Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Just Daft

Every once in a while a fashion ad comes along that's so ridiculous I simply can't leave it alone. What's wrong with the Stella McCartney shot above?

a) The model is sitting in a PATCH OF NETTLES (click to see).
b) The bark on the tree will snag that beautiful chantilly lace to tatters.
c) The fox, Blossom the skunk, the little birdie, and the owl are all carnivores--which runs counter to McCartney's vegetarian principles.
4) An utterly beautiful photograph has been invaded and rendered illegible by kitsch cartoon squatters.

Who thought this was a good idea?

Good Thing She Never Wore The Mushroom: Madeleine Albright's Brooch Diplomacy

There's a great piece in the Daily Beast today about former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who liked to wear brooches that signalled the mood of the US toward the country of an envoy she was meeting.

Hornets, spiders, snakes: the possibilities of indicating displeasure are endless.

And what if you wanted to send the opposite sort of signal to a gentleman you wished to treat with?

I happen to love the mixed message in this vintage bacchante brooch, up for sale on eBay. She looks very primly Victorian, but those grape leaves wound in her hair tell another tale indeed.

What sort of brooch would you be wearing today?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Points Taken: Fresh Ways To Work a Collar

Does this ever happen to you? You see a wonderfully stylish lady on the street who, with a simple and inventive twist on a time-tested look, suddenly inspires you to reimagine your own clothes in wonderful new ways.

This happened to me this morning, while reading my daily feed of The Sartorialist. If you don't know this blog, jump on it. Scott Schuman takes photos of wonderfully stylish, non-celebrity, multifarious people on the streets of New York, Paris, Rome, Milan. Critically, nobody has dressed them: no celebrity stylists nor Vogue-calibre visionaries nor "steal her style" editors from the cheapie weeklies. His subjects are originals, and great fun to see.

Anyway, one of today's girls was so ravishing, sartorially speaking, that I rushed to my closet to get busy with her look. [Unfortunately I can't reproduce the photo here, his copyright warning is very stern indeed, so just click on this link to see it].

Here are my variations on the theme--a pointed collar blouse buttoned all the way to the top, with something interesting sitting biblike underneath. I don't have this girl's fantastic feather collar but I do have a nice lace scarf . . .

Alternately, a chunky crystalline Chanel-like necklace that seems too over the top for day wear. But settled down nicely against a geeky buttoned collar, well, ying meets yang, and I think I'll be wearing it this way in the daylight hours.

Finally, while I've never been that keen on men's neckties on women, if you tone one closely to the color of the shirt/blouse, and if the fabric of said blouse is an ultrafeminine silk, and if you can't tie a tie to save your life and one end is much longer than it ought to be . . . then it could be, very possibly, a look.

Any blouses in your wardrobe that could take a similar treatment? Remember that gorgeous lace collars are invariably underpriced and underloved at vintage sales . . . see if this doesn't give them a new way to be worn.

Monday, September 28, 2009

What's that About? Barkcloth Fabric

The world of vintage clothing is full of mysteries, even to me.

One question that's been hovering in the back of my mind for some time is "what exactly is barkcloth, anyway?"

I'm not enough of a fan of retro Hawaiian styles to have learned the old fashioned way (shopping for it), which means Wikipedia had to come to the rescue. Here, in a [coco]nutshell, is what I learned . . .

The original bark cloth (in some places known as tapa) was made from the inner lining of the barks of assorted trees native to the Polynesian and Oceanic islands. People would strip the bark, soak it, pound it, sometimes add a gluey agent to improve the texture. The resulting broad, flat strips were flexible enough to use as a highly-prized fabric, and were usually painted with geometric and other decorative motifs.

Bark had its problems as a material, but also advantages over other alternatives: Wiki helpfully explains:
The major problem with tapa clothing is that the tissue is just like paper: it loses all its strength when wet and falls apart. Still it was better than grass-skirts, which usually are either heavier and harder or easily blown apart.

Anyway, along came the 1950s and all things Hawaiian became very trendy in the other 49 states. Manufacturers struck on the idea of creating a fabric out of cotton that was thick, soft and textured somewhat like bark. To add to exotic air, they borrowed the term barkcloth from "the sand-girdled isles" of the Pacific (I saw that quote recently and loved it--happy to have a chance to put it to use!). This textile was most frequently used for upholstery, but it also found its way back to the Pacific for use in muu-muus and other "typical" tropical wear.

