Related Posts with Thumbnails
About

Annie - San Francisco, CA

I don't live-blog from the tents.

poeticandchic [at] gmail

Find me here:

Sourdough

SF Fashion Film Festival

Pointed Letters

Image by Julie Michelle.

Follow Me on Pinterest
Search
P&C Reads
This list does not yet contain any items.
Visit Sourdough & Style Cinema!

Adverts
Features

 

Entries in Past is Present (52)

Sunday
Jul032011

Aptos - July 3,1938

Left to right: Nellie Angelbeck, Anita Angelbeck, Grace Angelbeck Orognen and Ida Angelbeck Haughey.

I'm at my parents home this weekend to enjoy the holiday. Last night, after a bit of wine with old friends, we found ourselves going through some boxes of old photos and I found this one which I'd never seen before.

I knew right away that it was my Grandma Ida with two of her three sisters and their mother, Nellie in the back. But even better than this gorgeous photo is the date - I turned it over and found "Aptos 7-3-38" written there. Amazing.

I love that they're all so cute and pretty and athletic, and being silly with each other on a hot day at the beach. My great-grandmother Nellie looks like she always does in photos: a little distant and quiet, amid the hub-bub of her daughters - even though all three of them were grown. My Granny, the eldest at right was 33, while Grace in the middle was 31, and Nini was about 27-28.

Monday
Jun202011

Cheetah Chic

Phyllis Gordon with her cheetah, shopping in London, 1939

I came across this image of actress Phyllis Gordon out shopping with her pet cheetah a number of months ago, but it's been on my mind ever since. I'm enchanted by the inherent insouciance of it all. Imagine trotting out to do a few errands in the neighborhood and bringing along your favorite big cat just for kicks! This is the essence of luxury and chic.

I'm not at all what one would term a "cat person". I'm cool with cats, but wouldn't choose to have one over a feisty and funny terrier. I've been known to cat-sit here and there which isn't altogether unpleasant, although I'd prefer a cold wet nose over a sandpaper-tongue. So it is interesting that I find myself completely jealous of those eternally-stylish women who through history have sported cats as an accessory. Not just any cat, but a full-grown cheetah or leopard. Hands down, this is beyond stylish and everyone knows it - no Yorkie in a Louis Vuitton bag could compete.

As Jessica Kerwin Jenkins writes in Encyclopedia of the Exquisite, "by the twentieth century the cat's sexy, slinky reputation was appreciated by bohemians, intellectuals, and some extremely glamorous women, who upped the ante by taking in leopards as pets...As they proved, no animal makes a more stunning sidekick than a glowering great cat."

Women casually strolling with a cheetah on a leash sounds like something out of an old Hollywood urban legend. You know the scene: fur coat to the floor with a sharp cloche hat and five big cats on a chain, preferably while walking briskly down a train platform with the steam rising and a porter trailing with a mountain of trunks. My whole life I've longed to be this woman.

Marchesa Casati with her leopards, by Paget-Fredericks ca. 1920s

When I first started reading about the Marchesa Casati, I became enchanted with her pet cheetahs. According to legend, the Marchesa would take her private gondola across the Grand Canal late at night just to walk her pets through the Piazza San Marco. True to form, she would perform this ritual while completely naked but for a fur coat. Imagine running into that after too many Bellinis at Harry's Bar!

Marchesa Casati with her pet cheetah, 1912

Josephine Baker was also known to sport a leopard named Chiquita around Paris in the 1920s when she was the most flamboyant act in town. Diana Vreeland saw the pair out at the movies once and loved how Chiquita pulled Baker into her white Rolls Royce in a single bound: "Ah! What a gesture!...I've never seen anything like it. It was speed at its best, and style."

Josephine Baker & Chiquita

Gloria Swanson also seems like the type who would have had cheetahs close at hand. In Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond seems to be surrounded by leopard skins in one way or another. Even the seats of her Isota-Fraschini are upholstered in leopard skins. This detail in the production lends itself to the once-glorious past of Norma Desmond, recalling glamorous days of dancing the tango with Valentino.

Desmond's character probably had some basis on one of the original movie starlets, the great Pola Negri. Although she made her mark in early silent film in Europe, Negri signed a contract with Paramount and came to Hollywood in 1922. (It was she, not the fictional Norma Desmond, who met Valentino at a classic Davies-Hearst costume party at San Simeon a few years later. The two became lovers until Valentino's death in 1926.) Like the Marchesa Casati, Negri also had a weakness for cheetahs and walked hers frequently down the real Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood's heyday.

Negri's love of cheetahs came full circle much later on when in 1964, Negri starred with Hayley Mills in Disney's The Moon Spinners as Mrs. Habib, a character with a pet cheetah named Shalimar. While filming this teenage caper flick in London, it is said that Negri caused a sensation walking the cheetah nonchalantly through a hotel lobby. It sounds as though Negri not only knew the essence of glamour, but that she also had a true sense of humor too.

Hayley Mills & Pola Negri in The Moon Spinners, with a cheetah in the background.

To seal Hollywood's fascination with the luxury of keeping a big cat, there's also Bringing Up Baby - an entire screwball comedy devoted to the antics surrounding a rich woman's pet cheetah.

Film stars with cheetahs seems to be a classic combination. If they didn't keep them as pets they were certainly photographed with the cats as props; I would guess it is because of the wild, exotic, and animalistic connotations. You can't really argue with that. Indeed, the earliest Hollywood stars seem to have been photographed with cheetahs time and again in their ultra-glamorous, fantasy-driven publicity stills.

