Wednesday, June 9, 2010

In Praise of the Charity Shop Find

In another life I would have been an archaeologist. For it's exactly this instinct to dig, sift, and brush aside that draws me again and again into the most unpromising of secondhand shops, not necessarily to find a great thing, but to pursue it.

It's frequently said that the rise of vintage and its plateau into fashion consciousness means that it's no longer possible to find great treasures in the secondhand arena--it all gets picked clean before you can get in the door. Largely this is true--the great thrift stores on Manhattan's Upper East Side, and London's King's Road, and elsewhere around the world are targets not only of cash-poor students and creatives, but also of fashion's kingpins, seeking inspiration where the punishing pace of the style cycle doesn't allow for quiet reflection with a sketchpad and fertile mind.

Nothing worthwhile in life is easy. Sifting for hours through lackluster garments is its own education, in fabrication, cut, embellishment. And in finding the small window between given styles and uplift of your unique self image.

It's exactly this education that allows you to pull from a crammed rack a sliver of fine color, or half-seen detail, that others might have brushed past. A reward, a find, the buzz that will keep you digging.

With this post, Fashion Preserve is going on hiatus . . . after a year and half of blogging, it's time to write another book. Thank you so much for your readership, and especially your wonderful comments. Best wishes with your own pursuits--and here's to finding and making the most out of the most unexpected of sources.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Calling All Swans: Margot Fonteyn's Odile Costume Now at Auction

OK, done swooning, but still a bit vaporous upon discovery of this marvelous costume from the Royal Opera House in London, worn by Margot Fonteyn, and labeled with her name [!!], when she danced the role of Odile in Swan Lake. She was partnered by none other than Rudolf Nureyev, which means traces of both permeate the gold-embroidered, black velvet bodice. It's being sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions, with a low estimate of £40,000, but can you put a price on owning a remnant of gods?

Before turning over to Margot and Rudolf for their pas de deux, it is worth mentioning that this particular Taylor auction holds many spectacular lots, and well worth a thumb-through if you are serious about your fashion history. More highlights will be posted throughout the week.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

If Carrie Wore Vintage Shoes . . .

Getting really excited here at Fashion Preserve Manor because tomorrow is a big night with the galpals. On the agenda: swilling strong cocktails, eating guacamole, and tottering a couple hundred yards on stupidly high heels to the local theatre to see SATC Part Two. Of course I've read the reviews -- but it really doesn't matter how bad the film is. Simply seeing the attempt to recapture the magic will be entertainment enough for this viewer. Also, it looks like the film will be packed with retro caftan-like maxis, which I love.

Anyway, the point of today's post is that Carrie famously mixes vintage with cutting-edge couture from the ankle up, and indeed helped spur the latter-day gold rush to unearth gorgeous old clothes on the part of the entire world. And yet this same character, who equally famously spends gaspworthy amounts on designer footgear, has never in memory been known to wear vintage shoes.

This seems peculiar. While I understand the potential skeeve factor at play with old shoes, many many vintage examples are in excellent new or nearly-new condition.

I think if Carrie were ever allowed to break free of the Choo and Manolo product placements and range into the vintage shoe realm, Charles Jourdan would be her go-to label of choice. Because these shoes are widely available, not terribly expensive, dead sexy, and cool cool cool. But maybe it's just as well these shoes don't get that kind of notoriety. It's nice knowing there are a few good vintage secrets left in this world.

(Charles Jourdan shoes for sale on Etsy, here, here, and here)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Spot the Tourist: Plan Ahead for Your Summer Vacation

Dressing like you're a tourist on holiday has fallen much out of favor with today's younger, cooler generations of world travelers, who favor an international uniform of G-Star and Zara.

As an advocate of all things vintage, I think this is a shame. I say let's go back to the more exuberant vacation wear of the glorious 1970s, when travelers embraced their host destination with open arms and wide lapels.

A trip down the Nile, for example, would be that much more majestic in a neat poly blouse like this one (note to seller: that background of in-your-eye wallpaper and crazy frames is inspired):

The Wide Open Spaces of the American Southwest might be filled with camper vans and other families come August, but this marvelous pants suit is blissfully unpopulated.