So today, if you come across a vendor using the term "barkcloth" to describe an item like the skirt above, you can be 99.9% sure that it was not made of the bark of a tree. If you want to be 100% certain, wear it out in a monsoon. If it comes apart, you had the real thing.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Weeklong Style Seminar: How to Style a Boyfriend Jacket, Part 5

Here's the last in this weeklong series of ways to wear a boyfriend jacket, as demonstrated by fashion-savvy eBay vendors (see entries below for more).

A lot of interesting takeaways in this shot . . .

1) True fact: jackets with formal decorative motifs can look a bit naff/dorky if worn as they were back in the 80s and 90s. For example, if it were teamed with a black dress trousers and modest heels, this tux jacket is one your auntie might put on for dinner and a show in the city. But with a slouchy tee, skinnies, black fedora and studded sandals, the jacket, with its ladylike good manners, is slumming it in the best possible way.

2) Black and navy is one of the most elegant color combos going. The dark-blue tee here is so much more interesting than a plain white one would be.

3) You can show a really deep slice of torso if most of the rest is covered with a slouchy jacket.

4) Ordinarily I detest tie-dye--when I see it, I reflexively think of vomit, which is not a reaction you want to inspire in a passer-by. But these black-grey jeans are a different order of tie-dye. Almost like an animal print in an altered state. I love them, and might have to find a pair for myself.

5) Main point! Here again, as in the entries below, the jacket's button is a key linkup element for the whole outfit. The diamante shape chimes with the etched look on the jeans, and the glimmery studs on the shoes.

If you're not a huge fan of the boyfriend blazer, thanks for your patience this week! Back to usual business on Monday with features on barkcloth, bizarre prints, and more . . .

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Weeklong Style Seminar: How to Style a Boyfriend Jacket, Part 4

Adorable, no? The blazer's styling is simple, subtle, 100% right.

The little round hat balances those ultrabroad shoulders to perfection. And more: see how the ivory band around the brim exactly matches the dark/light contrast in the buttons. Brilliant!

I also love how this vendor has left off any other accessories. A hat is such a punchy addition to an outfit that it's often best to leave it all on its own.

Unlike other stylings from earlier this week (see entries below), these proportions would scale up brilliantly. Jacket to the thigh, black leggings in a substantial weave, great heels to take a look borrowed from the 80s into right now.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Charlotte's Cloth

Fascinating article in The New York Times today, about spinning cloth from spider's silk. Gorgeous result, but mighty unpleasant reading for arachnophobes . . .

Weeklong Style Seminar: How to Style a Boyfriend Jacket, Part 3

Confession: not doing so well on finding a range of ages and body types to demonstrate different ways to wear a vintage boyfriend blazer, but I couldn't resist running this one, because this look is so smoking hot. Praise to Trendsetter Vintage for an inspired put-together of a classic double-breasted 80s jacket, oversized gold accessories, and leopardskin shorts. I repeat, leopardskin shorts.

I love how the classic blazer brass buttons (which can be intrusive) here become one more element of the accessories, carrying the eye from necklace across the midline to the cuffs.

If you're not model-slim, you could think about substituting leopard leggings--a jacket of this length or even slightly longer is a good friend to curvy bottoms.

Of course you would keep the shoes.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Weeklong Style Seminar: How to Style a Boyfriend Jacket, Part 2

Yes, yes, strictly speaking this isn't a boyfriend jacket--the vampy gold-staple embellishment pushes it into the power-suit section of the 80s vintage rail. But it does have a broad-shouldered, slouchy vibe going, and is brilliantly ensembled by the vendor. So as part of a ongoing series of entries on how to style vintage pieces as demonstrated by eBay and other online sellers, let's take a closer look at why it looks so good.

Pattern harmonies: check out how the lattice effect of the dress's cutouts echoes the dashes on the jacket. The slit effect shows up again down on the shoes. Our mind registers shapes, even negative shapes, as strongly as it does positive ones. It's helpful to keep this in mind when you're trying to rig different parts of an outfit together, especially when you're working with blacks.

Proportion harmonies: see how the broad shoulders are balanced by the winging straps of the glad heels.