Bebe Daniels and a cheetah.

Joan Blondell and a cheetah.

I suppose that it isn't entirely practical to aspire to keeping a cheetah in this day and age. But was it ever practical? No. It's their impracticality that makes them so very stylish. All of these women seem to have been a bit "unleashed" while accompanied by a big cat on a leash. The sexy, outrageous, glamorous, diva-ish behaviour just seems to go hand in hand with this type of indulgence. Anything that's so truly luxurious as a pet cheetah could only be utterly, exuberantly beautiful in itself.

For more images of starlets & cheetahs, be sure to visit this post from the Pictures blog.

All images from internet searches.

Thursday
Jun162011

Picasso, The Steins, and Modern Art in San Francisco

Pablo Picasso, Paul as Harlequin, 1924. Musée National Picasso, Paris

One of the highlights of my Spring reading included Amanda Vaill’s Everybody was So Young, a fantastic biography of Sara & Gerald Murphy. Their presence is at the very core of the Occidental art world after World War I. They supported the artists that created the “Lost Generation” culture not only financially, but also with their loyal friendship. The Hemingways, Dos Passoses, Picassos, Porters, MacLeishes, and Fitzgeralds all met together around the Murphy family. As it usually happens, this book was just the beginning of this year’s fascination with this time period in art, writing, and culture. It seems Woody Allen is also obsessed with this time period, and luckily a few San Francisco art museums are too.

The only glaring flaw I found in Woody Allen’s charming new Midnight in Paris, was that of the omission of the Murphys. How could all of these other wonderful artists and writers come to life without a mention of them? (It is thought that Picasso even may have had an affair with Sara Murphy, having drawn her a number of times on the beach in the south of France. Hemingway was also known to have a crush.) Personal criticism aside, the film provides a lovely glimpse into the Parisian art world of the 1920s and gives lively form to the relationship between Pablo Picasso & Gertrude Stein. If you’re even awake in San Francisco this month, you’ll surely be aware of two major art exhibitions involving these two. Picasso – Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris is now open at the de Young Museum, while The Steins Collect graces the walls at the SFMOMA.

Just as Balenciaga & Spain was heightened by its neighboring “fashion” exhibit, Pulp Fashion – The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave, we now have an entirely new dialogue between masterpieces, collections, museums, and even between one singular artist. The fact that the two museums showing these exhibits are only a few miles apart makes it all the more wonderful for the city of San Francisco.

Both shows provide a unique perspective on Picasso, but it is when the shows are taken together that the artist becomes even more complete.

The Picasso exhibit at the de Young draws from the Musée National Picasso in Paris. In 1968, France passed a law that allows inheritance tax to be paid in works of art – as long as the art is important to the French national heritage. This law, called dation, was perfectly timed for the death of Picasso in 1973. The bulk of the collection was amassed in 1986, upon the death of Jacqueline Picasso. It was then that Picasso’s heirs – Paolo, Maya, Claude, and Paloma (the jewelry designer) – made a new dation to the French state from their father’s own collection.

Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Dora Maar, 1937. Musée National Picasso, Paris.

Because the collection from the Musée National Picasso is comprised of the artist’s own personal collection, it is vast but also a little overwhelming. As anyone who’s studied Picasso knows, his great works are so momentous that it’s difficult to see anything else in the room. However, when his works are mere attempts or not pushed far enough, they show their battle wounds right at the surface. While some of the great Picassos are among the collection of the Musée National Picasso, the collection shows the artist’s preferences for smaller, quieter, more personal work. Some of the works are even unfinished sketches, or mere gestures made by the artist’s hand. Is this why he kept them? Was there something in a line, a form, a figure, or a sketch that though only hinted at, it was enough for Picasso to want to hold onto it his entire life?

In this regard, I think the exhibit is the perfect classroom for art students and lovers of the creative process. It shows how Picasso worked, how he developed ideas, and how he experimented. It also provides an overall timeline of his career, showing how his work changed while it still remained inherently Picasso.

Two of the best paintings shown are presented in a genius pairing right next to each other. The famous Portrait of Dora Maar is hung with Seated Woman in Front of a Window. The two women appear to be talking to each other, from their respective chairs but each shows an incredible difference in style - remarkable given that both were painted in the same year, 1937. Here are two paintings in which Picasso is fully realized.

Apart from these, I also loved the examples of Picasso’s Analytic Cubism with Sacré-Coeur from 1909-1910, as well as Man with a Guitar and Man with a Mandolin, both from 1911.

Although I understand the exhibition’s curators wanting to focus exclusively on Picasso, the Musée National Picasso’s collection also includes works that the artist collected from colleagues such as Cézanne, Degas, de Chirico, and Matisse, among others. It would have been nice to see some of these pieces included in order to give the collection greater context.

Of course, The Steins Collect at the SFMOMA is the perfect opportunity to gain such a perspective. Showcasing the collections of Gertrude, Leo, Michael & Sarah Stein, and tracing their roots directly to the SFMOMA, The Steins Collect is not only grand, but also moving in its intimacy.

This exhibition not only shows the works the Steins gathered during their years among the Parisian avant-garde, but also their own paintings, drawings, letters, and family snapshots. It is truly mind-boggling how many major works passed through the Stein family over the years. As collectors, they purchased the best of what they could afford, creating a collection of remarkable and daring pieces for their time. This makes the exhibition less of a jumble and more of a tightly focused journey through early modern art. Works include Renoir's Study, Torso Effect of Sunlight from 1876, a minor, but charming Manet entitled Ball Scene from 1873, Matisse's Joy of Life from 1905-06 now at The Barnes Foundation, as well as his remarkable Blue Nude: Memory of Biskra from 1907. Other artists in the collection include Gauguin, Cézanne, Manguin, Weber, Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard, Vallotton, and of course, Picasso.