Of course, due to economic or time constraints, not everyone is able to get away physically. In this case a fantasy voyage is the best possible option. And what could be more fantastic than a land where topless ladies and trolleycars happily share space on one stretch of fabric? Surreal world here you come.

With treasures like this a mouseclick away, who needs a lousy t-shirt?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Vintage Mystery Accessory Revealed!


We have a winner, and thank you Karin, for your winning assessment. Belle, this was possibly worn on a sautoir, as you guessed, but more likely on a chatelaine (sautoir=an extra-long chain or necklace, suspended from the neck; chatelaine=a chain or belt suspended from the waist, intended to carry keys, sewing kits, and whatnot).

The whatnot in this instance is indeed a skirt-lifter. These were popular in Victorian times when ladies started ranging in a serious way. This hands-free device lifted long skirts for ease of ambulation up and down stairs, atop a bicycle, through muddy patches and weedy fields, etc. A fold of fabric would be caught between the pincers (in the case of this model the fingers and thumb), and a ratcheting mechanism would pull the device closed, presto, skirt hoiked.

Your ordinary skirt-lifter looks more like a rendering compass -- this is the first one I've seen shaped like an actual hand. While indeed a bit creepy, as Belle points out below, it is also quite cool.

For those of you who keep track of these things, today the term "skirt-lifter" means a man or woman who loves women, actively and from afar, while a "shirt-lifter" is one who loves men.

Many thanks again to Nicole, whose fine, fine skirt-lifter is selling (imminently!) on eBay here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Vintage Mystery: What Is This Accessory?

Answer tomorrow . . . in the meantime, here are a couple clues . . .

1) It was worn below the waist

2) In modern-day terms, its name is code for those who love women . . .

(many thanks to Nicole for sharing these photos . . . if you can't wait to find out what it is, link here.)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields, Vogue 1978

Sigh. Ordinarily I think employing girls to sell grown women's things is insupportable, but -- she's breathtaking. Thirteen. How cool would it be for Vogue to rerun this editorial, with modern-day Chloe (for that's what she's wearing here) and a contemporary Brooke Shields.

On a less ethereal level, that earclip running diagonal to the lobe is pretty nice too. Easy to make with a diamanté barrette, a clip earring back, and some strong glue.

Photo by Avedon, British Vogue, September 1, 1978.

Off Topic on Contemporary British Design

Spare me a rant . . .

HOW is it possible that the nation that produced brilliant design like this:

is also proudly fronting this:

Of course there is a long tradition of lame Olympic mascots to live up to but these unfortunate spawn of Cyclops and Teletubby are monstrous in every way.

(image of mascots from The New York Times, Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Janice Dickinson: Portrait of the Spitfire as a Young Model, and More from the late '70s

So much to say about style in 1978, as depicted in British Vogue's October issue. I won't even get into the articles and reviews (ok, a little: Grease: "a feeble story line and too few raw edges." Leo Sayer: "was discovered by The Who's Roger Daltry [what?!!] The World According to Garp: "some kind of handbook for the liberated woman")

Anyway, enough cultural history. Check out Janice Dickinson, above, who acted as de facto house model for the magazine during this period.

Janice re-plumed like a phoenix in the noughties. Compare and contrast to a styling trend that was best left behind--pinning a brooch to the much-neglected inguinal region of the lower torso. Honest to god, the headline over the lightning bolt reads: "Draw Men's Eyes To Your Most Beautiful Feature." Scorchio!

Less interestingly, there's the fashion. Which, judging by the square meterage of tweed and other heavy woolen fabric, in several layers, you would imagine that the late seventies London experienced temperatures more typical of Siberia. Even Giorgio Armani, the prince of minimalism, left little of his model uncovered with this coat, hat, and thickly applied inner-lid eyeliner. Jaeger too ensured that the dodgy heating of postwar Blighty (a period that lasted pretty much until the early '90s) was well met with layer upon layer of wool and cord, right down to the tightly knotted tie.

I don't covet these sweltering styles in the slightest, but the shoes were another story. Have a look at these boots from Maud Frizon, whose brilliant designs are, if in good nick, still brilliantly wearable today.