Texture harmonies: note how the nailhead rounds on the ankles subtly replicate the scales on the oversize snakeskin clutch. It's low-key, even accidental details like these that build to an amazing overall look.

(Obviously the dress is shorter than many of us can actually wear. I reckon the jacket would also look amazing with a longer knit dress or skirt, or with well-cut tapering black capri-length trousers. Do try to find shoes as killer contemporary as these heels.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Weeklong Style Seminar: How to Style a Boyfriend Jacket, Part I

On my frequent forays through eBay, Etsy, and other online retailers of vintage clothing, I've noted a substantial increase in the number of vendors who style and shoot their lots as though for a fashion editorial, with a talented model, carefully chosen accessories, and top-notch photography.

I think this is a fantastic development for buyers, because it provides a fingertip visual resource. Stuck for a way to wear that vintage piece a different way? Keyword it in, and see what others are doing with it.

A case in point: this gorgeous black double-breasted Cacharel jacket, being sold by Australian vendor ClaireInc (whose de la Renta blouse is pictured in the entry below).

I would never, in a million years, think of styling a jacket like this with horizontal striped hose, a mini-dotted bow tie, and nude oxfords, but here it is, looking absolutely brilliant. It's a look that a young, slender woman could pull off effortlessly. Put on a skirt, lose the hat, and an older/larger woman could wear it as well.

I'm going to spend the rest of the week showing different ways vendors have styled the same sort of garment, with the aim of addressing a range of ages and body types. Hopefully, it will inspire you to get more wear out of what you have, or find a piece with a similar sort of versatility.

(Thanks again, Belinda, your site looks great.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

The two cents opinion: Oscar de la Renta, Spring 2010

Fleeting impression . . . apart from photos 46 and 48, I wasn't overly impressed, which puts me squarely in the minority. I think I'll stick with his vintage pieces . . .

. . . like the blouse here. Fun, fantastic quality, and why not keep the old going in time with the fashion world's applause for the new?

More Marc Jacobs: Gracefully Yours

My favorite item from the Marc Jacobs Spring 2010 collection, shown at Fashion Week in New York: this amazing, gossamer gown, as whispy as a spring breeze.

Was, by any chance, its inspiration a Grace--not Coddington--but one of three dancing a rondel in Botticelli's delightful painting of Primavera, herself the embodiment of the Spring season?

Maybe not, but it's nice to think so . . .

(Photo top: Catwalking/Getty Images, bottom, Primavera, Sandro Botticelli c. 1482, The Uffizi Gallery)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Just Extraordinary: Ponyskin Gloves

A bit unfair, isn't it, how Rihanna makes it look so easy to get bichrome just right.

Of course, those of us who have ever given it a try know that striking just the right balance between Mod whites and blacks is the difference between a great Mondrian and a nightmare Rorschach.

For those of us without the killer attitude and cheekbones, it's far simpler to wear all (or mostly) black and leave the chess game to the accessories. For example, these vintage gloves from the 40s. Teamed up with a basic black overcoat or suit, they are thunder and lightning.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

His Hoses Are Roses: Nude Leggings the Jacobs Way

From my front-row screen access to the Marc Jacobs Spring '10 collection show, I learn that fashion's erstwhile blue-haired boy has gone in for pale, loose leggings in a big way.

As Cathy Horyn of The New York Times reports, this is essentially Good For The Women (as opposed to other innovations from the fashion front, which are Horribly Bad For The Women, as Fluff Chance notes so perceptively at the Emperor's Old Clothes).

Jacobs might not agree, at least publically, but I'm convinced that the reason these leggings will be a huge trend the world over is modesty. Like the salwar element of Pakistan's national dress, the salwar kameez, they cover the legs while allowing unhindered stance and movement.

Isn't this why the garment essentially refuses to go away? We wear them for warmth, and we wear them for comfort (that lovely supporty lycra stretch against the legs) and we wear them most of all when that skin, fully exposed, would feel epidermally incorrect.

Anyway, if you don't feel like paying Jacobs-level prices for loose beige leggings, another option is to look online for silk longjohns typically used for skiing, which are much of a muchness. Keywords might include "thermal" "base layer" "tights". Do get them new, obviously. As ever, the word "nude" ignores the vast majority of women whose skintone is darker than bisque.

