Wednesday, January 27, 2010

From the Street to the Fourth Floor: Trainers Take Harvey Nichols

Harvey Nichols, one of London's great department stores, has just introduced their Fourth Floor Project, which, along the lines of Paris's Colette, is dedicated to achingly hip merchandise, from handbags to phones. One of the floor's standout features is a trainer wall for ladies only, filled with sneaks by high-end designers going street, among them Christian Louboutin's £660/$1070 gold-studded white high-tops.

High-design trainers are fantastic, as these recent snaps from Barcelona show. But do they need to cost in triple digits? Don't think so. Below are some pairs picked pretty much at random from Etsy, in great condition (obv. a critical requirement for vintage footgear)--high-top Jordaches from back in the day, some adorable Liz Claiborne slip-ons that play into the whole color-block thing going on, and these great great New York Transit neon sneaker/brogues.

A girl can never have too many foot-friendly shoes--and in the vintage world, £660 will nab you quite a few.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On the Origins of a Species of Unnatural Fur

Quick Quiz:

What's the very first thing that springs to mind when hearing the term "Princeton's Mutations?"

a) a tiger mascot with an extra tail
b) a freshman class turned hideously crimson by an evil bioengineer in Cambridge
c) a football team that beats Yale more than once per decade

None of the above! The answer, of course, is d) a faux-fur coat

Yes indeed, back in the '50s somebody thought this would be an excellent name for a high-end faux garment. Which ranks right up there with Droopy & Browns formalwear in England and Sweden's Acne Jeans as one of the most questionable marketing decisions in fashion history.

Nonetheless, Life magazine's December 5, 1955 issue, which devoted its cover and an illustrated feature to man-made mink, and had this to say about Princeton's Mutations. . .

"After four years of beaverlike work in the laboratory, an eye-fooling duplicate of a Cerulean mink stole is now available for about a fiftieth of the price of the real thing . . . . Called Princeton's Mutations, after the firm that makes it, the cloth has just been introduced in gray, brown, and taupe . . . Hopeful guys who assume that this mock mink solves their fur-for-Christmas-problems should be warned that their dolls may say, "Take back your coal-water-and-natural-gas mink!"

Etsy seller renouveauclothing has this one on offer and I think it looks great. And the label's on the inside, right?

Monday, January 25, 2010

This Old Stiletto

In the immortal words of Billy Joel, some ladies are so good with their stiletto that you don't really mind the pain . . .

He's talking about mean girls with a bad attitude. Stiletto heels are another story. If they pinch, or rub, or squeeze your toesies into an impossible little ^, then you do mind the pain, and then some, and typically retaliate by sending the offender to the back of the closet, the Azkaban of evil footwear.

But there's an alternative to the banishment . . . make the shoe do some hard labor. I saw this ad for a little plastic stiletto that works as a doorstop and thought "how cute!"

And then realized that an actual shoe would work just as well, as long as the toe is shallow and you dislike it intently enough to risk scuffing the leather.

How seductive would one of these babies look holding open your bedroom door? If the shoe doesn't fit, wedge it.

(Shoe wedge designed by Liz Dubois and Anthony Petrie, available from Stuart Weitzman stiletto image from

Friday, January 22, 2010

Kiss-Clasp Me Deadly

Like Ava, above, there's something in classic film noir that grips and won't let go . . . the rainslicked nights, the melancholy of the hero, the dead-souled beauty of the woman that destroys him . . . all wrapped in looming black curves that were a nightmarish exaggeration of the Deco sensibility.

That design ethos crept into the late-40s daylight as well, with Buick's Roadmaster automobile, the furniture designs of mid-century modern architects like Henry Glass . . .

and, now getting to the point of this post, handbags.

The beauty above, made by the dubiously-named François of California, captures all the nasty dark volupté of the time, right on down to the pink vinyl interior. François bags are marked by this overblown sculptural quality. Notwithstanding the calibre of design, examples can be found at very reasonable prices online and in vintage shops. This particular example is from Vintage à la Mode in San Francisco.

