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 Style.com)

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 Style.com)

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: 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.

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.

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 gown...business in the front...

...party 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 - 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.

Bang Envy - Juliette Gréco

Juliette Gréco with her Daschund near St. Germain des PrésJuliette Gréco has always intrigued me. Her throaty voice and peculiar beauty are far too unsettling to be considered classically beautiful, but she created her own type of glamour and style by virtue of being against the norm. Her idiosyncratic lifestyle among the famous artists and thinkers of the mid-20th Century has made her a true Bohemian icon.

A friend of Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Cocteau, Boris Vian, Serge Gainsbourg, and the great love of Miles Davis, Juliette Gréco is the original cool chick. Her signature fringe of bangs with a long hairstyle became the look of Existentialist girls the world over (and still is!), especially when paired with all-black clothes and a smoky café. This is the look Astrid Kirchherr was going for when she started wearing capes and tailored suits.

An actress and singer, Gréco is usually known as the chanteuse who sings "Bonjour Tristesse" at the very beginning of the film of the same name. But it was almost ten years prior that she appeared in Cocteau's haunting film Orphée as one of the evil Bacchantes.

While her film roles were few but significant, Gréco still continues to record and perform her music today, at the age of 83!

Juliette Gréco by Studio Harcourt Paris - the classic Existentialist look of the late 1950s.

Young and alone in Paris after World War II, Gréco started to sing in the cafés and jazz clubs in the St. Germain area. It was here that she met other existentialists, artists, and musicians, including Miles Davis. While I knew the two had been friends, I didn't realize that they actually had a romance too. I tracked down this excellent piece from The Guardian that Gréco wrote about Davis in 2006 that tells their story beautifully.

"And there I caught a glimpse of Miles, in profile: a real Giacometti, with a face of great beauty. I'm not even talking about the genius of the man: you didn't have to be a scholar or a specialist in jazz to be struck by him. There was such an unusual harmony between the man, the instrument and the sound - it was pretty shattering...... In America his colour was made blatantly obvious to me, whereas in Paris I didn't even notice that he was black. Between Miles and me there was a great love affair, the kind you'd want everybody to experience. Throughout our lives, we were never lost to each other."

Emerging from her dark hipness of the 1950s, Gréco's look adapted seamlessly into the pop glamour of the 1960s. Her hair became bouffant and her smile finally emerged. In 1965, she starred in the famous French mini-series called Belphégor, showcasing her elegance and grace.

Two images from Philips Records, and two stills from 1965's Belphégor.

Most recently the film An Education featured a few of Gréco's songs in the film, using them as a symbol of the bohemian freedoms that awaited just across the channel in Jenny's mind. (The short sequence of Jenny and David's trip to Paris is set to "Sur les quais de vieux Paris", making it a picture-postcard of the city in springtime.)

Despite their modernity for the time, Gréco's chansons have become tunes as ubiquitous to Parisian romance as anything recorded by Charles Trenet or Edith Piaf. Her famous hit of 1963 "La Javanaise", written by Serge Gainsbourg, is now considered a standard, being covered by both Jane Birkin and Madeleine Peyroux. Her strange and throaty style is indeed an enduring sound!

Juliette Gréco in 2009 from Pure People.

All images found online; final image from Pure People.

Film: Orchid Glamour

I've been pondering orchids lately. Not just the phalanopsis plants I have on my desk, which I love, but the big cymbidium orchids that are much more bold and old-fashioned. You know which ones I mean: they're big like an alien bird and colored all shades of pink, magenta or mauve, with maybe a little yellow mixed in. They look like a cross between a star and a monster - lots of shapely dimension and crazy color, especially in a group.

These days you've probably seen them on the shoulder of a happy mother or grandmother-of-the-bride, because weddings are when the fancy orchids seem to emerge from the florists' back rooms. It wasn't always this way though.

Back in the 1930s - 1940s, these orchids were the epitome of glamour and exoticism. I think this comes from the Victorian-Edwardian eras when orchids were extremely exotic and coveted as a luxury item. They had to be cultivated in hot houses, and their tropical beauty were the height of extravagance. As the world moved into the 20th Century, orchids became slightly more plentiful but still just as special. They became the standard of courtships all across the land.

left to right: Dolores Del Rio, Carole Lombard, & Greta Garbo

Because of their exclusive connotations, orchids were the perfect accoutrement for Hollywood starlets. Beautiful and rarified, the orchid became a symbol of the unobtainable woman. This whiff of the "ever-out-of-reach" gave them a dangerous appeal too, making them the chosen prop of gangster molls and bad girls. In other words, the orchid is the Madonna-whore of the flower world, and their inherent language speaks volumes.