To wear, simply wack them on under a dress--they are near-brainless to style, which is one more significant reason to give them a try.

(photo top, Elizabeth Lippman for The New York Times, photo bottom from

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Unlikely Fashion: The Snorkel Jacket

So I sent my son off this morning on his first away-from-home-without-the-parents trip. The last I saw of him was the tip of his nose, as he had fully zipped up his beloved snorkel jacket.

Well before Kenny made it a South Park fashion statement, or for that matter appeared as the Sarah Jessica Parka, left, the snorkel was a fixture in late 70s lockers as the unisex overcoat du choix of schoolkids across the northern USA. It also happened to be the overcoat du nécessité, since Sears sold them, our moms bought them, and we didn't know enough to argue for anything better.

We also knew very little about the origins of the style, which is provided in detail on Wikipedia. Here's an extract:
The original Snorkel Parka . . . was developed in the USA during the early 1950s for military use, mainly for flight crews stationed in extremely cold areas, designed as it was for temperatures down to -60 deg. F. Originally made with a sage green DuPont flight silk nylon outer and lining it was padded with a wool blanket type material until the mid 70's when the padding was changed to polyester wadding making the jacket both lighter and warmer. The outer shell material also was changed to a sage green cotton-nylon blend . . . It gained the common name of "Snorkel Parka" because the hood can be zipped right up leaving only a small tunnel (or snorkel) for the wearer to look out of. This is particularly effective in very cold, windy weather although it has the added liability of seriously limiting the field of vision. Earlier (Vietnam-era) hoods had genuine fur ruffs on the hoods; later versions used synthetic furs. Older nylon-shell parkas have a tendency to exhibit a change in color from the original sage green to a shade of magenta due to long-term cumulative exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun. To some in the military, this is personally desirable, as it lends to its wearer an aura of seasoned experience (referred to as salty by those in the US Navy and US Marine Corps). However, considered in a tactical environment, this is a liability, as it decreases one's ability to be camouflaged on the ground.


But wait, there's more. This army surplus site, in the UK, adds some interesting detail about how the parka was worn in the 70's:

Whilst the original N3B parka lining was un-quilted and the same colour as the outer shell, the school type parkas usually has quilted orange lining. The measure of a school parka quickly became how grubby the orange lining got through natural wear without washing and many schoolboy parkas ended their days with the lining more black than orange.

OK, fine, that was the boys. We washed ours at least once a season.

Interestingly, it is this very lining that is touted by vintage sellers on eBay (and presumably elsewhere) as a sign of an authentic 70s snorkel parka. So if, by chance, you have a sudden hankering to view the world through a furry personal periscope, an orange (not black!) lining is the retro way to go.

Monday, September 14, 2009

How to Wear Boyfriend Jeans, by Coco Chanel

ALRIGHT, technically they're khakis, but the point is the same. Follow Madame's lead and grab yourself a boyfriend like Serge Lifar, who happened to be one of the greatest dancers of all time. Next, slam on a simple black turtleneck, said jeans or khakis or other baggy-cut casuals. Finally, accessorize to the max. Check out the Fulco di Verdura enamel cuff on her arm--I tell you, a fortune.

[One caveat: unless you have Coco's legendary self-belief, you might want to draw the line at the turban.]

Paris Vogue Recommends: How To Style Acid-Wash Jeans

Ordinarily I think acid-wash or otherwise distressed jeans can be problematic on women over age 30--a look that's trying way too hard to be rockstar cool.

But here Paris Vogue has hit on a great solution -- use them to deliberately corrupt a look that would otherwise be ultra-matronly.

I love this sort of to-the-manor -born dressing, with the scarf and prep stripes and gorgeous Vara shoes. But with a pair of neatly tailored trousers rounding out the look, it would risk running way too preppy/posh/haute bourgeoise cliché.

With the jeans, it's all a bit less classifiable. And to my mind, that's a cornerstone of true style.

(photo by Inez Lamsweerde and Vanoodh Matadin for Paris Vogue, August 2009)

Friday, September 11, 2009

A New Way to Wear an Old Picture Locket

This entry is dedicated to Jessica and her blog Chronically Vintage, which I find to be an unfailingly energizing. To call it a mood board of all things beautiful from the past isn't quite sufficient, but that's how it affects me . . . take a look and see how it inspires you, for it will.

