Monday, August 31, 2009

More Ways to Tie a Scarf, by Vera

Here's one I just love: an innovative scarf design in a striking Op print, plus detailed instructions on how to tie it.

The scarf is from Vera. Vera Neumann was a highly esteemed and collectable print specialist, whose signature motif was her name in cursive with a little ladybug nearby. (A great history here, thank you FuzzyLizzy Vintage!) Scarves are the vintagewear most easily found today by this designer, but she also licensed her fabric to garment manufacturers--I have a wonderful white maxi in polyester jersey strewn with a garden of her flowers.

But back to the scarf. Below are the instructions on how to tie it--don't you love the labels ("First Lady" !!). Click on the image to read it more clearly . . . .

I'm on the road today, but when I get home will try to replicate the styles with one of my more traditional squares; I'm sure with a bit of finagling it will come out just fine.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Don't Read This Entry

No, I don't mean it. But here's the thing. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it's one of the last days of summer, and I intend to spend as little time riding my screen as possible.

Even if you're at work, in school, or are occupied full time in caring for others, can you get twenty minutes to get outdoors, and find some examples of nature's beauty to inspire your love of fashion?

There are some great florals out there, the real kind. The edges of a cloud against a sky might give you new ideas for wearing white frills against a color field. The iridescence of a rain puddle, or a pigeon's neck, is a masterclass in tone and texture.

The point is, I'm going to appreciate the world in three dimensions today, as much as I can. I'll be back next Monday with more of the usual.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Necklace is More, Autumn 09

Harper's Bazaar informs us that statement necklaces are again big news for Fall. This is great for vintage lovers, because a mere few dollars/pounds says open sesame to the Aladdin's Cave worth of vintage neckgear out there online, at antiques fairs, and even at tag sales/car boot sales. [If you're new to the blog, we're bilingual here. American and Brit -- Canadians have to fend for themselves].

Anyway, I think the vintage necklace below is a jawdropper, in looks and theme. The retro depiction of the exotic east is certainly a talking point--and if that's not a qualification for a statement necklace, I'm not sure what is.

(necklace top by Oscar de la Renta Autumn 09, image from

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fashion Pedigree: Emanuel Ungaro

Have just learned that Emanuel Ungaro, a designer I long presumed to be a native Italian, was in fact born in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. Coming from this sun-drenched, lavender-scented, open-skied region of Europe, he found common cause with the Basque Cristóbal Balenciaga, with whom he apprenticed. Despite their provincial upbringings, the two went on to dominate the salons of Paris.

I believe it's possible to see in the early Ungaro traces of his master's sense of pattern and form. Take this suit, from the Parallèle line, which is far superior to the subsequent Ter and Emanuel diffusion labels that came later on.

The tailoring is exquisite, and I'm particularly taken with the bow detail on the back of the jacket. It's saucy, but in the most elegant possible way. Keep an eye out for early Ungaro if you also love brilliant tailoring. Many secondhand sellers don't know who taught him. Let's try to keep that amongst ourselves.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Done and Dustered--A Quick Look at Duster Coats

Just like Darwin's finches, garments evolve and adapt as a class to new environments. A nice example is the duster coat. Originally this was a shin-length, unwaisted, lightweight coat that was worn while riding to protect the clothes underneath from dust (the Driza-Bone company of Australia still makes very handsome oilskin duster coats, but I reckon very few do any actual time on the back of a horse). With the advent of the automobile, the duster coat carried on its protective role, though now in the open seat of a roadster.

When cars became sedans and road grime was no longer an issue for passengers, the duster coat underwent a peculiar yet perfectly apt transformation from the great outdoors into the dust-bunny strewn interior. The 1940s, 50s and 60s saw its heyday as a front-buttoning, light cotton cover-up a domestic goddess would throw on as she set about her household duties.

The term duster is now used interchangeably with housecoats and housedresses, especially when they appear as vintage collectables. I think the entire category is vastly undervalued -- many of these pieces are absolute treasures, especially those that for whatever reason saw little active duty as a functional cover-up.

I'm no expert on these particular garments (if you are, please write in!). But general buying tips do occur and seem worth passing along:

1) Go for a great print, like the jam jar special at top.

2) There are a great many examples for sale at extremely reasonable prices. For that reason try to be patient and find one that's mint.

3) The simplicity of the cut of these garments means you can accessorize to the hilt--ideally with more modern pieces so as to avoid a Lucy Ricardo-style costume effect.

