Monday, May 25, 2015

Frida Kahlo: Art - Garden - Life!

The anticipation was killing us. Style Crone was coming to New York and Frida Kahlo was coming to the Bronx. On Sunday, it finally all came together! We met Judith aka Style Crone at Grand Central Station and took Metro North to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx for Frida Kahlo: Art - Garden - Life.  Click here for the NYBG's YouTube about the exhibition.

Of course, we dressed for the occasion. While not historically accurate, we each channeled our inner Frida and wore clothes inspired by her that we think she would have appreciated. Judith wore a wonderful floral silk kimono over a matching man's shirt, beige straw hat by Maeve Carr and red embroidered pumps. Jean wore an Ignatius hat, long black sleeveless voile shirt, accentuated with lots of colorful bakelite and prayer beads. Valerie wore a Japanese tenugui (hand towel) as a head wrap, red polka dot cats' eye sun glasses, shell earrings, deep orange Ivan Grundhal sleeveless dress, Osamu Mita woven throw, Pleats Please blouse, antique ethnographic necklaces, knitted cuffs with Frida's portrait on them (cut from socks), and flats made of Kuna Indian molas.

The New York Botanical Garden's celebration of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo features a recreation of the pyramid outside her Blue House (Casa Azul) with all of the native plants in the Enid Haupt Conservatory. Fourteen of Kahlo's paintings and works on paper highlighting the artist's botanical imagery in her art, focusing on her lesser-known yet equally spectacular still lifes are on display in the Library Building Art Gallery. (Photo below is from a poster at the show.)

The botanical garden itself is a revelation. Walking through the conservatory from the front door through the rainforest and the desert leads you to Casa Azul.   One of the big treats was the staircase that leads to a look at a rainforest canopy.  See if you can spot Judith and Jean. (High resolution photo, so you can enlarge it for a better view.)

It goes without saying that plants and flowers run riot throughout.  Here is the smallest smattering of what we saw.

Called a jade vine, and native to the Philippines, these blossoms look like a collection of green animal claws, but are petal-soft to the touch.

The vibrantly colored Mysore clockvine is native to India.  While wending our way toward the Casa Azul we often had to bend down so as not to disturb plants dangling from above.

No, we didn't accidentally rotate this photo.  This is the way these waxy looking blossoms grow.  So many plants are cheek by jowl that we couldn't always get their names, as with this one.  It also had numerous cousins.  One variety was all the same shade of pink, another had blossoms that pointed downward, with bright red stalks and white tips.

These delicate blooms come from the variegated bleeding heart vine.

This calla lily, growing just before the entrance to the recreated Casa Azul, looks like something plucked from the canvas of one of Kahlo's paintings.

The Garden''s evocation of Kahlo's garden and studio at Casa Azul (Blue House), her lifelong home in Mexico City, brings to life the vibrant colors of the plants and flowers of the artist's native country. Here is the recreation of the famous pyramid at Casa Azul where Diego Rivera, one of Mexico's best known muralists, and Kahlo's husband, displayed pre-Columbian art works. The vibrant blue in the background is the tint of the Blue House. The Garden's Shop in the Garden, in addition to its regular selection of books, cards, gardening tools, and artisanal jams, now features all things Frida, from oven mitts and aprons to books, cards and repros of her paintings printed on large silk scarves. Do make it a destination on your trip! You'll thank us.

There were too many things to see and so little time. Here are two stops on our next trip: At the Britton Rotunda in the Library Building is artist-in-residence Humberto Prindola's recreation of an installation of paper dresses inspired by Kahlo's 1939 double self-portrait The Two Fridas.  (There was an estimated hour wait while we were there.)  The Ross Gallery's "The Mexico City of Frida and Diego" features museums and other sites in Mexico City where Frida Kahlo's and Diego Rivera's artwork and personal collections can be viewed. (Photo below is a shot of one of the posters at the show.)

There we were, in a city of eight million people, at an exhibition thronging with visitors, and we still managed to run into someone we knew.  Sandy Long was dressed in bright botanical colors, perfect for the occasion.

We were not the only ones channeling our inner-Frida on Saturday. This young woman even wore flowers in her hair to match the print in her turquoise top. (Another case of six degrees of separation - we met this same lady on Fifth Avenue at the Easter Parade in April.)

This woman also wore a garland of flowers in her turquoise-tinted hair, and continued the theme with a floral print dress.

And still more flowers intertwined in the hair! And more tropical prints.

We ran into this beautiful young woman by the recreated pyramid.

Turquoise was a popular color. Another woman embraced the look and joyfully wore lots of prints and color to celebrate the show.

This young woman wore a red embroidered cotton top a la Frida.

Another lady in light blue wore a terrific statement necklace with turquoise coral and red sandals.

On our way through the conservatory, we met this lovely lady wearing a fuchsia scarf, top and shoes who was obviously enjoying herself and the exhibition.

This duo was checking out the wonderful selection of merchandise in Shop In the Garden.

For the most part, the men were more sedately dressed, but we have to tip our hats to this gent, whose glasses matched his shirt, and both of which matched matched many of the flowers we saw that day.

Just outside the gift shop, one woman was demonstrating traditional Mexican embroidery, and another was demonstrating traditional backstrap loom weaving, examples of both of which Frida can be seen wearing in her art work.

