accordeon) and they're happy to keep the beat while she does her thing around the fire.

The first minute of the song is actually a great bit of directing. The singer dominates the foreground at left, while she serves to frame the main characters (David Niven, Robert Wagner, Capucine, & Claudia Cardinale) who are all seated at a lounge table at right. While she dances around, she interacts with the more "important" members of the cast, while they're all enraptured by her fabulous performance. Indeed, I think this was done in one take so the whole sequence is pretty amazing. She's energetic, hits her marks, and spurs the comedy ever so slightly.

Then of course, there's also the clothes. Fran Jeffries' main asset, her shapely figure, is shown to perfection in a skin-tight but mostly modest set of black pants with a beaded turtleneck sweater. To be fair, the beading on this sweater is something fantastic: black and red beads form stripes from shoulder to shoulder creating an eye-catching breastplate effect. Today I'd say it was something from Prada, but back then who knows? The rest of the scene is equally well-attired. Lots of cozy-looking stretch ensembles with big sweaters - à la vintage Bogner or Moncler - but the truly chic of the group are given pops of color and the right touches of metallics and baubles. The character called "Brenda de Branzie" is given a fabulous pant ensemble in cobalt blue accented chunky jade jewelry - a very fun and sophisticated color combination if I do say so! Cardinale's character, Princess Dahla, looks appropriately regal in a purple silk pantsuit with a jeweled neckline. There's also a lady in a great taupe and gold jumpsuit that wouldn't normally attact my attention, but at the end when she gets up to dance I spotted her gold boots which absolutely won me over.

This was still the early 1960s when it was still considered a bit risqué for women to be out in the evening wearing pants of any sort. I think that the costuming in this scene shows the perfect bit of European sophistication of casual elegance. It also makes the moment authentic and fun, like the audience is invited to the party, and that's how it still feels over forty years later.

Mancini's song "Meglio Stasera" is supremely catchy and comes up over and over throughout the score of the film, but this is the only time it's actually sung in full and in Italian. However, I'm sad to say that Jeffries' interpretation is not included on the original score. Over the years it's been recorded by vocalists such as Sarah Vaughan and Michael Bublé, but I love the version recorded by London's Blue Harlem group. It's fabulous! Either way, one cannot argue that Fran Jeffries' version from The Pink Panther is one of the very best out there: an impeccably chic bit of film with style, rhythm, and fun all in one!

Film: A Chic & Witchy Christmas: Bell Book & Candle

The German movie poster for "Bell Book & Candle", 1958Although it's not what one would call a "traditional" holiday film, or even one on the periphery, I consider Bell, Book & Candle from 1958 to be a fantastically chic film that has the perfect layer of Christmastime glamour. It's on cold nights in December that I'm always thinking of this movie - it's exactly what I'm in the mood for at this time of year!

Telling the tale of a family of witches in New York City (a family that includes Jack Lemmon, Elsa Lanchester & Hermione Gingold), the whole film has a slightly odd, Mid-Century aura of coolness about it that is simply fabulous. The main witch in question is Gil, played by Kim Novak, who has a shop that sells exotic African masks which serves as a cover for her family's spell-casting activities throughout Greenwich Village. The plot thickens when Shep, an eligible bachelor played by Jimmy Stewart moves in upstairs. When Gil finds out that Shep is engaged to her former college rival, she casts a spell on him to make him fall in love with her instead.

African masks & textiles create an air of the witchy & exotic during the opening credits.

Gil (Kim Novak) and her cat, the very important Pyewacket, admire Gil's modern Christmas tree.

Gil's kooky and exotic little shop is backed by her apartment of streamlined and subdued Mid-Century modern furniture. Neutral shades and clean lines create a simple but comfortable space that's the perfect thing for the cool single witch in the city. In fact, the space lends itself to Gil's entire style: modern, sexy, simple, and relaxed. Kim Novak's hair is cut very short, showing an artistic, bohemian streak, and her clothes continue with this sophisticated but breezy style. As a whole, Gil's shop and apartment are a microcosm of the bohemian culture of the Village in the 1950s; it's strange and exotic, full of odd things, and run by an odd but very glamorous (and Ivy League educated) witch. And isn't every little shop in Greenwich Village the same?

