Mad Mien
December 17, 2009

Tell us how you really feel David Colman! In a story for the New York Times style section today (with delightful photo-illustrations, by the way, shot by Douglas Friedman), he celebrates the ’50s- and ’60s-style of young men these days – seen mostly in New York, natch – and lowers the sartorial boom on their elders:  “Young men are embracing the “Mad Men” elements of style in a way that the older men never did, still don’t and just won’t. The result is a kind of rift emerging between the generation of men in their 20s and 30s and those in their late 40s and 50s for whom a suit was not merely square but cubed, and caring about how one looked was effeminate.”

Whoa there, boy. Colman makes some convincing points about young men becoming entranced with the sartorial bounce of Rat Pack style as well as the dreary conformity of casual wear that has been adopted wholesale by our society because “it’s comfortable.” But his undisguised scorn for anyone older than (horrors!) 45, who Colman says, is always “the worst-dressed man in the room, wearing a saggy T-shirt and jeans,” permeates the whole story to the point of absurdity.

Equally absurd are some of his conclusions, starting with the one above that boomers find caring about fashion “effeminate” – his word, not mine. I don’t know where he’s been the last 20 years or so, but men of that generation have been as exacting about their style as they have been about their wine, their coffee and their cuisine – and somehow remaining secure in their masculinity at the same time.  And yes, young men may have rediscovered the suit, but the “olds” somehow spent millions of dollars on suits from Armani, Prada, Gucci, Ralph and Dolce & Gabbana since they came of age in the ’80s.

Colman also cites blogs like A Continuous Lean and The Trad to bolster his case but that works both ways – even a casual reader of the grandaddy of style blogs, The Sartorialist, will come away with a renewed appreciation for the often-dashing style of men in their middle years – and beyond.  Next to images like the one below, some kid rocking a ’60s sack suit in the name of “irony” looks like a rank amateur.

Colman does have one good point – yes, there are lots of men who couldn’t care less about what they put on in the morning, but unfortunately that malaise cuts across all ages. Here’s hoping his precious vanguard of hipster suit-wearers has some effect on the rest of their own generation outside of Brooklyn and Manhattan. But I’m not holding my breath.

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Glove Me Do!
December 16, 2009

I guess if Madonna’s doing it, then it’s a trend. Long black gloves seem to be the accessory of the moment on the red carpet, as both Madge and Goldie Hawn were seen sporting them at the New York premiere of Nine the other night, possibly just to ward off the winter cold in style. But then, I first noticed them out here in usually mild L.A. on Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks at the Divine Design benefit a couple of weeks ago, and paired with her nude bombshell dress, it was clearly about drama.

Saucy, as the Brits would say. Maybe just the thing to sport at a holiday party. Ladies, the gloves are on!


The ’60s Eye
October 26, 2009

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You probably think this fabulous ’60s image is a page out of Vogue (“Makeup design by Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo” reads the credit!) but it’s from a magazine I found recently at my mother’s house, the November 1967 issue of McCall’s. The beauty story is “Feather Fantasies” and the issue also includes the debut of Truman Capote’s short story “The Thanksgiving Visitor” (his follow-up to  the classic “A Christmas Memory”) and an accompanying interview of Capote by Gloria Steinem, with his portrait by Avedon splashed across a page and a half of the once-standard oversize magazine (before postal regulations of the ’70s shrunk everything).

McCalls coverIn those days, McCall’s was the glamour girl of the “Seven Sisters” magazines – including Good Housekeeping, Redbook and Ladies’ Home Journal – aimed at the suburban wife, and enormously successful. (At their ’70s peak, the “Sisters” combined circulation was a staggering 45 million!) The McCall’s issue is an unbelievable time capsule, including the topical – a survey of doctors about the Pill (just six years old), then-First-Daughter Lynda Johnson’s tale of her engagement, a heartbreaking photo essay about a mining tragedy in Wales – amid the fashion and beauty stories and pages and pages and pages of holiday entertaining recipes, from cheese puffs and toasted anchovy rolls to candied grapefruit baskets (for gifts!) and three different and rather involved fruitcakes.

