Friday, February 26, 2010

Tiggy-Winkle Charms Again

I am always enchanted by vintage charms that open up to reveal adorable contents. Above is another one, which according to the seller is circa 1970.

I sadly can't explain why the little 9K hedgehog is wearing a crown, and moreover is sitting in an eggshell. These mysteries aside, it bears an uncanny similarity to a recent photo from one of the UK's most distinguished news journals of an actual pygmy hedgehog, so wee it too will fit into an eggcup.

The real hedgehogs, which are currently popular as household pets, will run you £200. The charm is about half that, and housebroken.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Next Best Thing to Being There

Rain rain rain all day today. Exactly the sort of weather to dream about wearing a dress like this, and, more specifically, wear a dress like this in its intended habitat--on the lanai of a beach house on the Big Island, with mai tais at the ready and tiki torches flaming nearby.

I'd never before heard of the label before, but the cut, fabric selection and pattern matching all bespeak brilliant dressmaking. Mahalo Tanya. The world is a better place for this frock.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why I Love Ebay, Part 8

We all know a woman who loves cats too much. These are her frames.

(The seller claims these are possums. No way.)

New Ways to Wear Scarves for Spring: DIY Scarf Ring

I've always been fascinated by the idea of rings made solely to hold scarves in place, but have never gotten around to actually sourcing one. Probably because a little item that already resides in the back of the costume jewelry box is such a good substitute.

I'm talking about my adjustable ring--c'mon, we all have one, even if we're no longer four. This one is a stonking 10K faux diamond -- the kind meant to be worn over a black velvet glove that would need only a ciggie in an ultra-long holder to complete the homage to you-know-who.

The ring's faceted fauxcity is the perfect match for this unusually understated souvenir scarf, from Venice. It too has pretentions to greatness, being made of a polyester that really oughtn't get too close to open flame.

Once folded into a long strip, the scarf ends are simply threaded through the ring, which is then clamped snug using its sensible adjustable feature. I think the two will look smashing worn with a classic white shirt, and I plan to try it as soon as I get dressed this morning.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New Ways to Wear Scarves for Spring: Knotting Balenciaga-style

A few months ago I was fortunate enough to find this vintage Balenciaga scarf for a shockingly low price (given his preeminent stature in fashion history). So it goes with so many vintage accessories: scarves bearing the names of great fashion houses sit around gathering dust while the (frankly less wearable) suits and dresses by the very same masters are snapped up by museums and wealthy collectors.

I don't get it, but that doesn't mean I don't profit by it. This scarf is particularly emblematic because it bears one of the hallmarks of Balenciaga's designs round about 1960--a fuschia pink bow, which appeared again and again as a flourish on his dresses and ballgowns. The bow dominates the cream ground, surrounded by a border of broken pink brushstrokes. (The design itself looks as if it might be by the hand of fashion illustrator René Gruau, who frequently collaborated with Balenciaga). The edges of the scarf are raw, which is typical of those from this house. Another point to note: Balenciaga scarves were sold only in his shops in Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris, and it's nice to think that at some point his own eyes might have glanced at this object.

I became slightly obsessed by the idea of wearing this scarf in a way that would accord with the designer's stringent eye. This meant combing the internet for images of late 50s/early 60s Balenciaga ensembles that included a scarf--and guess what, none did. I believe this is because during that period, a scarf, even of gorgeous heavy silk, fell more into the category of sportswear than city dress: worn to mainstay the coiffure on the beach or while horseback riding or driving along the coast in a convertible.

But then Myra Walker's wonderful book Balenciaga and his Legacy came to the rescue, with this photo of what I originally took to be a hat. But it's not, or not entirely--it's a low pillbox, more like a skullcap, that has been artfully trussed with a scarf of approximately the same vintage as mine.

I could do this, and you can too, given just such a molded hat and a beautiful silk scarf. Here's how:

1) halve the scarf into a triangle and set the broad end at the front of the cap.
2) loop the ends in back and knot several times
3) if the scarf has a signature that you'd like to show, foof around with the ends until it's on display as desired.

Of course you could leave out the cap and simply tie the scarf on your head without it, but if you want the sculptural quality that marked Balenciaga's work, do go for some armature underneath.