Gil goes barefoot (as witches do), and poses on her modern sofa. While this isn't your typical sexy costume, who could resist this look?

Designed by the master of glamour Jean Louis, the costumes are the perfect accompaniment to Gil's personality and spooky smarts. Yet their brand of glamour is completely understated and full of an appeal that still stands up today. I love how everything Gil wears is incredibly relaxed and modest, but still overwhelmingly sexy. Novak doesn't have a lot of costumes, but what she wears is simple and versatile. The clean lines are amped up with draped hoods and modest necklines that somehow become double-take worthy on the gorgeous Ms. Novak.

For instance, Novak's rich burgundy velvet evening gown features a very high neckline and a few sparkling bangles, but the deep V-cut back brings home a saucy message that's just jaw-dropping. I love that this one gown is shown in so many different scenes, and while it's the same dress it looks entirely different every time.

Gil casts a spell on Merle Kitteridge at the Zodiac Club as Aunt Queenie (Elsa Lanchester) laughs. I love that the deep burgundy velvet of this gown is totally subdued here, only emphasized by a trio of sparkling bangles.

For the journey home in the snow, the velvet gown is paired with deep pink gloves, a pink fur muff, and a stunning full-length hooded cape. 

Burgundy velvet in the front... in the back.

The velvet gown goes in for the kill...

Even Jimmy Stewart loves a few bangles!

Gil also holds herself in a way that sets her apart; her poses and gestures are completely outré compared to her nemesis, Shep's intended. Merle Kitteridge, played by Janice Rule, is the perfectly prim Upper East Side-Ivy League socialite who's boring as can be. She wears the "right" clothes, goes to the "right"places, and is utterly horrible. Gil's slouchy posture and somewhat un-ladylike comportment shows you right away that of the two of them, Gil is the one you want to know for the long-term. She's chic and a little sloppy in a way, but this is exactly what makes her endearing & unforgettable. Even a simple slouchy top and capri pants shows off the nape of the neck better than any strapless gown - it's a work of genius from Jean Louis. Indeed, this is how I wish I could dress every day.

The sexy red top I wish I had in my closet. I love that this is the antithesis of a body-conscious look, but it's incredibly sexy...

Gil and her brother Nicky (Jack Lemmon). I just love this leopard cape and red sweater combo. Where can I get a leopard cape like this? Vintage maybe?

When Gil goes to see Shep to explain about being a witch, the leopard cape is reversed, showing a somber black side with hints of leopard at the edges.

The sexiest look of Bell Book & Candle - a streamlined black ensemble with a hood. I love that this is so very modest, but so incredibly va-va-voom.

Throughout the entire film, Gil's attire is in a palette of vivid reds, warm burgundies, and luscious blacks. These are the perfect counterpoint to her short blonde hair and sophisticated demeanor. Meanwhile, the palette and designs lend themselves to the mystery of her witchy-ness. It's a very exciting combination and one that shows the mastery of Jean Louis. At the end of the film when Gil realizes that she's in love with Shep and has lost her witch's powers, her costume becomes pale and demure, while her shop transitions from exotic African masks to trite seashell sculptures.

Gil is everything 1950's frumpy and "normal" in sheer white and daisy yellow.

It's an interesting comment on the mores of the time that Gil has to loose her witchy powers to find true love. It's also an interesting plot turn that an emancipated, independent, and self-sufficient woman of that age has to become ordinary and powerless to be with the man she loves. Okay, so Bell Book & Candle isn't exactly a feminist film, but the character of Gil is super stylish and fabulous as long as her witchy self lasts on the screen. I think all of us could learn a thing or two from her modern, sexy style...during Christmas and throughout the year!

