Influences: Silent Cinema

John Galliano Menswear, Spring 2011A shuffling, bumbling, mustachioed prankster in a too-tight hat and jacket, and too-big pants and shoes – we all know him because Charlie Chaplin’s dandified hobo is part of our visual lexicon. A genius character for sure, but The Little Tramp as fashion icon? Only the talent of John Galliano could make this work. Galliano’s menswear collection runway for spring 2011 was filled with facsimiles of The Tramp, as well as nods to another silent cinema great: Buster Keaton, including his famous porkpie hat. Another influence on the collection was Visconti’s Death in Venice, set around the same time as the silent cinema era. Somehow, the threads of each of these were drawn together in a dandified version of modern menswear.

Galliano’s choice to create a collection based on these influences is the most interesting part.

In a motif surely borrowed from Chaplin’s final silent film, Modern Times, the models emerged fromthe shadowy gears of a large clock. Released in 1936, and known as the final film of Chaplin’s Little Tramp, Modern Times is a timeless commentary on the battle between man and machine. Chaplin never intended his iconic character to transition into “talkies”, so he instead walks off toward an unknown horizon at the very end. Historically, the film marks the end of the silent era and the beginning of modern Hollywood.

Poster for Modern Times, 1936

Meanwhile, Death in Venice considers a similar theme, depending upon your perspective. For me, I have always thought that Aschenbach’s obsession with Tadzio was not lustful, but merely a metaphor for a love of beauty. Tadzio’s youth, grace, athleticism and handsomeness are all on the brink of manhood; Aschenbach knows he is doomed to die before these will come into maturity. As the composer has already lost everything he holds dear, this one shining point of purity seems to be everything for him. Set on the Lido of Venice – the world’s most famous “dead city” – the entire story is told during that delicate time between the Belle Époque and the modern 20th Century. (Although these motifs are much more abstract in Thomas Mann’s novella, Visconti’s film interpretation is exquisitely detailed perfection.)

Dirk Bogarde in Visconti's Death in Venice, 1971

So why does Galliano seem to think that we’re at the end of an era? Is classic menswear meeting its doom? Despite this premonition, or maybe because of it, the designer presented classic suits and sportswear, but with unique quirks throughout. Indeed, the designer claimed he wanted to play with the proportions of menswear, turning the usual notions of fit and tailoring literally upside down. The “old fashioned” cuts were refreshed with an unorthodox mixing of pieces and layers, pulled together by buttons and straps. The Tramp’s baggy pants alternated with slim trousers, either straight to the ankle or cuffed just above it. The palette of greys, deep blues, blacks, creams, and whites was punctuated by a few checks and stripes – reinforcing the look of old film.

John Galliano Menswear, Spring 2011

While these ensembles may not make sense at first glance, Galliano is offering a concise collection of wearable separates that will fit seamlessly into a man’s wardrobe. Once the matinee idol makeup is gone, one sees that the lines are simple and the fit is clean. Once again, Galliano's theatricality creates a point, but his design provides the function.

So perhaps this show was just an elaborate way of Galliano to move ahead while looking backward? Or is the designer sounding a death knell for menswear as we know it? What do you think?

Runway images by Marcio Madeira, Style.com.

Bang Envy - Astrud Gilberto

Oh Astrud...! Her naive lilting voice has served as the gateway drug for so many intense jazz addictions. The kind that commence around the third year of college over cheap bottles of wine, and alternating pulls between the bong and the pack of Camel Lights. Somewhere, late at night, between Led Zeppelin II and Kind of Blue comes Getz/Gilberto or Beach Samba. At that moment the only thing that holds you steady in the smoky darkness are the many colorful mosaic glow candles and the voice of Astrud Gilberto.

Born in Bahia and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Astrud Weinert married musician João Gilberto, the "Father of Bossa Nova", in 1959. In 1964, his shy young wife was unexpectedly prompted to sing "The Girl from Ipanema" during a recoring of the seminal Bossa Nova album, Getz/Gilberto, an album which featured not only the Gilbertos, but also Antonio Carlos Jobim and Stan Getz. This airy single went on to become an internation hit, reaching #5 in the United States and charting highly throughout the world. This song, as well as her version of "Corcovado" on the same album made Astrud Gilberto a household name and launched her career as a vocalist.

Astrud Gilberto and husband João Gilberto.

Singing with Stan Getz (left) in the mid-1960s.