Cristóbal Balenciaga cocktail dress at top, 1958 (Photo courtesy of the Museum at FIT). Balenciaga hat, c. 1960, in Balenciaga and His Legacy, Myra Walker, 2006.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Martial Spirit: Ways to Wear Scarves for Spring

German Elle Magazine. It's fantastic--even if you don't read the language (and therefore miss editorial gems like "Which Philosopher Are YOU Most Like: Kant, Nietsche, Plato" lol), you can still take great pleasure in innovative fashion shoots (no jumping models here!), and the chance to see cool local brands that have yet to make the leap to international notoriety. For example, Windsor, a German fashion house that melds the minimalist tailoring of Banana Republic with accessories just unorthodox enough to blast a safe-enough look into empyrean cool.

Case in point, below. The diagonal pocket square + white tee combo: brilliant. The diamante oval buckle + cargo pants + Armani-style jacket: this shouldn't work, but blow me, it does. And best of all: the scarf, with one end of the knot tucked down the sleeve, to cut down on the bulk in front. Great!

And now, please forgive a little rambling about the scarf. The checkerboard pattern is slightly reminiscent of a keffiyeh (which at this point has been leached of all political potency as a Palestinian national symbol by fashionables eager to look as though they too would throw stones at tanks were they not so busy sipping cappucinos after a hard morning's shop at Colette).

However, given the color of the pattern and the absence of fringe, this scarf is not quite that. In fact, to my eyes it's most closely reminiscent of a textile that's about as unpolitical as it gets--the linens used in a classic French bistro like the Fontaine de Mars in Paris (below, underneath a yummy-looking salade lardons and cassoulet), which themselves borrow bigtime from old-school kitchen towels.

The point: try tucking an end of a lightweight scarf down your sleeve as a new variation on an old accessory. Not quite as soul-satisfying as a bibbed napkin in Paris, but the check's a lot lighter, and you won't need a nap.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sing O Muse Week: Heart String

The last--and my favourite--of this week's attire-inspired poems is an ever-so-romantic recreation of loss and remembrance. Edward Rochester is rattling about Thornwood in anguish after Jane Eyre left him, after the revelation that he had a previously undisclosed mad wife locked away in the tower. Jane also forsook Rochester's gift of pearls . . .

Jane's Pearls

Rochester called her all day
like you would a dog or cat,
up and down corridors, behind
curtains and in the orchard
where only the owls answered.

The second night he put candles in
her room, opened wardrobes, drawers,
found nothing he’d given to her gone.
He picked up a narrow, suede box,
flicked its little gold catch.

Pearls curled round themselves,
a slight bloom like an apricot.
Each bead different from the next,
each pearl a supplication in his hands,
a rosary he could tell to bring her back.

It fitted round his neck,
hidden under his cravat.
The diamond clasp fixed.
Pearls cool against his sallow skin,
the touch of fingertips at his throat.

Alicia Stubbersfield

(from the anthology Out of Fashion, by Carol Ann Duffy, ed., Faber and Faber, 2004)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sing O Muse Week: Lost and Found

First, many thanks for your kind words about these poems about fashion on the blog this week. FB will be back refreshed next Monday with the regular collection of tips, sightings, and styling info about vintage fashion.

Today's poem, by Andrew Motion, is about the mundane occurance of misplacing one's things. Yet is there not something more forensic in the image of gloves lying crumpled in the yellow glare of a sodium streetlamp . . .

Red Gloves

Reaching the restaurant late
I find the empty shells
of your gloves on the cold curb:

stretchy, crushed red velvet
which slithered off your lap
to float in the sodium stream.

What could they mean except
you have arrived before me
and taken your place already?

The things we forget, or or lose,
live in a heaven of debris,
waiting for us to collect them;

already your naked hands
are fluttering over the table
missing they don’t know what.

Andrew Motion

(crocheted gloves here at eBay; poem from the anthology Out of Fashion, by Carol Ann Duffy, ed., Faber and Faber, 2004)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sing O Muse Week: Thinking Cap

Today's poem imagines a hat that is brimming with ideas about its owner. Which makes perfect sense. We love some of our clothes beyond reason--why shouldn't they love us back?

Your Favourite Hat

Believe me when I tell you that
I long to be your favourite hat

The velvet one. Purply-black
With ribbons trailing at the back

The one you wear to parties, plays,
Assignations on red-letter days

Like a bat in your unlit hall
I’d hang until there came the call

To freedom. To hug your crown
As you set off through Camden Town

To run my fingers through your hair
Unbeknown in Chalcot Square

To let them linger, let them trace
My shadow cast upon your face

Until, on reaching the appointed place
(The pulse at your temple, feel it race!)

