Bang Envy - Elsa Martinelli

Elsa Martinelli might be the very definition of Italian bombshell. Sexy, curvy, bubbly, glamorous - she was the perfect thing for the varied character roles she played throughout the 1960s. On the flip side, she was also a great actress; this combination of sex-appeal and talent made her one of Orson Welles' favorites. She appeared with him in The V.I.P.s along with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, as well as in the masterful Welles interpretation of Kafka's The Trial.

The big eyes with heavy brows were framed perfectly by a band of bangs, both long and short at different points in time.

As with most women, the shorter coiff makes Martinelli appear especially youthful, and more than a little similar to Liza Minelli. Perhaps in another decade she'd have been the perfect Sally Bowles?

From the opening credits of The Trial, in which she plays a spooky courthouse clerk.

Glamour like this only happened during the 1960s. Likewise, the hairstyle.

I just had to include this one - a priceless candid. Elsa Martinelli is second from the right next to the great Marlene Dietrich. At the far left, is Barbra Streisand wearing fabulous leopard from top to toe. I'm not sure who the other two ladies are, but all of them are in the front row at the Chanel fashion show in 1966.

I Sing the Blogger Electric, Part Deux

I may be an old codger of the blogosphere, but I do think there’s a proper way of doing things. Blogs and now Twitter offer a great way to network and build a creative community, but lately I find that while I love both these platforms, they’re getting more and more frustrating. The whole point is to share and share alike, not pick on people, “overlook” them, or be mean. For the most part, this isn’t what happens, but in the past few weeks I’ve been annoyed by some less than classy behavior 'round these parts. So, I’ve created a list of guidelines which are opinionated, yes, but to the point.

Do your research. This is for everyone. Bloggers, PR people, anyone who wants to say something. When I write about a topic, I do a quick Google search to see who else has written about it, see what they wrote, and if applicable, I link back to them in my post. THAT’S how blogs began and that’s how you build a community. Posting something without giving props to those that have voiced their take on the matter is a little bit déclassé, especially if you’re new at this. Chances are the post has been done somewhere, some place, by someone…find it and mention it.

Don’t over-do it. I love visual blogs and think they’re a fantastic source of inspiration for all manner of projects. That being said, there’s no need to find every single picture of one topic/style/person/idea and include ALL of them in a single post. This is like being faced with a plate of cookies and licking every single one so no one else can eat them. The whole point about blogging is to share. Okay, you’re cool, you have unlimited picture resources, but are twenty pictures of one person really necessary? Tell us Grasshoppers how to learn more and send us on our own journey.

No one likes a name-dropper (especially when they don’t know the names.) Kind of like the first two, this one rule refers to some of the general ass-hattery that’s been going on. If you’re in fashion PR in New York and part of your job is to tweet about your glamorous fabulosity of celebrities and events, keep this in mind: less is more. If you have your job, chances are you’re all of the following things: pretty, well-dressed, in-the-know, and up for a party. How do we know? Because people that aren’t those things don’t get your job. There’s no need to talk about who’s at the Standard Grill at this very moment, and that Patrick McMullan is snapping photos of you all, and that someone you're sitting next to will be on Page 6 tomorrow. We already expect that you’re there interacting with the glitterati because that’s your job. Get it?

To be fair, companies should be vetting their Twitter voices, making sure they don’t cross certain lines of TMI, but you’d also think the people would know that they’re responsible for a very visible aspect of the brand. (To be sure, it's sort of shocking that the brands don't have this more under control.) It should be understood that each tweet is a branded communication and treated as such. I don’t need to hear about your dematologist appointment (because you have a huge zit developing because of all you have to do at work), what you ate for lunch, and especially all the things you don’t know. If you don’t know them, pretend that you do. You’re working in fashion PR in New York – please don’t shatter my illusion that you’re actually a human being who’s totally overwhelmed (not to mention underqualified) by her job.

Be there, be present, and don’t forget your manners. This is really part B of the rule above. Once again, if you’re in fashion PR and part of your job is to tweet about the things you do, don’t be a complete idiot about it. If you’re at Glamour’s Women of the Year Awards at Carnegie Hall, please don’t “live tweet” them. It’s insulting to your fellow guests as well as those being honored. When I saw tweets about this, I felt dirty all over; the idea of people typing on mobile devices from inside of Carnegie Hall is just gross. Please be in the moment, not in your mobile device. I would so much rather you put your phone away, took everything in yourself, and then wrote a reflective, well-crafted post about it afterwards. It’s all very exciting, yes, but show some respect and I’ll respect you more.

Most importantly, read the damn post. One of the most frustrating things about blog commentary is the way people use the box as a mouthpiece for their unrelated opinions. One of my most visited posts is one I wrote long ago about Giada de Laurentiis. I love Giada, and made this very clear in the post. What I don’t like is the way that her producers have sexualized her so much that her on-screen presence detracts from her abilities as a cook, and I said as much in the post. Someone found this opinion many many months after it had been published and used it as an opportunity to call me “jealous”. I’m sorry, what? There’s nothing I hate more than unnecessary preaching to the choir. Unless it’s someone using the already over-used word “jealousy” because they can’t form a logical opposition. If I only had a nickel for every time that happened.

Good bloggers work hard on their posts, forming well-crafted opinions and ideas. After tracking down the post via searches and links, the least you can do is read what they have to say before mouthing-off. I’m sure they’d agree with me.

Don't punk-out. Also, part of the rule above. If you DO actually write a comment on a post, don't be a punk and write it anonymously. If you have something to say, at least leave an email address out of courtesy. Peoples' blogs are like their homes: they open them up and ask you to come in for a cocktail. Don't swig a glass of beer, pee in the potted plant and then leave. There's a civilized way to visit, offer a dissenting opinion, and then bow out gracefully. Bloggers are brave enough to be open with their perspectives, you should do them the same courtesy when you leave comments.

Of course, my impatience with all of these things may mean it’s time for me to hang it up as I approach the four-year mark on Poetic & Chic. I’m not sure about this as I think I have a lot to do still, but it is getting more difficult for me to be a naïve neophyte of starry eyes and blogging magic any more. I do love how the creative cycle constantly renews itself with fresh opinions and ideas, I just wish the people doing it were as classy as they were a few years ago.

Image from William Klein, Barbara Plus Coffee Filter.

Bang Envy - Anita Pallenberg

Anita Pallenberg seems to be one of those mythically "cool" women of the 1960s and 1970s that everyone talks about but no one really knows these days. Most people know her as The Great Tyrant in Barbarella, but that role is a little misleading because her famous blonde hair is covered in a scary, dark wig. But otherwise, her body of work is a little obscure. Where did she disappear to after the years of decadence and drugs?

There's the whole "dated not one, but two members of the Rolling Stones" thing which is always hot - even forty years later. Pallenberg first dated Brian Jones and then left him for Keith Richards, with whom she spent about twelve years, having three children with him. There's always the question of an affair with Mick Jagger too. Since that whole time was such a soup of sexuality and non-existent boundaries, I'm neither judging, nor ruling anything out. Pallenberg helped to shape the Rolling Stones - guiding them with musical input and ideas, and ultimately serving as one of the band's great muses, along with Marianne Faithfull. By this same token, she is also the one who led the band down the rabbit hole of drug addiction and wildly bad habits.

Brian Jones & Anita Pallenberg

Pallenberg with Keith RichardsPallenberg & Richards

The picture above is just awesome. She's in leopard pants and a man's shirt, while he's in striped pajamas. They're both totally fey and adorable.

Pallenberg and Mick JaggerIn bed with Mick Jagger, by Cecil Beaton

An artistic bohemian with inherent contradictions, what is agreed upon is that Anita Pallenberg was and is one cool bitch. Her style was slightly toussled, boyishly sexy, fun, and nymphish: loose blouses, a touch of menswear, a fur coat, a feather boa and big hat. A lean stringbean with a big smile and maybe a hint of lingerie, she reminds me of one of my current favorite it girls: Alexa Chung. Mod, adventurous, artistic, and at the eye of a cultural storm - who wouldn't want to know what her life was like, even for a moment?