A Harlequin pulp novel shows the *other* type of orchid girl.

Yes, if you were a man who wanted to impress a lady, you'd send her orchids. (If you really wanted to impress her, you'd put a diamond bracelet inside the box with the orchid, but that's another story.) Got it? Orchids = Woo, at least they did about 70 years ago.

But there are ladies and there are ladies, and when it comes to giving a lady orchids there are three types of recipient: one who is starry-eyed and appreciative of their novelty and beauty, one who has received so many orchids she's immune to their charm, and one who is right in between these two. The former is usually a younger girl who is still enchanted by the gesture, while the latter is usually a wizened older lady who wears them as a mere accessory. In the middle is the girl who is most like an orchid: sexy, alluring, expensive, and grown in a hot-house -  I'm sure the associations are obvious.

Carole Lombard wears orchids to marry William Powell in 1931

Sending orchids to a lady usually happened in the evening right before a date. Then, she'd wear the fresh, dewey flowers out on the town with her fella, usually pinned to her dress somewhere on the bodice. The look of a simple and slinky charmeuse gown embellished by a cluster of extravagant blooms always brings out the vamp in anyone. Later on, a gigantic cluster of cymbidiums on a fur coat showed elegance and luxury during the 1940s. Orchids weren't just for special occasions either, they'd get worn any time one needed to glam it up a little and look nice for a luncheon or day on the town. The orchids would come in a clear plastic box, nestled inside some plastic gras or paper shreds. The whole thing would be tied with an elegant ribbon and served with a little bon mot.

 In 1939's The Women, Mary Haines receives a box of orchids from her husband along with a note saying "What can I say?", as an eleventh-hour gesture before their divorce. Just a few minutes later, the Comtesse de Lave wears a lavish spray of orchids while on the train to Reno, in joyful pursuit of her next legal separation. 

Paulette Godard, Mary Boland, and Norma Shearer in The Women.

In the lighthearted Fred Astaire-Rita Hayworth musical, You Were Never Lovelier from 1942, Rita's character Maria starts to receive orchids from a secret admirer. Little does she know that it's really her father sending them to her to launch her on the road to romance with Astaire's Robert Davis. Once Maria discovers the ruse, she wants nothing more to do with orchids at all, but Robert keeps sending them. Ultimately, the orchids win.

Rita Hayworth is SO the type of girl you'd send orchids to, let's be honest.

At the other end of the spectrum is the saucy Jean Harlow. Her white dress and orchid ensemble worn on the red carpet for the premiere of Hell's Angels is so famous that the look was replicated by Gwen Stefani in The Aviator. This extraordinary ensemble was the embodiment of fantasy and imagination for a country that had recently plunged into the Great Depression.

Jean Harlow at the Hell's Angels premiere in 1930, Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow in The Aviator

It's interesting that while our love of orchids as house plants has increased, our love of orchids and other flowers as adornment (at least outside of weddings) has decreased. Pat Field tried to make a corsage comback a number of years ago on Sex and the City, but I think we all got over that trend right quick. I just have to wonder why no one opts for this type of glamour any longer. Orchids are far more eye-catching and far less expensive than fine jewelry, no? Plus, they instantly give the allure of old Hollywood to any ensemble, and what's so wrong with that I'd like to know?

I am a big fan of flowers as a fashion accessory and orchids are a classic choice. It's too bad that these days the orchid corsage is relegated to the dowdier members of the wedding party. They certainly didn't start out that way!

As I see more mentions & clips of orchids I'll do more posts of this type. So, keep your eye out and let me know if you have one in mind.

All images from internet searches.

Bang Envy Influences: Anna Karina

When is a Bang Envy post an Influences post too? When it concerns Danish-born actress of the French New Wave cinema, Anna Karina. (I should note that while I've been cooking this post along for weeks, re-watching her films and gathering some images, The Impossible Cool beat me to the punch this week by posting one of her pictures as well. But it's a really good pic, so you should all go over there and pay it a visit. Great minds think alike!)