4) Consider wearing a great duster like the one at left over a sheath dress, or atop muted-color leggings, or unbuttoned over jeans and a tee . . .

Happy hunting!

Monday, August 24, 2009

If Lockets Could Kill

My favorite part of a James Bond movie--apart from the adrenaline-jolt of the opening sequence--is the visit to Q's lab. An instrument of discrete destruction disguised as an accessory? Fantastic. I'm particularly taken with the pocket-sized gadgets like a handsome killer pen, or rapelling unit hidden in a sleek watch.

So you can imagine my amazement to discover that, on eBay (and presumably elsewhere in the web's vast secondhand sector) is an entire vault's worth of jewelry that, if not exactly licensed to kill, and in no way illegal, nonetheless compels interest in and no little dread about the lady who choses to wear it.

I'm talking about poison rings, which, when pressed at the right point, unlatch to reveal a hidden compartment, which in the bad old days was intended to hold a dose large enough to do permanent damage to the unfortunate victim. There are many recently-made models out there, typically with Goth or satanic stylings, yadda yadda, which are intended purely for show.

Far more intruiging, I think, are the old versions (like the beauty at left). The Victorians apparently made quite a few of them.

Now in fairness, I don't believe those 19th century ladies were all sporting lethal jewelry with the intention to knock off their starch-collared husbands. These rings could as easily act as a holder of keepsakes as holders of arsenic.

Still, pretty cool, in a shuddery kind of way. There aren't many items of dress I could possibly wear in common with Lucrezia Borgia. If I were ever so inclined, I now know which keywords to enter.

Friday, August 21, 2009

How to Refresh a Vintage Tweed Coat

Am still in raptures from the glorious scenes in Coco Before Chanel, which I saw last night. A steely yet immensely sympathetic performance by Audrey Tatou, one of the ultimate rags to riches storylines, but most of all, the clothes.

I deliberately don't use the word fashion, because the garments worn in the film worked: as costume to be sure, but utterly believable as pieces you could ride, stoop to hem, and dance in--and be divested of--without a seam blasting apart. In other words, clothes not so precious that you can't live in them.

This was especially true with the equestrian tweeds so prominent in the film. How gorgeous they were. And how lucky for us today that the equivalent is fairly easy to find in vintage and secondhand shops, because for some reason, a great tweed isn't valued to the same degree that cashmere or silk or even recycled fleece with an A&F logo might be.

If you find a cracking tweed coat at a good price, consider taking it to another level. This late 50s British greatcoat cost next to nothing in one of my local charity shops, in part because the lining was a faded and torn. So I had my tailor replace it with a salmon pink satin, and I'm very happy with the result.

Changing a lining is a fairly big project: a more minor transformation could be as simple as changing the buttons.

Go out there and find a gorgeous tweed. It will keep you warm. It will last forever. Coco would approve.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why I Love Ebay, Part 6

I love high fashion as much as the next girl.

But sometimes you have to laugh. I suspect even dour fashion taskmaster Cristóbal Balenciaga (who commanded utter silence during his shows) would crack a small, secret smile upon seeing these earrings.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Silk Scenes

While I like seeing some friend's 2-second-old Facebook upload taken by iPhone midway through a bungee jump down some New Zealand gorge, I'm old enough to remember slide shows, and these were pretty awesome also.

This time of year, in the backstretch of August, friends and neighbors would disperse to various ports-of-call near and far. Once everybody was back home and the transparencies returned from the developer, we'd have a round of get-togethers down in the rec rooms, reliving the adventures along with them.

I loved these parties, and not just because we got to stay up well past dinner and watch the grownups get snockered.

Here's how it would go. After the inevitable ten minutes of futzing with the projector and the slide trays and screen (the latter always snapping back up its roller after the first few attempts to stretch it), the French onion dip would land on the table, the lights would dim, and the projector's lamp would go on, throwing a hard, bright beam through the darkened room, which, just as in Mad Men, soon filled with swirls of cigarette smoke.

And then the pictures would click on. If my family was hosting, they were in no particular order, surprising even Dad, who'd be doing the man's work of supervising A-V. We'd go through several trayfuls. If the slides were blurry, thumb-filled, unflattering, or overexposed nobody cared--imperfection was part of it, and the ribbing was a good leveler among those who weren't lucky enough to get a holiday that year.