Henri Matisse, Woman with a Hat, 1905. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The Steins' early support of Henri Matisse and his Woman with a Hat from 1905 (now the darling of the SFMOMA’s permanent collection,) made the Steins the center of modern artistic circles at the time. So many people came to see the scandalous Matisse that they had to hold open houses on Saturday evenings for years to accommodate requests. The Steins' support of Matisse was loyal and steadfast, carrying on for decades. I was particularly charmed by a series of lithographed Matisse nudes from the mid-1920s, shown in a series.

Here too is Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein from 1905-1906 (which features prominently in Midnight in Paris,) as well as some truly remarkable works from his blue and rose periods.  Indeed, Strolling Player and Child from 1905 from Sarah & Michael Stein’s collection is considered to be the transitional work between Picasso’s blue and rose periods. Young Acrobat on a Ball and Boy Leading a Horse, both from 1905 also show this exceptionally beautiful time in Picasso’s oeuvre, and echo back to sketches seen at the de Young exhibition. It is also in The Steins Collect that one sees a series of heads Picasso created after seeing an African mask Matisse brought to the Steins one afternoon. These heads then found their way into the masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon from 1907, Three Women from 1908 (at the SFMOMA), and Three Figures Beneath a Tree from 1907-1908 on display at the de Young. The Stein collection also includes work from Georges Braque - Picasso's significant counterpart in the development of Cubism.

Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, 1905-06. The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York

The beauty of The Steins Collect is also in the way its curators re-created the Steins' spaces. Lfe-sized images of their apartments show exactly how the family hung their collection, while the associated exhibition room has those very works on the walls. It’s a simple presentation, but it makes perfect, cohesive sense.

Between these two exhibitions San Franciscans currently have a rare treat to experience some exceptional artwork. Indeed, I think that the shows are made even better by their juxtaposition to each other. Taken together, there is an even more intense dialogue created about art, society, family, and the creative process, and from some of the most important figures in the 20th Century’s cultural history.

In other words, do not miss these!

Picasso, Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris is at the de Young museum until October 9, 2011. Tickets are $25 for adults; advanced reservations required.

The Steins Collect is at the SFMOMA until September 6, 2011. Tickets are $25 for adults.

Friday
Jan212011

Hamish Bowles talks Balenciaga & Spain

Opening on March 26th, Mr. Hamish Bowles' new exhibition Balenciaga and Spain brings over 100 pieces of priceless haute couture to the de Young museum. Expanding the retrospective from its showing at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute in New York (that exhibit offered only 50 pieces), the exhibition will highlight the master couturier's work through traditional Spanish themes.

As Mr. Bowles' was in town this week to prepare for the exhibition, I was lucky enough to sit down with him and learn more about the inscrutible designer and Mr. Bowles himself.

Balenciaga, Bolero jacket of burgundy silk velvet and jet passementerie embroidery by Bataille, winter 1946.
Collection of Hamish Bowles, photograph by Kerry Komer.

P&C: Allow me to begin by reading you this quote from Francine du Plessix Gray's novel October Blood, which is overall an enteraining satire on Carmel Snow...

"In the center of the living room there sometimes sat Cristobal Balenciaga, Mother’s best friend in Paris, dolorously sipping chamomile tea. Infrequently exposed to clothes other than his own, he mostly came to curse at the vulgarity of the costumes being paraded in Mother’s suite. He was a thin, depressed, nomadic Spaniard with perennial dark glasses and some twelve houses spread over the map of Europe, all of which he hated. He would spend a few days at his hacienda in Seville and leave it, complaining of the noise, go to his chalet in Switzerland to cure his sinuses and sell it the following morning, complaining of the insects. His only passion besides his work was looking for antiques, and he could spend a month piling up Renaissance tables and Persian rugs to furnish a flat in Barcelona which he’d leave after a night because he disliked the Gaudi building across the street. He traveled everywhere with a long-haired dachshund called Zurbarán and carried in his pocket several immaculate linen handkerchiefs with which he wiped the dog’s bottom after each sidewalk performance. When he and my mother greeted each other every summer he would scrutinize her dress with a tragic air, hands on her shoulders, to be sure that she was wearing one of his originals, and then tug at different parts of her collar, sleeves, waistline to show that she was not wearing it properly.”

Is this an accurate description?

Hamish Bowles: (Laughs) Bettina Ballard does describe him as obsessed with antiqueing, piling up antique rugs... yes, that he was constantly working on apartments in Madrid, and then not being able to sleep there because of the noise… It is very true to say that he could not understand the clothes produced by his contemporaries. By extension, couldn’t understand why his friends & clients would choose to wear them.

There is a story in Bettina Ballard['s autobiography In My Fashion] – about an occasion where Balenciaga was accompanying Ballard to an event and she asked him to do up the back of her Dior dress, which had 30 buttons up the back… He kept muttering "Christian est complétement fou!"- "he's completely mad!" So, there are some very funny resonances. But he (Balenciaga) disdained from involving himself in the public side of the house, focusing on the technical, behind the scenes work & producing the clothes themselves… For special friends he would be involved in the fittings.