If you're into channeling your inner Noir heroine, a bag like this would be a reasonably safe way to go.

(photo top from The Killers, 1946, review on; Henry P. Glass chair design from the ArchiTech Gallery's show Future Perfect: Mid-Century Modern Design Drawings, 1947 Buick Roadmaster from, many thanks)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

In the Zip File

We've all been here, yes? Working up a zip just so far and then hitting the DMZ between southerly and northerly leverage. If there's a helpful man around the house, he's happy to oblige, but that's not always the case.

Which is why this little device seems so genius. With a Zippade on hand, you'll never get stuck, seems to me a must for every vintage fan's drawer.

Photo above, Bare Your Bare Bones, Sea Legs Snapshots' on photostream, here at Flickr, many thanks!)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Not Your Granny's Apron

The shorts-over-leggings look is a trend with staying power. But girls, honestly, it's getting old.

Wouldn't this darling apron, its satin ribbon tied in front, be so much cuter over black leggings or white, especially with a cropped leather jacket up top? Because honestly, there is no way this garment should stay tied to the stove.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wrist Candy: Vintage Needlepoint Bags

After years and years of Dominatrix Chic in the handbag department, I am so glad to see that designers are ditching the chains and padlocks and moving back to the center with traditional frame bags . . .

But why stop there? What's catching my eye these days are vintage needlepoint bags by the likes of Koro Creations, Souré, and the pictured example from Christine Custom bags of Detroit . . . outlandishly feminine and so well suited to spring's forecasted pastels and lace. Or even right now, when the promise of violets helps dispel winter's gray . . .

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Closer Look: The Mexican Rebozo

Still thinking about hoods. Then, yesterday, came across this beautiful cover photograph by Clifford Coffin for Vogue's April 1951 issue. According to the caption, model Jean Patchett'a headwrap is a Mexican rebozo, a term I'd never encountered before.

What fascinating garments these are. Essentially, they are the living fabric of Mexico, rectangular shawls that were traditionally handloomed, initially from maguey cactus fibers, later from cotton, wool, or silk. They were worn to lend warmth, modesty, and/or the ability to carry babies and other cargo hands-free, and then, with the Spanish conquest and sweep of Catholicism, they became mandatory head-coverings upon entering church. Today, according to this in-depth article by Vicky Cowal in The Herald Mexico, rebozos are still universally worn in Mexico across class and regional culture. Frida Kahlo, below, was rarely without one.

What sets rebozos apart from other varieties of shawl--from pashminas to paisleys to Cantonese--is the distinctive patterns that may be knotted into the fringe, macrame-style. Also, tells Cowal, traditionally-dyed black rebozos--often used as shrouds--are known as "rebozos de aroma," as the black dye has an unpleasant smell which is subsequently masked by soaking in rose petals, orange leaves, and fragrant herbs, whose scent may linger for years.

Authentic rebozos are still found across Mexico, and are ubiquitous in markets around the country. ¡Viva rebozos! Long may their tradition continue.

(photo of Frida Kahlo by Nickolas Muray, 1939, via, © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives. Red rebozo on loom from Glenda Alexandra Suarez's Flickr photostream, many thanks!)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Auction Alert: Roger Vivier (??) vintage shoes

Quick note: just came across this lot on eBay, for a fine Coblentz vintage bag and a matching pair of shoes, which will close in a couple hours. The bag is lovely, but more importantly, the shoes are listed as "Roger Vivien" of Paris--which seems likely to be "Roger Vivier," who, as collaborator to Christian Dior, was defining the footwear of the midcentury. As always, buyer beware, but if you wear a narrow 8.5 US and fancy a bit of vintage shoe fashion history . . . take a closer look.

Postscript: The sole bidder got bag and shoes for $20!! A steal.

Friday, January 15, 2010

How an Off-Duty Model Wears Vintage

If you're not personally camped out in a café at the corner of Cool and Hip, Altamira: Models Off Duty is a great place to see street fashion worn as its designers intended. One of my favorite postings in recent weeks was of German model Aymeline Valade.

