Saturday, January 31, 2009

How to Wear It: Vintage Trench

Sitting here in the suburban tundra that is late-January Connecticut has me thinking longingly of spring showers. Trench coat time! Vintage Burberry is as ever the top of the class, but in England, Daks and Aquascutum do wonderful versions, and in the States, London Fog is a reliable standby.

Makers of new-season trenchcoats are forever trying to tweak the formula to bring fashionability to this classic look. Make it short! Make it pink! Make it in crinkly PVC! Whatever. To my mind, this just makes the coat look hopelessly outmoded the following season, and defiles the nature of a utilitarian garment, one meant to be worn for years.

It's so much smarter to get an ungimmicky vintage model. Then, to really make it stylish, make the belt into an ornament. Don't just belt it, for god's sake. Tie it into a pretty bow, as the stylists have done for these ads in American Vogue, for Kiton and Ugg, respectively (I especially love how the Kiton coat is left belted but just open. Worn with monochrome underneath, it's a great way to streamline a full figure).

If you have any trouble tieing a bow, YouTube has countless demo videos to get you started.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Waste Not, Want Not

Do you, like so many of us vintage magpies, have a long rope of faux pearls sitting unworn in a drawer? Because really, how many times can you do a flapper look? Or the classic Chanel pile-up of pearls and gold chains?

Neiman Marcus, bless 'em, has an ad in this month's American Vogue showing a different way to wear a length of pearls (which works equally well atop a clean-lined vintage LBD as it does on the ad's Chanel frock):

Wear the necklace as a belt. Obviously the pearls need to be sturdily knotted, secure of clasp, and long enough to cinch your waist or hips, but what a fine way to get a fresh look from an old (and probably underused) favorite.

A Simple Question

Going backward in the time zones has seen me up since 4:30, lending the opportunity to go back in the decades, to 1943, with Grace Margaret Morton's wonderful textbook, The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance. It's so practical. Here she is on "Cultivating Beauty".

These, then, are the fundamental secrets of charm: scrupulous cleanliness, fine posture and carriage, an attractive voice and manner of speaking, and a pleasant facial expression reflecting inner graces. It is a comforting thought for the many who were born without a large measure of physical beauty that this kind of good looks is within reach of all, and that it is something which the world today recognizes and deeply admires. Without charm, all the lovely clothes money can buy will have little meaning or value.

Here's the question. Today the many of us "born without a large measure of physical beauty" can tackle the situation head on with plastic surgery, teeth whitening, Botox, lipo, and all the other beauty fixes we're told to believe we need to stay apace.

Does this mean bewitching, beguiling, cultivated charm will inevitably become extinct?

You Can Have It In Any Color, As Long As It's . . .

The one piece of inherited antique fashion in my family's possession is a dress that belonged to my great-grandmother, typically Victorian in the wrenlike teeniness of the bodice and its color, ink black.

Why are so many surviving Victorian pieces of this hue? Simple: the wearers were so often in mourning. Most frequently, and poignantly, of a child.

Under certain circumstances, however, death released a woman who had known a lifetime of subordination (to father and then husband) into what must have been a giddy kind of freedom. The merry widow could not, of course, be seen flaunting her new status in unsanctioned color, but convention did afford her the opportunity to splash out on accessories. Shawls rich with embroidery and fringe, fans edged with black lace (less to veil than to provoke), and wonderfully over-the-top, face-framing collars of jet beadwork, feathers, even monkey fur. Widows' weeds--with all the term's connotation of poverty and suffering--these were affirmatively not.

Keyword in "mourning" and "Victorian" onto eBay, and see how Death Became Her.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fleece Footed

Further evidence that Ugg boots are taking over the world:

I saw a woman wearing a pair yesterday. She was halfway up the climbing wall of our local sports center.

Is there nowhere these boots cannot go? This is a trend with serious legs. The scary thing is, I'm starting to like them.

Missing Sequins Can Tell Tales

From the wonderful book Vintage Fashion I've learned a lot of things: one is that not all vintage sequins are created equal. The first version of these light-catching baubles were made of gelatin.

Gelatin sequins were subject to damage readily than their modern plastic counterparts. According to the book, it's possible to find vintage frocks with ghostly handprints where the sequins had been--they had simply melted away under the warmth of the hands of a dance partner.

I can't think of a more romantic way to ruin a dress . . .

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Inside the Atelier at Valentino

I love this photo from the book Valentino: Themes and Variations (click on it to see the details), because it captures how a ravishing object is created from hands, minds and raw material.