In fact, it was sort of a nightmare! He shared with Chanel this obsession with the way a sleeve was set. He would sort of torment his tailors – they would have to take sleeves in and out time & time again. Bettina Ballard has a funny story about this suit that she was having made, [it] was so battered & bruised by his constant thing, that she ended up wearing the perfectly made, line for line copy that was made by Ben Zuckerman – one of the very high end 7th Avenue copyists – she wore HIS suit, and Balenciaga never noticed.... He was a fastidious technician.

Cristobal Balenciaga circa 1952, copyright Bettmann/CORBIS images

From your description in the intro, it was more about how reclusive he was; I find that’s so common when you read about Yves Saint Laurent, or Chanel, - these people were sort of crotchety, and known for being in their own bubble of a world. Is that a factor for being a design genius in a way?

I don’t think so. I think a lot of Balenciaga’s contemporaries were extremely… they flourished in social situations. Jacques Fath gave endless parties, Dior even. I certainly think that Chanel in her day was extraordinarily social, and sort of a lynch-pin of a certain kind of artistic society in Paris in the old days. (I mean she did become sort of a crotchety old woman late in life,)… Saint Laurent had his own demons to contend with.

Balenciaga was naturally quite shy. He had an intimate circle of friends, mostly people he was involved with through his work. He just didn’t have time for a mundane life really, or the inclination for it. His great partner in life – D’Attainville, died in 1948, and Balenciaga became sort of increasingly retiring after that.  But I think his focus was just on his work, perfecting & honing his craft.

I loved what you said about how he would use his client’s physical quirks to develop a specific design detail…shortening the sleeves, doing a special collar. Today, when you see designers work on Project Runway for instance, they’re stumped when faced with a "real" body type. Do you think that that is something that can be learned, or did Balenciaga have a natural talent for it? Can you practice at that and learn how to design for your clients in a more specific way, using not the standard stick-figure model?

I think that Balenciaga’s whole apprenticeship and training was as a tailor and then as a dressmaker. In that capacity, his entire working life would have been one-on-one interactions with clients. Day-in, day-out he would be making clothes to fix specific body types, and you know for clients that would each have strong opinions about what their physical assets (and debits) were, and they would conspire together to enhance or minimize those as the case might be. That was his whole training.

When he opened his own couture house in Spain, he would go to Paris to buy the sample garments of the designers whom he admired, and he would bring those back to his couture establishments in San Sebastian and Barcelona and Madrid, and he would adapt those to the needs & demands of his clients. So I think that he’s constantly aware of different body types, and I think that in his collections he was careful to put in things that would suit, that would be adaptable to clients with different needs and looks and body types.

It’s a different world today. He was making – he was doing couture. Each garment that he made was made specifically for a client. So, it’s like made-to-measure.  In ready to wear, it’s not so easy to do that. And I think also body types have changed in a way, but it’s just a different craft; it’s bespoke and ready-to-wear and they’re just worlds apart.

Balenciaga, house photograph of evening ensemble.
Dress of black silk crepe with "chou" wrap of black silk gazar. Winter, 1967. Balenciaga archives.

What do you think about the end of couture? Do you think it will ever disappear? There’s a lot of fear about that today, I know that Chanel has been buying up a lot of the different craft houses like Lesage and opening the schools…Do you think that there will always be a couture market?

I think there will always be clients that want very special pieces and can afford to acquire them. I think that couture, like everything, will mutate. I think there are a lot of younger designers who wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves to be couturiers per se, who’re certainly using couture techniques and maybe a couture approach in their work. And, I certainly think that, now more than ever there’s a real interest in embroidery and embellishment and the possibilities of pleating and all those kinds of techniques that are very very couture-based. I think there are lots of young people who are very keen to learn those crafts. It’s very striking to me, going into couture workrooms now, and going to Lesage and those great couture suppliers and seeing how many young people there are there that really want to learn those crafts, and that might not have been the case a decade or two ago. So that kind of gives one hope for the future.

And I think just the general kind of global engagement and fascination with fashion now that’s come thru the kind of television programs you’ve spoken to – and just the instantaneous dissemination of information through the internet I think has really widened the world of fashion and I think made people more intrigued by all kinds of different areas of fashion. I certainly think haute couture and special pieces are very much a part of that.

Balenciaga. Detail of cocktail dress of fuchsia silk shantung, black lace and black silk ribbons. Summer, 1966.
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Eleanor Christiansen de Guigne Collection. Photograph by Joe McDonald/FAMSF

Even with the expense of those kind of details? I remember in the Valentino documentary where he was going through his archive and he found this beautiful piece that had been done by Lesage and he said “You’d have to sell the bank of Italy to make that now”! The expense of it is getting astronomical, it seems.

Yes, it is. But there will always be women who just want that special thing and can afford to pay for it. You know, it’s like a custom sports car, or a rich-person’s toy…or art. So, I think there’s always a place for it, yes.

It is of course a very costly thing to do. Despite the cost of these garments, it’s a major loss-leader for any house. I think there are new ways of doing embroidery. I think there are incredible embroideries coming out of India that will change some of the pricing levels of that particular craft. And China, and so on. There are all kinds of approaches. And the wonderful thing about fashion is that it constantly mutates and reinvents itself – that’s the point of it. I think an approach to couture is something that will change like that too.

With that in mind, I was thinking about what you said about how long the shows were for Balenciaga. There were 200 models and they would take about 2 hours. Whereas today, there’s a maximum (usually in ready-to-wear only) but a maximum of 35 – 40 looks, they’re on and off the runway in 15 or 20 minutes, and then the line gets edited further before it ever goes to market. So, what do you think about that? Is there room for these designers to create and develop given the constraints of the season?

