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.

Advertisements

Accessing Audrey
November 25, 2009

I’ve been on a ’60s kick lately (even though I’ve been absent from the blog for a bit) and now comes the news of an auction of clothes largely from that decade from the wardrobe of the incomparable Audrey Hepburn. The big numbers are from Givenchy, her lifelong designer and friend, like the silk cloqué dress above from his autumn-winter 1966 collection that’s a most distinctive shade of blue. Seriously, the woman could even make a pastel look sophisticated. And as the catalogue notes, she ordered the dress (no loaners for Miss Hepburn!) for her publicity tour for Two For The Road, one of my all-time favorite movies.

Of course the auction includes loads of little black dresses, her trademark, and the story behind it is pretty rich. In 1951, Audrey, then 21, met Tanja Starr-Busmann, the 15-year-old daughter of a Dutch diplomat, in London where their families were neighbors. It was the start of a life-long friendship, and periodically Audrey would load up a big box with her haute couture cast-offs and send them off to Tanja. It really was a different world – Busmann even gave one of the Givenchy gowns to the nanny! Now all these years later, Kerry Taylor Auctions in London has acquired “the collection” and it’s set to go under the hammer on December 8, with half of the proceeds going to Unicef and the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund. Experts expect the sale to net north of $150,000, but authenticated Audrey pieces rarely come on the market and, after last week’s Yves St. Laurent sale where his old pots and pans went for $22,000, I think it’s anybody’s guess. I mean it’s Audrey Hepburn!

And then there is her wedding dress – for the marriage that never was. While she was filming the star-making Roman Holiday in 1952 in Rome, she sought out out the Fontana Sisters – renowned in postwar Italy for their full-skirted romantic gowns – to create her wedding dress. But as she finished the movie she called off her engagement to an Englishman and implored the sisters to give the dress away,”to the most beautiful, poor Italian girl you can find – someone who couldn’t ever afford a dress like mine.” (An impoverished farm girl, Amabile Altobella, wore it, stayed happily married and said the dress brought her luck.) Could you die?

Speaking of weddings, Audrey Hepburn also wore a lot of Valentino in the ’60s, and from his legendary Spring 1968 all-white couture collection there is a lacy vanilla mini, a version of the dress that Jackie O chose for her Skorpios ceremony with Ari. Val-hollah!

The ’60s Eye
October 26, 2009

McCalls 1

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.

anouk

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.’ “

eye

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.

MM-Mc Call's-Example.JPG


Paging Dr. Kildare
September 10, 2009

258448

OK, in my world, here’s the ideal face of health care – universally attractive, heart-stoppingly compassionate and handsomely delivered. I was thinking about this after President Obama’s speech last night and about now you are probably scratching your head and wondering what’s up with a style blog dipping its pedicured toe into these raging waters.

Just this: your stylist-blogger here has been basically at the mercy of insurance companies for the last 20 years of his career as a free-lancer and, really, things have never been worse.  I don’t wanna bore you with details, but here in “Californ-ey” (as the Governator likes to say) I pay about $5,000 a year for my own health insurance. And that’s with a $5,000 deductible! But, hey, I’m a responsible person – I’ve always had health insurance ever since the first day I set up business on my own.

Not too get too personal but recently I engaged in some preventative care – had a top-to-bottom physical for the first time in years, with some attendant specialist referrals to rule out various age-appropriate bugaboos.  The good news is that I’m blazingly healthy but the bad news is that between my insurance premiums and the examinations and tests not covered by my plan, I am paying close to $10,000 this year to find this out.

So here’s my point – I am but one example of good-ole-American entrepreneurship and our health system is gumming up the works.  Every job expert says the future will be all about shorter-term careers, frequent job changing and more independent employment, not less. So unless something is done, many more of us are going to be in my boat or cast adrift in a sea of no insurance coverage (see, I got back to the raging waters). And to all those who say guaranteed health care is somehow un-American, I don’t get it.

Why should my can-do, make-your-own-way, U.S. of A. instincts be threatened by what is the most wastefully expensive-per-person health care system in the civilized world? Get me a public option, an exchange or a coop if it will really work – and let’s get these costs in hand, people. I know it’s not as simple as in Dr. Kildare’s day, but I can dream, can’t I?

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.

don2

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.

joanPeggy-1

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.

portal-graphics-20_1159560a

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