I've been thinking a lot about Anna, her first husband Jean-Luc Godard, the colorful films they made, and how that whole time and look of the cinema has influenced fashion for decades. Most recently, Michelle Smith of Milly sent a number of mini Anna Karinas down the Fall 2010 runway, with peacoats, striped tops, and red tights to beat the band. If that proves anything it's just that Ms. Karina's colorful, kooky style is just as fresh and wearable today as it was in the 1960s.

Born in Denmark in 1940, Hanne Karin Blarke Bayer had a pretty rough childhood. Eventually she'd had enough of her mother and hitchiked to Paris in 1958 where she quickly became a fashion and commercial model. It is said that Coco Chanel was the one who helped her refine her professional name to Anna Karina. After seeing her in a Palmolive commerical, Jean-Luc Godard offered her a bit part in Au Bout de Souffle, which she refused. However when he asked her to join him in his 1960 film Le Petit Soldat, she agreed. The two married in 1961 when she starred in one of her most iconic films Une Femme est Une Femme.

Anna Karina with Jean-Luc Godard

That film, plus 1965's Pierrot le Fou are among Godard's most famous of the New Wave genre, offering wildly colorful photography, odd and adventurous story lines, and his idiosyncratic take on modern romance. It is through Anna Karina, like Jean Seberg in Au Bout de Souffle or Brigitte Bardot in Le Mepris, that Godard presents his own brand of modern woman: an angelic face hiding the soul of a thrill-seeking, manipulative, and even tawdry demon within. 

Images from Pierrot le Fou with Jean-Paul Belmondo.

I believe that it is the vibrant color palette (usually centered around red, white, and blue hues,) and the simple styles of Anna Karina in these films that fashion designers come back to again and again. The whiff of the ingènue schoolgirl gone bad and sexy all in one - it's a heady combination and one that certainly sells fashion. The Fall 2010 collection from Milly captured this to a T, even a little heavy-handedly with the berets, but it still works.

Milly Fall 2010. Images from Style.com

It's not just Milly who's looked to Godard for inspiration - I think Marc Jacobs comes back to him time and again, especially for the Marc by Marc Jacobs collection. It's nice to know that designers still take their cues from the French New Wave of almost 50 years ago and still make it work. Or perhaps Jean-Luc Godard and his muse Anna Karina defined effortless chic in such a way that it always bears repeating?

To close, I had to post this little film re-mix created by Dimitri from Paris. A fantastic re-dux of Une Femme est Une Femme, the DJ has pulled together the playfulness, color, and mod New Wave essence in a fun little music video. (Plus, you can see how Anna Karina sported her red tights!)

Images from the internet, and the website Eff Yeah, Anna Karina which has more good ones to see.

Derek Lam Talks Chicken...No, Really!

Derek Lam, image from Teen VogueDid you know that Derek Lam and I went to the same high school? Yes, it's true. A few years apart, but the same school. St. Ignatius College Preparatory launched both of us on paths of creativity, fame, and stardom. (Okay, clearly one more than the other, but you get it.) So when the St. Ignatius alumni magazine Genesis asked me to interview Derek Lam for an upcoming issue, you can imagine that I got a little starstruck at this idea. Like...would he even talk to me? Well, he did.

How did I do it? I emailed someone and asked very very very nicely, and kept following-up. You know that adage about the squeaky wheel? It works. But be sure to squeak very softly and sweetly. Then, a lovely PR person will email you with the message that you get 20 minutes TODAY at 5PM Eastern.

And that, boys and girls, is all there is to it. Like Conan O'Brien said: "If you work really really hard and you're kind to people, amazing things will happen." Actually, it probably came together because Derek Lam is just a genuinely sweet person, full of fun, ideas, a love of fashion, fashion people, and his hometown of San Francisco. I send a thousand thanks to everyone at Derek Lam, and my good friend Jill Lynch for thinking of the whole project in the first place!

Published here with permission from Genesis magazine.

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Derek Lam Fall 2010, from Style.comPart of your development began in your grandparents’ garment factory here in San Francisco. Was it understood that you would enter the family business from the get-go, or did your family try to encourage you into other directions?

I was only about 5 – I was a child. So there was no opinion about that. I just liked the familial atmosphere of the place. I knew it was great to be in a place surrounded by relatives working together. It was very comforting.

So when did you really begin to learn about garment construction?

When I went to Parsons.

Did you go to Parsons right from SI?

I went to Boston College for a year and a half and then transferred to Parsons.