You have to think that in a Balenciaga show like that he’s basically showing his collection, his pre-collection, he’s showing everything that would be today in a designer’s showroom. It would be the options for the buyers that exist in the showroom off the runway, but he’s just showing the entire collection.

It’s so funny watching the videos of some of those shows, which luckily exist from the 1960s – I think 1960 – 1968, because clients get up in the middle of a show. You know, they have a hair appointment or a lunch at the Plaza D’Athénée, they leave and then sometimes come back…you know, for evening dresses or something. Or they’re just there because they need a coat or something, so they don’t need to stay for the cocktail dresses. It’s really funny – they sort of come & go. But you know there was no music. It was very austere, certainly couldn’t take photographs, you couldn’t sketch. You could just write down the number of the dress the mannequin was holding in her hand.

Gruau for Balenciaga, 1949.

I was thinking about the sketching and fashion illustration…I’m a big fan of Gruau, and he did a lot of wonderful images of Balenciaga; I feel like fashion illustration is something you don’t really see any more. It’s still taught, and it’s something that people dabble in, but it’s not really the art form used the way it was 50 years ago - as a commercial art form. Everything is photography-based now. So do you think that could ever come back – the fashion illustration?

Ah…I think it’s unlikely myself. I think great fashion illustrators will emerge and hopefully their work will be showcased in an appropriate way. I think that in the 20s & 30s often a detailed line drawing was a much more exact and precise way of describing an outfit than a photograph that might have had indeterminate reproduction in a magazine. So, informationally it had a different weight. We just live in a different world. I love illustration, fashion illustration myself – I’m very excited to see it.

I come out of the luxury fashion world, and I wondered what you think of this new world of the corporate fashion of LVMH and PPR group, and would a brand like Balenciaga have survived that?

Well, Balenciaga always resisted any kind of licensing agreement. Where Dior, Balmain, Jacques Fath all had licensees in America doing sort of high-end American ready-to-wear lines, he refused ever to do that. He refused any kind of endorsement. But still, his business was run along remarkably sound lines, so he just didn’t feel the need to do it. So I can’t imagine that he would want to be involved in the kind of corporate structures that now exisit, but he certainly had a very keen business sense and his business was very very well run and very profitable.

He had a hard-scrabble background, he was very pragmatic in the way he set up his companies. You know, clearly careful and scrupulous with money, to where it managed the way his businesses were run. He had business partners early on. The histories of those relationships are not that well documented…

Luchino Visconti's "The Leopard", 1963

I was recently watching The Pink Panther, and I found out that Yves Saint Laurent did the costumes for the principal characters.

Only for Claudia Cardinale. I think Givenchy did Capucine, and Saint Laurent did Claudia Cardinale...

I was wondering if Balenciaga he had ever received movie offers? Because you’d think he would be ripe for partnering with Luis Bunuel, or …

He did the costumes for Arletty in a 40s movie called Boléro, and...a couple of his actress-clients wore his clothes in their movies rather than him actually costuming them. It just wasn’t something it seems to have interested him. It was something Dior and Balmain did, Jacques Fath did, Chanel did. I think he just wasn’t interested, really.

So, what film do you go back to over & over for inspiration that you find interesting each time?

The Leopard – I love The Leopard. As sort of fashion movies, I really like The Red Shoes – it has great costuming. L’Année Dernière à Marienbad… I could always watch The Women...

Do you have more film projects yourself coming up? I know you were in Marie Antoinette, and Gossip Girl most recently…

And Wall Street 2… I don’t have any plans, but it’s always fun to be asked.

Do you ever think about writing or directing?

That would be intriguing, yes. Both of those options would be intriguing, yes.

And what about Oscars? Do you watch them, at home, or do you go?

I certainly watched the Golden Globes, I was much engaged. I’ve never been no, but I enjoy watching them.

What about the Royal Wedding coming up in April? Any thoughts on Kate Middleton? Are you a fan…?

I think she’s played it all very well, indeed. She’s stayed inscrutable which is a great challenge this day and age.

Do you think she’ll go with the Emmanuel’s?

No. I can’t imagine she would want to associate herself that closely with her late future mother in law. You know, it will be interesting to see. I think she’s made very sensible choices so far. So it will be intriguing. I wait with breath baited.

As we close, what do you recommend for any kind of a young designer, or even a writer, who writes about fashion & culture and things like that…What’s a good way to develop your visual sense, or your aesthetic sense? What’s a good way to gain exposure?

I think it’s just sort of saturating yourself in what’s going on in contemporary culture and going to museums and art galleries, and going to the theatre if you can, and certainly going to the cinema. I think it’s just being open to all kinds of cultural influences and zeitgeist – that’s how the zeitgeist is created. So, just being sensitive to that.

Balenciaga. Suit of mustard yellow linen; Summer, 1950. Collection of Hamish Bowles.
Photograph by Joe McDonald/FAMSF

And what was your first exposure to Balenciaga?

My first exposure, well, I was aware of him, and then the first piece I bought for my collection I was about 11 or 12 I think, was an early 60s Balenciaga suit at a charity sale. And, at the same sale there was a bolero – it was for a ballet company. A bolero had been donated by Margot Fonteyn, the great prima ballerina, and it was auctioned and sold for 60 pounds which was far more; it was 120 weeks worth of pocket money – so I couldn’t afford that.

But, incredibly enough, about 5 or 6 years ago I went to a vintage store in Los Angeles and found the same – I found the jacket there, and it’s going to be in the exhibition. It’s a wonderful matador-inspired bolero and a detail of the embroidery is the dust-jacket for the catalog. So you’re going to see it in all its glory!