Onyx. She bestowed Fashion Preserve with that stone, a high compliment, for its glossy black depths are eternally chic. I own only one object of this material, and it is a treasure: a Victorian picture locket, its obverse a sheath of the black mineral, centered with a gorgeous natural pearl, its reverse a glass window that opens to reveal an case for a cherished photo, lock of hair, or other keepsake.

It belonged to my great-grandmother. In my not-terribly-well-off family, it was indeed a treasure. I wear it infrequently, but would love to change that. So yesterday I had a good look at it, and a long think.

I love to do this with vintage pieces . . . reconsider them for modern usage and tweak them into a more up-to-the-minute guise. What could be done with this locket? Pin it on a lapel, wear it as a brooch? Possibly. Somehow attach it to a leather wriststrap, and wear it as a bracelet? Not really . . .

Then I turned it over and the light went on. Who says you have to keep an old photo in it, hidden away? What better frame for a lovely image, or pattern, or other visually graphic element that you could synch to your outfit or mindset or mood?

After that, it was easy. I cut a cardboard template based on the size of the oval glass rim, dug around for some bits and pieces to fill the picture side with, did some more trimming to fit them to shape, and came up with these mini-mood boards, to wear for all the world to see. The beautiful thing is, while a nice locket will cost a small sum, the imagery is essentially free--cut from a magazine, old wrapping paper, or even a photo. What would you put in one?

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

But He Seams Straight: John Galliano for Christian Dior

For all of Galliano's flamboyant showmanship (and occasional nonsense with half-dressed models), the man upholds the Dior heritage of tailoring with the reverence the name deserves.

Look here at this wonderful Prince-of-Wales houndstooth check suit, shown in the August Paris Vogue. It's so neatly tailored it would make Wallis Simpson weep in her grave, for the fact of being too dead to wear it.

Click on the picture to see more detail--the crossover double-breasted fashioning looks effortless, but must have been the devil to effect. Even more impressive is the meticulous pattern matching across the front opening, and across the shoulder area and arms. If there is a shoulder seam, I can't see it--it's that good.

I've talked about pattern matching before, and how reliable an indicator it is of exquisite attention to detail on the part of a design team. Recently, I bought a vintage Valentino Miss V jacket on eBay for $30/£18 for this very reason.

I loved the fact that the Romans had a go with a motif that is essentially Central Asian. The wool fabric would be right at home in a seraglio of some regional warlord, retired after pillaging the West.

As such, it's a bit of a pain finding the right bottom half to balance it. It's a bruiser of a pattern, begging for a fight with another one, or to be muzzled under layers of shawls. Ideally I'd wear it with dusty blue suede trousers, or possibly a pair of pyjama-y silk cigarette pants in a smaller-grade paisley, whose colors complement those in the jacket.

Since I have neither, I'll probably wear it with dark denim jeans. It's possible that the workers who sewed this jacket--as complex as the piecework is--actually had an easier time matching it than I will.

(photo top Inez Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin for Paris Vogue, styled by Carine Roitfeld)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Paris Vogue Recommends: Chim Chim Cherie

awwwwesome, no?

I'm not naturally disposed to Goth stylings but stone the crows, Rick Owens does it properly. I mean you truly could go out and stone some crows in this outfit and feel perfectly attired, not that I'm advocating any sort of animal cruelty.

Speaking of which, the clothes are so utterly cryptastic that when I first saw the purse, I thought cool! A tarantula! Upon reading the caption, I discover it's in fact a bunny rabbit.

I reckon that very few readers of this blog have the elective-mute/assassin-demeanor/reptilian-core-temperature necessary to carry this look off in its totality, BUT, as ever with these entries (see earlier this week and last), there is a point to take away.

Check out how utterly sexy that sleeve is. Why? because it's tight, from upper arm to just past the wrist. Remember this when you're dressing with intent. Like the ninja this look is so indebted to, it is quietly lethal.

(photo by Inez Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Paris Vogue August 2009, styled by Tom Pecheux)

When the Moon Hits Your Eye Like an Itty-Bitty Pewter Pie

This is an equal opportunity blog, serving readers of diverse interests. Some adore vintage pearls. Others will will wear nothing but classic Chanel.