As The Great Tyrant in Barbarella

A pair of birds: Pallenberg (right) with Marianne FaithfullPallenberg - She's got legs

TV: The Look of SyFy's "Alice"

Cathy Bates & Colm Meaney as The Queen & King of HeartsThis week the SyFy channel played a two-night mini series entitled Alice. In case you missed it, it's a modern version of the Alice in Wonderland story from director Nick Willing who had done a classic telling of the story just a few years ago. I thought that the program could and should have been stretched into a third segment to alleviate the rushed feeling of the conclusion, but overall it was great entertainment. And, while there were other flaws in the story and acting here and there, the aesthetics of the program were simply fantastic.

As with most stories in science-fiction genre, the bad guys are slick and polished while the good guys are organic, cluttered, and darkly lit to indicate the secretive nature of their resistance. As the director said, the Hearts in this version are like "posh gangsters", which is totally appropriate. Their sets are mod and gleaming, full of streamlined furniture and pops of red and black.

Alice meets Mad March and the 10 of Clubs

I also appreciated how the classic characters were given clever updates. For instance, The Duchess is a glam go-go girl, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum are evil manipulators, and the March Hare has been made into a chiling assassin called "Mad March". Even the goofy Walrus and Carpenter have been reduxed into scientists at the center of the Hearts' evil plot to brainwash the world.

Dee and Dum torture Alice in the Truth RoomThe Suits in the Court of Hearts

The costumes were perfectly appropriate too; Alice's blue pinafore is updated to a trim blue sheath paired with tights and biker boots, while the Hearts' royal court is called "The Suits" and is approprately attired in black and white suits with card numbers screened onto the fabric. I especially loved how The Caterpillar was given a puffy corded smoking jacket and round spectacles; the look was perfectly caterpillar-esque while still being human.

Alice and Jack visit The Caterpillar

Filled with an exceptional cast and fun little references back to the original Lewis Carroll tale, Alice is definitely worth watching. I do wish there had been more Cheshire Cat and certainly some talking flowers, but I do think the result was a nice attempt at modernizing the original in a clever way. I always love a new take on a classic, especially when it looks like this!

Bang Envy - Monica Vitti

I don't usually dedicate my posts, but Randall Todd, this one's for you...

The Italian actress Monica Vitti is best known for her starring roles in Michelangelo Antonioni's L'avventura series. Her quirky face features cat-like eyes, a broad mouth and a sprinkling of freckles, while her amazing mane of hair is always just-so-sexily-toussled.

Her hair is also the thing that makes her a chameleon onscreen and off. At times red, light brown, dark auburn, and blonde, her hair helps her disappear into her roles with appropriate depth.

With a hip fashion sense, Vitti isn't one you would call a fashion icon so much, but she definitely knew how to make her clothes suit her style. Usually quite simple and elegant, her clothing choices truly enhance her sex appeal and personality.

While I don't have a date for this picture, I would estimate that it's about 1965 - 1966. Why? Because Dirk Bogarde (center) appeared in Darling with Julie Christie (left) in 1965, and in Modesty Blaise with Vitti (right) in 1966. I love the swoopy bangs she sports here, as well as the many strands of pearls.

How much do I love this last image? Elegant and dapper nonchalance - French cuffed white shirt, velvet blazer, and a smoke. I die. Image above is from 1974, as if the shoulder bag and eyeglasses didn't tell you that already. But isn't it great the way she sports that rose corsage? Some accessories never go out of style.

Perfect Bang-o-Rama that I'd kill for... This bottom picture is from a film called "La Fate" from 1966.

As a sultry brunette from Red Desert - the final film of Antonioni's L'avventura series.

I have no idea what this hairstyle is all about, I only know it's super-fabulous.

Film: Dance Dress Made in Heaven

When you're home for a quiet Saturday night it's always nice to find a great old movie on the telly. Last night, KQED (our local public television station) aired two gems from the 1930s which made my eyes pop with delight. The first was 42nd Street - an adorable "understudy fills in for the lead and saves the show" story, with some fantastic numbers from Busby Berkeley. The Depression-era fantasy continued immediately afterward with a life-long favorite of mine & my sister's: Top Hat.

I remember watching this movie as a kid and being entranced by the dancing and the beauty. Also, I remember my sister's tap class did a routine to "Top Hat", so the song was something she'd sing all the time. It wasn't until I was much older that I realized how silly and transporting it is as a film. The sets are opulent, the plot is so breezy as to be non-existent, and the witty and racy dialogue is only memorable for about three scenes. Of course the comic stylings of the ensemble cast - a group that frequently joined forces for more RKO musicals - is light and enjoyable. In other words, it's the perfect bit of fantasy and humor for the down-trodden world of 1935.

Then, there's the dress. One of the most iconic dresses in all of film, the maribou-feather dress for the "Cheek to Cheek" dance sequence is a pure delight. A nice layer to the plotline concerns Beddini, a comic stereotype of an Italian dress designer, who creates the clothes for Ginger Rogers' character. So Beddini is to have designed the dress, but in fact Ginger Rogers designed it herself and it was created by RKO costumer Bernard Newman. The dress looks white, but it's actually pale blue "Monet blue" as was requested by Ms. Rogers.

When I re-watched the scene the other night, I was struck by the effortless elegance of the dance. Everything flows. The movement is graceful, light, and dramatic all at once. And the dress moves exactly the same way. The feathers contribute a lightness and movement that serves to enhance the grace of the dance. It's diaphanous and fluid at the same time - like she's dancing inside of a waterfall.

The back story was quite a bit more complicated, including over 60 takes, a stubborn Ms. Rogers, and feathers all over everything. In fact, the dress was the one thing that made the filming difficult, and Ms. Rogers' refusal to change wardrobe earned her the nickname "Feathers". In fact, the dress kept shedding so many feathers (which you can even see in the film) that there was danger of the whole thing falling apart. In the end though, it (and the scene) are the most memorable parts of the film and the dress now resides in the Smithsonian.

The complete story is summed up well in this article from the LA Times, which you should definitely check out. But in the meantime, here's the scene so you can see why this dress is so amazing. It's another great story about the creative process, working through problems to create something memorable (even if it's just a dance sequence), and how one dress can make magic happen!

Bang Envy - Jean Shrimpton

Jean Shrimpton - from the V&A CollectionFollowing up on my post about Françoise Hardy, I thought I'd bring up another gal from the 1960s whose bangs are completely lust-worthy: Jean Shrimpton. Yes, she was a model so there was barely a hair out of place, but the artfulness of her smooth style had to do with that slightly tousseled bed-head look, a la Brigitte Bardot. Of course, the bangs are to die for. A little long, going straight down or swooshed to the side; either way, the look is delish.

I have the more modern version of this haircut now (I've had it before too), and while I can make my bangs do all sorts of things, I never get my hair to look quite so awesome. I'm sure it has to do with that antiquated idea of getting one's hair "done", whatever that means, but I still want it.

"Shrimp & Stamp" Jean Shrimpton with Terrence Stamp

Film: A Thing of Beauty

Edie Martin as Toots Brawne and Abbie Cornish as Fanny Brawne in Jane Campion's Bright StarSubscribers - please click through for best viewing!

After much anticipation I am so happy to have seen Jane Campion's new film Bright Star. More than the beautiful story told, I love that the look of the film conveys so much more than the dialogue or action. It is as though Jane Campion has gone back in time to re-create the original inspirations for John Keats' poetry, creating a sublimely simple and beautiful design. Romantic, of course, but perfectly atmospheric for the late Regency period. Set near Hampstead Heath (just outside of London at that time,) the exteriors are rich with seasons, colors, and all manner of flora.