Check out her necklace, a big old pocketwatch strung on a long chain. I have a sneaking suspicion it's not actually old, but it's a great inspiration, no? Because how much more better would a real, slightly tarnished old silver one look? Plus the keffiyeh scarf, draped model style.

My favorite element? Those grey suede brogues. Brown suede is fairly common but I've never seen them in quite this shade before, which seems perfect for when winter's blacks start making the shift into springtime's navy and white.

What's best about Aymeline Valade's look? You don't have to look like Aymeline to pull it off.

(photos from Altamira: Models Off Duty, many thanks!)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What to Do With a Vintage Muff

My mom's been cleaning house again--translation: THROWING AWAY COOL OLD STUFF--and thank goodness, instead of consigning it to the town dump, or to the local resale shop, where it would have sat unloved until the end of days, she packed up and shipped, in a Harry & David Fruit of the Month cardboard box (they're still getting those? Grapefruit in January! Whoohoo!!), my great-grandmother's mint beaver muff.

As I unpacked it, the kids, eating their breakfast cereal, were agog.

"What's it for?!"
"To keep your hands warm, sillies."
"Didn't people have gloves in olden days?"
"Well, yes, but . . . "
"Didn't they have mittens?"
"Um . . ."

Logical questions on the part of my genius children, for which I didn't have adequate answers.

Further interrogation of mom revealed that the muff was worn on long car rides, in the days when cars were unheated. Hmm. A handful of mouseclicks determined that muffs have been popular among men and women since at least the 17th century, and that beaver pelts were favoured for their fine, dense fur. They were showy bits of kit in the Regency days, the bigger the better, and were frequently worn during bracing outdoor strolls.

So that's the history. But how to make the muff functional today, when cars have not only central heating, but bum warmers, and bracing outdoor walks no longer involve ankle-length skirts and pelisses?

I tossed and turned the muff, considering. One end could be sewn up and straps attached, to make for a cunning fur backpack. Which, come on, I'd never wear. Or it could be cut in half, and the ends attached to a cloth coat to make showy cuffs. But again, no not really.

Then, bing, the answer. The one true place to carry a vintage fur muff--on an airplane, back in the usual accomodations in cattle class. Where the air is always frigid. The blankets are hopelessly inadequate. And the seat configuration makes it impossible to squash a pillow into a comfortable headrest. The muff would solve all of the problems and more.

So once again, this old muff is going places. Prepared for takeoff? Yes indeed.

(fashion plate from Nicholas Heideloff's Gallery of Fashion, 1794-1802, from Catherine Decker's Regency Fashion page, many thanks!)

Pattern Matching with Grace Kelly

Just learned of the Victoria & Albert Museum's plans for a show on Grace Kelly's wardrobe next April (nice Daily Mail article on it here). CAN NOT WAIT, but in the meantime was most intrigued by the tidbit that the dress Kelly wore to meet Rainier for the first time was not couture, but in fact whipped up from a McCall's Easy Sew pattern.

It wasn't difficult to find Michou Simon's photos (via Paris Match) of their first encounter (and doesn't Rainier look pleased as punch), but digging out the pattern itself yielded only half-satisfactory results. The one below, with its dropped bodice, seems the best match, absent the long sleeves.

Will the exhibition reveal whether or not McCalls 3151 is indeed the model? Time will tell. But it was fun digging around the internet archives (especially So Vintage Patterns and the Vintage Patterns Pool at Flickr) to find the best match.

New Ways with Old Lace: How to Restyle Vintage Separates

Every so often some fashion expert will declare that vintage is OVER, the 20+ year movement has finally run off its legs. Impossible, I say. There are simply too many ways to wear it, renew it, make it feel fresh--especially those pieces that are not mainline elements but instead played a supporting role in the past. Today's entry is about thinking these sideliners out of old roles and into new.