Breathless you whisper: ‘At last, at last.’
And once inside, aside I’m cast

There to remain as time ticks by
Nap rising at each moan and sigh

Ecstatic, curling at the brim
To watch you naked, there with him

Until too soon, the afternoon gone
You retrieve me, push me on

Then take your leave, (as ever in haste)
Me eager to devour the taste

Of your hair. Your temples now on fire
My tongue, the hatband as you perspire

To savour the dampness of your skin
As you window-gaze. Looking in

But not seeing. Over Primrose Hill
You dawdle, relaxed now, until

Home Sweet Home, where, safely back
Sighing, you impale me on the rack

Is it in spite or because of that
I long to be your favourite hat?

Roger McGough

poem from the anthology Out of Fashion, by Carol Ann Duffy, ed., Faber and Faber, 2004

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sing O Muse Week: Doing the Laundry

In many cultures, every day is laundry day, because there aren't enough clothes in the wardrobe to afford the luxury of parceling it out. What's more, getting clothes clean is just as physical an act as those that got them dirty. Today's poem elaborates these ideas beautifully--ennobling both chore and the handwork that it sustains.


The street stretches its back.
Its spine cracks with satisfaction.

There’s no bustle, no sense of rush,
just the determined slip and slap
of soap on slate
and cloth on stone,
morning light thrashed out
on the wet step
above the water tank.

Her arm an arc, her haunch
pushed back,
the whole length of sari
Legs apart, she attacks the sweat of yesterday,
the cooking smells,
the dribble from the baby’s mouth,
drives them out
of thin and daily thinning cloth.

Today she wears the purple,
washes green,
tosses it out to dry,
smacks it down across the stones
like an accomplishment
of fine clean weave.

Imtiaz Dharker

poem from the anthology Out of Fashion, by Carol Ann Duffy, ed., Faber and Faber, 2004

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sing O Muse Week: Amber

Something a bit different this week: poetry with a vintage theme, because in these cold days of late winter, we all need more sustenance than mere pretty pictures.

First up is Gillian Clarke's wonderful "Amber". In the poem she takes inspiration from authentic amber's tactile warmth and from its use as adornment since Neolithic times.

Coveted week after week on the market stall,
coiled, nonchalant, arrayed under the lid
of locked glass, they grew familiar.
She’d finger them, slip them over her head,
try them for size, spoilt for choice—
red-amber, yellow, cut Russian ruby,
or those sad rosaries, widow’s beads of Whitby jet.
In each bead surfaced the cloudy face of a woman.

Warmed by the sunlight on dressing tables,
or against a woman’s skin, then laid safe
in a drawer each night between the silk leaves
of her underwear. Never cold, as if
each bead were the unquenchable flame
that burned a million years like a sanctuary lamp
beneath the ice, each drip of sticky gold
hardening to honeyed gold.

As if nothing that has ever contained heat
can be cold again, mirrors never empty
and our rooms, furniture, hoarded amulets,
could reassemble themselves into a life
and still pass hand to hand from underneath
the permafrost, ice woman to living daughter.

If you'd like to learn more about amber and its uses, there's an excellent reference page here.

"Amber" by Gillian Clarke, from from Carol
Ann Duffy, ed., Out of Fashion, Faber and Faber, 2004

Friday, February 12, 2010

Fashion Icon: Patty Smith

Who knew?

Patty Smith, style insurrectionist--in that she has always resolutely dressed to please herself and no-one else, and insodoing inspired generations of rocker-chic imitators--absolutely loves clothes.

She tells of her ardor in this month's British Vogue

"As a young girl growing up in modest circumstances in Camden, New Jersey, [Smith] found copies of Vogue in some rubbish near her home. 'There were Irving Penn pictures of his wife, Lisa Fonssagrives, with her pencil-thin neck, three-cornered hat and gloves. These magazines really attracted me; I began to hoard them and I learnt a lot of things -- what to wear at a fox hunt and so on. But I also learnt about art, because they'd have articles about Dalí or Picasso, and I developed a sense of style.' Camden was also where Philadelphia's wealthy sent their clothes to charity shops. 'So I knew what Dior was, what Balenciaga was, the other great houses. I scouted out the labels. I learned how to put together my look. I was a teenager working in a factory wearing a cashmere Balenciaga jacket, flannel and work boots.'"