High school is usually a time best forgotten for most of us (myself included.) But, is there something about your years at SI that you think helped to shape who you are today? Was there an experience there that really helped to shape your creative side, or was there an activity you were a part of that helped move you in the design direction?

There were two classes. The first was what was then called “Social Studies” – about people, what makes them do what they do, culture, defining who you are, with analysis and history. The second were my art classes. I had one teacher – Ms. Wolf? – Yes, Katie Wolf, she’s still there. – She is? Wow that’s amazing. I loved her classes. The last time I came home, my Mom asked me if I wanted my SI yearbook and I started flipping through it; I was like “I remember this person, and this person…”

I also really loved my English classes. They gave me a great love of literature and writing, and all of that contributes to the arts. (Notice I didn’t say science?)

I enjoyed the experience there because while SI is very academically motivated, they’re very good about educating “the whole person”.

Tod's Shade Bag, designed by Derek Lam, image from BagSnobIf there are high school students at St. Ignatius, or anywhere, who are interested in fashion design, what suggestions do you have for them? Is there anything they can do at a young age to help cultivate their eye for design? Or anything they can do to get into the practice of design?

I’m not sure how you could cultivate it - I didn’t know what a fashion designer was at that age. I went to Parsons in New York City to study art. I had a curiosity about art and culture which then led me to fashion design.

Being in a place like San Francisco, there’s so much culture that gives people curiosity, the city reveals culture everywhere, which is all a part of art and design.

I know that film has inspired your collections in the past, such as In the Mood for Love in 2004, and Ascenseur pour l’Echafaud in the Fall of 2009. One of my efforts here in San Francisco is organizing a bi-monthly film screening called Style Cinema SF. We screen fashion films, or films that have some sort of a strong aesthetic. Do you have other favorite films that you return to again and again for inspiration?

Barry Lyndon – that’s amazing…The Shining…I love Chinatown. For me it’s about the cinematic quality, the story told with costume and atmosphere. I like to think of my collection as a movie with no parts. I want to create mood, desire, and fantasy - that same cinematic quality, and also prompt people to think “I can have that in my life as well.”

I also know that a lot of your collections are influenced by place; I wondered if you had a San Francisco collection cooking in your brain somewhere. And, what era of San Francisco history really speaks to you?

That’s an interesting question because my collection for Fall [2010] I called “The Myth of the West”. I was thinking about the people who settled in San Francisco, who created a European city in the wilderness of the West. They were from the East, bringing their culture, values, etc., and created the mythology of “The West”. Cowboys, gold mining – our western legends. It’s clearly not an eastern, pilgrim culture in that setting.

I know that you worked for Michael Kors for years and you both are the capital-S in American sportswear. How do you see sportswear responding to the times right now? Is there still a place for luxury in American sportswear?

That’s interesting because a lot of Europeans say “why do you call it “American Sportswear?” because to them sportswear is what we would call “activewear”. Sportswear is made up of items that are easy to mix, and yes, have a basis in sports. (Riding, hunting, etc.) When you explain that there’s suiting, sportswear, and evening, then the Europeans begin to understand what it is. For me, it’s the most valid point of view on how to dress. Ultimately it’s the consumer who makes it work for them – how they use it in their wardrobes.

How do you incorporate the luxury? Is it in a design detail, the material, the fabrication…?

Yes, all of those things. I’m always looking for ways to incorporate luxury into items. I love to incorporate hand-work into pieces. I love working with modern mills - those who make bonded, technical fabrics. But I also love working with the couture mills. For me, luxury is a new point of view with a taste of the past.

Derek Lam Fall 2010 from Style.comName one garment that you will never get tired of designing/interpreting.

Trench coats – I do a trench coat every season. They’re sexy, mysterious, and in New York, or I guess San Francisco too - you can throw on a coat and you’re dressed.

How do you define or compare the “Derek Lam girl” and the “Tod’s girl”? Are they the same person or is it a different personality, a different style?

Derek Lam is personal, it’s what I want to say – a dialogue with my customer. For Tod’s, it’s thinking about their brand. Tod’s is modern classic with Italian flare and a modern “pep”. I suppose the customer for both is looking for my signature. How is Derek interpreting something, what is perspective is Derek offering? (By the way, I’m saying this as one of my customers, I’m not talking about myself in the third person.) I design for both brands but filtered from within my own point of view.

Do you feel the pressure to create a popular “It” bag every season, such as a YSL Muse or Balenciaga Le Dix?