For a kid, it was magical--the dark room, the off-the-cuff narration, eating onion dip, hearing your mom squeal at a particularly gruesome candid, and best of all, that wonderful few seconds of anticipation as the tray ratcheted forward and the next slide dropped into place.

So, a bit of a long introduction to today's entry, Around the World in 80 Scarves (Actually More Like 5).

In no particular order,

the backstreets of Paris, in a lovely shade of bordeaux

The Canadian side of Niagara Falls--the boat (not painted to scale) is called "The Maid of the Mist":

The Trevi Fountain (with lots of coins for wishes!)

The Via Condotti, also in Rome (cue envious ooooohs from the ladies, yawns from the kids)

And last but not least, good old London, now my home town . . . in glorious (and true to form) monochrome:

Have a great Wednesday, and don't hog the onion dip.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Duncan Do-Nots

Here's the great thing about this photograph, for Missoni, in this month's British Harper's Bazaar. Even though model's sitting shotgun in a moving vehicle, scarves all aflutter around her, that right shoe with its glamorous golden stiletto heel is in perfect focus. So bravo for that.

Otherwise, the picture makes me want to give Angela Missoni a good talking-to.


Of course you've heard of Isadora Duncan, the American interpretive dancer who resettled in Europe in the early days of the last century, lived the ultimate bohemian lifestyle (complete with gut-wrenching personal tragedy), and died on the way to a tryst with her toyboy chauffeur. Died horribly. Thanks to her overlong SCARVES, which were hanging out the back of the open-top Bugatti.

OK, so let's pretend that the vehicle above isn't actually moving, and take a better look at the fashion. It is striking, in a free-spirited, 70s kind of way, what with its cable knit and woolly leggings and armwarmers and crocheted skirt and sweater-hoodie-fringed-scarf-wrap all in one. It would be a superb look for a romantic walk the Scottish Moors, except for the stiletto heel part. So this is the country version.

Meanwhile, over on eBay, the citified version is up on offer. Granted, it has more of an 80s vibe with its resplendent pink plaidness, but it does offer a mummy's worth of wrap, plus the wholly improbable bonus of woolly Bermuda shorts. In its own way, it's as brilliantly bonkers as the outfit above.

(but please no trailing ends in moving vehicles!! thank you).

Monday, August 17, 2009

It Bag Unpacked: Looking at a Fall '09 Valentino Ad

This advertisement, shot by Mert & Marcus and currently running in the September issue of British Harper's Bazaar, is extraordinary. I spent so much time looking at it on the page I thought it might be fun to go slightly off-topic and talk about what's beyond the obvious: a beautiful model--Iris Strubegger--selling a bag and a brand image.

First, the model's pose. Seems to me it's a direct lift from the famous (and at the time shockingly predatory) stance of Lisa Taylor in Helmut Newton's photo of 1975.
If anything though, the Valentino photo is even more shocking in what it proposes the bag is.

This model is called "Petale," and it issues from the garden's worth of floral embellishment that Valentino delighted in throughout his career, most evidently in the silk corolla of this gorgeous gown below, from the last collection he officially designed, in 2008.

It's possible (but unlikely) that Valentino was himself inspired by the swirling petals of Georgia O'Keeffe, who was notorious for denying any sexual content in her art.

But of course a flower is the ultimate sexual organ--a truth distilled in the image below by young artist Kimberly Applegate, who specializes in portraits of high-design chairs paired with famous paintings.

In the painting, an O'Keeffe poppy is background to a sleek red modernist throne. Designed by Eero Saarinen in 1948, it's known as the "Womb Chair".

It also happens to be the very chair upon which Iris sits above. Coincidence? Maybe . . . but given all the overtones and undertones playing through this photo, it's difficult not to feel that that expensive tote between her legs has, for some reason, a hypnotic and dangerous power . . .

So that's that. Let's now move on to the service element, which this blog is supposedly all about. Let me tell you I scoured the web for a cool vintage bag resembling the Petale bag, or a maribou romper like Iris more-or-less wears here. No luck! Everything even vaguely similar looked pretty cheesy in comparison, and no wonder--the real things cost a fortune.

But! There is a belt out there in resale land that that does a passable imitation of the one in the photo. Green snakeskin. Lots of allusions there too, but that's for you to mull over . . .