Balenciaga and Spain opens at the de Young museum on March 26th.

Wednesday
Dec012010

In Praise of the Leaning Board

Rita Hayworth shows off her best features from a leaning board.I cannot believe that it's already December and that the party season is upon us once again! But, this makes it the appropriate time to bring up something that I've been noodling over for ages: the proverbial leaning board. I know it sound strange, but can we bring these back, please? This is an invention every girl can really get behind and I think it's time we brought leaning boards out of their dusty hiding places once again.

Developed in the golden era of Hollywood as a way for stars to rest themselves between takes without ruining their hair, makeup, or costumes, the leaning board was always nearby. Actresses could rest, read, and even get a little bit of food without wrecking themselves. The thing is pure genius, let's face it.

 

Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) says hello to Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) on her pink moiré leaning board in Singin' in the Rain, 1952.

While I've been at parties in recent months I've often thought that I'd last much longer as a social butterfly if I could rest for just a bit. A leaning board would really help with this: ease your stilettoed feet without sinking into a chair, and keep your entire outfit camera-ready, while still maintaining eye-level with everyone around you. It's the perfect thing!

Margot Grahame discusses her Madame de Winter costume for The Three Musketeers while on a leaning board in 1935.

Leaning boards also have that whiff of a certain sophistication and Diva-ness that commands attention. Even if you aren't a starlet, you can still be one on your leaning board, it's kind of how they roll. In my opinion, if we can't all break into coordinated song-and-dance rountines at the drop of a hat (something I secretly pray for every night), we should at least get some leaning boards here and there. Not only can you rest and refresh, you can pose, have a chat, and display yourself to advantage, which is always what a girl needs.

Joanne Woodward uses her leaning board for a read and a smoke, while on the set of From the Terrace, 1960.

Bars could have a few leaning boards here and there, and suddenly their unpopular dark corners would be full of life and chatter! Fancy galas could have entire spaces devoted to leaning boards so patrons could rest themselves between the fois gras and the dance floor. They could even mention it on the invitation as a featured thing: "Luxury Leaning Boards by Acme Inclines" - they could even offer them in different colors to coordinate with the theme. And don't forget the huge bridal market! Gown designers could add in leaning boards as another line item in the cost of the dress, and the wedding planner would keep it set up in a side room, just so the bride could have a little breather during her reception. Tell me why this is a bad idea.

Jean Harlow checks her script for Dinner at Eight (and keeps her famous charmeuse gown perfect) in 1933.

Dolores Gray defines fabulous and gets a touch up too, all while on her leaning board.

See, everybody wins! Like the leaning board, I think it's revival is a super idea and one whose time has come. It's 2010 everybody, and we're partying harder than ever. So don't we need a little place to lean?

Images from internet searches.

Sunday
Jun202010

Happy Father's Day!

Me (front) and my sister go swimming with Dad...early 1980s.

Tuesday
Jun082010

The Great Shoe Wake

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
"For beauty," I replied.
"And I for truth, -the two are one;
We brethren are," he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

- Emily Dickinson, 1862

I've been planning this funeral for months, years actually. Everything short of wreaths of roses and readings from the Psalms. If I had hardwood floors instead of carpeting I'd be pouring my shot of whiskey right out in honor of my fallen heroes - all six of them, in fact. To be fair, not all of these heroes are entirely fallen. Some are merely in ICU or in desperate need of hospice care just to manage the pain a bit. Is it their pain, or mine? I wonder.

I suppose I should tell you what I'm talking about here: shoes. Very beautiful, expensive, adored, and in another time frequently worn, shoes. Back when I worked in the luxury fashion industry I gathered together quite a collection. I'm not one of those people that builds a collection and then hordes it for myself alone; no, I share it with the world and display my affection (and appreciation) openly. Thus, these shoes have served me well and are now very close to death, if not entirely dead.

In all honesty, some of these do have some life left in them but I am concerned that if they emerge from the cryogenic stasis of my closet that they will disintegrate once they hit pavement. So what to do? How do you honor the life of a much-loved, once-luxurious set of footwear? Do you bury them in the shoe cemetary, burn them and scatter the ashes above Union Square, or perhaps commit sati upon their blazing pyre? I have no idea. But before I do anything, I think I should give them a mention here...

The Lou-Boos above are my very first pair from that illustrious house, and unfortunately I never wear them. This despite the fact that the style was on an episode of Sex and the City back in the day. (One of the few when Carrie was in Paris with Baryshnikov - can you imagine those stilettos on cobblestones? Me neither.) They're about a half-size too big for me and even with the anti-skid sole they are always precarious on the foot - like any second they could potentially go flying and impale the handsome head of a gentleman caller. This looseness makes them more than a little uncomfortable, and while I lament giving them up, I'm afraid they are just using up precious closet space.

These gold Celine sandals are likewise mere space-suckers in the armoire. Glittering, Grecian, shapely, sexy, and strapping, these shoes always garner compliments galore. This is a good thing that my toes appreciate because they hurt like the dickens when worn. Dickens? More like having a pair of rubber bands around your foot just below the arches, cutting off the blood-flow. Despite only having worn these all of three times, the insoles are completely unglued, rippled, and serve as a useles layer on an ultra-thin lower sole. I've been dying to throw these away, but my heart collapses at the thought of putting anything named Celine in the garbage.