More late '70s tomorrow.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Let's Do the Time Warp: 1970s British Vogue

My favorite local antique dealer, Jackie of Flask Walk, had quite a treasure on offer this weekend: a cache of vintage British Vogues from the mid- to late 1970s, all in mint condition. Impossible to resist, not least because a teenaged Janice Dickinson, "the original supermodel", was pouting on one of the covers. More of her later this week.

Today, a couple of observations. Lord was this a more innocent age, in media-being-the-message terms. In these pages we see little to no airbrushing; photography that was shockingly unsophisticated in lighting, pose, and even focus; black and white as a default over color (even in editorial shoots); makeup (especialy lip gloss) applied with a trowel; and so much more.

In counterpoint, on the plus side, the ad copy generally attempted to engage and address its readers as intelligent human beings, à la Mad Men.

Here, for fun, are some random pages I liked, click to enlarge, if you dare . . . we'll look more specifically at the fashions later this week.

To start, a reminder of how I spent countless hours of youth: baking in the sun in a vain attempt to get golden brown, instead of peely red. If only I'd used Ambre Solaire! Or gone topless. Either way, this particular scenario looks pretty damn great at the moment, damn the wrinkly consequences.

Next, this advertisement, which in no way addresses the readers as intelligent and does in fact just the opposite, with its aviatrix in front of her ditched plane, unscratched, with nothing more on her mind than applying another blast of Ted Lapidus perfume, presumably to mask the scent of scorched crankshaft . . . with Ted himself posed like a golden brown genie in the sidebar, one big WTF, the whole thing.

A nice example of unsophisticated advertising, from the Bobos brand, which somehow escaped becoming one of the decade's classics . . . No, seriously. Never mind how bad the clothes are, and how sloppily styled, look at the background. Could they not have moved two feet to the left to avoid the jackhammered pavement, and the nasty canvas covering the chairs? If this exemplified Anna Wintour's proving ground no wonder she's such a stickler.

And last but not least this gent, appearing in the Men's Vogue section . . . oy vey that moustache. Welcome back Kotter, didn't remember you as such a sharp dressed man.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Femmes Gone Fatales

Perhaps you too have a wholly imaginary life, in which swanning around in a gown such as this is a completely reasonable and moreover fairly compulsory activity. To complete the picture there'd be a pitcher of iced martinis; an art deco penthouse with a starlit terrace; a suave Indiana Jones type who cleaned up nicely -- all of which seem the ideal complements to a negligée as immaculately of its period as this one.

Silk satin: check. Bias cut: check. Lace detail: check. Racy lines: check. Back when it was made in the 1930s it was meant to be worn only briefly, on the cusp of night, but if you've got an amazing figure and the right foundation garments you could make it work for earlier evening as well. The gown is within reach if you are a clever bidder. And if you're a clever winner the scenario will match as well . . .

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why I Love Ebey, Part 9

OMG, the spelling. Having done time as a copyeditor, I take a word geek's twisted (and very sad) pleasure in the booboos that make their way into the titles and sales descriptions. Even with Google a few keystrokes away, even with scans showing the actual labels properly spelled, even with eBay's logarithms working full tilt to right the wrongs of the actual or occasional dyslexics manning the keyboards on the vendors' side of the showroom, you still get your Dries Von Notens, Calvin Kliens, Ferragammos, and more, items that typically go down for far below market value, because buyers who keyword correctly could not possibly find them.

Shoe legend "Roger Vivien" is understandable, for, on the insole of the shoe, the scripty "r" of the surname could easily be misread as an "n". A similar misread on the seller's part got me a gorgeous silk Krizia dress for very little money at all, because the vendor didn't recognize the brand and thought the decorative K was simply that, decoration. The dress was sold as Rizia, I was the only bidder that bothered to show up. (Tip: keyword "vintage," "silk," and "made in Italy" and you won't need the designers' names at all).

If you're the sort that likes fishing around for bargains, try casting around with some badly spelled names. But do be sure that they're spelled right on the label, because if it's wrong there, it's a whole other story.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pure Prairie League: Vintage Gunne Sax Dresses

There was a spell in the 1970s when prairie style ruled, not just in the central time zone where it originated, but from sea to shining sea. The vibe was more Stevie Nicks than Louisa May Alcott, with tiered ruffled skirts, Frye boots, and high-necked, lacy Victorian collars constituting the definitive dress-up look before disco hustled in with its Qiana and abbreviated cling.