Fanny's room in Bright Star

Meanwhile, the interiors are cleverly set to show changing spaces. Fanny's spaces are airy and bright, with white-washed woods and crisp linens. Keat's spaces are dark and wooden with tufted leather sofas and dark wood tables. Family spaces are a mix of both, creating a cozy, loving space the perfectly suits this interesting family. The house is simple, a middle-class dwelling without much ornament or pomp. It is clear that the cook and the maid are part of the family circle, while friends and neighbors are familiar confidantes.

And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep,
In blanchéd linen, smooth and lavendered,
While he from forth the closet brought a heap
Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd;
With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
And lucent syrups, tinct with cinnamon;
Manna and dates, in argosy transferred
From Fez; and spicéd dainties, every one,
From silken Samarcand to cedared Lebanon.
These delicacies he heaped with glowing hand
On golden dishes and in baskets bright
Of wreathéd silver: sumptuous they stand
In the retiréd quiet of the night,
Filling the chilly room with perfume light. -
"And now, my love, my seraph fair, awake!
Thou art my heaven, and I thine eremite:
Open thine eyes, for meek St. Anges' sake,
Or I shall drowse beside thee, so my soul doth ache."

- from The Eve of St. Agnes, John Keats, 1819

Sammy (Thomas Sangster) Toots (Edie Martin) and Fanny (Abbie Cornish)

While certain details are known about Fanny Brawne and her family, I could find nothing in her history about why her family was in such a straightened financial condition, other than Mrs. Brawne had recently been widowed. In the film, it is clear that the Brawnes need to economise, but the children still speak French, go to beautiful parties, have pocket money for books and paper, and have dancing class from a private tutor. Mr. Keats, on the other hand, is clearly of a more impoverished class. While educated and presentable, he seems to be largely dependent upon friends for his room and board.

Fanny stitches her collar.Fanny's dress at the ballThis difference is also conveyed majestically in the costume design of the film. Fanny Brawne is derisively described by Keat's friend Charles Armitage Brown as "fashionably slavish", and there is much talk about Fanny's "stitching". Mr. Brown, and Keats at the beginning, both think that this stylish proclivity shows a shallowness of character in Fanny. She, however, takes great pride in her craft talking about her talent for design and style, and presenting herself as entirely confident in her avant-garde looks. The difference between her style and Keats' shabby dress are entirely evident, creating even more tension between them. When Fanny and Keats first meet she criticises his jacket, suggesting he needs one in blue velvet rather than his well-worn wool.

Fanny (Abbie Cornish) & Keats (Ben Whishaw)In every shot, Fanny's costumes set her apart from the group. She is more elegant, more daring, more colorful than anyone else, conveying her personality and good humor. As the relationship with Keats grows Fanny's style changes, starting with bright colors and elaborate hats and moving toward more somber tones and quiet embellishments. The other Brawne children are equally stylish, especially Fanny's younger brother Sammy. His lanky early teen frame is perfectly suited to his short jackets and tall straw hats, but his crowning glory is the jaunty silk cravate he wears in each scene.

Promenade Ensemble, 1822, from Ackermann'sThe fashion of the late Regency period is far more interesting than the early Regency. In this time (about 1816 - 1822), there is more pattern, silhouette, and color than the simple muslin frocks commonly associated with this time. The short Spencer jacket is still popular, but now there are long redingotes, and the hats are much more elaborate than the simple bonnet. To create such stylish designs herself, Fanny Brawne likely consulted ladies' magazines or the fashion plates from France. While early Regency gowns were straight and clean, this era shows more flounces at the hem, creating weight and dimension. The waistline was just beginning to creep downward from the empire line, but this still dominated the designs, as did the elegantly sloping shoulder. Just a few years later, sleeves and skirts would increase in volume, creating the perfect bell shape that would last through the 1860s. This film captures such an intriguing moment of fashion, from such a unique perspective: that of a Regency-era tastemaker, who was the most fashion forward member of her circle.

Abbie Cornish as Fanny BrawneAs Fanny and Keats' romance runs into difficulty, Fanny seems to take on the quiet tragedy of the poet. Like any teenager, she's given to moodyness, flights of fancy, and dramatic passions. One of the most beautiful scenes is when she and her siblings gather butterflies and then set them free in her bedroom. The colors, dainty insects, and gauzy atmosphere create a romantic image like none other.

As the film nears it's tragic end, the atmosphere grows crisp and cold, while Fanny's vivid pinks and rich browns give way to deep blue and finally black. The lush greens of spring and summer have given way to stark tree trunks, gray skies, and brown earth. The stunning warmth of the romance fades into memory, leaving the viewer wanting more of everything.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

     Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

     With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;

To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,

     And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

        To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

     With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

     For Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cells.

- from To Autumn, John Keats, September 19, 1819

It is a credit to Campion to have so masterfully captured this time and place so perfectly in Bright Star. The many layers of visuals - cinematography, costumes, and sets - serve to tie the true story of the romance with the actual poetry that we have known and studied for generations. To unite all of these elements so seamlessly, so effortlessly, sets a new standard for any type of biographic film.

J. Crew Fall Catalog Theatre!

Okay, you knew it was coming. The new J. Crew catalog arrived in mailboxes last week, which of course means that Poetic & Chic has to do something about it. Interesting to note that the expensive atmospheric shots are gone and almost the whole thing is shot in a studio...maybe they got my message about the Spring issue?

As usual, there's a lot to love and a lot to question. But, that's the fun of J.Crew Catalog Theatre... I'll let the pictures tell the story! All pictures are from J.Crew and scanned by me from the catalog. They're thumbnails, so feel free to enlarge...

Subscribers! Please click through to site for best viewing.

Happy 70th Birthday Dad!

Dad in 1959In honor of my Dad’s 70th birthday, I thought I’d write a post about him. I’ve written about my Mom and Grandma before, but never my Dad so I thought I’d show him off a bit. He’s definitely worn some stylish duds over the years, although we always tease him about what he wears. But overall, he is considered by most to be well-dressed. He is also considered by most to be the last of the old school gentlemen, and a prince among men. He has indeed set the bar very high for any potential boyfriends.

Here’s a few things about him…

He loves the railroad, stemming from being born in Pocatello, ID and moving to Portland, OR. His original Lionel train set has gone the way of the Dodo, but today he has a set that can travel indoors and out. Someday there will be a garden designed especially for this train.

In Portland, his love of engineering started young, building homemade radios that would pick up the KJAZ station from San Francisco. This also began a life-long love of jazz.

In training at Williams A.F.B.With his Chevy Corvair at Williams A.F.B.

Dad mowed lawns and saved up $450 to buy his first car: a two-toned Chevrolet BelAir, which he wrecked ten days later by falling asleep at the wheel. He’s been trying to find that car again ever since.

One Tough Flyboy...After college at Oregon State, Dad entered the US Air Force. First, he went to France where he and his fellow officers would drive to Obergurgl each weekend to ski all day and eat fondue all night.

After France, he served two years in Vietnam based out of Okinawa, Japan. He flew a C130 Hercules and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for his missions.

Braniff uniform by Pucci, 1973From the USAF, he entered the airline industry, flying for Braniff International Airlines for fifteen years. His uniforms were designed by Pucci and Halston, and proudly flew some of the famous Flying Colors planes painted by Alexander Calder.

In 1972, my parents met on a blind date at Capp’s Corner in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. They married exactly one year later and have been together ever since.

In the early 1980s, Braniff went bankrupt, so Dad put his entrepreneurial gene to work and started a real estate company that he still works on today. Of course, if he had his druthers, he’d still be flying planes.

Chic Young WilsonsMy parents at their engagement party, 1973

Dad reads me (left) and my sister (right) Madeline's Rescue.After years of being the only man in the family, among sisters, daughters, and in-laws, he was a little bit relieved when my sister got married and he got another man to be on his team. Now he can talk about cars, watches, bespoke suits, and single-malts with someone.

Today, he and my Mom travel, entertain friends, and spoil their dog Bonnie, who has designated Dad as her most favorite human on earth.

Dad & Mom in South Africa, 2006Some things about Dad…

He knows every make model and year of ever car made before 1970 or so.