Bang Envy - Linda Ronstadt

I owe this entire Bang Envy post to the soundtrack that plays at my job... Every so often "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" comes on the stereo and everyone sings along to Linda Ronstadt. This made me dig a little deeper. After all, if everyone knows this song there must have been a time when La Ronstadt was on constant rotation. When was said idyll of pop music? Probably in the 1980s sometime on a soft-rock station, but why judge? The fact remains that Linda Ronstadt is a bona fide legend in her own time, and one who continues to bring the talent well into her sixties. According to her Wikipedia page:

"In total, she has released over 30 solo albums, more than 15 compilations or greatest hits albums. Ronstadt has charted thirty-eight Billboard Hot 100 singles, twenty-one of which have reached the top 40, ten of which have reached the top 10, three peaking at No. 2, the No. 1 hit, "You're No Good". In the UK, her single "Blue Bayou" reached the UK Top 40and the duet with Aaron Neville, "Don't Know Much", peaked at #2 in December 1989. In addition, she has charted thirty-six albums, ten Top 10 albums, and three No. 1 albums on the Billboard Pop Album Charts."

Doing research on early Ronstadt I found some amazing pictures of her which show her as a fresh young singer capitalizing on the sweetspot between country, pop, and rock, and bringing the style to match. In her early days, Ronstadt seems to play up the look of an innocent young flower child, but within all of her cuteness there's an incredible amount of sex appeal. It's the best combination of the All-American Girl.

Born in Tucson, AZ of Mexican and German parents, Ronstadt began singing at 14 with her brother Pete and sister Suzy. At 17, she dropped out of college after just one semester and moved to Los Angeles where she met up with Bob Kimmel - a friend from home. Together they started a band called the Stone Poneys with Kenny Edwards in 1966. But just a few years later, in 1969, Ronstadt went out on her own.

The cover of Evergreen, Volume 2 by the Stone Poneys from 1967.

In 1968.

On the Johnny Cash Show in 1969. At 22, Ronstadt was invited for her first appearance on the Johnny Cash Show; during the rehearsal, June Carter Cash noted that the singer wasn't wearing any panties. Ronstadt's tart reply? "I sing better bare-butted."

Maria Muldaur, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, and Jim Beam in 1974.

Blazing a trail for "girl singers" in the 1970s, Ronstadt experienced the pressures and difficulties of relating to men musicians on a professional level. In a 1969 interview in Fusion magazine, she said it was difficult being a "chick singer" with an all-male backup band. But, finding her stride, she went on to become the most successful female singer of the 1970s with such albums as Heart Like a Wheel, Prisoner in Disguise, Hasten Down the Wind, and Simple Dreams.

All of her albums offer solid pop tunes that crossover easily into Country. Her mix of genres shows her complete vocal and stylistic versatility which was furthered later on in her career when Ronstadt recorded a number of albums of traditional Mexican folk and Ranchera music.

Also notable for her public romances, Ronstadt dated then California governor Jerry Brown, and was also engaged to George Lucas in the mid-1980s. Ultimately though, she adopted two children in the 1990s by herself and has never married. She remains a steadfast supporter of women's rights, gay rights, and is a vocal advocate of national arts programs. Most recently, Ronstadt spoke out against her home state of Arizona's controversial SB1070 illegal-immigration law, participating in a National Day of Action in January 2010.

On a trip to Africa with Jerry Brown in 1979.

The famous Rolling Stone cover from December, 1976. Image by Annie Leibovitz.