During her early days as a star, Astrud Gilberto had a very wholesome, coiffed look. Her simple shyness seems to come through in the smooth, sweet hairstyles of bouffants and flips. After the Gilbertos emigrated to the United States, the couple became estranged; while the reasons are unclear, it is believed to be due to João Gilberto's increasing drug use and Astrud Gilberto's romantic affair with musician Stan Getz.

After the Gilbertos divorced and her own career began to grow, Astrud Gilberto's sweet style gave way to a sensual sexiness in her style and imagery. The well-coiffed 'dos became windblown, beachy, and adorably unkempt - a look that was perfectly in tune with the late-1960s hippie vibe.

The image that became the cover for Astrud Gilberto's Beach Samba album.

The Girl from Ipanema: Sexified

Astrud Gilberto continues to write, record, and perform music today. She lives in the United States, choosing a very private, reclusive life out of the media glare, and never gives interviews.  But her fans are legion and continue to grow. Long live the Girl from Ipanema!

The Great Shoe Wake

I died for beauty, but was scarce

Adjusted in the tomb,

When one who died for truth was lain

In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?

"For beauty," I replied.

"And I for truth, -the two are one;

We brethren are," he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a night,

We talked between the rooms,

Until the moss had reached our lips,

And covered up our names.

- Emily Dickinson, 1862

I've been planning this funeral for months, years actually. Everything short of wreaths of roses and readings from the Psalms. If I had hardwood floors instead of carpeting I'd be pouring my shot of whiskey right out in honor of my fallen heroes - all six of them, in fact. To be fair, not all of these heroes are entirely fallen. Some are merely in ICU or in desperate need of hospice care just to manage the pain a bit. Is it their pain, or mine? I wonder.

I suppose I should tell you what I'm talking about here: shoes. Very beautiful, expensive, adored, and in another time frequently worn, shoes. Back when I worked in the luxury fashion industry I gathered together quite a collection. I'm not one of those people that builds a collection and then hordes it for myself alone; no, I share it with the world and display my affection (and appreciation) openly. Thus, these shoes have served me well and are now very close to death, if not entirely dead.

In all honesty, some of these do have some life left in them but I am concerned that if they emerge from the cryogenic stasis of my closet that they will disintegrate once they hit pavement. So what to do? How do you honor the life of a much-loved, once-luxurious set of footwear? Do you bury them in the shoe cemetary, burn them and scatter the ashes above Union Square, or perhaps commit sati upon their blazing pyre? I have no idea. But before I do anything, I think I should give them a mention here...

The Lou-Boos above are my very first pair from that illustrious house, and unfortunately I never wear them. This despite the fact that the style was on an episode of Sex and the City back in the day. (One of the few when Carrie was in Paris with Baryshnikov - can you imagine those stilettos on cobblestones? Me neither.) They're about a half-size too big for me and even with the anti-skid sole they are always precarious on the foot - like any second they could potentially go flying and impale the handsome head of a gentleman caller. This looseness makes them more than a little uncomfortable, and while I lament giving them up, I'm afraid they are just using up precious closet space.

These gold Celine sandals are likewise mere space-suckers in the armoire. Glittering, Grecian, shapely, sexy, and strapping, these shoes always garner compliments galore. This is a good thing that my toes appreciate because they hurt like the dickens when worn. Dickens? More like having a pair of rubber bands around your foot just below the arches, cutting off the blood-flow. Despite only having worn these all of three times, the insoles are completely unglued, rippled, and serve as a useles layer on an ultra-thin lower sole. I've been dying to throw these away, but my heart collapses at the thought of putting anything named Celine in the garbage.

Back around 2004-2005 chunky heels were in style and I definitely participated in this trend. Enter the next two pairs: a Mini-Damier Mary Jane and Mini-Monogram Cerise Pump, both by Louis Vuitton. I cannot tell you how much I adored these two in their time. The Mary Janes' straps are connected by small pieces of elastic which are now so overstretched that they could snap at any moment. Meanwhile, the pumps are scuffed, scratched, and stained with the residual damage of many many adventures, at play and at work. Both pairs are as loose as bedroom slippers (even with the heels) but are now beyond wearable. They're just embarassing. As far as disposal goes, these two are my Velveteen Rabbits.