He has an innate sense of direction and geography, stemming from his Air Force days which always makes him the winner of the “Half-way to Hawaii” game or something…

He is always planning for safety. He checks fire escapes, hotel room maps, and airline seat-back safety guides. He could definitely get you out of there in a hurry.

He has a pocket-full of weird expressions, like “you’re busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest…” and the hits go on from there. Where do they come from? No one knows.

He always has black licorice in his desk drawer.

He has a classic Eames chair, but immediately falls asleep the moment he sits in it longer than ten minutes.

He can play one song on the piano by ear – “The Man I Love”.

He buys really good wine and is not stingy about sharing it. Sometimes though, he asks me to pick the wine and respects my choice.

He knows how to rock a pocket square.

He tells corny, silly jokes that aren’t really funny, except for when he tells them. Then, they’re hilarious.

Here's to 70 great years Dad! Wishing you many many more...I love you!

Film: Jeunet Takes Five (Chanel No. 5)

A flash of red, Belle Epoque architecture, and a vintage SNCF train engine in deep green are the opening of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s masterful min-film commercial for Chanel No. 5. The filmmaker sets his favored palette immediately (red, green, black, and amber), and washes it in his signature sepia-tint, making the film appear perfectly, romantically aged.

This is the look of Jeunet. Despite his place among modern French auteurs, his mise-en-scene always shows this specific palette and elements of times gone by; and if those elements no longer exist, he re-creates them to perfection. His stories are fantasy-based, even the more realistic such as Amélie and A Very Long Engagement, allowing him the freedom to create his own complete worlds. Of course, most filmmakers do this anyway, but very few except for Wes Anderson, actually do it to the extent of Jeunet. Even in the entirely fantastic films of Delicatessen, City of Lost Children and Alien: Resurrection, Jeunet’s aesthetic remains intact. His arsenal of technicians and actors rarely changes helping with this consistency, but each story is so wholly unique that it is clearly the director’s own vision driving the style.

It is to Chanel’s credit that the firm allowed Jeunet to create their latest marketing film within his own stylistic preferences while honoring the product it showcases so completely. (They did the same for Baz Luhrmann’s version a few years ago as well, but that work was such a flagrant rip-off of Moulin Rouge that it doesn’t stand on its own as well as Jeunet’s does.) In fact, Jeunet’s style is the perfect lens for the lore and romance surrounding Chanel No. 5. Invented in 1921 as the first perfume to feature synthetic aldehydes, the scent was a complete departure from the floridly sweet scents of the era. Another change was its packaging; most perfumes at the time were encased in wildly sculptural etched glass flacons, while Chanel No. 5 emerged in a clean-lined, geometric bottle. The difference was like a spotlight on the vanity table. In 1959, the Museum of Modern Art New York inducted the bottle into its packaging exhibit.

Since its creation, Chanel No. 5 has been among the most popular scents in the world, and is certainly the best-known. The Jeunet mini-film is pitch-perfect in its reserve: since everyone already knows the product, he understands that it doesn’t need to be given a heavy hand. One of the best moments of the film is when the light shines through the bottle of No. 5, casting a gorgeous, glimmering shadow across Audrey Tautou’s train berth. The moment is doubly witty as Toutou lies in her bed nude, recalling Marilyn Monroe’s famous quote about Chanel No. 5 being the only thing she wore to bed.

Apart from the actual look of the mini-film, there are also plot elements that are classically Jeunet: romance among strangers, missed encounters, voyeurism, and irony. Yet with all its stylistic beauty, Jeunet smartly brings home the product as a fragrance of eternal modernity. The girl (Tautou) is young, hip, casually dressed, and packed for easy travel, but she still chooses a scent that is over eighty years old. (The film was released on May 5th, or 5/5 – the eighty-eight years to the date from the fragrance’s release in 1921.) This is a gentle but genius stroke of the artist successfully communicating the product in an exciting, approachable way. This is similar to Sophia Coppola’s young ye ye girls in her recent commercial for Miss Dior Cherie – youthful, fun, vintage-inspired, but entirely modern.

When Billie Holiday’s “I’m a Fool to Want You” comes over the soundtrack, Jeunet’s stylish irony comes forward. The decades-old song is romantic and mysterious, the perfect accompaniment to Toutou, but is she singing of the romance between the boy and girl, or the romance between the girl and Chanel No. 5? Or, is it saying that we (the consumers) are all fools to love such beautiful, ephemeral things of indulgence and luxury? The inclusion of this song goes a lot further than simple soundtrack.

Overall, this is an excellent bit of marketing from Chanel that unites artistry and messaging in an entirely engaging way. It is lovely that the luxury houses still spend time and expense on these types of media. It is almost a new art form entirely, limited to a select few firms such as Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel, but the cost is so well-spent. As art foundations continue to diminish and advertising gets less and less creative, the luxury brand commercials continue to excite and inspire. More please!

Visit the Chanel website devoted to Jeunet's film for a high-resolution playing. It is worth seeing this way! Special thanks to The Luxe Chronicles for suggesting that link.

Note: Personally, Chanel No. 5 is not one of my favorites, but I am especially fond of Coco... - Ms. P&C

Film: Tea for Two

Grey Gardens, 1975I’ll tell you the whole thing, you might as well face it…

It’s not my favorite thing to jump into the fray of commentary whenever a topic is so fully absorbed by the quotidian, but since I’ve never written about Grey Gardens before, I thought this might be a good time to enter the palaver. In case you’ve been under a rock lately, HBO is showing its much-awaited film of Grey Gardens this coming Saturday night. This film is based upon the lives of the eccentric mother-daughter team of Bouvier Beales, whose antics were originally showcased in the Maysles’ 1975 documentary Grey Gardens. The Bouvier Beales, known commonly as Big and Little Edie, were the aunt and first cousin of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and Lee Bouvier Radziwill. So, to recap, it’s a movie named Grey Gardens based upon a documentary named Grey Gardens which was named for the house Grey Gardens which is where two women named Edie lived most of their lives. But you didn’t need me to tell you that, did you?

The HBO film will feature Drew Barrymore as Little Edie, with Jessica Lange as Big Edie, and Jeanne Tripplehorn as Jackie Onassis. This film is drawing upon the cultish popularity of the Maysles’ original documentary, and liberally filling in the blanks with gorgeous period flashbacks. Suffice it to say, I can hardly wait to see it.

So, why Grey Gardens? What is the big deal anyways? I was once told by a close friend of mine that this film was an essential for anyone remotely interested in today’s fashion. Understood to be a “fashion touch-stone”, Grey Gardens shows a real dose of the Miss Havisham-ish tattered elegance celebrated (and imitated) by Peter Som, John Galliano, and Marc Jacobs. Not sure what to expect, I first watched the documentary years ago, and almost had to turn it off I was in such a state of shock. After all this time, the film is still more than a little shocking to me – that two formerly well-to-do women of such high intelligence would allow themselves to live in such uncomfortable squalor – but I am still fascinated with each subsequent viewing.

Little Edie's famous swimsuitThe look is so incredible that even the most talented designer could only "interpret" such style. But, is it really style when it’s so unconsciously done? Once one gets past Little Edie’s “best costume for today…” the first visual to note is the palette. The washed out grays, greens, and faded pinks of the house are the perfect foil for Little Edie’s psychedelic floral print swimsuit, patterned knits, and vibrantly colorful ensembles. Or how about Big Edie’s famously off-kilter spectacles and striped sun hat? Then there are the real mementos shown: sepia-tinted studio portraits from bygone days, a stately painting propped in a corner, antique records, brooches, and dress clips. These glimpses of past luxury, along with moments of painted furniture, faded wicker chairs, sleeping cats, and newspapers spread on every surface, create the splendor and squalor that is so unsettling.

