Tuesday, May 3, 2016


photograph by Denton Taylor

This past Tuesday Valerie went to the rare book room of Strand's Book Store for the launch of Advanced Style: Older and Wiser.  (Jean, unfortunately, was away doing Important Work.)

Yes, we're in the new book.  Not only did we have the distinct honor of having our photo chosen for the poster advertising a book signing at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, we were also featured in the online version of New York magazine.  From left to right, Valerie, Jean, Debra Rapoport, Diana Gabriel and Carol Markel.

That's Simon Doonan, who wrote the book's forward, on the right, and author Ari Seth Cohen on the left.  There were brief remarks, followed by two lovely readings by Beatrix Ost and Lana Turner, while the finale featured Ilona Royce Smithkin doing her very own rendition of Que Sera Sera (with a new stanza about long eyelashes being better than shorter ones).

We'd like to show you just some of the people who attended the standing room only event.  Below, Judith, The Style Crone, and Carol Markel (who made her necklace and hat and has made some for us, as well).

From our previous posts, some of you might recognize vintage maven Amanda Dolan (you might know her as the owner of Spark Pretty) on the left, with her mom on the right.  Say it with us, now: the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

The Baroness, holding her copy of the book, in a latex suit of her own design.  Notice the wonderful contrasting purple insets in the jacket and skirt.  If you know even just a little bit about clothing design, you know it takes a lot of precision work to add insets, so this suit is a marvel.

Bill Webb and Eva Kobus Webb, dressed as they appear in the book.

Bliss, Beatrix Ost, Valerie.  The hem of Beatrix's skirt is hand painted.  However gorgeous it looks in the photo, it's more gorgeous in person.

Blogger ArtfulCityStyle, Diana Gabriel, and Lydia (who made her own necklace).

Spectators in spectacular spectacles.

Fabulous milliner and RISD graduate Heidi Lee, wearing one of her 3D printed hats (and a Moschino jacket).

Joyce Carpati often wears black to offset her gorgeous braids and pearls, but for this evening she wore a rich dark blue dress.

Maureen Gumbe left, and Debra Rapoport, right.

Left to right: Ms. Pink, Ruthie Darling, Sue Kreitzman and doll maker Nita Angeletti.

Budding designer Nyorh Agwe, wearing one of her own designs.

The ever-fabulous Patricia Fox, with suitably handsome man.

Theresa Taylor, wife of Denton Taylor, who took the opening photo, as well as many others of us on other occasions.  On this evening, they shared the camera duties, sending the results back to 40+ Style.

We think men need more encouragement to dress like the individuals they are.  Here are two gents who could be in the forefront of a gents' fashion movement.

Valerie von Sobel in an amazing creation.  The 'halo' is an art piece composed of very fine threads, which she attached to a hat.  The entire outfit is exquisite, but all our readers know what we would want.

The inimitable Tutti Bennett and her husband Paul Bennett, Merle Schwartz Weismer between them, and Antonia Hemgesberg on the right.

And a chorus line at the end of an amazing evening.  Old dull?  Not if we have anything to say about it!

Sunday, April 24, 2016


A Visit to the Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden

Last Saturday, we took advantage of the great Spring weather to attend the next to last day of the spectacular Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG).

That there are more than 30,000 varieties of orchids is mind-boggling. The NYBG had thousands on display. Individual blooms range in size from smaller than a dime to larger than your fist.  Among the first orchids we saw were these spidery orchids with fine long petals.

This pair of matte white with pale green features the distinctive 3-D slipper shape and looks quite different from flatter one-dimensional sisters.

This red and yellow variety is a colorful example of a slipper orchid.

Two flat, matte pastel varieties look even more gorgeous side-by-side.

Five rounded bicolor fuchsia and white petals surround the ball-shaped center of this species.

The variegations of pink and fuchsia on the five large petals on this flower are distinctive.

A tongue-like stamen protrudes from the center of these narrow-petaled blooms.

Doesn't this big bad boy remind you of a roaring lion?

The shiny deep oxblood-colored slipper orchid looks like it is made of patent leather.

Scalloped edges and white lace-like designs on these 6 pink oblong petals are particularly striking.

Schiaparelli pink striations on these cymbidium orchids highlight their wide, creamy white petals.

Shaped like no other orchids we saw that day, these deep red and bright yellow oblong flowers lack the big, wide rounded petals of many of their compadres but are showstoppers nonetheless.

Tiny bleeding heart orchids.

Saturated yellow orchids with splashes of deep orange.

The orchids were dazzling, but we were also captivated by the sheer variety of plant life at the Garden.  Here are just a few of the other wonders we saw.