(Helmut Newton: Woman [Lisa Taylor] Examining Man, St. Tropez, 1975; photo of Valentino gown from Valentino: Themes and Variations, 2008; Georgia O'Keeffe, Abstraction White Rose, 1927 (c) Georgia O'Keeffe Museum)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fine Feathered Trends

This image, from the Fall '09 campaign from Givenchy, is striking, in a bipolar way. The models, gorgeous as they are, are ghoulish; you get the impression that the art director gave a last-minute directive that the fangs be photoshopped out. Still, the imagery perfectly fits the mood of the clothing, and if that's a measure of success, the ad is superb.

My favorite element is the headdress. Zoom in on it by clicking on the pic. A gothic toque, high as the Pope's mitre but pretty much its opposite in goodwill toward men.

It reminded me a bit of another great high-fashion head ornament, with a playful savagery that perfectly suited the model and mood . . .

Women through the ages have worn feathers to add dramatic height and flourish. Proust writes about his belle-epoque opera-goers showing off the latest aigrettes, or erect, single-feathered headdresses, so named after the egret feathers they often bore.

In modern times, upright feathers can make a brilliant fashion statement. But unruffled can be gorgeous too--plumes worn flat to the head, on a headband or sculpted cap--and these are often more appropriate when raptoresque is not the way to go.

This guineafowl headband, for example, is quite subtle on, yet it has drawn avid comment from at least two countryside gents (who were pleased to recognize the plumage in a setting outside a hedgerow).

Feathered headbands are all over this season, so have a good look around--very nice artificial feathers are also a possibility if you are so inclined. Aloft or low-lying, they are an accessory that gets a conversation going.

(photo of Kate Moss © Juergen Teller for The Face, 1996)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How to Buy a Vintage Boyfriend Jacket

All the glossy fashion mags now blanket the front of their books with photocollages of "the trends you should be wearing". Quite frankly, these give me a headache. Too many items, too many decimal points on the price tags, too much information, period.

But, when two ultra-savvy fashion journalists provide written trend forecasts, it's a different story altogether. Clare Coulson and Sarah Mower here speak the gospel on the street-level trends that stylites will be wearing through the autumn. If you care at all about such things, this is all the news you really need.

The one definite buy-in for my own wardrobe? A tailored jacket with large (but not monstrous) shoulder pads.

In trendspeak, this is known as the "boyfriend" jacket, as if you had nicked it off your man and artlessly tossed it over your Rodarte leggings before a quick shopping run down New Bond Street.

The key words being as if. Nobody can do this and look decent unless said boyfriend has exactly the same body type as you plus a Saville Row tailor, which might be the case for a few fashion model/rock star hookups but is a formula for disaster for the rest of us.

Why? Because a jacket needs to fit, even if the proportions are exaggerated. One way to ensure good fit is to buy new, off the rack, in a trend-conscious retailer.

The better (to my mind) and far cheaper (inarguable) option is to buy vintage in a shop, or, if this isn't possible, to pick up a great boyfriend jacket online, through eBay, Etsy, or one of the thousands of web vintage purveyors who might have one exactly right for you. How to do this without tears?

1) Above all, don't key in the word "boyfriend". This will direct you to vendors who sniff your trend-hunger like blood and will make you pay dearly for it. Far better to shop with the lovely, unassuming vendors who will be ever so grateful if you help them shift that old 80's jacket that nobody's wanted for several decades now.

2) By all means do key in the names of designers who built a business out of the same long-line, big-shouldered, business-y sorts of jackets that are suddenly looking so fresh again. Mondi. Escada. Tahari. Anne Klein. Austin Reed (on the Brit side). For a more severe, vampy, nipped-waist look, check out Basile, Lolita Lempicka, Gigli and, if you can find it cheap, Mugler. On the tweedy side, vintage Ralph Lauren (purple label if possible), or, less expensively, 80s Ann Taylor. If you can find anything that fits from old New York power-suit retailer Alcott & Andrews, you will have hit the jackpot, their stuff was beautiful.

3) Go for quality!! Why not? Cashmere, merino wool, mohair--all of these on the contents label tell you you're getting something special. Welt pockets are another indicator, as well as patterns (i.e. pinstriping) that matches up beautifully across seam lines.

4) Above all, look for great fit. Don't just go by size, this is deceptive. Measure a jacket you own that fits you beautifully and try to duplicate it, bearing in mind any difference in cut and drape in the jacket you seek. The key is the shoulder measure--even with larger pads, this should not be any more than half an inch wider than the shoulder seam-to-shoulder seam measure on your best-fitting jacket.

Keep looking! Don't settle! As the brilliant David Foster Wallace wrote in Infinite Jest, "Perversely, it is often more fun to want something than to actually have it."