Another oddity is this ultra-fabulous pair from Marc by Marc Jacobs. Entranced by their colorful polka-dots I had to have them so badly that I paid full-price for them, around $250, which was a LOT of money for me back then. (Hey, who am I kidding, it still is!) It wasn't until after I'd purchased them that I found that they were also in an episode of Sex and the City, but I can't remember which one. Retro, fun, and sexy, I still love the compliments I get on these shoes. They're still in really good shape, outwardly, but inwardly there's a few little issues. Okay, so I snapped one of the heels at one time; you wouldn't know it but for the six-odd angry-looking nailheads that the shoe repair drove right through the instep. I would have forgotten this myself if that shoe still had its insole, but it doesn't. They're also barely comfortable after about an hour, so they too go unworn.

Finally, remarks for the best pair of kitten heels that ever came out of the House of Dior. A saucy mini heel and a long pointy shape are paired with lush black leather, making these versatile and easy to wear. At least that used to be the case. The little "Dior" metal embellishment on the right shoe has come unhinged on one side so it starts to swing around as I walk. The overall condition is good though, but these too feel more like slippers than shoes and tend to flop on my feet. They've been re-soled and re-heeled umpteen times, but they're so lovely and adorable! It breaks my soul to conceive of stuffing these kittens into their dust bag and drowning them.

Has anyone else faced a similar predicament? How does one dispose of no-longer-wearable designer fashion? It cannot be restored or recycled or given away at this point, and belive me, no museum would want them. Apart from a sacrifice on the altar of fashion, I'm not sure what to do. Plus, I'm not sure the Gods would care - they aren't virgins after all!

Here's a drink to all my shoes, past, present, and future...

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.

Influences: Bauhaus

Givenchy Fall 2010

Even more interesting than the presence of the Arts & Crafts movement on the runways for Fall 2010, is the presence of one of its contemporary aesthetic movements: Bauhaus. Long a favorite and familiar influence across all tenets of design, The Bauhaus has been seducing fashion designers for decades. Most notably (to call out the obvious) in 1965 with Yves Saint Laurent's Mondrian collection. So what more is there to say in 2010?

Meaning "House of Building", The Bauhaus was a German design school that pursued a unification of art, craft, and technology just after World War I.

Founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany in 1919, the school drew parallels to the Arts & Crafts Movement, expanding on William Morris' adage that "form follows function". It differed from Arts & Crafts however, in that The Bauhaus considered the machine to be a positive element, making industrial and product design important parts of the school. Likewise, the aesthetic of The Bauhaus style (also known as The International Style,) was a complete departure from that of Arts & Crafts; here the stylized details and natural materials gave way to clean lines and a complete absence of ornamentation.

Two designers on the Fall 2010 runways claimed influences drawn from The Bauhaus: Donna Karan for DKNY and Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy. Done in different ways, both designers have created crisp, modern collections that seem to celebrate The Bauhaus in its efficiency and practicality.

DKNY Fall 2010. Images from Style.com

DKNY utilized warm neutral shades and colorblocking to showcase The Bauhaus influence, creating glamorous and breezy pieces that look very wearable for all types of bodies. True, colorblocking in fashion is not new especially not colorblocked dresses with tendencies toward Mondrian. However this group looks sufficiently refreshed and kicky for this year's party girl.

(As a side note, I want to mention that Piet Mondrian was not, in fact, a "Bauhaus" artist per se. He did lecture at The Bauhaus, but his own artistic theory was Neo-Plasticism, more commonly known as the Dutch artistic movement of De Stijl - a contemporary of The Bauhaus.)

Givenchy Fall 2010. Images from Style.com

The collection offered by Givenchy turned up the Mondrian element even more with a stark mix of black, white, and bright red throughout. Riccardo Tisci specifically cited the Bauhaus palette, characterized by neutral grounds with pops of primaries, as his inspiration. While I didn't care for this interpreted in Fair Isle knits and oddly-cut lace, I believe the collection held together best when the strong colors were paired with strong, architectural silhouettes.

While The Bauhaus' influence on Fall 2010 isn't nearly as whimsical and lush as the influence of the Arts & Crafts movement, it does offer some interesting ideas. Perhaps in our world of fast fashion and new media we can incorporate more art and craftsmanship? I'm not sure what the exact lesson is, or why designers have come back to The Bauhaus again for this year.

It is ironic though, that The Bauhaus school never provided design history courses to its students. It was thought that everything should be designed according to principles rather than precedent.