Thursday, February 11, 2010

R.I.P. Alexander McQueen

The greatest designer of our time is dead at 40. The story here. He compulsively and relentlessly broadened the boundaries of his art and craft, and his influence on young designers past, present, and future will be everlasting.

(photos of Alexander McQueen Fall 2006 ready-to-wear via, by Marcio Madeira)

Classic Vintage Scents: Chasing Cary Grant

Last night I inhaled the scent of Cary Grant. It was delightful.

His cologne, I mean. № 89 from Floris, the British perfume house, which has been perfuming the great and good and best-not-to-say since 1730. My friend Richard entered the shop--in 89 Jermyn Street--specifically to buy Cary Grant's preferred cologne. He made inquiries about which one that might be. The woman behind the counter wasn't sure, but Floris remains a family business (nearly three centuries! amazing) so she called one of the scions to find out. He apparently wasn't sure either, so the decision was taken to "call the old man."

"№ 89!" the old man responded. He divulged that this was also the favorite fragrance of Ian Fleming, notoriously meticulous about dress and grooming. And so Richard claimed his prize and brought it to our dinner table. We all spritzed liberally. The scent, as the company tells, is:

"Orange and bergamot blended with lavender and neroli . . . warmed with a touch of spicy nutmeg, the floral heart is underscored by the dominant woody accord of sandalwood, cedarwood and vetiver in this quintessentially English gentleman’s fragrance."

In the words of the lass in the Irish Spring soap ads, I like it too. And come this spring, when an eau de cologne seems the best way to scent linen and lace, quintessential English gentlemen might have some company.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How to Dress for Valentine's Day

This old-time madrigal beautifully sums mens' attitudes on the outfit you so feverishly select for the big day:

My Love in her attire doth show her wit,
It doth so well become her;
For every season she hath dressings fit,
For Winter, Spring, and Summer.
No beauty she doth miss
When all her robes are on;
But Beauty's self is she
When all her robes are gone.

International Harvester

I'm still feeling soothed and enchanted by the Chanel Spring 2010 details video, below. The wheat-embroidered fabric is a standout (for Lagerfeld as well? Was this the underlying inspiration for the show's barnyard theme?).

Whatever. Here's Chanel's version (click to see detail).

And here is a vintage original--which I reckon to be '60s era, by the master beaders in Hong Kong--that is much of like, at least in its whole-grain goodness. Update it with a pair of skinnies for spring, and know that you are wearing the very chicest of forage.

(photo of Chanel jacket via by Monica Feudi /

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Closer Look at Vintage Shooting Glasses

Whether you're an actual hunter, or your first name is Hunter, or you simply want a supercool twist on the usual sunnies, you can do no wrong with a pair of vintage shooting glasses, like the marvelous 1920s version below from Etsy.

The amber-tinted lenses heighten contrast when conditions are hazy, overcast or glareful. (You can actually see the effect in the photo -- note the greater clarity of the pearls and starfish behind the glass.)

For stalking big game or living life as fashion shoot, specs like these, or later versions, as illustrated in the ad below, are right on target.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Chanel Details, Spring 2010

I case you haven't seen it, here is a wonderful silent film from Youtube showing Chanel's spring line, with a focus on the details that make it special. For me, the high points are the raw-edged chiffon (which could so easily be replicated with an inexpensive vintage scarf and a sharp pair of scissors), the lovely floral embellishment on the straps of a dress (here, all you'd need is a length of decorative ribbon and an ability to tack with needle and thread), and the gorgeous wheaten embroidery in gold against black velvet (don't try this at home, guys, leave it to the experts at Lesage . . . )

(many thanks to AdoreVintage for the tip!)

Pucci Prints Know No Season

Need a shot of glam to get you through several feet of snow? Have a shoe size that is, shall we say, substantial? Have $249.99 in loose change to spare? (yeah, me neither).

Even if none of the above is true, aren't these slushcutters just splendid. They've cheered my Monday morning immensely, and pricey though they are, they're a lot less expensive than a week in Ticino.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Closer Look at Mr. John

Am thinking today about hatmaker Mr. John, and how peculiar it is that this stellar designer from America's midcentury has fallen into near total obscurity. Perhaps if we all continued to wear hats as beautifully as Mad Men's Trudie Campbell does here his name would remain emblematic of all that was chic in the American style.