Here in the Roman studio are the technicians--the expert seamstresses--consulting over the nearly-completed prototype. Around their necks the sewers wear traditional reticules holding the tools of their trade: scissors, tape, pins. Up on the table is the gown of silk voile, model 184 in the S/S 08 collection. Several layers of its hip-level ruffles have been retracted to afford access to the lower corolla. High intensity lights permit no imprecision in stitchwork or color selection. The floor is littered with fabric scraps, muslin and a heavy-duty iron.

The gown will be worn by at least one great beauty, trained to walk and gesture in a way that showcases its craftsmanship. But for the majority of its existence, the gown will hang, or rest on a mannequin in a museum collection, which seems a necessary shame.

Home truth: it's insanely difficult to bring couture-quality perfection into one's own daily dressing, especially when there's no Valentino in the closet. But the photo does offer some universal lessons. Concentration, a willingness to redo, merciless lighting, a hot iron. These will see you looking good out the door.

John Updike: 1932-2009

"Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better."

They Wear it Well

Nature, as ever, is the most inspiring designer of all . . . check out these regal velvet ribbons, which actually happen to be worms. (from National Geographic's photo of the day)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Quality Details: Smocking

I've long associated smocking with dresses worn by a certain type of Parisian girl: a raven-haired, violet-eyed three-year-old who runs riot around the playground in the Place des Vosges, and emerges docile and immaculate when maman says it's time to go home. Smocking is understated, yet winsome, hence its appeal for monied mothers in leafy old-world neighborhoods.

Smocking's historical use as a decorative element is varied and widespread. At its most basic, it involves gathering fabric into small pleats, then securing these pleats with embroidery stitches. Since the 1940s, smocking machines have enabled commercial manufacture of these garments; formerly the work was done by hand.

Here is a wonderful example of hand-done smocking, on a silk chiffon blouse worn by my husband's Greek grandmother for special occasions--mainly feast days and dances in her village near Sparta. The blouse, which dates to the 1920s, was made in Athens, denoting a garment of especially high quality.

From the Spartan plain to the cobbled streets of Antwerp, this is Dries Van Noten's take on smocking. Typical of his early direction, the garment is a minimalist masterpiece--an ivory cotton frock coat that would not be out of place in a laboratory, save for the pleats, gathers, and stitches adding texture in a band around the waist. You have to squint to see it, but the resulting texture is almost organic, like bark.

The Dries coat came from Oxfam, by the way. As is the case in any secondhand shop, it pays to squint at the details.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Not Necessarily Fashion News

According to the style section of The New York Times: men in skirts merits a headline.

Please. Tell it to Marcus Aurelius. And the Scots Highlanders. The priests. And that guy I saw in the Centre Pompidou eight years ago, who looked so great in a calf-length black skirt and brogues.

It seems archaic that anyone living in a liberal society could get excited about whether or not fabric is partitioning the legs.

Now, if Marc Jacobs showed a truly contentious piece of clothing, like whale pants, that, my friends, would be newsworthy.

Wrapped in a Boa

Another striking piece from the Byzantium show (see also below). This 5th-century Roman ivory depicts not Eve (as you might imagine from the serpent) but Hygieia, daughter of Asklepios. These figures were worshipped by the ancients as healing demigods (and today the snake persists as a symbol of medicine when entwined around a staff).

Still . . . there's something not entirely hygienic about the way Hygieia's slithery friend is draped. All the more so in the Christian version, when the snake's Garden of Eden cousin is shown adorning Eve. The message is unmistakable. Behold temptation: a girl who cannot resist.

In fashion terms, over the millennia, the reptilian boa evolved into a feathery one, but the message is unchanged. Here's Sophia Loren, working one to the hilt . . .

It's a bit tragic, isn't it, that feather boas have been largely relegated to the Halloween/Mardi Gras/Valentine's-Day-if-You're-Lucky aisles of the costume department, because really, they're great. The downy waft around the neck captivates the eye of the beholder, adding a high-voltage glam factor to a simple LBD. 

One way to revive a boa and make it wearably modern: loose the excess by clipping it down to collar length. Toulouse-Lautrec shows how it's done here (ignore the absinthe-crazed model). 

Here's mine, an ostrich-feather version that hooks at the neck. Try a boa on this way, and see how it charms.

Ain't Got No Body Chain

Spent a great afternoon yesterday at the Royal Academy of Arts' Byzantium 330-1453 exhibition. Two of the most glorious items in galleries filled with the riches were the gold body chains. What's a body chain? I didn't know either, and now I wonder why this seductive style has not survived to the present day. 