Back around 2004-2005 chunky heels were in style and I definitely participated in this trend. Enter the next two pairs: a Mini-Damier Mary Jane and Mini-Monogram Cerise Pump, both by Louis Vuitton. I cannot tell you how much I adored these two in their time. The Mary Janes' straps are connected by small pieces of elastic which are now so overstretched that they could snap at any moment. Meanwhile, the pumps are scuffed, scratched, and stained with the residual damage of many many adventures, at play and at work. Both pairs are as loose as bedroom slippers (even with the heels) but are now beyond wearable. They're just embarassing. As far as disposal goes, these two are my Velveteen Rabbits.

Another oddity is this ultra-fabulous pair from Marc by Marc Jacobs. Entranced by their colorful polka-dots I had to have them so badly that I paid full-price for them, around $250, which was a LOT of money for me back then. (Hey, who am I kidding, it still is!) It wasn't until after I'd purchased them that I found that they were also in an episode of Sex and the City, but I can't remember which one. Retro, fun, and sexy, I still love the compliments I get on these shoes. They're still in really good shape, outwardly, but inwardly there's a few little issues. Okay, so I snapped one of the heels at one time; you wouldn't know it but for the six-odd angry-looking nailheads that the shoe repair drove right through the instep. I would have forgotten this myself if that shoe still had its insole, but it doesn't. They're also barely comfortable after about an hour, so they too go unworn.

Finally, remarks for the best pair of kitten heels that ever came out of the House of Dior. A saucy mini heel and a long pointy shape are paired with lush black leather, making these versatile and easy to wear. At least that used to be the case. The little "Dior" metal embellishment on the right shoe has come unhinged on one side so it starts to swing around as I walk. The overall condition is good though, but these too feel more like slippers than shoes and tend to flop on my feet. They've been re-soled and re-heeled umpteen times, but they're so lovely and adorable! It breaks my soul to conceive of stuffing these kittens into their dust bag and drowning them.

Has anyone else faced a similar predicament? How does one dispose of no-longer-wearable designer fashion? It cannot be restored or recycled or given away at this point, and belive me, no museum would want them. Apart from a sacrifice on the altar of fashion, I'm not sure what to do. Plus, I'm not sure the Gods would care - they aren't virgins after all!

Here's a drink to all my shoes, past, present, and future...

Wednesday
May192010

La Casati, Part Deux

Portrait of Marchesa Casati, artist unknown, ca 1920You may remember this post (one of my favorites) from a while back about the book Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati by Ryersson & Yaccarino. Well, now there's a follow-up book about the fabulous and wildly opulent Marchesa by the same authors, but this time it's a gorgeous full-color coffee-table book celebrating her life as an artistic muse. The Marchesa Casati: Portraits of a Muse is a must for any lover of fashion or art history, or anyone intrigued by one of the great artistic personas of the 20th century.

Last Saturday, after helping our dear Catie of Cuffington move house, Kim of J'Adore Couture and I moseyed over to Sue Fisher King on Sacramento Street to peruse the sale going on. Right dead-center on the sale table was this book and I knew..."I knew the way you know about a good melon." Of course it had to be mine - and now that it is, I cannot stop flipping through it! (And, the best part is, it was on sale!)

All of the missing pieces mentioned but not shown in the first biography are now filled in and richly supported. More than the major portraits by John, Boldini, and Man Ray, this tome gathers so many more portraits by little-known or amateur artists. They even tracked down the elusive portrait from the great Romaine Brooks, which is far more mysterious, avant-garde, and sensual than expected. Brooks had kept this portrait rolled up under her bed, where it was found upon her death at the age of 96 and then sold into a private collection.

Portrait of Luisa Casati by Romaine Brooks, 1920

Ryersson & Yaccarino stretch even further than the first book, talking about the Marchesa's ongoing influence on fashion and culture. (Did you know that the Marchesa brand from Georgina Chapman & Karen Craig was named for La Casati? I did not, but it makes perfect sense.)

Finally, the Marchesa Casati's hope of becoming "a living work of art" is celebrated in one volume! If you're a fan like me, you must treat yourself - you won't be sorry!

Monday
May102010

Bang Envy - Juliette Gréco

Juliette Gréco with her Daschund near St. Germain des PrésJuliette Gréco has always intrigued me. Her throaty voice and peculiar beauty are far too unsettling to be considered classically beautiful, but she created her own type of glamour and style by virtue of being against the norm. Her idiosyncratic lifestyle among the famous artists and thinkers of the mid-20th Century has made her a true Bohemian icon.

A friend of Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Cocteau, Boris Vian, Serge Gainsbourg, and the great love of Miles Davis, Juliette Gréco is the original cool chick. Her signature fringe of bangs with a long hairstyle became the look of Existentialist girls the world over (and still is!), especially when paired with all-black clothes and a smoky café. This is the look Astrid Kirchherr was going for when she started wearing capes and tailored suits.

An actress and singer, Gréco is usually known as the chanteuse who sings "Bonjour Tristesse" at the very beginning of the film of the same name. But it was almost ten years prior that she appeared in Cocteau's haunting film Orphée as one of the evil Bacchantes.

While her film roles were few but significant, Gréco still continues to record and perform her music today, at the age of 83!

Juliette Gréco by Studio Harcourt Paris - the classic Existentialist look of the late 1950s.

Young and alone in Paris after World War II, Gréco started to sing in the cafés and jazz clubs in the St. Germain area. It was here that she met other existentialists, artists, and musicians, including Miles Davis. While I knew the two had been friends, I didn't realize that they actually had a romance too. I tracked down this excellent piece from The Guardian that Gréco wrote about Davis in 2006 that tells their story beautifully.