Wonderful waxy blossoms (flowers?  fruit?) that hung over our heads.  (Yes, we know - we should have looked for the labels.)

A tender little curled up shoot.

One of a large variety of pitcher plants.

And this Dayglo colored spiky flower.  We swear we're not making these colors up.

The Garden and its spectacularly landscaped grounds, conservatory, restaurants and gift shop are all just a short ride on Metro North's Harlem line. The train station is located a half-block from the garden's front gate. Couldn't be more convenient.

We became members of the NY Botanical Garden that afternoon (it's a great deal - visiting twice as a non-member costs the same as a full year's membership), so who knows?  Maybe we'll have more stories in the future on plant and flower-centric events.  And maybe we'll see you there.

Sunday, April 17, 2016


elevator pad dress
photo by Denton Taylor

Jean has been hither and thither for quite a few days, so Valerie is posting on her own tonight.

The Jewish Museum has a real treat of an exhibition up at the moment - it's an Isaac Mizrahi retrospective.  As part of the festivities, a week ago Mizrahi spoke with The New Yorker's Wendy Goodman.  Mizrahi is a wonderful speaker - open, generous, funny, insightful, and refreshingly candid.  He is the opposite of monosyllabic, mysterious designers.  Although I can't reproduce more than a few quotes here, interested readers can watch his TED talk, Fashion and Creativity, or watch Unzipped, the 1995 documentary about him.  (Here's one of several snippets you can find on You Tube.)  That will give you some idea what it's like to be in his presence.

The exhibition is a marvelous potpourri, and it's clear that Mizrahi must have been deeply involved in  it.  It's warm, colorful, expository, well balanced, and just the right size.  On arrival, visitors are treated to a wall, probably 12 feet tall and 20 feet wide, of Mizrahi's collection of color-coordinated swatches.  Below is just a portion of it.

Twenty-four of the displays are supplemented by an audio guide that is so interesting and entertaining that the viewer could probably thoroughly enjoy those pieces blindfolded.  The audio guide explains, for example, that the 3-piece suit below, from his first collection, was preceded by a number of pieces in "subdued" "neutral" colors.  This bright, multicolored outfit, worn by Linda Evangelista and introduced by a change in the musical background, was a bold step away from prevailing trends.

Mizrahi is fond of mixing and matching in every sense of the word.  In this 1994 evening wear, he paired a taffeta silk ball gown with a cotton tee shirt.

This 1992 dress was labeled 'exploded tulip'.  Mizrahi explained that he printed this design onto a variety of different fabrics to see which material would have the most dramatic effect, and ultimately chose this silk crepe.  When seen in motion, the leaves on the tulip, which correspond to the wearer's thighs, come to life.

Mizrahi called this 1994 creation, another exercise in mix and match, the 'lumberjack ball gown'.  "I thought: make a ball gown something that she can actually have fun wearing... that she can actually apply to her life."  Thus the choice of lavender and turquoise over black and gray, and the plaid hooded anorak.

Inspired by Matisse's drawings of Ballets Russes designs, Mizrahi asked artist Maira Kalman to draw some checks and stripes for him.  Two of the results are below.  The jacket below (1990) is constructed of wooden beads; the gown of chiffon and linen.

In the photo below, you can see Kalman's interpretation of stripes in the beaded jacket (left) is very free and natural.  A close look at Kalman's harlequin design shows that there are no straight lines at all.  The lines all appear to be hand drawn - close to straight, but with just enough imperfection to give them a unique flavor.

The exhibition is divided into two rooms, with a narrow connecting hall.  As one makes the transition, first there are two additional walls of color, this time lined with Mizrahi's sketches.  Below is one of the two walls.  Mizrahi's first job was with Perry Ellis.  In many of these sketches, the kinship with Ellis is visible.  Mizrahi's love of color is also evident.

One display table shows designs not only with swatches attached, but with the name of the model expected to wear the design.  In each of these sketches, a variety of fabrics is used.  Even when the colors are more or less the same, they are combined with different textures and weaves.  The harmony of these multiple textures, colors and weaves is very subtle and very sophisticated.  Readers will note that one of the designs is intended for a then-future first lady of France.

These are followed by a small selection of theater costumes.  Mizrahi said that he came to fashion design through his first love: theater.
Mizrahi had a bit part in the 1980 movie FAME.
(Puppet by Mizrahi.)

In 1997, he collaborated with his friend choreographer Mark Morris to create three frog costumes for Platee, a comic opera.  Said Morris, "Being friends, I was very, very hesitant to ask him to design costumes for me because what if I didn't like them?  And I was more interested in us being friends than I was in working with a super, super famous fashion designer."  When he did ask, however, the results were as below, and gave the designer an opportunity to stretch his imagination and use zany colors, materials and designs.  Morris pointed out that in addition to being flattering to a body in movement, dance costumes must also be flexible and washable, further challenges to a designer.