Prairie was the very last incarnation of hippie chic styling, and the label that defined it was Gunne Sax by Jessica McClintock. The name refers to the gunny (burlap/hessian) sack border that trimmed some of the earlier models, of which many of the most collectable (and commensurately expensive) are the "black label" dresses produced solely in 1969.

Gunne Sax is still producing formal dresses, but the ones to seek out for vintage authenticity are those older ones featuring calico fabrics, velvet trims, and above all abundant lace . . . fabrics that were unlikely to have dressed the original prairie princesses, but for Amie and the rest of her 70s sisters, were heartland absolute.

(Gunne Sax dress above on Etsy here)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Getting to Know Provençal Prints

Among the many wonderful products that typify the sun-soaked Provence region of southern France are the printed cotton fabrics that are used to make household linens and clothing -- textiles adored by Parisians seeking to add a touch of summery, folksy charm to their otherwise ultrasophisticated modes de vie.

I dare not argue with Parisians on matters of style and neither should you--provençal prints are wonderful to wear when the days turn warm and the sun shines bright. There's a brilliant history of these distinctive fabrics here. While fine vintage examples are somewhat infrequent due to their regional origins, garments from Les Olivades and Souleiado are the best known of the genre. Or, if you're seeking online, simply type in "provencal print" and you may turn up something as cute as this skirt from Etsy . . .

By the way, souleiado translates from the craggy Provençal dialect to mean "rays of the sun breaking through the clouds after the rain." Isn't that beautiful? You can practically smell the lavender . . .

(top photo from Erinpk on Flickr, many thanks!)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

She Wears Seashells by a Silk Cord

As much as I adore manmade artifice (see bees, below), it's impossible to beat nature for elegance of hue and form.

Case in point: seashells. I can spend hours on a beach looking for an intact cone shell or whelk (surely the same sifting instinct that drives the charity-shop trawls). Perfect ones beached in sea rubble are as magical as dubloons . . . the moonshell that sits on my computer desk is an oasis of natural order, and a reminder that somewhere, simultaneously, it's sunny and warm.

So thank you Etsy for this morning's revelation of a different way to wear two perfect shells . . . at the waist, at the ends of a loop of silk cord.

This seller is offering the belt ready made, at a gentle price, but if you happen to own a couple seashells that deserve more display time, why not find some lovely silk cord (craft shops, sewing stores, curtain supplies, etc), loop it once, then super-glue the ends deep into the shells' whorls . . . wear with a simple cotton dress or tunic. Alternately, make the loop much shorter, and wear the shells as pendants at the neck. So simple! Like nature.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bees in Your Bonnet

It does not get any cuter than this hat from renowned Chicago milliners Bes-Ben, who plied their trade on Michigan Avenue from the late thirties until 1978, dressing the glossy crowns of Greta Garbo, Lana Turner and countless more with the most charming and whimsical of designs. The seller of this hat has others equally lovely, and provides an excellent capsule history in the description.

I'm not fond of insects around my head in real life, but turquoise ones caught in black net are a whole nother story. LOOK at the detailing on those wings. Just spectacular. Keep the name Bes-Ben in mind if you need a hat that will get conversation buzzing.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

At the Costume Institute, the envelopes please

. . . and the winner is:

Amber Valetta, in RM Roland Mouret, by miles. She is admittedly very slim, but no less stunning for it.

A distant second by J-Lo:

Shocking, actually, how bad most of the rest looked. The money.

(photos by Sherly Rabbani and Josephine Solimene, via

And Where Be Monsters?

Say what you will about the Munich design house Mondi, which had its heyday in the late 80s-early 90s; they boldly went where few designers had gone before (or would ever go again) in the exuberance of their printed fabrics. Case in point today's entry, which explores the little-known fashion subgenre of cartographic chic.

While Mondi's blazers frequently sported a big old crest on the breast pocket, commodore-style, the top-and-bottom ensembles and trousers often used the sea charts themselves as starting point. And how apropos to wear harborside in Portofino, Puerto Banus, Cap d'Antibes, and other chic ports of call . . .