Unfortunately the scan doesn't show precisely how it sits, but imagine the piece creating an X on the body front and back, with the top chains passing over the shoulders and the lower chains underneath the arms, connecting at the back with a catch. The jeweled central junction, here holding an amethyst and surrounding garnets, would sit at sternum level. 

How cool is this? The only cognates I could find were Pancho Villa's crossed bandoliers (equally eye-catching for different reasons) and some cheapy-cheap diamante body harnesses, the sort of thing that the hired entertainer might wear at a certain kind of bachelor party. 

The style deserves a more discerning audience. Women of all shapes could rock the links off a heavy gold version like the Byzantine one above, with a black or bronze jersey column dress or even a dead-simple white sleeveless t-shirt. The look? Totally Gallo-Roman chic.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Why I Love Ebay, Part 2

It's not often that fashion leaves me gobsmacked, as the Brits so charmingly say. But get this. People who know costume history have usually heard of paper dresses: disposable, fluttery, A-line sheaths that emerged as a brief but surprisingly popular fad in the late 1960s. You see them in museum collections, for sale in retro shops, and occasionally up on eBay.

I did some digging and learned quite a bit. According to Samantha Marcelo's fantastic article on the history of the paper dress, all sorts of varieties were introduced after the initial basic model proved such a strong seller. 

In a stroke of genius, one company even embedded seeds in the fabric. You watered it, they sprouted, and presto, you become a mobile Chia pet.  

Fashion designers: get busy. This is one revival that's long overdue. 

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Quality Details: Pattern Matching

In my books I describe how a garment's details tell so much more about innate quality than the name on the label. Now, the name on this garment's label is pretty good--Yves Saint Laurent--and this particular detail shows why his fame is warranted.

This is a silk bolero from the winter '90 Rive Gauche line. Let's take a look at its pattern matching. This means how carefully the person who sewed it matched up the fabric's printed, or in this case, woven, motifs across openings and seam lines. Doing this accurately takes time and requires careful cutting and piecing of the fabric: top-down perfectionism from the design concept to its realization by a skilled sewing machine operator. 

Here we see the front opening of the jacket. Note how the floral and leaf elements link up perfectly. It's the kind of detail most people don't notice, but you should, if you want to train your eye to find the best vintage going.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Case of the Lace Overcoat

I really wanted an excuse to run this picture of Michelle's coat fabric up close. But it does give rise to a question. Why, on a freezing cold day, would "Swiss wool lace" be a rational outerwear option (even when this particular lace fabric has been backed by silk net and lined with even more silk, a natural insulator)? The nature of lace: it has holes. Holes=more cold, no?

Actually, no. Consider the traditional granny shawl--crocheted of wool, full of empty spaces. Yet the style has endured for ages. It's because all these empty spaces in fact act as pockets, trapping air. This air gets warmed from within, by the body, and, on a brilliant sunny day like we saw in Washington yesterday, from without as well. Paradoxically, this particular type of holey fabric is cozy warm. As our grannies of course knew. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"These things are old. These things are true."
--President Barack Obama, January 20, 2009

Long Gloves: Hide and Seek

I'm captivated by this image, a 1952 advertisement by Rene Gruau for Crecendoe Gloves, printed in fashion illustrator David Downton's wonderful journal, Pourquoi Pas?

Why have we stopped wearing gloves as a fashion accessory, apart from when temperatures dip? Their allure is twofold: they make the arm and hand into a calligraphic instrument of gesture and pose. Even more critically, they come off. Burlesque queens have forever played upon the seductive potential of drawing this garment from the fingers, hand, wrist, forearm. The message is there, implicitly, even while they're still on.

Elbow-length gloves are fantastic with sleeveless gowns and dresses, and they're so easy to find at vintage sources. Just be sure to know your glove size, and buy accordingly, because, like vintage shoes, they frequently run small.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Stealth Brands: Jacqmar

If you're a fan of vintage scarves, you're likely to know Jacqmar. If you're not, but love beautiful things, it's a name worth knowing: a London company founded in the late 1930s, originally as a supplier of fine silks to the Paris couture houses. The directors realized that there was profit to be made with the offcuts, and so began their sideline in scarves. This branch of the company soon gained fame for its printed squares -- especially the wonderfully, wildly creative propaganda themes produced during WWII.

The company carried on through the 50s, 60s and 70s with less partisan florals, geometrics, and scenic renderings, but the flair in the design and the quality of the printing remained hallmarks.