And others still like pizza. Really really really like pizza. And who am I to deny those extra-cheese lovers their very slices of life?

Because eBay truly does serve all needs in all genres, there is no need to limit the pizza to the plate.

Here, an actually rather well-crafted and undeniably cute pewter pizza-box brooch.

If I were Sophia, I know exactly where I'd put it . . .

(wikimedia image at top, Sophia Loren prepares a pizza in Vittorio De Sica's L'oro di Napoli, 1954)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New Ways to Wear an Old Brooch, Part III

A quickie for crafty readers this Tuesday:

Isn't this photo of Julie Andrews, courtesy of Doctor Macro's High Quality Movie Scans, just extraordinary?

And how stunning is that headdress, made, so simply, of wired feather trim and a beautiful 30s brooch . . .

If you have the time and inclination, visit a crafts shop or have a look online for a similar wired trim (keywords wire, ribbon, millinery supply). See what you can fashion with a few twists and an old vintage find . . .

Monday, September 7, 2009

Paris Vogue Recommends: Gray's In

Continuing in a series of style points offered up by the August issue of Paris Vogue (more entries below):

Here, a look as cool as a straight-up martini, with a twist of Adam Ant.

I believe stylist Tom Pecheux is attempting to show, via an outfit by Gucci, that it's possible to be extraordinarily interesting in monochrome, as long as there's a strong variation in texture. See how the wool-silk fabric reverbs against the snakeskin bag, the calfskin shoes, the sequinned top--all within a fairly narrow chromatic range.

It's a nice trick to remember, especially if you have a good stock of basics in the same neutral shade. The accessories don't need to be as high-end as these, they just need to refract light in a similarly variable way.

[the photo--marvelous--is by Inez and Vanoodh. The model--and I hardly ever worry about models--appears a tad undernourished.}

Friday, September 4, 2009

Nancy Talbot, RIP

If you were raised in the suburban northeast of the United States, the store known as Talbots (or "The Talbots", as it was archaically and correctly called in its earlier years) was a simple fact of growing up.

I owned countless Talbots cardies, skirts, and dresses over the course of my teens and twenties. It is a tribute to the store's unswerving dedication to tailoring that was "ladylike, simple but not contrived, gimmicky, or extreme" that I cannot remember a single one of them. Before it became a national chain, the physical proximity of Manhattan--with its helter-skelter seasonal trends--did little to ruffle the becalmed racks of Talbots. No, this shop had as its compass the redoubtable dress sense of Boston.

If you count yourself among the Talbots sisterhood, there's an interesting history here, courtesy of Nancy's obit in The New York Times.

More interesting still might be this vintage Talbot's bathing suit, up for sale on Etsy. Conservative, well-boned, and unwittingly clashy in the color department. It's the Talbots style to the nines.

Paris Vogue Suggests: Classic Fashion Mash-ups

I know. I KNOW. This look, from the August Paris Vogue's 80 Essential Looks (see also here, and here), is not one many Audrey-loving vintage fans are likely to embrace with opera-gloved arms. And yet, it's brilliant: a gender-bendered version of the late-50s, D.A.'ed punk who hung out all sorts of misunderstood on some stoop and wolf-whistled at our grans. (Or . . . an unusually open-minded tribute on the part of the French to America's own Adam Lambert, but probably not).

Anyway, even the girliest among us can learn from this styling. To wit:

1) A little bit of rhinestone looks great on black leather.

2) Completely against the odds, a dash of leopard skin is fab with a classic lumberjack check.

Put a little pepper in your shaker, try one of these combos out.

(Photo Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin for Paris Vogue August '09, fashion Dsquared², styled by Emmanuelle Alt).

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Paris Vogue Suggests: Knuckle Up

As the second in a series of how-tos based on Paris Vogue's "80 Essential Looks" for Autumn 2009, we turn to the genius of Alexander McQueen, even madder than usual with this jawdropping feathered dress, called "Cygne". A swan that is very black indeed--and without a good pair of binocs, liable to be misidentified as a vulture.

Between its panniered hips, humped shoulders, and sky-hooker boots, it gives little quarter to wearability in my world, but this is design with no time for the usual bourgeois drivers. (The photo, too, is transcendental--credit Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin and stylist Emmanuelle Alt.)