And what about "Poor Poor Pitiful Me"? Well, I ended up downloading Ronstadt's Simple Dreams album and have been listening to it on constant rotation. It is indeed a classic album for the ages, and if you don't have it, you should get it. To offer you another quote from Wikipedia:

At the end of 1977 Ronstadt surpassed the success of Heart Like A Wheel with her album Simple Dreams, which held the #1 position for five consecutive weeks on the Billboard Album Chart. It also knocked Elvis Presley out of #1 on Billboard's Country Albums chart. It sold over 3½ million copies in less than a year in the US alone. The album was released in September 1977, and by December, it had replaced Fleetwood Mac's long running #1 album Rumours in the top spot. Simple Dreams spawned a string of hit singles on numerous charts. Among them were the RIAA platinum-certified single "Blue Bayou", a Country Rock interpretation of a Roy Orbison song, "It's So Easy" – previously sung by Buddy Holly – and "Poor Poor Pitiful Me", a song written by Warren Zevon. The album, garnered several Grammy Award nominations – including Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance/Female for "Blue Bayou" – and won its art director, Kosh, a Grammy Award for Best Album Cover, the first of three Grammy Awards he would win for designing Ronstadt album covers.

Simple Dreams became one of the singer's most successful international selling albums as well, reaching #1 on the Australian and Canadian Pop and Country Albums charts.Simple Dreams also made Ronstadt the most successful international female touring artist as well. The same year, she completed a highly successful concert tour around Europe. As, Country Music Magazine, wrote in October 1978, Simple Dreams solidified Ronstadt's role as "easily the most successful female rock and roll and country star at this time."

Bang Envy - Stefania Sandrelli

As I look back on the Bang Envy files, I noticed that there's a strong showing from the Italians more than any other. I would have thought it would be the French girls that dominated but no, when it comes to bombshells it seems the Italians know a thing or two. Which brings us to our latest installment: Stefania Sandrelli.

Although I first saw Sandrelli in a small supporting part in Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty (one of my favorites!), her early work from the 1960s shows her true appeal. It's unexpected, really. Sandrelli is so perfect playing the bourgeois Italian type because her beauty is sort of ordinary. Her eyes are close together and cross a little bit, her smile is crooked, and she doesn't have the kind of glamour or presence of Elsa Martinelli or Monica Vitti. She's cute, but not gorgeous.

As Jean-Louis Trintignant's character Clerici says in Bertolucci's The Conformist: "She's all bed and kitchen."

As a Vespa pin-up in the 1960s.

But then she turns on the sexy and the men seem to fall at her feet. Take Pietro Germi's brilliant 1961 comedy Divorce, Italian Style; Sandrelli was only 15 when she played the nubile Angela, the object of the middle-aged Marcello Mastroianni's obsession.

Her roles, especially from her early career, show a naive innocence that is eventually won over by the sex pot within.

I suppose it's her corruptible cuteness that makes her so appealing. She's a Lolita in a world of Humberts and every man's downfall. Again, this makes her perfect for the 1960s Italian cinema of middle-class character studies and satirical humor. Indeed, it's even difficult to find an image of Sandrelli from her early days where she actually has clothing on. She always seems to be in a swimsuit or wrapped in a sheet after tumbling from another man's bed. This is a bit disquieting because she was so very young at the time, which makes me wonder who was looking out for her. Also, she can act - both comically and dramatically, so it's unfortunate that her sex appeal is what is best preserved from this era.

Later on, the Sandrelli sex pot bloomed into her full glory, especially in films such as The Key and Jamón, Jamón which gave her cult status in the world of erotic film.

The movie poster for Lo la Conoscevo Bene or "I Knew Her Well" from 1965 illustrates the charms of Sandrelli front & center.

In The Conformist from 1970.

I love Sandrelli in Stealing Beauty as the advice columnist Noemi, because the role is so essentially perfect for her: a saucy, but aging beauty who falls for a younger man. Noemi is clearly a cosmopolitan woman of experience, but has decided to live the life of a Bohemian on a hilltop in Tuscany with other artists. And then love finds her. It's such an authentic story line for her, and so very appropriate for her age and personality.

Sandrelli (left), with Liv Tyler, Sinéad Cusak, and Rachel Weisz in Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty from 1996.

In 2005, Sandrelli was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for her lifetime of work. Today at 64, she's still sought after for films, and if she keeps this up, legendary status isn't far behind.

At the Cannes Film Festival, 2010.