No…no, that’s a lot of marketing. Every season is a fresh start. I’m trying to determine what intrigues, what’s desirable to the customer. I think about what’s missing in their wardrobe. This is much more important than any commercial endeavor.

Plus, there’s really no science to it.

No there isn’t, or, that’s not my role. There probably is a science to it, but it’s someone in marketing who determines that.

Derek Lam & Vanessa Getty at Foreign Cinema, from 7x7I read in Women’s Wear Daily last fall that when you came to San Francisco for a visit, you asked your Mom to cook up some abalone with shitake mushrooms. What are some of your other favorite San Francisco flavors? Which places or neighborhoods do you always love to visit when you come here?

I ask my Mom for a “usual” home meal – whatever we would usually eat at home. So, while I really don’t have a specific request, I just leave it up to her. I love to visit the Ferry Building; I’ll go down there and have some oysters or just walk around. I love to see what’s going on down there.

The last time I came to San Francisco Vanessa Getty hosted a party for me at something Cinema?Foreign Cinema, yes, it’s one of my favorites.I had never been there and it was great. When I visit, I’m kind of like a tourist, rediscovering the city I grew up in. I also like the place that has California cuisine – up on Market Street and I can’t think of the name. Zuni?  Yes, the Zuni Café. They have the best chicken! Yes, the chicken with croutons? Yes! Their food is so good! It’s always my first lunch or first dinner when I arrive in San Francisco.

The next time you visit you should try NOPA – it was founded by some of the people from Zuni. What’s it called? NOPA – N O P A – their roast chicken is amazing too. Where is it? It’s at Hayes & Divisadero. Oh – it’s close to Zuni, sort of. Yes, Hayes Valley-ish. Their chicken is divine – I sort of embarrass myself I enjoy it so much. That’s how Zuni is for me!...

Film: Another New York Holly

When people talk of iconic Woody Allen characters, the first one that comes to mind is of course Diane Keaton as the menswear-loving Annie Hall. But digging into 1986's Hannah and Her Sisters, one finds another quirky fashion icon in Diane Wiest's character, Holly. This film is probably one of my top picks in the Woody Allen oeuvre, and I find it utterly charming every time I watch it - and the ending is just the sweetest thing ever.

But over the years I've found that the thing I love most is the character of Holly. Like the other much-adored New York Holly (Golightly), she's a kooky mixed-up mess and has a fashion sense to match. Even still, there are certain elements that are pure perfection simply because the character owns the look so completely. Like Annie, her style also incorporates menswear, but with some unexpected feminine elements that make the look much softer. Her look is sweet and airy, high and low, full of vintage, objet trouvé pieces that probably came from a boyfriend's closet or a local flea market. Even at her worst, Holly's sartorial mix shows the true New York bohemian that lies within.

When we first meet Holly at the beginning of the film, it's a family Thanksgiving at her sister Hannah's house. Although the sisters are close, it's clear that Holly is harboring a few issues deep down. Her black and white floral print dress is topped by a classic mens houndstooth blazer, cinched at the waist with a belt. A scattering of vintage brooches on the lapel softens the look, but this structured style manifests the nervous discomfort she has in the scene.

Holly is a bit of a mess, and we're shown that her frenetic self-destruction has been going on for a while. When we see Holly & Mickey's first date in a flashback, she's smoking incessantly with one hand, and snorting coke with the other. Her crisp white blazer is totally out of place at the punk show she chooses to take them too, and she is equally out of place later on during Bobby Short's show at The Carlysle. She's over-accessorized herself - a scarf here, big necklaces there, and wrists full of big bracelets - it's all too much. While Holly claims she's hip, chastising Mickey for not being fun, she's the one that's completely insecure.

While Holly makes continued attempts in the acting world, she and her friend April (played by Carrie Fisher) open the Stanislavski Catering Company to earn some money on the side. It's interesting to note that Holly asks her sister Hannah (already a successful actress) to help her to pick an outfit for her audition. Hannah (played by Mia Farrow) is a classic through and through, so it's no surprise that she would lead Holly toward this buttoned-up ensemble that resembles a suit from the 1940s. It's also no surprise that Holly bombs the audition. The vintage style does seem to suit Holly, but she's still uncomfortable in her own skin and seems small on the stage.