So the look, while stunning, is largely unwearable, except . . . .

Check out the model's hand. Doesn't that row of ultra-chunky rings look fantastic against the jewelled bag? (This may be an actual knuckle duster--McQueen's collection included them this season).

It's a look that can be replicated so very easily, with costume cocktail rings. Similarly, jewel-bedecked bags are an easy find at vintage fairs and other secondhand outlets.

Combine heavily embellished knuckles, sock-it-to-em red nails, bijou bag and a little black dress? You, like McQueen, will rule.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Paris Vogue Suggests: An Undersized Jeans Jacket

Last week I had the pleasure of a long train ride with the Paris Vogue August issue for company. The lead editorial was "80 Essential Looks," which brought together Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin as photogs, the house team of stylists, a small crew of models and what must have been a sheer nightmare of call-ins to present 80 individual head-to-toe looks by various top designers, starting with Marc Jacobs and wrapping with Kenzo.

As a showcase, the concept was fantastic. If only American and British magazines had the same kind of freedom.

Despite affirmatively liking/considering wearable only about 5% of the clothes on view, there was inspiration at every turn of the page. Over the next few days, I'd like to consider a number of the looks and describe how a secondhand/vintage lover might re-interpret them our way. One of the greatest risks of our mode of shopping is being locked into the past. With the cutting-edge styling that Paris Vogue offers, even the most unlikely older pieces can find fresh interpretation.

Let's start out easy. The photo at right (garments by Calvin Klein) caught my eye for the obvious reasons, but then I looked hard at what the clothed model was wearing. A teeny jeans jacket. Hmmmm . . .

As luck would have it, right around the corner at my local Oxfam was a boy's large Gap denim, for a mere £7 (about $10). Not as superteeny as the model's, but as a quick autumn cover-up, just perfect, especially when the rest of the world will be wearing slouchy boyf jackets. And nearly a no-brainer, because there are few easier finds in a big old Salvation Army than a jeans jacket that's essentially too small--the trickiest thing is making sure you have good mobility through the shoulders, and the sleeves aren't too tight.

Even an older and/or larger woman can wear this look wonderfully (think of it more as a bolero than a jacket). Dress up bare arms with gorgeous bangles, and you're done.

La Mode Komodo

The ad above is from Jitrois, a French fashion company I admire for its unabashedly hotcha design ethos. I personally couldn't wear leather leggings and a python jacket with a rabbit fur collar, but love the idea that somebody might, and there's a designer out there who will cater to those needs.

So I've flipped past this ad like, five times, every time idly noting how much the model looks like Darryl Hannah in her Splash years. But then, the last time, I took a good look at the jacket's sleeve (click on the pic to do so yourself).

Sweet mother of godzilla.

And in a rush, all my worst skeeves about reptile came tumbling back (see here, and here).

If your stated aim in life is to give coat-check girls the screamin' meemies, then this jacket is clearly a must-buy. Otherwise, step away from the scales.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Monday How-To: New Ways to Wear an Old Brooch, Part I

Like most vintage lovers, I'm a magpie when it comes to old scarves and pins. I pick them up (usually for pennies) with the best of intentions, but when it comes to actually wearing them . . . not so good.

Part of the problem is that I'm reluctant to mar the fabric of a blouse or jacket with pinholes. And scarves all on their own can look frumpy.

So, how to get these vintage accessories out there to be admired, rather than decorating the inside of a drawer?

One answer is to bring brooches and scarves together to make fabulous chokers, pendants, or other neck-centered ornaments.

Here's how.

1) Take one good sized brooch--a 50s paste starburst, a cameo, a bakelite scottie--whatever--my choice is this marvelous old enamel flower.

2) Add one narrow silk scarf whose colors and pattern complement the pin.

3) Loop the ends through the securely-closed pin and knot a couple times to anchor the brooch to the scarf.

4) Figure out how you want to arrange it on your neck. Tie it high and loop the scarf a few times around your neck for a choker effect. Let it hang lower as a pendant. Re-knot the ends of the scarf behind the pin so that they hang attractively below.

5) Experiment. There's no right or wrong way to do this, as long as the scarf and pin stay where you want them and work with the lines of the garments around them (here, my trusty $5 boyfriend jacket). Have fun!! You will not believe the compliments you'll get.