I spotted this one this past Saturday, balled up in a basket at our neighborhood antique vendor's usual spot. Jade-green ground, silk, handrolled edges. "A pound, love," she told me, the price.

Now pressed, its apple blossoms and rhododendrons in glorious Kyoto-esque bloom, the scarf is a fine harbinger of spring.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Fashion Icons: Grace Margaret Morton

OK, I'm in raptures because the postman just delivered my copy of Grace Margaret Morton's The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance, a 1964 textbook from the head of the University of Nebraska's Textiles and Clothing Division.

It smells like an old textbook, sweet and musty, and it has only one color plate (of the Munsen Color Diagram), but my god what wisdom it holds--in parts bygone, in other parts absolutely right for right now. "Contemporary costume," she writes, "must be carefully assembled: the right hat with the right dress, harmonizing gloves and shoes, and some tellingly effective ornament not at once noticed, but when noticed, not easily forgotten." Chapter headings like "Self-Made Beauty," "The Art of Combining Colors"; a glossary (including a definition for skunk = A very durable, bulky, coarse, dark-brown peltry with two white stripes [!!] . . . For slim or average figures.)

Love this quote from the introduction: "When women have cultivated the inner graces and have made themselves outwardly as pleasing as possible, their minds are freed for more productive pursuits." Preach it, Margaret.

Here's a typical illustration. Of course the model's killer cheekbones help, but isn't the gently domed pillbox just perfect with the lines of the suit . . . 

Fashion Surgery: Mending Torn Lace

As much as I love Google, sometimes it promises more than it delivers. In preparing this entry on how to restore the lace sleeve of a vintage dress, I wanted some backup, so I did a search on the subject. One result looked promising, on How do I repair torn lace on an evening gown? Here, the sole answer provided: "probably sew it yourself or ask a professional to sew it back on or just buy another one."

I ask you. What kind of an answer is that? Why even bother? Why hedge with "probably", since it is absolutely comprehensive in its lack of helpful advice?

Anyway. Here's what I did, to the delicate Argentan lace sleeve of a vintage Hardy Amies cocktail dress.

Arms and shoulders of lace dresses are especially prone to tears. The wearer may have been ever so careful getting in at the beginning of the evening, but toward the end, getting out, other priorities may have resulted in a rushed exit, and consequent rips.

Vintage buyers should be aware that tears such as these are easy to miss, especially when buying on the basis of scans. Always ask specifically about flaws in lacework before purchase. The main issue in repairing lace fabric is seeing the damage accurately. You need to put something underneath it to heighten the contrast--a white background for black lace, or black with white. I made an arm-diameter tube with thin dry-cleaners cardboard and tape, then covered it with a couple of my husband's white tube socks (he doesn't know this). 

The tube, slipped into the sleeve, made a workable mount to pin the lace to. Then, using fine black thread, I bridged the gaps in the net with a series of loose stitches roughly imitating a spider's web (rather than a straight line of them, which would have resulted in a visible scar). The mend isn't perfect but it's good enough to minimize the large gaps; plus reinforcing the lace in this way will keep it from tearing further.  

Now that it's back in form I can't wait to wear this dress to a nice cocktail party. But no matter what, I'll take care getting out of it once the party is over. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Dashing History of the Fighting White Scarf

My friend Matthew Cobb's book The Resistance: The French Fight Against the Nazis, is due out later this year. I asked him whether it contained anything on clothing. He obliged with this description of the maquis--bands of resistance fighters working in the countryside, here under the leadership of Georges Guingouin . . .

Hiding out in the woods might have been fun in the height of the summer, but in the cold and wet of winter it became more difficult, and far more dangerous. The maquis needed to be safe – bare trees and snow made the men more visible – and they needed to be warm . . . Guingouin equipped his men with a winter uniform – leather jacket, sheepskin gilet, green trousers, thick socks, white scarf and helmet. Like all the maquis leaders, Guingouin wanted his men to be disciplined – giving them a uniform not only strengthened their feelings of solidarity, it also reinforced the popular impression of the maquis as a serious military force. 

What interests me here is the white scarf. This is a piece of kit most commonly associated with WWII aviators . . . dashingly worn by pilots looped around the neck, above a leather jacket. According to the wonderful men's vintage website The Fedora Lounge, the scarf was not just decorative but functional. Pilots were constantly swiveling their heads to scan for incoming foes. The scarf, typically silk, prevented chafing against the wool sweater and leather collar. 