“It’s very difficult to keep the lines between the past and the present…You know what I mean?” – Little Edie Beale

It’s so clear that these women know, or once knew, a world of beauty, wealth, parties, society, and comfort. More than this, a world of education and discourse. Little Edie quotes poetry throughout the documentary, and even goes so far as to write some lines of Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam on a bedroom wall. Obviously, Convent of the Sacred Heart and Miss Porter’s School (called “Farmington” by Little Edie) made their mark. Why then are these women eating ice cream with plastic knives and boiling corn on a hot plate next to their bed? Is this style, or just cockeyed tragedy? Even as the viewer grows in discomfort watching this charade, the Beales adamantly defy you to pity them. They have fun: singing, dancing, sunbathing, swimming, redecorating rooms, feeding raccoons Cat Chow, and generally antagonizing each other. It seems as though they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Grey Gardens, 2009The Maysles brothers show this counterpoint so beautifully. It is difficult to reconcile that the women in the old photographs are the same women in the film. Who were they then? What choices did they make? Who did they love? What happened? It’s a bit like finding one’s own old family photos and wondering if those long-past, never-met relatives had anything in common with who we are today. Perhaps this is the appeal? That mystery of life and its many everyday choices is common to everyone, but here it’s more genteel, more privileged, and played out to an unfortunate end with the cameras rolling.

But I’m pulverized by this latest thing: more unfortunate than the Beales is the way that the cult following of Grey Gardens has turned into a commercial free-for-all. It seems that every one of Little Edie’s idiosyncratic sayings has its own associated product, from “STAUNCH” t-shirts, to red shoe paperweights (“You know they can get you in East Hampton for wearing red shoes on a Thursday.”), to the replica Grey Gardens brooch. While the Edies would laugh at this type of thing, the entire point of Grey Gardens was the entirely singular, unconscious look of the entire thing. The Edies weren’t trying to be anything other than themselves, and that is always the best style to have.

Of course, with the new film on HBO coming this weekend, the myth will continue to be sold off in pieces at an even faster pace.

For Grey Gardens images and mementos, visit Grey Gardens Online.

A fabulous post full of Little Edie images from The Errant Aesthe.

A post from the W Editor’s Blog, interviewing Sally Quinn, who (with her husband Ben Bradlee) purchased Grey Gardens from Little Edie in 1979.

Eric Wilson’s article on the style of the Grey Gardens HBO film from today’s New York Times.

Reasons Not to Read Poetic & Chic

Okay, so it's my first post in a while and since I've apologized about this mysterious glitch in my wiring before (you know, the one that causes long pauses between postings,) I'm just going to press on with something I've never done before. I know that other gorgeous bloggers like Winona at Daddy Likey and Wendy Brandes (so looking forward to seeing you this week BTW!) sometimes answer reader questions on the air, as it were. I've always been entertained by this, but apart from the mountains of ridiculously ill-pitched PR releases I get, I don't get too much email.

However, I do get a lot of questions from readers I meet in person...questions, and comments.

Some comments are rather absurd, but being a nice girl I usually smile and giggle like an idiot, thereby putting everyone more at ease. I believe this is called "glossing over". So, I thought I'd turn the tables and answer a few of them in the way I'd really like if I weren't the spectacularly mindful and polite person that I am. I'm not kidding when I say these are actual questions & comments I've received. They are a bit ridiculous, so I thought I'd respond accordingly. Hence, a few reasons not to read Poetic & Chic...

You never show self-portraits. What's the matter, aren't you pretty?

Ridiculously so, but I have ADD. If I had to look at myself every day I'd probably die of boredom.

You use words I actually have to look up in the dictionary.

Yes, I'm sorry. I wrote that into my weltenschauung someplace years ago.

The movies you talk about are way old.

I know. It's a problem.

Why don't you ever talk about your boyfriend? Isn't there a Mr. P&C?

Let's just say I'm holding out for a hero - you know, a street-wise Hercules to fight the rising odds? Racing on the thunder and rising with the heat, it's gonna take a superman to sweep me off my feet.

Why don't you write about Michelle Obama?

Hmmm. You know when I read all of the stylistic play-by-play of the First Lady on just about every fashion blog on the internet I decided I had so much more to say that I got overwhelmed and gave up.

You don't list me on your blogroll.

You're right. I don't.

Why aren't you friends with the "famous" fashion bloggers?

Okay, well I am, actually. (And I have the hangovers to prove it too.) But, I like to run only with the best.

You talk about people I don't know, (Beaudrillard, Schopenhauer, de Botton, etc.) Who are these people?

Just some random dudes I met in a hash club in Amsterdam this one time.

Your blog isn't updated every day.

Yes, I'm a lazy unemployed slacker. I go to bed after Letterman and get up after 9. The hours in between are rife with activity whose content is so rich and complex I couldn't possibly explain it all here. Kaythanxbye.

Why can't you just see fashion, and love it, and take it like all the other bloggers?

Why indeed? I couldn't say really. Perhaps I should call on Euripedes here by saying "Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing." (That dude was in Amsterdam too.)

You don't cover the runway shows.

I know. And, I sincerely apologize for this failing since I know no one else writes about this.

What's the deal with the old music - Herb Alpert, Sergio Mendes, Henri Mancini - why don't you write about new bands?

I can't listen to them. My hand-cranked phonograph can't keep up with the guitar riffs.

No, you must be ugly, you never write about beauty products.

Okay. Here are my five favorites: sleep, water, fresh air, food, treadmill.

I think you're drunk when you write some of your posts. Please tell me it's the booze (or drugs) talking.

Didst I offend? Wow, I had no idea people could actually hear the ice cubes in my cocktail shaker via the internet. That's just frightening. I guess I'll have to switch back to wine and valium.

Like, why are you such a mega-bitch sometimes?

Because I can be. It's very refreshing. In fact you should try it...by writing your own damn blog.

J. Crew "America" - Chilly & Boring

J.Crew America - Yr Doin It WrongSubscribers - please click through for best viewing!

The first of a guaranteed plethora of spring J.Crew catalogs arrived in my mailbox this week. I immediately paused because of the cover, screaming "America" in red and blue, across a plain black field.

I thought: "Wow, J.Crew is really brining home the Obama-economic stimulus-bring it to retail-optimism in a big way..." I mean, gorgeous couple in a vintage convertible, iconic panorama of the Golden Gate Bridge, and then... "AMERICA" - red A. The first true retail page-turner of 2009 has arrived in my mailbox and I can now breathe a little easier. Nothing has changed, we all still shop, and nothing says American happiness like classic stylings of J.Crew...right?

Nice work, J.Crew! Way to work that fading heartbeat of retail into a stylishly patriotic consumerism. Why not just light up each issue with a neon sign saying: "Spend your stimulus dollars here in red-A America...with the American brand of all-American style: J.Crew". In fact, they probably should have titled it "AMERICA*" with the asterix explained in the footnote as: "J.Crew is not a bunch of crazy right-wingers, we're just preppy, icon-loving, national retailers looking to capitalize on the current new-administration optimism. Don't blame us, we're trying..."

I dunno, I'm just sayin'.

Compelling, but not exactly original. In fact, I'd expect this kind of thing from L.L. Bean, Kenneth Cole, or even DKNY - brands that have always gone after the American heartbeat like a Big Three car company, but J.Crew? Hmmm.

What I found inside the catalog was an equally unoriginal grouping of "iconic" fashion spreads, made all the more disappointing for me because they were shot in San Francisco. Within the front cover, they try to explain the shoots by saing that San Francisco is the "all-American city" while the other spreads were equally American-themed. Unfortunately, the five-oddly disparate "stories" composing the catalog don't live up to the narrative generated by the "AMERICA" cover.

FYI: This girl is freezing.

Can this model get a jacket please?She ain't from around these parts.

But back to the San Francisco story in particular - the reason this shoot fails is because the light, summery, tropical clothing and sherbert-hued palette is totally lost in the perpetually frosty mid-winter air of the city by the bay. March catalogs are shot in November-December, and while San Francisco doesn't have snow on the ground, the temperature isn't exactly spring-ish. So, the models look forced and uncomfortable throughout. We San Franciscans don't run around in sleeveless tops (at least not without a handy jacket nearby,) or short shorts and tank tops, especially not on the wind-swept peaks of a cable car or the Marin Headlands.