True. But I have this jacket fresh in, Anne Klein of uncertain vintage, probably late 90s. The teardrop buttonholes are a nice detail. It's an excellent coverup for a more extroverted top, and I'm sure I'll be throwing it on again and again.

BTW, it cost £3 ($5-ish), postage included. Sometimes actually having is pretty good too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What's that About? The Sack Dress

All the recent writing about 1950s haute couture got me thinking about my very first exposure to this dramatic art form, which for better and worse has been indelible: Lucy and Ethel in their burlap-sack dresses and feed-bucket hats, thinking they were all that on the boulevards of Paris. "Jacques Marcel"--the designer they believed created the gowns (which were in fact the fine work of Ricky and Fred)--was fictitious, but he could have stood in for a number of French couturiers who were at the time experimenting with waistless dresses.

Cristóbal Balenciaga was among the first--both in relaxing the fit across the back (inspired by the original "sacques", loose-backed gowns that were ubiquitious in the 18th century), and in elongating the line of a suit jacket right down to tunic length.

Others followed suit with a more form-fitting, though still essentially waistless dress. Writer Anita Loos enthused in Vogue about its alluring mystique: "no gentleman is ever going to puzzle his brain about the form of a girl in a Bikini bathing suit."

Whether it's down to the antics of Lucy and Ethel, or due to the classic expression "she could look good in a potato sack" (excellently demonstrated at left by Marilyn), Americans have always had a wary relationship with the sack dress. I'd love to know if that extends to other nationalities as well; I'm fairly certain that menfolk the world over, despite the reassurances of vintage Vogue, would tacitly prefer the bikinis.

(Balenciaga coat, 1957, photographed by Seeberger, Bibliothèque nationale de France, in The Golden Age of Couture; silk damask sacque gown from Southcoast Historical Associates)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Anatomy of a Masterpiece IV: Balenciaga Pinned Down

I have the arch-insider fashion site The Fashion Spot to thank twice over today. Not only did their forum lend a definitive ID of the suit at left; it also provided a link to one of the suit's immediate descendants--a more figure-friendly variation that Neiman Marcus brought over to introduce Balenciaga to the wider American world. More about that in a bit.

The original, left, was photographed for Vogue in 1950, by Irving Penn. It is informally called 'the wishbone suit' due to the pattern of its buttons, which emphasizes its hourglass form. The model, Colette, herself had prominent hipbones and for this reason was said to be Balenciaga's favorite armature for his sculptural forms.

The suit appeared in Vogue again, this time photographed by Richard Avedon on what may have been his first assignment for the magazine, after he was talent-spotted by editor Carmel Snow. Here the model is Dovima. Snow's confidence was well placed--how beautifully the lines of the suit play against the weary net curtain behind. These fashions by Balenciaga and Dior and Chanel must have glided through the war-riven Paris streets like exotic fish through a wrecked ship.

One final image, from the Texas Fashion Collection at the North Texas University Fashion Archives (via surgirl at photobucket via The Fashion Spot)--the wishbone suit in a new incarnation: in moire satin, with a wider skirt, bearing a Neiman Marcus label in addition to that of Balenciaga.

The department store was visionary in its pursuit of Paris couture in the 1950s, mounting a regular French Fashion Exhibition and contracting with the Parisian houses to send models over for elite clients. This fascinating history is meticulously detailed in Myra Walker's Balenciaga and His Legacy.

(I'm convinced that this gorgeous book brings as much pleasure as any garment possibly could: if you love fashion, get your hands on a copy as soon as possible.)

(Model with dog by Richard Avedon, for Vogue, November 1950 © 1950 The Richard Avedon Foundation)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Why Can't I Leave a Comment? Plus other housekeeping issues . . .

The quick answer is, I don't know. Even I always have to click the "leave comment" button twice--the first try never takes. So! If you want to leave a comment, just try a second time, and it ought to appear.

To encourage you, I'm posting this new ad from British heritage brand Aquascutum. They're trying to break away from their traditional buyership of dotty older ladies who will wear the same sturdy mac for forty years. How are they doing with this image, do you reckon?

Also! If you like the blog, please consider becoming a follower--anonymous is fine. It's encouraging!

And a very happy Monday to you.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Her Suit

Dolce & Gabbana have decided that Huge Hairy Shoulders are the way forward for their Autumn 09 line . . .

Meanwhile, Chewie wants a credit, stat . . .