Influences: Arts & Crafts

Detail from Anna Sui Fall 2010 with Rycroft Tile necklaceFashion, like art, repeats itself over and over. A cultural thermometer of sorts, the fashion world reflects and responds to the social climate faster than any other produced consumable product. Designers reflect our own fears and uncertainties and mix these with a heady cocktail of beauty, luxury, and desire.

It’s clear that with the current economic and social outlook, the era of bling and the gaudy counterfeit it created have faded away (thankfully). In its place there seems to be an inherent appreciation of craftsmanship and creativity. At its most obvious, this appreciation is found in the collections of Anna Sui and Duro Olowu, both of whom found inspiration in the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th & early 20th Centuries.

A reaction against the Victorian era’s penchant for “reviving” historical styles and the soulless production of the Industrial Revolution, the Arts & Crafts Movement sought artistic reform, both in its process and product. Aesthetically, the movement sought simplicity of form without superfluous decoration, often exposing the construction of an item. As many of the studios were in rural areas, Arts and Crafts motifs were inspired by the flora and fauna found out of doors.  Seeking an “equality of arts”, the movement revived traditional crafts, and created the role of the “master craftsman” at the heart of production and design. Ironically, by placing greater importance on handicraft, the resulting products were too expensive to be purchased by anyone but the very rich.

Anna Sui Fall 2010. Images from Style.com.

Perhaps designers’ looking to this era and design philosophy portends a resurgence of true luxury goods? I doubt that this idealism will trickle down to the Canal Street shoppers, but it’s nice to know that it’s there.

“If you cannot learn to love real art at least learn to hate sham art.” – William Morris

For her part, Anna Sui took her inspiration in the design motifs and crafts of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Citing the artistic furniture of Charles Rohlfs, her Fall collection was adorned in architectural, but colorful, floral prints and geometrics. Small Roycroft tiles mixed with natural wood to create simple necklaces, all designed by Erickson Beamon. The result was classic Anna Sui hippy girl, but with a dash of sophisticated craft.

Duro Olowu Fall 2010. Images from Style.com.

With a more modern take, Duro Olowu drew inspiration from Hidcote Manor, home of England’s great Arts & Crafts garden, which is now part of the British National Trust. Hidcote’s lavish topiaries and outdoor rooms led to cozy knitwear, mod geometrics, and just a whiff of floral print. 

I realize that these are but two designers among hundreds, and while fashion is always looking to the aesthetic movements of the past, I found it interesting that the Arts & Crafts Movement in particular found its way onto the runways at just this time. Going by the fashion thermometer, it seems we need more simple luxury, beauty, and craftsmanship in our lives. What do you think?

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.

Bang Envy - Elsa Martinelli

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Sing the Blogger Electric, Part Deux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image from William Klein, Barbara Plus Coffee Filter.

Bang Envy - Anita Pallenberg

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

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

Brian Jones & Anita Pallenberg

Pallenberg with Keith RichardsPallenberg & Richards

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

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

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

As The Great Tyrant in Barbarella

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

TV: The Look of SyFy's "Alice"

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

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

Alice meets Mad March and the 10 of Clubs

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

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

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

Alice and Jack visit The Caterpillar

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

Bang Envy - Monica Vitti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film: Dance Dress Made in Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bang Envy - Jean Shrimpton

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

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

"Shrimp & Stamp" Jean Shrimpton with Terrence Stamp

Film: A Thing of Beauty

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

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

Fanny's room in Bright Star

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

     Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

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

To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,

     And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

        To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

     With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

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

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

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

Bang Envy - Françoise Hardy

I have serious bang envy. I have bangs cut into my straight hair, but they just never seem quite right. Every hip girl with bangs that I see sets off a sad envy inside of me, beggin the question: why don't my bangs do THAT?

With this in mind, Françoise Hardy (an orignal bang-girl)'s Tous Les Garcons et Les Filles just played on my stereo, and I decided to go back and check out the bangs that have launched a thousand haircuts...even 40 years later.

This odd little video of the song is really well done. It's perfectly French: a little melancholy, a little racy, and a little romantic all at the same time. The motion of the rides is perfectly suited to the rhythm of the song - no accident, surely - and the whole thing looks like something Sofia Coppola could have shot yesterday... And then there's the bangs. J'adore!

 

J. Crew Fall Catalog Theatre!

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

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

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