J.Crew March 2009

Vogue June 2008There are two shots that were particularly familiar: one below the Golden Gate Bridge, and another on Highway 1 up in Mendocino, overlooking the ocean. Both these locations have featured prominently in previous editorials over the years, in fact, they're kind of the go-to spots for ubiquitous San Fran/No-Cal imagery. These were particularly familiar because of Vogue's editorial last June featuring Pierce Brosnan and Daria Werbowy in a "James Bond-meets-Hitchcock" spread.

The images are so similar that even the clothing looks alike, the cars are the same, and the gestures between the figures is almost identical.

J.Crew March 2009

Vogue June 2008The inclusion of these locations and shot set-ups here begs the question: is there really nothing new to do in the catalog world other than ape the big publications? It is indeed sad that J.Crew couldn't come up with anything more uniquely attuned to their particular brand of sportswear.

The section that I did find interesting and original (and easy on the eyes) was the "Great American Road Trip" section showcasing the new menswear. (Sadly these beautiful spreads crop up after this first incongruous San Francisco one, as well as multiple pages of recycled material from previous issues.) The Route 66 landscapes and classic menswear fits perfectly with the story arc begun on the cover with the two gorgeous folks in the vintage convertible. Too bad the story got stopped and then started again so many pages later when I'd already lost interest.

J.Crew March 2009 - The road trip is the best part.

So what's my point? J.Crew began this catalog with an interesting concept: create a story and merchandise around it. Since magazines and retail are both feeling the bite of this economic downturn, I think it only makes sense that retailers start to be more editorial, while magazines start to be more product-focused. The sooner the retailers get this format correct, the sooner they can start mixing entertainment with sales, and the sooner they will get a sales lift.

Too bad J.Crew's attempt is so mixed up and ubiquitous it looses it's stylistic punch.

All images scanned by Poetic & Chic.

Film: A Summer Place

When The Traditionalist and A Continuous Lean wrote about Bert Stern's 1960 film Jazz on a Summer's Day last summer, I immediately added it to my Netflix queue. Of course, being a bit of a movie maniac, my queue is rather long, so I only watched this film this week. I should have known better. Based upon my own experience when writing about films, when someone blogs a film, it means watch it - now.

I've made this mistake before of course, with Days of Heaven and Un Homme et Une Femme, so I hope I've learned my lesson.

Let me just say that this little documentary is one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. Filmed during the 1958 Jazz Festival in Newport, RI, the film captures a weekend of American style, music, and relaxation that is just as vibrant fifty years later. In fact, I am surprised that this film isn't more of a stylistic touchstone, a la Grey Gardens, Petulia, or BlowUp. The style is just amazing, capturing a time of fresh-faced beauty and casualness that was still untouched by the Kennedy-era polish. Two days of music, sunshine, green grass, rocks, ocean, old cars, sailboats, beer, and cigarettes. If anyone has ever looked for a record of mid-century American sportswear, this is the film to watch. The hats, eyeglasses, colors, haircuts and even lipstick shades are clean and stylish, and while clearly of their own time, there is still a strong relevance today.

Still Image from A Continuous LeanIndeed, Ralph Lauren's entire body of work could be based upon this film.

Bert Stern adapted his experience with fashion and advertising photography to create a film that's really "moving still pictures," as he explained in the short feature on the DVD. It certainly shows. For me it was the colors that were so vibrant - a shot of a little girl running on a lawn in red shorts with a blue innertube is just gorgeous. A panning shot of a young woman in a turquoise blue-on-blue polkadot sheath with a yellow tweed hat and straw basket takes her in from foot to head, and literally made me gasp with delight. I also loved the colorful, wavy, moving water shots at the beginning which look strikingly similar to the Abstract Expressionist paintings being created at this time. Every frame is artistic, composed, balanced, and beautiful.

But with all of this beauty, there is still a relaxed easyness that captures the pure fun and enjoyment of the festival. People were there for the music and the togetherness. There is a staged segment of film that's a bit incongruous: a "party" with people dancing on a rooftop, and while it captures the overall mood of the weekend, I'd trade this bit of staged film in for more candid shots of the musicians and the audience.

As a fan of jazz however, the musical part falls a little bit short. Anita O'Day's set is fantastic, but most of the others, including Louis Armstrong's, have been shown to better advantage elsewhere. (True, some of my favorites, like Gerry Mulligan, did not get nearly enough screen time to merit a better judgment.) But this film is much more about the look and mood of a late-1950s summer day in America, and the music is more background to the visuals.

It's wintertime now, but if you want that summertime mood, I highly suggest getting your hands on a copy of this movie! It's a lovely cure for the winter greys...

Luxury Marketing: Timing is Everything

Madonna for Louis Vuitton, Spring 2009I've been asked by a number of people to chime in on the latest advertising imagery produced by the house of Vuitton. I kept avoiding making my answer public because I was really hoping the hype would just go away. Sadly, I can run but I can't hide.

When I initially heard that Madonna would be gracing the new Vuitton marketing I thought it was a great idea. Her images for Versace were glamorous, elegant, and very on-brand. Then, I started to hear that the ad was set to be shot at a cafe in Los Angeles that merely looked Parisian, and that they would be photographed by Steven Meisel instead of Mert Alas and Marcus Piggot (the pair of photographers that, in my opinion, are the only ones who truly captured the proper balance of glamour and product for Vuitton,) and I started to get a little wary.

And then there's Madonna. We love Madonna, we've always loved Madonna, the prospect of Madonna collaborating with the revered Marc Jacobs made us giddy in apprehension. Divorce aside, Madge has been on good behavior lately; rather than ignoring her middle-age, she's accepted it and seems to understand that over-the-top, sexed-up, and skimpy starts to look cheap instead of provocative. Her new ladylike style reinforced by friendships with Isabella Rosselini and Gweneth Paltrow seemed down-to-earth and irreproachable. This down-to-earth motherhood of Madge made us love her even more - she became one of us, and was finally a bit normal.

Enter the new Vuitton images: skimpy, tight, elaborate and burlesque (and not in a Dita Von Teese way,) and all in an inexplicable smoky sepia-tint. Nothing makes a woman look fifty and far-too-thin than being photographed in not enough clothing. And the crotch shot? Please, we've had Madonna exposing her coochie to cameras for thirty years. Why is this new?

Of course, aesthetics aside, one can see why Vuitton chose using Madonna: pure economics. Yes, I do believe that Marc Jacobs thought of calling her after seeing her Hard Candy concert, but it would be naive to assume this is all there is to the story. Vuitton executives probably leapt at the idea because if Madonna can do anything, she can create notoriety; notoriety drives traffic, and traffic drives sales.

Sprouse Speedy Bag, $1310The same theory applies to the new Stephen Sprouse collection. The popular Graffiti collection was initially launched in 2001 and quickly became one of the first of the modern "It" bags. Ever since, the original pieces have generated a cult status, saying: "you shoulda been there, shoulda bought it, shoulda been so lucky..." With this release of new Sprouse colors, surface designs and accessories, Vuitton is leveraging its previous success by reviving an old favorite that they know will sell. Not exactly innovative design, nor risky business.

True, now is not the time for risky business, but I do find it interesting that Vuitton is betting the bank on such high-profile efforts. I suppose both the Madonna ads and the Sprouse collection leave me with such distaste is because they so blatantly run counter to the current climate. Vuitton is still going day-glo, over-the-top, and high profile in a time when people are tightening belts and shopping the closet. They are making safe business decisions, but still asking their customers to be daring and extravagant.

Sprouse Neverfull BagToday's New York Times article by Elaine Sciolino entitled "In the Lap of Luxury, Paris Squirms" cites how other French luxury houses are understanding this climate and making appropriate changes. Sciolino even went so far as to mention the class and social issues that are at the background of the luxury industry - an inherent point that many have overlooked during the past decade of luxury mass-marketing.