Friday, August 7, 2009

Now That's A Frock: Pierre Cardin

I am SUCH a fan of the early 1960s Pierre Cardin . . . in the early days, before the brand became hopelessly diluted by licensing deals, he designed dresses as sleek as racecars.

Here's a wonderful example, from So Vintage Patterns. Put a single pocket offline on a sacky sheath dress? He makes it work. Turn something like this out at home? Just awesome.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Anatomy of a Masterpiece III: The Headdress

For master couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga, the hat was just that. His adornments for the head were as meticulously conceived and executed as the wraps around the rest of the body. Each of his hats, assembled on the premises of his atelier by Mme Janine or Hélène, was designed to complement a specific outfit, so that the entirety of the look became a mobile sculpture.

Among his most dramatic hats was this wingspan creation of 1948. (John Galliano liked it so much he paid homage in Dior's Fall 2009 Couture line.)

Less dramatic, indeed rather introspective, is the velvet beret Balenciaga used to top off the suit below, from 1950. Perhaps he felt its soft folds and rather frivolous tassel provided a necessary antidote to the strict lines of the suit underneath.

It's possible, too, that his own self-image as an artist of cloth was coming to the fore--this style of beret is less akin to those worn by Balenciaga's Basque countrymen as that worn by another quiet genius, Rembrandt, in numerous self-portraits painted in his chilly northern studio.

(photograph top: Clifford Coffin for American Vogue, 1 April 1948. Photo of Dior Couture Autumn 2009 by Monica Feuidi/ Balenciaga suit photograph: photographer unknown, for Vogue, 1950. Rembrandt self-portrait 1634, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Anatomy of a Masterpiece II: The World on his Shoulders

How lucky was the woman who saw this face, in this degree of concentration, for Cristóbal Balenciaga would not allow a client to leave his atelier until her gown, day dress or suit had reached his standard of perfection.

"Balenciaga was renowned in the trade for inspecting and resetting sleeves that were not perfect--even after the garment had been shown in a collection or was being worn by a client. He acquired these exacting standards during his training as a tailor in San Sebastian; travel guides of this period state appreciation for the skill of Spanish tailors--and the cheapness of their products in comparison with those of the French. (Lesley Ellis Miller, writing in The Golden Age of Couture).

Balenciaga's designs, like the suit at left, were far from cheap. This model from 1950 would have cost around 110,000 francs (a mind-boggling $35,000 at that year's exchange rate). What that bought in practical terms was a suit that fit a finger's breadth from the body, which afforded an immaculate line that did not constrain movement. In aesthetic terms it afforded, says Miller, less fashion than "a sense of eternity, of the reconciliation of past and present".

As a Balenciaga original is beyond the wildest dreams of most of us, what we can do is strive to take away from this master the notion of fit and how it ought to work.

Specifically, the fit of a garment at the shoulders, and from thence down the arm. I think it's safe to say that when fashion amateurs shop, they concentrate on how a garment sits at the three points of traditional measure (bust, waist, hips). If those conform in an approximate way, the garment is deemed "to fit."

Fashion professionals (and for these purposes I include in this group anybody who loves clothing enough to explore its making and history) know that fit begins at the shoulder. If a dress, jacket, or shirt doesn't sit right there, it may look just fine, but it will never be elegant, chic, soignée--all those words that define Parisian ladies looking amazing, seemingly without effort. Their secret? Their clothes fit their shoulders.

In these trendily padded days when Balmain and the like are sending scare-the-crows upper arms down the runway, shoulder fit can so easily go to hell in a handbasket--especially if one buys a knockoff. Be vigilant, even as you work a trend. Fabric should drop cleanly down from a shoulder, no matter how padded it is. No bunching, no wrinkled and sorry jowls below the set-in seam, no pinching around the underarm. Have another look at the eternally fashionable suit above. A shoulder should fit like that.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Lady Gaga, I applaud you, this is quite a feat of showmanship, not to mention mechanical engineering.

If one of those nozzles had packed up it could have gone so badly wrong.

I feel a certain professional duty to take this look and run down its vintage predecessors. In reverse order:

The Fembots in the Austin Powers films, whose bullet nighties were first inspired by . . .

Ursula Andress in The 10th Victim, who likewise shot straight from the tits . . .

And the mother of all spark-throwers, the Greek goddess Hera, who discharged no less than the Milky Way (with an assist from baby Hercules).

(painting by Tintoretto, The National Gallery, London)