Himself a German with a background in medicine and art, John Pico Harberger came to the States in 1919 and set up shops in New York, Miami, and Palm Beach. Over his long, long career his most noteworthy achievements were designing the millinery for Scarlet O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot, and winning countless awards, including fashion's highest honor, the Coty American Fashion Critics Award. His clients included Greta Garbo, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and the Duchess of Windsor.

As a dictator of style, he was a master of propaganda:

"A hat cannot actually give one golden curls if the hair is mouse-colored and stringy; it cannot lift a face, pay overdue bills, subtract ten years from one's age, or transform a plain soul into a reigning princess. But it can lend practically any woman a temporary out-of-herself feeling. For the right hat creates a desired mood, and that isn't fiction or fancy, but fact, fact, fact."

I suspect the man would be less than pleased to see his creations for sale on eBay, but so they are, and well undervalued they are too. Case in point: this ravishing feather toque, complete with a box that itself is so wonderfully evocative of its age and station.

I'd say a Mr. John revival is well overdue.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

And Why NOT Make a Bag Out of . . . .

Can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but, unlikely as it sounds, you can make a damn cute bag out of an old vinyl record album.

I can't think of a better way to accessorize a rockabilly outfit--shake it up baby!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What's That About? Peter Pan Collar

This photo of actress Carey Mulligan reminded me of how wonderful a peter pan collar can look given a great set of bones and a charming refusal to kowtow to notions of how much bare skin a young woman in the public eye actually owes that eye. I'm not sure if Mulligan is consciously channeling Audrey but either way she's doing a fine job.

But about the collar. How odd is it that it is named after a character who, in J.M. Barrie's own words, "was clad in skeleton leaves and the juices that flow from the trees" -- i.e., nothing so restraining as an actual neckband.

Online sources are scant as regards the precise origin of the term, but it's safe to say that this style had its heyday among girls and teens in the 1950s, when, worn peeking over the neckline of a cardigan, possibly with a set of starter pearls, it was emblematic of chaste good grooming.

As for Peter himself, chaste he may have been by default, but good grooming? Most unlikely.

(photo of Carey Mulligan from the Frisky, photo of Audrey Hepburn from Doctor Macro's High Quality Movie Scans, Peter Pan illustration from Wikimedia, many thanks to all.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Exercise in Utility: Double Hole Canvas Belts

The "utility look" is big fashion news this spring, with everyone from Gap to Galliano going for epaulets and grommets in a big way.

The concept isn't new, of course--khaki and sand-colored cotton reappear perennially under the names "safari look," or "military look,"--but the genius this time around is in fashion having lit on a term that sounds hip and economically-mindful at the same time. Utility! Yeah, I need more of that!

You probably have a lot of this kind of stuff already. There's only one item that seems to me a must, if you care about trend-riding to any degree, and that is a two-holed canvas belt, like the one issued by Burberry above. (Aside--I love how bleached the model looks in this photo--not just her hair, but the whole package, as if she'd been plucked from the deadwood on a windy beach somewhere).

Anyway, the belt. Burberry's version will run over £125/$200. An army-surplus version will be two decimal points cheaper. Burberry's hardware and canvas will be much nicer, obviously, but if, as they say, it's all about utility, the secondhand versions can do it, yes they can.

(photo by David Sims in American Vogue, January 2010)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fashion DIY: How To Make Lace Leggings

So Yves Saint Laurent was in a lace-leggings frame of mind for the house's Resort 2010 collection, as the pumpkin versions at left demonstrate. While store-bought lace leggings are all well and good, is it wholly necessary to buy a dedicated pair WHEN, as often as not, lurking in the closet, are the makings of much the same thing, in the guise of an old pair of lace tights that for one reason or another rarely get worn?

Once the toe-caps have been snipped off these do a remarkably good imitation of the more finished versions. Just grab a sharp pair of scissors, cut approximately at the ball of the foot, and pull on, adjusting from the top rather than the bottom.

Black lace is nice at night (a bit too 80s Madonna for my taste for day). And perfect for spring: a pair of pastel or nude leggings, for a barely-there lacy look, along the lines of what Marc Jacobs was showing here. For whatever reason lace tights in unusual colors are frequently found in the bargain basket at secondhand stores--see if you come across a pair you can transform.