"Paradoxically, that sentiment may not be all that difficult for the French to accept. France’s national identity may seem wrapped up tight in the aura of luxury — elegant dress, sophisticated perfume, good food and wine, and no shortage of Champagne for the flimsiest of celebrations. But even though the French more than most Europeans appreciate the finest quality they can afford, they pride themselves on balance. France remains a deeply conservative country, one in which it traditionally has been unacceptable to show off material possessions. Most French use debit cards, not credit cards, which means they tend not to spend more than they have in their bank accounts. Getting a mortgage is a torturous process.

And so, many see in the closing of an era of free and easy spending on luxury goods — when luxury became associated with flash and ostentation around the world — the potential for a restoration of the classic French virtues of restraint and modesty. Even a bit of suffering and sacrifice might be in order."

How about a global restoration of the classic virtues of restraint and modesty? While a cultural understanding and respect of luxury products is at the core of French culture, I think we are all heading into restrained, modest times. For Vuitton to offer such unrestrained products and marketing at this time makes me wonder who's taking the temperature over on the Pont Neuf. After all, timing is everything!

Sprouse Bag images from Bagsnob.com

For additional posts on Vuitton and Vuitton marketing, please read:

Our Stinky Semiotics, March 2007

I Hate to Love Him, October 2007

Louis Vuitton Gets Moody, February 2008

Schadenfreude, June 2008

TV: Rachel Zoe Gets Me Party-Ready

The real Rachel ZoeThe scene: My room, fifteen minutes before I'm due to leave for a party... the chant “Ihavenothingtowear” is repeating in my head. I take the latest unsatisfying option to the mirror...

“No. No no no.” The voice is deep, throaty, and no-nonsense. I spin around in terror to see blonde curls, gigantic sunglasses, a venti cup of Starbucks, and a Birkin bag - all being held up by a pile of fur.

“Ohmigod, Rachel Zoe?”

“Hi baby.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Obv – I’m here to get you dressed.”

“Ugh. At this point I think I’m wearing this.”

“No, you’re not wearing that. That’s jeans and a t-shirt.”

“Yeah, but it’s a Marc Jacobs t-shirt.”

“I know baby, but you can’t wear it to a party. It’s the holidays, it’s festive, it’s sparkle-time. You NEED to be in full regalia. Let’s do an edit...It’ll be fast and painless. What do we have on the racks?”

“I have nothing.”

“Not true. What’s this blue knit dress?” I try on the dress in the bathroom. “Come on out baby, I want to see you.”

“It’s okay. I usually put on my black Vuitton boots with it.”

“I gasp. Very sexy, but I think that’s more for date-night.”

“I agree, I’m not feeling it tonight.”

“Let me get in there and look. I’ll see it and I’ll want it, and I’ll want you to try it.” Rachel dives into my closet. All I can see is her perfectly bouncy blonde curls. How does she see in there with those glasses on?

“HUUUUUUUUH! I diiiiiiiieeee! Where did you get this vintage Pucci from 1968?”

“Um. How did you know the year?”

“Ohmigod. It’s signed. It’s a vintage Pucci shirtdress – and look at those sleeves! I gasp for air. That. Is. Bananas.”

“I think I bought it online years ago. I’m so afraid to wear it – it’s really fragile.”

DKNY Fall 2008“Oh. Ohmigod I die. Okay, too fragile. Let me look....What about this one?” Rachel pulls out my new DKNY dress – short, strapless, with an empire waist, and a cute full skirt in bronze brocade.

“I love that one! It’s a little dressy though, don’t you think?”

“This is the hero dress. I love the little bow-belt at the empire line, and the fabric is so cool: metallic, but sophisticated. I’ll accessorize you for the perfect look. How have you been wearing it?”

“I wore it once with my grandmother’s fox fur stole around my neck, and a high pony tail.”

“Vintage fur? I die.”

“But that’s too much – I’m just going to a house party.”

“Okay, we’ll do the strapless dress with a crisp black tee underneath. The black will balance the metallic brocade, but it will be perfectly dressed-down for a house party. I want you to do a really deep part at your bangs and pouf up your hair in the back – very 1960s, and lots of black eyeliner. Now what shoes?”

“I have these huge black patent oxfords that are pretty awesome, oh, and black tights.”

“Huuuuuuhhh! I gasp for air. Those. Are. Bananas.” I smile. Rachel thinks my shoes are bananas. “And those tights are great - really opaque - whose are those?"

"I just found them - their my new favorite thing, from Ellen Tracy. I think they were at Bloomingdale's..."

"Okay, jewelry. What about that ring from Marc by Marc Jacobs.”

“That’s what I was thinking too – it’s really big and fun.”

“And the perfect touch of sparkle to be festive. Now let me look at you... I gasp. You’re so confident in it too, I can tell how comfortable you are. Donna will be so proud.”

“Wow, I’m dressed! I can’t believe it! Thank you!”

“Ohmigod, you’re shutting it down.” Rachel picks up her Birkin bag and her venti and starts to head for the door.

“Thank you Rachel!”

“Alright baby, give me a kiss... I’m gonna go shop like a lunatic.”

*****************

For the record, no, Rachel Zoe did not *appear* in my room to help me get dressed. This post is a work of complete fiction. That being said, I do hear Rachel Zoe's voice in my head as I get dressed sometimes..."

A New Millenium Werkstatte

Pendant, Josef Hoffmann c. 1905, silver, gilt & semi-precious stonesTo quote the great Shirley Bassey: "It's all just a little bit of history repeating..."

One of the reasons I left the luxury goods industry a few years ago had to do with the way it made me feel overall. After years of excitement in the fashion fast lane, I found myself overwhelmed by its shallowness that left me increasingly empty. Even the "luxury" brands were losing their core of craftsmanship and selling out to the mass-market, driven by the need to satisfy stockholders. In the storm of marketing, messaging, editorials, and bling, I started to feel sick. When you witness someone splitting an "it" bag across three credit cards for the hundreth time, it starts to get to you. I asked myself: "How long can a brand remain "aspirational" and "white hot" before it burns iself out?"

The question still hangs over me when I take a look at the luxury fashion world these days - from a lot further out, happily, which usually gives some great perspective. Perspective, or common sense?

Consider the current unpleasantness of the economic world; there are a lot of people in big, expensive homes all over the country, homes full of clothes, electronics, cars, shoes, and it bags, who are wondering if they're going to have jobs next week. This, is a big portion of the "new" luxury market, and the rose-colored glasses have been lifted recently. Now comes the dawn of perspective: is any of that stuff really lasting and fulfilling, or is it just stuff?

Belt Buckle, Kolo Moser, 1903, silver, opal & rubyLast week, The Cut by New York Magazine published a post entitled " 'It' Bags ARe About to Be So Embarrassing". In it, there is a quote from Claire Kent, a former luxury analyst from Morgan Stanley who now works as an industry consultant, from a speech at the recent London Luxury Briefing conference. Kent mentioned a "luxury fatique", that people were afraid of debt and that customers would be steering clear of aspirational brands. She also said "An 'It' handbag will become an embarassment - a clear sign that you don't have your own view of fashion." Well, we all knew that was the case...

Today, Jezebel published a post about "Luxury Shame" - the phoenomenon of rich people feeling bad about throwing money around. They cite certain luxury shoppers telling others that their gown is an "old Phillip Lim" as opposed to a new Balenciaga - because that makes it okay. (I say, if you have the good stuff, wear it proudly! Don't lie to people, just maybe...buy a little less?) Jezebel also cites ecommerce sites like Gilt Groupe whose big appeal is the discretion of anonymous delivery boxes - so no one will know you're dropping your now-diminished 401K on Jimmy Choos. Yes, assuage your shopping guilt and extravagance in a nice brown wrapper...it's shopping porn!