Given the incredible bravery of these pilots and rebel fighters, it's unlikely that the gallant white strips would have been used with any frequency to signify surrender. But if you choose to wear one, it might, under certain circumstances, be an interesting option . . .

How to Shop If You Still Have a Helicopter Out Back

"For the modern consumer the placement of a perfect seam or an immaculately-sculpted collar is more awe-inspiring and authentic than any logo." --  from an article in today's Telegraph about the demise of in-your-face status dressing. No more Cavalli for you, missy! Lay off that Swarovski crystal!

The piece goes on to recommend buying deluxe brands like Chanel, Hermes, Jil Sander, Martin Margiela, Bottega Veneta . . .

[If, like so many Telegraph readers, you have a wardrobe budget topping five thou per season.] 

A humble alternative: look for classic vintage labels of equally high design quality: collection Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass, Branell, Larry Aldrich, Cathy Hardwick, and others. On eBay and at online vintage sellers, they are priced within the budgets of Ladies who Lunch At their Desk.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Trends I Won't Be Wearing, S/S '09

I'm giving a talk tomorrow to a women's group on how to dress for daily life, so was delighted to find that this month's British Vogue features an article on women who wear the same uniform, daily, as part of their job. It's a great piece, sharply written by Alex Bilmes and superbly photographed by David Bailey. I especially loved the first paragraph:

Clothes, as we know, are more than mere slipcases for our bodies. Fashion allows freedom of expression, and most of us have the right to exercise that freedom however we choose. What we wear, the way we choose to present ourselves, gives off a series of complicated codified signals. Clothes make us feel a certain way, and they make other people feel a certain way about us. Most importantly perhaps, we use clothes to demonstrate our individuality. What you wear is who you are.

All the more jarring then, is Vogue's Catwalk Report for Spring/Summer '09, illustrating the major trends for the next season. Direct quotes are in italics:

Exposure: Designers play with contrast, crafting sensual see-through fabrics into buttoned up blouses and demure dresses [illustrated with frocks you could read the phone book through]

Skyscraper Heels: Spring's shoes are real works of art, bedecked in ribbons and feathers, beads, metallic ruffles and sharp studs. This season's styles are extreme [translation: plaster casts forecast for Autumn/Winter '09]

Exotic Eyewear: Maverick designs are key. Crystal-encrusted geek frames, small goggles and futuristic visors cast no uncertain style shadow. [the word 'maverick' justifiably sets off alarm bells here]

In brief, the trends could not be more out of touch with reality. And it's not only the economic climate, dire as that is. It's the geographic climate as well. In the land where these see-through, 5-inch-heel, visored sunglassed looks are worn, it never, ever rains. For British fashion lovers especially, that is the ultimate fantasy.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Bass Ackwards

This just in from Wallpaper magazine, from their roundup of the worst designs of last year. The chairs, say their designer, were inspired by Adam and Eve, before the fig leaf became the original Fall must-have.

I wouldn't want them in my living room but . . . . wouldn't it be great if some ballsy designer used them as seating for his front row . . .

Heads Up!

So excited. My antique dolly head arrived from North Dakota yesterday. What's a dolly head? A skull-shaped support used in hatmaking. Being made of wood, it is much less likely to complain about stitching and steaming than a human model would.

I won't be making hats anytime soon but want to learn how to restore them--especially non-critical cases in which they've lost their shape due to poor storage. I have a wonderful Schiaparelli cloche in just such a state, and will be blogging on its restoration shortly.

In the meantime, here's what a dolly head looks like in situ, in a shot from the forthcoming film biography of Coco Chanel. (doesn't Audrey Tatou look great!).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Real Men Don't Wear Knickers

It may be apparent from occasional oddities of spelling or expression that I'm writing this blog in two different languages--American and British English. I was born in the USA, but have lived in London for so long now that my writing has started to go native. All the same, key differences in vocabulary still cause occasional stumbles. 

Example: I was off to see a client after my son's violin lesson. I mentioned to his teacher, a plain-speaking Englishwoman, that I did closet consultation. Her reply: "what, does that involve toilets or something?" 

Other examples of British/American fashion terms separated by a common language:

Pants. In British English, these are strictly men's underpants. Also, a term of derision: "Mate, the Madonna concert was pants."

Vest. In British English, this is a sleeveless top, usually worn as underwear.

Waistcoat. Pronounced--insanely--"weskit," this is what Americans call a vest.

Pumps. These are American sneakers, more like Keds than Pumas.