"Where have you been on the yacht this summer darling?"
"Well we've stopped here and here and here . . . "

(If, by the by, you happen to be in London and want to see an exhibition on glorious printed maps, stop by the British Library's Magnificent Maps, on through September. Matching dress is not compulsory).

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Where the Sun Don't Shine

It's a long weekend in London, and predictably the rain, on in full force, isn't due to stop until Wednesday. Nevermind. Because how could a day possibly be gloomy when you're wearing gorgeous sunglasses like these?

Or these?

Or these?

No problem staying cool in any one pair of these; I'll leave it to you to stay dry.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Famolare, Whoa-oh

Children of the 70s had so many privileges specific to the decade it's almost unkind to subsequent generations to list them. John Belushi, doing weekly comedy live. Let that sink in. Boston, fresh out of the box. Yago Sangria (and being legal at 18 to drink it). But the list has to end somewhere. For fashion purposes, why don't we stop at Famolares, which, while decidedly done and dusty today, were at the time some of the coolest shoes going for high school girls whose moms wouldn't let them wear Candies.

These shoes wouldn't knock Manolos or Choos off any pedestals with their wavy crepe soles (designed to help you Get There!), but they outstyled the similarly trendy Earth Shoes by miles. Plus they had the advantage of the energetic marketing of Joe Famolare, a shoe dynasty heir turned Broadway dance-shoe designer whose own charisma and showmanship went a long way toward getting the shoes on young women's feet.

You can find a nice trove of vintage Famolares on Etsy. The prices tend to be higher than you'd expect for the old and the worn, but if you had as much fun in yours as I did in mine, simply seeing these pairs again is priceless.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Master Class: Betty Wears a Scarf Clip

Was catching up on Mad Men last night, and saw the episode Souvenir. While Betty's dolca vita dress/earrings/updo for the scene in the outdoor cafe in Rome was extraordinary, I was even more taken with her look for the Junior League contingent's appearance at the the town planning meeting.

A cream sheath dress. Transparent cream gloves. A royal blue-and-cream scarf. A gold chain belt. A big statement scarf clip.

While the gloves are over the top for everyday wear today, all the rest could work brilliantly.

Vintage scarf clips are easy to find online. Here's a nice one from Etsy.

The great thing about these little devices is that they take away all the foofing around trying to get a nice knot. Three simple elements, and you're done. Thanks again Mad Men costumers, you're all geniuses.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vintage Mysteries Solved: How to Replace a Missing Trenchcoat Belt

Those of us who routinely shop in vintage outlets know that some of the most covetable garments available are there because something is missing . . . a button off a Givenchy jacket, a forgiving extra hole in a slightly-too-snug belt, or today's very typical example, a belt off an otherwise wonderful old trench coat.

It doesn't matter if it's Burberry, Daks, or London Fog -- great trenches look only halfway there without their belts, which is why a missing one is such a dealbreaker. But it needn't be. Here's what you can do to fill those loops if the original tie has gone AWOL.

1) I'd advise against trying to find a stand-alone trench belt online: scans typically do not show true colors and if you get a near-match rather than an exact one, it will look decidedly imperfect. Alternately you could sift through options in secondhand shops bringing the coat along as opposite number, but to my mind this is looking for a needle in a haystack. There are better ways to go.

2) If the coat is an authentic Burberry or other big-name brand, you could contact your nearest branch, asking if they can replace the belt for you. They may ask you to send pictures of the garment and any labels. There may or may not be a charge involved.

3) Forget about matching the belt entirely and put the loops to use to display a beautiful silk scarf that you'd otherwise never wear.

4) Or find a belt that isn't a trenchcoat or mac belt per se but nonetheless looks like it was purpose-made. Here, I think the ideal (and fairly easy to find) solution are belts that combine leather and taupe canvas, which have enough of a military air about them to perfectly play into the trenchcoat's combat origins. The canvas should approximately match the color of the fabric, and the leather should ideally tone into any browns in the coat's buttons.

I pulled this belt straight out of my closet--if you have a good look online you should find the equivalent fairly easily; such belts are also fairly readily found at extremely reasonable prices in charity shops/thrift stores. Good luck!