Here's a still from the production:

In 2014, Mizrahi also designed costumes for a production of Mozart's The Magic Flute.  Below, the owl and the ostrich.  Interestingly, the ostrich's color palette of black and white has been entirely reinterpreted, with riotous colors appropriate to the fantastical nature of the opera.

The riot of fashion continues in the next room.  One of the most interesting dresses, the 1998 Baby Bjorn ball gown, comes with a matching baby sling.  Although the label reads "The birth of a child should be integrated into a woman's social life," probably quoting the designer, so much more could have been said about it.  Was this a special order?   For whom?  Was it commissioned by Baby Bjorn, or is that the designer's sense of humor?  Was it in response to a real life situation he was confronted with?  Any significance to the color?   This is the only instance where the viewer is left with more questions than answers.  The audio guide, which would have been the perfect vehicle for additional commentary, unfortunately makes no mention of this thoughtful and amusing gown.

The label for this 1994 dress reads: "Mizrahi worked with the charity We Can, which employed homeless New Yorkers to gather and flatten Coke cans.  These were then shipped to the luxury Parisian sequin maker Langlois-Martin, who cut the aluminum into paillettes.  The paillettes were sent to India along with the dress patterns, where they were hand-embroidered onto silk..."

Close-up of the paillettes.

Mizrahi explained that he made pants like these for himself when he first started working at Perry Ellis as a teenager.  He noted "they make the wearer feel like they have a waist, even if they don't" and "[the gathers at the waist] are quite pretty when they're folded down... They look like a little flower arrangement around your waist."

Another dress made in the spirit of turning convention on its head was his 2005 elevator pad gown.  "I've always been obsessed with elevator pads, always, as far as I can remember," says the designer.  "I also love the randomness of it. They just make elevator pads out of whatever the hell is lying around."  Unlike most elevator pads, however, this skirt is made of quilted silk and lamb's wool.  (This skirt resonates with me as I have an elevator pad dress, which you can see in the opening photo.  It's NOT made by Mr. Mizrahi, and until I saw this skirt, I foolishly thought I had something rather original.  Sigh.)

Mizrahi expressed surprise that no one had ever reinterpreted the classic kilt.  This 1989 dress adheres to tradition by using wool tartan, and leather and metal buckles closures at the sides, but upends tradition by making the gown body-conscious, and relegating the pleats to below the knees.  On the mannequin, the pleats are barely visible, but when the dress is in motion, the pleats come alive and accentuate the legs.

The workmanship on this 1991 show-stopper, paired with chamoix gloves, is so stunning that one wishes it might have been placed where it could have been better examined by the naked eye.  Seen from a distance, it might appear to be a print, or a computer-generated weave, but it is intricately hand embroidered, with a single totem pole motif that never repeats and continues on to the back.  The audio guide reveals that Naomi Campbell wore it on the cover of Time magazine, but there is no information about ownership, or where it was worn, which would be especially interesting in this case.

Most of our readers probably know that Mizrahi now does a line of clothes for QVC (and that he's a judge on Project Runway All Stars), but he continues to create couture designs from time to time.  The exhibition ends with three such coats, created expressly for this show.  The most splendiferous of those, below, is made of "sequined and beaded tulle veneered to neoprene".  The coats "are so not art," says the designer.  "They're just clothes."  But everyone who sees them will disagree.

The exhibition closes with a frenetically paced ten minute mini-documentary with three screens showing different photographs, changing at different rates of speed, all voiced-over with commentary.  Try as you might, you will not be able to take in everything at the same time.  My advice to you: sit through it three times, and watch one third of the screen each time.  Or, you might want to see the exhibition three times.


From Los Angeles, Jean sent this update on the Baby Bjorn dress that she found in The New York Times:

In his last runway show before the closure of his first label in 1998, Mr. Mizrahi presented another signature image: an elegant satin gown for new mothers.

“She just had the baby, she can’t leave the baby with a babysitter, and she’s just desperate to go to the party, right?” he said. “The kid’s going to have a good time, you know?”

Gisele B√ľndchen wore the dress on the runway with an infant cast by Mr. Mizrahi. “He was wearing earplugs,” Mr. Mizrahi recalled. “No harm was done to that child.”

According to my interpretation, Mizrahi made it for a theoretical mother and child, and Bundchen had the fun job of presenting it on the runway.  It seems doubtful that Gisele Bundchen is ever desperate about anything.