Court shoes. What Yanks call pumps.

Tights. What Americans call pantihose.

Stockings. What Americans call tights.

Pop socks. In American English, knee-highs. The entire hosiery department is a minefield, I tell you.

Swimming costume ("cozzie"). This, in American, is bathing suit. If "swimming costume" sounds strange to you, take a moment to think about "bathing suit" and how weirdly Victorian that one is. 

Purse. For a Brit, this is a mere wallet, not a full-blown handbag, capacious enough to carry an Olsen twin.

Fanny. The British word for a lady's Lady Region. Why Brits crack up when tourists refer to their "fanny pack."

Mac. Neither a burger nor a computer, this is a (oft-needed) raincoat.

Blouse: In Brit, this means an exceedlingly froufrou blouse. Otherwise it's a shirt. A "big girl's blouse" is a man who is notably wimpy.

If anyone could explain this last one to me I will provide an hour of toilet consultation free of charge.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Rosamond Bernier, Fashion Icon

I had the privilege of hearing this great editor (for Vogue, in Paris), publisher (of L'OEIL, a fabled review of the arts), and finally lecturer (for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) in the late '80s. No matter what her subject, she was effervescent and marvelously informed. And more to the point, dressed to hilt in a designer gown and jewelry that was not so much statement as exclamation.

Here she is in a brief excerpt from her last lecture at the Met, dropping names like there's no tomorrow, but what names! Carmel Snow, Oscar de la Renta, Fernand Leger, Balenciaga . . . plus a bonus tip on how to get haute couture at a bargain price.

The lesson for us mortals? I'm convinced her necklace is a two-parter; the triple strand of pearls with a huge brooch pinned on, to add that extra bit of oomph Bernier loved. If, like me, you can't get enough of her, also have a look at her YouTube video for Yoox, the online fashion retailer, in which she gives a masterclass in more subtle accessorizing.

Note the chiffon scarf softly looped at the neck, toned in to match the jacket, and the two brooches just south of her left shoulder . . . 

How to Wear It: Antique Brooch, II

Whoops! Maybe not exactly like that. But I love the idea of wearing a glittery brooch at the waistline, as Brooke Shields does with a bit more decorum below:

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Why I love eBay, Part 1

As I told my husband just the other day, I can run like a rat through eBay, keywording into all sorts of nooks and crannies in pursuit of beautiful fashion relics. Just as in a charity shop, it's necessary to get past binloads of lackluster merchandise before discovering anything truly worthwhile. Over the years I've become inured and whip past the rubbish without a backward glance.

But every so often appears an item so ill-favored it gives me pause. Today's example: the vintage pair of junior lederhosen, "lovingly worn."

I'm of German descent and so am familiar with this type of suspendered leather shorts--my poor brother was forced to wear them on a few occasions when my parents were going through a heritage phase. His were new. Why on earth anyone would bid on a pair of dirty, stiff, beat-to-death ones (as the seller helpfully points out, "as evidenced by the butt patch") is beyond me. But curiosity has gotten the better of me. I am indeed watching it now.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Stealth Brands: Launer

What is a stealth brand? One that has a fantastic pedigree in terms of history, quality, tradition--but doesn't trumpet itself through massive advertising campaigns. In recent years, many of these fashion stalwarts have been drawn into mega-luxury folds and repurposed into hip names (most dramatically, Lanvin). A fine few, however, remain in the shadows.

One great British example is Launer. Unknown or summarily dismissed by many fashion insiders, it holds the royal warrant for small leather goods -- in other words, it's Queen Elizabeth's go-to purveyor of handbags and wallets. Admittedly these are not It Bags in size or silhouette, but their craftsmanship is unimpeachable. In 1991, the Queen spent what must have been an atypically AbFab afternoon at the company's factory in Birmingham, meeting the people who assemble the items and learning more about the company history (it was founded by a Czech immigrant over 60 years ago, and has manufactured for such stellar names as Mappin & Webb and Asprey before establishing itself as an independent brand).

The point: stealth brands show up with some frequency in the secondhand market and are invariably undervalued. This Launer purse recently came up for auction on eBay and I got it for $6 (they retail new for £135/$196).

It looked a bit banged up in the scan, but fine leather can usually be restored to good condition. A bit of neutral Kiwi shoe polish (the real kind, in the metal can), some diligent buffing, and presto. A beautiful wallet I'm so happy to carry--and handle. Good leather, with a bit of life on it, has such a lovely velvety feel in the hand. More on stealth brands to come.