Brooch, Josef Hoffmann c. 1910, silver & semi-precious stones

Brooch, Josef Hoffmann, 1908, silver, partly gilt & semi-precious stonesBrooch, Josef Hoffmann, 1910, silver, gilt & semi-precious stones

All of this guilt about shopping and high-priced products has put me in mind of one of my favorite periods of art and design: the Wiener Werkstätte. Also known as the Vienna Succession, this brief period of design began at the beginning of the 20th Century and continued until just before World War II. Vienna was the epicenter of the arts, being led by a group of artists that wanted to fuse graphic and applied arts - seeking a union of form and function in design. The Werkstätte was formed in response to increased mass production of products and overall industrialization. They sought to return art and design to fine craftsmanship, logic, beauty, and usefulness. The most famous Werkstätte artists are likely to be Gustav Klimt and Josef Hoffmann, but the group included hundreds of artists across all aesthetics.

Left - Emilie Floge in 'reform' dress & necklace by Kolo Moser c. 1910, Right - Necklace, Kolo Moser, 1903, silver, white chalcedony & carnelian (This necklace was given to Emilie Floge by Gustav Klimt.)I have been thinking of the Werkstätte lately because of their jewelry; it perfectly suits our current climate and I'm sure it will be only a matter of time before we return to this kind of aesthetic. Simple, elegant, modern, colorful, and beautifully crafted.

The most significant Werkstätte jewelry was designed by Josef Hoffman and Kolo Moser. While most worked with silver and gold, the focus of the work was on the metal designs and the unique arrangements of semi-precious stones. You see, during the early part of the 20th Century in Europe, times were tough. Economic depression, wars and revolutions... It was all pretty unsettling, and it was considered to be in bad taste to wear real gems. (Remember, this was also the time when CoCo Chanel invented costume jewelry too.)

Does any of this sound familiar?

Luckily for the patrons of the Werkstätte, their pieces were usually custom-made by hand as individual art pieces, which made them beautiful, tasteful, and lasting. Luckily for us, they are still as modern and wearable today as they were then! Perhaps with all of this luxury guilt going on, designers will take some cues from the Wiener Werkstätte and make things that move away from mass-market bling and into hand-crafted, wearable art... After all, history is repeating these days.

All images scanned from "Wiener Werkstätte - Design in Vienna 1903-1932" by Christian Brandstätter

The Anthro Effect

The Anthropologie "Presents 08" CatalogLast weekend I let myself spend some time at Anthropologie. Now, this can be a highly dangerous activity for normal women, but I've found that the danger comes when rushing through the store and buying indiscriminately. This time, I took control of the situation and recognized the cute-overload for just what it was: and evil ploy to rid me of my money. In so doing, I could take a deep breath, slow down, and take it all in.

The masterminds at Anthropologie have distinguished their brand by its sheer girlishness. A brand that exploded in the early 2000s, it popped onto the scene when the dot-com crowd was young, stylish, and had full pockets. It was the perfect product line for the "cool job" and the new economy which distinguished itself from the old by accepting casual offices, youth, and femininity. Anthropologie was the darling of the hour and hasn't quit since.

While Banana Republic says "we're mod, lean, kinda boring, and perfect for work, " and Zara says "we're Euro and cheap, but totally dashing," Anthropologie practically screams its validation for just being a girl. It says: "we're here, we're cool, we're girls." It says it so loudly that the nob must be turned to eleven.

From the "Presents 08" catalog...Anthropologie knows what we like: knitwear, floral patterns, delicacy, buttons, monograms, appliques, stripes, ribbons, flounces, embroidery, sashes, vintage, bright colors, bedding, romance, tea cups, and scented soaps. They tell us that it's okay to light candles during the day, just because, and that dressing a vintage chandelier in Spanish moss and twine is not only chic but totally normal. They tell us that we too could live life on the cusp between a World War II era kitchen and a Paris flea market. They tell us that if we were truly creative we'd recycle our old junk into clever visual props that would make everyone go gooey with delight. In fact, "gooey with delight" is really the whole point.

After twenty minutes in the store my head begins to spin. Dizzy from the sensory cute overload, or that scented candle that's meant to evoke laundry drying in a French lavender field... I'm not sure which. I notice "the boyfriend" section is completely full with obviously uncomfortable men who are trying very hard not to put their hands anywhere, while they are also trying very hard not to make eye contact with anyone. Yes, it's the look common to caged animals and those enduring torture.

The sale section is crammed to the rafters with redlines and the women who love to buy them. But what do they really buy? My theory is that everything at Anthropologie always looks better on the hanger than it does in real life. Or, as to quote this fabulous post from Decorno:

"How about something that fits? How about something that is not an empire waist? Anthro clothes are for women who no longer want to get laid, or who are already dating a boy who isn't interested in sleeping with girls anyway."

Um, yeah. (And Decorno is my new favorite thing. I also found the beautiful blog called Breakfast at Anthropologie which is just as lovely as the brand, but that blogger too frequently expresses her own frustration at the brand in her posts, despite her love.)

True, the visual merchandising is truly amazing. Opulent, clever, and pitch-perfect each season. Take a look at the gorgeous holiday windows photographed by Platinum Blonde Life at Rockefeller Center. I definitely do give props for creating the atmosphere most girls want to fall into and never leave, but still, how well does that translate to reality?

Much like the fit of the clothes, my feeling is that the Anthropologie brand doesn't quite suit the current climate, and it will probably only get worse. While this is always a store I love to visit, it's rare that I actually make a purchase; the items are too specific, too styled, too detailed - it's like they wear you instead of the other way around. They're nice to haves, not need to haves, and as we all know, the luxuries are definitely back burner these days.

So, despite overall adorable-ness, charm, and girlish appeal, can Anthropologie survive this new new economy? How does a brand founded on cute suddenly become more serious and hard-working? I guess it's time for the Anthropologie girl to grow up...

The Miss Dior "Cherie" Campaign

I must say, the darling Miss Dior "Cherie" advertisements have been the highlight of my magazine flipping lately... A girl with beret on a bicycle with be-ribboned Dior boxes - because it's so charmant to shop the Avenue Montaigne on a bike. Or, the pastelled balloon bouquet lifting Maryna Linchuk high above Paris which puts the ending of Le Ballon Rouge in mind, but for chic, grown-up, fuschia-pink bubble dress-wearing big girls.

Sigh! Le irony, le insouciance, le charm, le tongue-in-cheek...

Then, tonight I was in the middle of Gossip Girl... wait, what's that? Why is Brigitte Bardot singing one of her ye ye songs on the television? Chestnut trees, a vintage magazine, a girl with bangs, white cyclamen, and balloons...either it's my favorite era of French style or... Ohmigosh! It's the Sophia Coppola ad for Miss Dior "Cherie"!!! I was so flustered with delight I didn't know what to think. But, my first notion was: "Damn, I should have gotten that DVR box forever ago! Please rewind!"

The perfume was launched in 2005 - as a commemorative for Christian Dior's 100th bithday by John Galliano. A review of the perfume is available on the Now Smell This blog, which cites Galliano's inspirations as Stevie Wonder's "My Cerie Amour" and a vintage Dior gown from the archives called "Cherie". However, while the scent may be reminiscent of the classic 1947 "Miss Dior" perfume, it is entirely modern. So, a modern ad campaign with the modern, simple glamour of Ms. Coppola is entirely appropriate.

Pink, pastel, soaring, and with a 1960s French girl-pop soundtrack - what's not to love? Also, as a film student, I love that this one little 30-second bit of film totally fits in with the greater body of Sophia Coppola's work. The look is very similar to the decadent pinkishness of Marie Antoinette, while the Diana-camera saturated cinematography is perfectly in tune with The Virgin Suicides. It shows a knowledge of Masculin Feminin and Un Homme et une Femme, with a little dose of Roman Coppola's CQ.  The chain of aesthetic influence makes me giggle with delight!

Overall, the whole campaign is pitch-perfect, full of ladylike optimism which is sorely needed right now. Unfortunately, there's no clip yet on YouTube, but visit Fashionologie (and its fabulous OnSugar capabilities) for a taste of delicious.