Nice Shoes, Bitch

Candy Stud Pump by Christian Louboutin

She wasn’t supposed to be there, in front of the bagel shop a few blocks from my house. It was ten in the morning and this was the hour for young mothers overwhelmed by large strollers, construction workers grabbing a snack, or post-workout people stopping by with their dogs. I was part of the last group – still in running tights, a ballcap, and layers of sweaty performance wicking. I also had my dog Bonnie with me, who was at that moment giving me her best (and most unseemly) sad-eyed begging routine for a bit of whole wheat bagel. It was crowded. The day was warm and blue. The kids were loud. I was happy.

No, she was definitely not supposed to be there.

And yet she entered my vision and I thought she was lovely. A tall, elegant Asian girl in a soft gray charmeuse blouse with a knotted silver scarf and crisp black trousers. A lush black leather handbag was carried daintily in one hand, while large black sunglasses hid her eyes most mysteriously. She walked with a man in business clothes – they were together, but not together – like colleagues. Clearly he had never noticed a thing about what she (or anyone else for that matter) was wearing. I thought they were bankers or real estate agents or something. They were both completely out of place. I noticed she smiled a little to herself, in a quixotic, Mona Lisa sort of way. I admired her style but thought she was rather done up for the heat of the day. Why not loose that scarf, sister? Then I looked down.

The profile of the spiked toes hit me first. Shiny, sharp, and ferocious, they looked like Medieval maces for the feet; weaponry. These shoes were not to be fucked with in any way at all. One swift kick to the nether regions and that would be the end of that, Charlie. A perfect paradox of messaging, the toes sent out a warning while the stiletto heel sent out a come-hither. And the lacy sides barely peeked out from below the perfectly tailored trousers. I couldn’t look away.

Damn. Those shoes are fucking rad. Who is this girl and why is she here?

Amid a sea of snotty-nosed neighborhood kids, mothers gossiping, and the double-wide strollers steamrolling the sidewalk, she moved like a cloud of cool success and refinement. But those shoes belied something else: something dirty, captivating, and fabulous. No wonder she was smiling. Metal, leather, and lace. Phew! I was thinking this way as a fellow woman. Jesus, what kind of affect would these have on a man? I pity the poor fools.

As she walked further on I noticed the shockingly vivid redness of the signature soles, cementing the level of fearsome that I had anticipated. Dollar amounts started to pop into my head. Do I hear $950? $1050? $1100? With that kind of detail on a Louboutin namesake, who knew how high things would go? She kept walking, and I kept watching. I marveled how daintily she stepped. She was a pro; despite my years of practice I always feel like I still lumber a bit in stilettos, but not this girl. All of her weight was forward on the ball of the foot, which came down gently first, followed closely by the fall of the heel with only the slightest pressure. She could have been in pointe shoes. True, she walked slowly and a bit mincingly, (two things my long strut will not accommodate,) but she was graceful.

She was graceful, and she had a new pair of Louboutins that probably cost close to my monthly rent. I hated this bitch on principal.

She walked like someone newly in-love, except she was clearly in love with her new shoes. She moved pretending not to notice the insane luxury going on south of her own ankles, meanwhile every step magnified the evidence. These shoes were meant for the bedroom, or if worn out of doors at all, a cocktail party. They were definitely not ten-AM appropriate, nor work-appropriate, but she still wore them like any self-respecting woman who’s just spent a small fortune on high-fashion footwear.

Outwardly I seethed with jealousy, but inwardly I applauded the action. Outwardly I was completely cowed, but inwardly I wanted to commit assault and grand larceny.

Yes, I know how it feels to be this girl, but it’s been a very long time. It's a heady feeling to walk like sex on a stick, and its power is undeniable. I too know what that Mona Lisa smile is all about. So, is it the shoes I want or the feeling they'll surely give me? It's a question for lovers - of fashion and of life. And we're all fools in love, no matter how great the cost.

Candy Stud Pumps by Christian Louboutin - $965 at Saks Fifth Avenue