"And there I caught a glimpse of Miles, in profile: a real Giacometti, with a face of great beauty. I'm not even talking about the genius of the man: you didn't have to be a scholar or a specialist in jazz to be struck by him. There was such an unusual harmony between the man, the instrument and the sound - it was pretty shattering...... In America his colour was made blatantly obvious to me, whereas in Paris I didn't even notice that he was black. Between Miles and me there was a great love affair, the kind you'd want everybody to experience. Throughout our lives, we were never lost to each other."

Emerging from her dark hipness of the 1950s, Gréco's look adapted seamlessly into the pop glamour of the 1960s. Her hair became bouffant and her smile finally emerged. In 1965, she starred in the famous French mini-series called Belphégor, showcasing her elegance and grace.

Two images from Philips Records, and two stills from 1965's Belphégor.

Most recently the film An Education featured a few of Gréco's songs in the film, using them as a symbol of the bohemian freedoms that awaited just across the channel in Jenny's mind. (The short sequence of Jenny and David's trip to Paris is set to "Sur les quais de vieux Paris", making it a picture-postcard of the city in springtime.)

Despite their modernity for the time, Gréco's chansons have become tunes as ubiquitous to Parisian romance as anything recorded by Charles Trenet or Edith Piaf. Her famous hit of 1963 "La Javanaise", written by Serge Gainsbourg, is now considered a standard, being covered by both Jane Birkin and Madeleine Peyroux. Her strange and throaty style is indeed an enduring sound!

Juliette Gréco in 2009 from Pure People.

All images found online; final image from Pure People.

Friday
Apr162010

Hamish Bowles & A New Balenciaga Exhibit

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to receive a special invitation from the de Young museum to stop by and meet Mr. Hamish Bowles, and to hear his announcement for a new costume exhibition that is being developed for the museum.

Hamish Bowles? You mean the darling of The Sartorialist, guy seen in The September Issue, one heartbeat away from Anna Wintour, Hamish Bowles? For those not so fashionably geeky, Mr. Bowles is the European Editor at Large for Vogue magazine and Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Living. The very prospect of meeting the man sent me into paroxysms of delight and panic. So exciting and so terrifying in one! What does one wear to such an event?

Luckily, I have some vintage Louis Vuitton in the deeper corners of my closet, so out it came. As did the very high heels. Not that I should have worried, Mr. Bowles was dressed as his usual dapper self and had style to spare: double-breasted deep blue suit, purple striped shirt (vertical stripes), purple striped tie (diagonal stripes), purple pocket square, and an understated Piaget watch. Affable and charming, he sprang from his chair every time someone new came to the room and gave each of us a warm welcome.

Hamish Bowles with some Balenciaga in the de Young's textile conservation lab.

After brief introductions from the de Young’s John Buchanan and Jill D’Alessandro, Mr. Bowles told us all about the Balenciaga retrospective slated for the spring of 2011. As someone with a vast personal collection of couture, and also an expert on Cristobal Balenciaga in particular, I cannot think of someone more fitting to curate this exhibition than Mr. Bowles. A scholar of fashion, design and culture, his experience is vast while his connections are many. He reminds me of the character Elliott Templeton from W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge; man of refined taste, kindness and wit, with exceptional entrée to society.

In one of my favorite moments, Mr. Bowles said: “Wintour was behind the idea of my doing it.” Blessings from on high! But wait, did he just call her Wintour? Awesome.

Suzy Parker wearing Balenciaga, photographed by Henry Clarke for the November 1953 cover of Vogue.

Mr. Bowles explained that the Balenciaga exhibit will focus on the couturier through the lens of Spanish culture, showing how the spirit of Spain impacted Balenciaga’s creations during his career. As the designer was forced to leave Spain for Paris in 1937, it is understandable that his patriotic nostalgia would come through in his designs. Art, religious life, the bullfight, flamenco, and regional dress all influenced Balenciaga, offering a frame a reference for his precisely engineered clothes. Balenciaga often gave a nod to vibrant Spanish textures, colors (particularly pink and black), and embellishments, while traditional shapes such as a Basque fisherman’s sweater were elevated to couture in a simple tweed suit. It is these simplest silhouettes, Mr. Bowles asserted, that are the most spectacular on the body.

Pink Silk Evening Dress, 1959 by Balenciaga.

“A fashion designer must be an architect for perspectives, a sculptor for shapes, a painter for color, a musician for harmony and a philosopher for sense of proportion.” - Balenciaga

Mr. Bowles also explained that Balenciaga’s great art is found in his engineering. Where an architectural Dior suit or gown would be reinforced by buckram or crinoline, ultimately weighing the garment down, a Balenciaga piece in a similar shape would be lighter than air. His ingenious draping and eye for shape made such magic effortless – both to create and to wear. One of the many intriguing anecdotes shared by Mr. Bowles involved a Balenciaga dressmaker, Madame Florette, who joined the house of Yves Saint Laurent when Balenciaga closed. With this move, the house of Saint Laurent suddenly received an infusion of effortlessly draped, voluminous pieces, all crafted by the master sewer who had worked under Balenciaga. Only Hamish Bowles would know the provenance of such things.

Mrs. Carmel Snow talks with Cristobal Balenciaga in 1952.

The Balenciaga retrospective will come to New York City this Fall, where approximately 55 objects will be shown. In the spring of 2011, the show will come to the de Young in San Francisco where it will expand to approximately 100 objects overall, all exclusively Balenciaga. Of these, about 12 to 15 will be from the de Young’s own costume archives.

Images from The Sartorialist; Condé Nast images; Met Museum.org; and Life.