The January issue of British Vogue, in their essential-reading More Dash than Cash, featured the model above in a vintage petticoat worn as a shrug. Not a look every one of us can pull off--but a great way to rework an underrepresented and easy-to-source piece.

In the brilliant Zuburbia vintage blog (bookmark now if you love old clothes and great writing about them), Mary Kincaid recently highlighted a gorgeous bedjacket that would feel right at home on the street this spring.

My favorite has to be this example from Etsy vintage seller PranceandSwagger. Wear an old frilly apron as a capelet? Absolutely, especially when it looks this cute.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Who's a Sexy Nun, Then? Why the World Loves a Wimple

Not a lot of explaining necessary here . . .

Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, and most recently, in the December Paris Vogue, Lara Stone demonstrate how to work a wimple.

Call me crazy, but I think Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga is going for much the same effect from an entirely different direction, with his sleeveless hoodies for Spring 2010. Yes they're black leather rather than starched linen, and owe as much to the hood rat as they do to the lamb of God, but don't they make the wearer look alluringly untouchable--encased--in exactly the same sort of way?

Audrey Hepburn in The Nun's Story, Sophia Loren in White Sister, Lara Stone photographed by Cédric Buchet for December 2009 Vogue Paris.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pimp My Down Coat

In a land where small talk is overwhelmingly dominated by what's up with the weather, even the Britons are wearying of chat about the recent spate of snow and cold, and the insufficient supply of sandy grit to lend traction to the roads. Given that this is an island nation, i.e. ringed with beaches, the latter seems a bit mystifying to the non-native, but the whys and wherefores seem best left unasked.

Anyway, apart from conversation, the weather has lent an excellent excuse to revisit my Land's End down coat. Fashion writer India Knight, in her brilliant blog Posterous, recently rhapsodized about her own brand new one. I'm less thrilled about my ten-year-old one, because it's dowdy and it's black and I've worn it through rain and snow and sleet and hail and pregnancy on my appointed rounds. In this case, familiarity has bred contempt. Nowadays I'll only put it on when conditions are so dire nobody can see properly anyway.

But it's a perfectly serviceable coat. And I have the services of Sagheer, the wonder tailor. There's no reason apart from the dowdy factor that I shouldn't be wearing it when it's cold. So instead of rushing out to buy a Uniqlo Jil Sander puffa like countless fashionable others, I decided to give the old warhorse a makeover.

The first problem was the length. Mid-calf is great if you live in Fargo or Land's End and need that extra two feet of goose featherage to make subzero liveable. In London it's a sacrifice you can make in the name of style. So I had Sagheer cut it down to mid-thigh.

The next problem was the volume. The coat hung straight down from the shoulders, a silhouette designed to fit all shapes and sizes, i.e. dead boring. What it needed was a belt. Since we had like fabric aplenty from the cut-down, some of it was used to make an inch-wide, snap close belt. Just enough to lend some shape.

Finally, the special effects. How I would love to have added a pelmet or shawl lapels like Giambattista Valli did brilliantly for his Gamme Rouge line of down coats for skiwear specialist Moncler (above), or Junya Watanabe's marvelous line for Commes des Garcons (below).

But this kind of refashioning was beyond even Sagheer's formidable skills so I'm going to settle for draping on my faux fur scarf, pinned crosswise in front, so that it will sit like a collar.

And presto! A new look from old, for much less money than it would cost to buy afresh. If you'd like to try this at home but don't have a tailor on call, consider revitalizing your down coat by:

1) Just add a belt in similar nylon fabric, or go for a bold contrast. A bit of snug around the waistline could transform the coat's look. Keep the belt in the pocket when the coat is not on.
2) Fold the sleeves under to 3/4 length and wear with gorgeous long leather gloves.
3) Instead of wearing any old scarf, find one that suits your coloring brilliantly, and experiment with ways of tying it. If you want to splash out, check out this very cool down scarf by Nau.

So here's the end result. Sometimes a few tweaks are all you need.