Immediately after her audition, April comes in and knocks her song out of the ballpark, effectively making Holly a footnote in the open call. As they walk down the street, the two friends have an argument about a man they've both been dating, and the friendship (as well as the Stanislavski Catering Company) soon comes to an end. I love this look because while April looks like the standard 1980s New Yorker, Holly shows her vintage ecclecticism to full effect. A man's topcoat is paired with a vintage cloche, bright scarves, brooches, a huge basket tote (de rigeur in the 1980s), and finally a charming pair of Fair Isle mittens.

At the next Thanksgiving, Holly has given up on acting and is trying her hand at writing. While this makes for some conflict with Hannah, you can see that she's beginning to pull herself together. Her spunky personality is beginning to come through and she seems much more relaxed and self-assured. Her kicky ensemble of trousers, baseball jacket, and dark green Jack Purcell sneakers is so fantastic that I'd wear it even today. When we see her arguing with Hannah in the next scene, she's beginning to mix her punk sensibility with her soft, vintage side. The 1940s-cut dress is perfectly embellished by another scattering of brooches (possibly the same group from the first Thanksgiving?) and a pair of punk chokers. In this scene it's clear that Holly is coming together while Hannah is coming apart.

My favorite Holly outfit (and one of my favorite film ensembles ever,) comes when Mickey and Holly reunite in a record store. Holly has clearly come into her own and is freely mixing her favorite pieces with confidence and charm. A vintage sailor's blouse is covered by a classic jean jacket and then a masculine top coat finished with her usual touch of sparkling brooches. A jaunty black beret is also given the brooch treatment, finishing the look to perfection. It's obvious that she's come full circle, is happy, ready for a real career, and even a real love.

When Holly reads Mickey her script in the next scene, she's wearing a breezy oversized plaid shirt and a black menswear vest; a pairing which is back in style again today, 24 years later. Her scarf is tied in a bow in her hair, bringing a sweet touch of femininity. She seems to have grown younger through the course of the film, even as years have passed. As we say goodbye to Holly & Mickey (for another year), they're seen in a long shot in the park, where Holly has covered this outfit with a vintage fur coat, bringing a self-assured and glamorous finish to her quirky look.

Every time I watch this film I want to go shop on Haight Street and find a vintage sailor's blouse and a few more brooches. Or, at the very least I want to find some Grandpa's closet and raid it for funky old coats and hats.

I think that Holly shows a great lesson of life: that you are what you wear, even if it takes you a long time to put together the right ensemble.

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: 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.

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...

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.

Film: Vicki & Norman's Fabulous House

Vicki sings to Norman - with a Barcelona chair in the backgroundIt's funny - during the two years I've been working in the interior design industry, I've started to notice set and production design in film much more than I used to do. When I worked in fashion I pretty much only looked at costumes, but the interiors and mise-en-scene (as we learned in film class) are just as significant. I know that's stating the obvious, but when you spend your whole day looking at furniture, lamps, rugs and accessories, it puts the whole thing into greater perspective.

Tonight I watched Judy Garland in A Star is Born on TCM and absolutely fell in love with Vicki (Judy Garland) and Norman's (James Mason) fabulous house on the beach in Southern California. (To be fair, I should state that every frame of A Star is Born is gorgeous and Judy Garland's performance is just incredible. It kills me that she didn't get the Oscar she deserved for this film.) But, the house that Vicki & Norman share on the breakers of Malibu is truly a luscious example of pitch-perfect mid-century California modern. You see it in detail in the scene when Vicki comes home from the studio and sings "Someone at Last" to her husband Norman before dinner. You know - the scene right before he drops an atom bomb on her Oscar speech? It's a goodie.

The house is spacious, no walls, and utter Southern California in the mid-fifties. Neutral tones, stucco, and pale stone meet hardwood floors in deep acorn, and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Pacific. A geometric mustard-yellow sofa is matched by another in chocolate brown; these are both dressed in casual cushions in fuscia pink, cobalt blue, and deep orange. A geometric-link rug in black and white dresses the main group while leopard and zebra skins serve as throw rugs in other parts of the room. To complete the look, crisp white Barcelona chairs are placed strategically throughout.

The vivid, glamorous room shows the last carefree moments of this film and it's absolutely wonderful, as is the entire picture. Who would have thought that a Judy Garland pic would feature such cool design?

Since I couldn't find a clip showing the "Somone At Last" song, I decided to leave you with the most famous song from A Star is Born which is "The Man That Got Away"... Judy is delish.