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Whether intentional or not, the avian theme continues in a fashion photo of the actress Anouk Aimee, just after A Man and a Woman catapulted her to fame, in a Donald Brooks gown of guinea hen and ostrich feathers. She’s exulted as a “Real-Woman” – hyphenated – (“All else about this classically-boned, chestnut-maned enchantress is this-moment-real”) along with cover girl Marisa Mell, a now obscure ’60s bombshell (in the era of Ursula Andress and Virna Lisi), who was about to storm Broadway in a David Merrick musical version of, I swear, Mata Hari, directed by Vincente Minnelli (Liza’s dad, of course, and apparently the overproduced $800,000 vehicle flopped out-of-town in Washington and so there was no storming). Mell seems an odd cover choice for housewives in Denver and Detroit, from her “Real-Woman measurements, 38-24-38” (shades of Mad Men’s Joan), but she reels (reals?) them in at the end: “Sex? Her ideas are both contemporary and ancient. ‘A Real-Woman doesn’t want sexual freedom; she wants to belong to a man. Men should stop the big hunt after business and money. Life is the important thing. Human beings are the miracles.’ Marvelous, miraculous Marisa.” Unfortunately my scanner is not big enough to relay the 14-inch high page of marvelous, miraculous Marisa in her floor-length fox and cheetah fur coat.

But wait, there’s more. After our proverbial homemaker has painted her eyelids like feathers, swallowed her Pill, relaxed with the new Capote fiction, zipped up her dinner gown and finished baking a batch of Fig Bonbons, she still has to have something to talk about – like the new music. McCall’s comes to the rescue with “How Not to Flop at Pop” with now cringe-worthy advice: “Don’t say. ‘it’s very pretty.’ Say things like, ‘It should go high on the charts,’ or ‘It turns me on.’ “

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One of the most amazing things is that nearly every photograph in the issue – from Marisa to the miners, from the eye shadow to the eggnog pie – was taken by the magazine’s art director, Otto Storch. Renowned in art direction history as part of the “New York School” of the ’50s and ’60s, he was a disciple of Harper’s Bazaar’s legendary Alexey Brodovitch, and helped hof_main_storchrevolutionize magazine design by integrating all the elements of a layout – headlines, text and photography – in his designs, often by twisting and manipulating type in this pre-computer era – as in his famed “forty-winks” layout. By 1967, Storch was nearing the end of his career at McCall’s – after two editors and with a 6-million circulation, TPTB veered more conservative as money men invariably do once something is a success – and he seamlessly moved into a full-time and lucrative career as an ad photographer for American Express, Volkswagen and others. Storch died in 1999, at age 86, and by then the magazine was on its last legs – if you don’t remember, it was sold in 2000 and Rosie O’Donnell became editorial director. Relaunched as Rosie, it tanked in 2002 amid lawsuits and widely reported infighting. The Golden Age of magazines, and McCall’s ‘’60s gloss and glamour were long gone by then.

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Mad Men – and Women
August 18, 2009

Mad Men premiered Sunday night and I loved the episode. But I have to question some of the costuming choices of the series, especially now that we are well into the sixties – 1963, to be exact.  Let’s start with the men, which is the series’ strong suit (as it were). Jon Hamm’s Don Draper is so perfectly turned out that I rarely notice what he is wearing, his clothes are so at one with the character.  Sexually confused art director Sal is more appropriately a bit of a show-off, in florid styles that just barely fit his beefier frame and gild-the-lily accessories – pinky rings, vests, flashier ties. Newly-promoted account head Ken wears his suits as easily as his sunny disposition while his counterpart, tortured Pete, is correspondingly costumed as all-wound-up in his dark woolen armor.

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Where I often part company with the show is with the women, whose clothes largely seem stuck in the fifties. I know everyone doesn’t replace a wardrobe all at once, and especially in those days when clothing purchases were meant for the long haul, but on the other hand we’re talking about an ad agency in New York City, albeit a second-string one, but with some pretty major accounts. As someone who was roughly the age of Don’s children at the time, I have a pretty good memories of the shift dresses and two-piece suits my non-working young mother wore in those days – and we were far from New York.

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I get it -the costumes telegraph that Joan’s a vamp and Peggy’s still hiding behind her girlish exterior (the jury’s out on Don’s wife Betty, right now she’s pregnant; in previous seasons she struck me as a looking like a perfect Hitchcock’s blonde heroine of the fifties with her full skirts and side-parted hair).  But the early sixties were a sea change in women’s fashion  and the youth and freshness of young Jackie Kennedy’s simple sheaths and easy suits completely banished the image of the corseted post-war silhouette.

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In retrospect, nothing in fashion ever seemed that unforced and innocent again and then it all came crashing down – in 1963.