And just as we were making our way toward the exit, Valerie ran into her friend and fellow textile enthusiast Ann (far right), just arriving with friends.  What are the odds of running into two people you know?!

We got to the platform only a minute or two before the Metro North train pulled into the station. Once we arrived at Grand Central, we took Judith to Cipriani's for a closer view of the wonderful astrological mural on the ceiling of the train station.

We had time for one last toast until we meet again later in the week. Then off we went, having had such a grand time that we decided to savor the moment instead of blogging about it.  (That's why we're posting today.  You know what they say - age has its privileges!)

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We couldn't resist closing with two more fun photos.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Hint of Frida

We should be blogging, but it's the three-day holiday weekend for us, too, so we're playing hookey today and will put up a real post tomorrow.  Above is just a sampling of tomorrow's post.

We went to see the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden, and as you can see we brought our friend Judith Boyd with us, better known as Style Crone.  No one is going to be able to pull off the perfect Frida imitation, but we tipped our proverbial hats to her, as you can see.

Enjoy your holiday!  And remember our veterans and those armed services members who didn't come home.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Black ... IS the New Black

Sometimes, nothing satisfies like black! And simply nothing else will do. We've had these fabulous black patent lip bags for months (courtesy of Amarcord, a great place for vintage clothes, as we've noted previously), and finally decided we just had to use them in a post.  Wouldn't it be fun, we thought, to match them with black lipstick?  The rest just fell into place. Nothing does the trick like black, so we went for it: black hats, black accessories, black dress and pants.  Even black nail polish!  OK, we know, it is over-kill. But it was also over-fun!

As it happened, Valerie had happened upon the wonderful five-sided sculpture of stark white faces at Rockefeller Center (called Masks: Pentagon), which seemed the perfect spot for our latest photo op.

Luckily, there were several very accommodating tourists and even a security guard (!) who offered to take our photos for us.  The guard gets an A+ because he knew - without having to be asked - to get our hats and our feet in the shot.

Afterward, we strolled to Brasserie Ruhlmann, just across the street. Since the weather had turned a little chilly and their outdoor seating area didn't have any heat lamps, we opted to go inside, and were pleasantly surprised at our good luck in getting seated at a very comfy corner banquette. The next surprise was the fact that the bartender humored us and acceded to our request to mix and match ingredients of the yummy cocktails on the menu.

We started with a very tasty Jalapeno Margarita, but asked the mixologist to add the raspberries and basil listed in the English Basil. We were warned (as we often are when we make these requests) that that would change the flavor. We said (as we often do when warned) that we would take responsibility, and that our instincts usually turn out to be right. (More than one mixologist has complimented us on our choices. Could that just be flattery???) Needless to say, the resulting drink was delicious.

Jean happily munched away on her basil leaves. This is what it looks like when you accidentally munch on the jalapeno pepper ...

Gratuitous photo to show off Valerie's black nail polish.

Ditto for Jean. (Eagle-eyed readers will note that more of Jean's drink ingredients have been munched than Valerie's.)

We were seated next to a table of five very lovely ladies from Scotland, who had stopped in for cocktails. After some coaxing, they agreed to allow us to photograph them for our blog. You be the judge. Don't they look great?

After they finished, they headed to the Top of the Rock, in good spirits. Having friends to share your experiences makes life just a little more fabulous, don't you think?

On our way out, we saw three women who turned out to be from the U.K. inspecting the menu and we encouraged them to go in, saying the drinks are great, the menu is very interesting, the prices are reasonable and the ambiance is warm.

So the next time someone tells us they had a black day, forgive us if we look a bit confused.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Good / Day / Black / Rock

We're having technical difficulties (what? again?!), so rather than risk black circles under our eyes, we're just going to tempt you with a fun photo tonight and ask you to come back tomorrow night.  Same old bats time, same old bats channel.  (Did you get the camp TV reference?  Write and tell us what we stole it from - oh, sorry, what we sampled it from.)

We thought it would be fun to dress alllllll in black (right down to our black lipstick and black lip bags) and then stand in front of the new stark white Thomas Houseago sculptures (called Masks: Pentagon) up at Rockefeller Center.  Waddya know.  It was ... a structure with a large mask on each of its 5 sides!  But more on that after we've each spoken with our respective tech geniuses.

Can't tell if the lipstick is black?  Yeah, well, that's the price one pays for forgoing those collagen injections.

Enough of this frivolity ... and now, off to get our beauty sleep!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

What Lies Beneath

The body is a reflection of the society that presided over its creation. - Denis Bruna

In April we attended the opening night preview of Bard Graduate Center Gallery's show: Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the SilhouetteShowing through July 26, the exhibit examines the extraordinary ways in which women - and men - have shaped their bodies into distinctive silhouettes in the name of fashion.

We've divided our post into two parts to cover the show itself and then cover opening night festivities.

Anyone who has thumbed through a Victoria's Secret catalogue can tell you that what lies beneath our clothes is every bit as important as the clothes themselves.  Yet for all the exhibitions of fashion, and even fashion accessories (hats, shoes, fans, jewelry), how many of us can say we've ever seen an exhibition of what are euphemistically but ever so accurately called foundations?  Now is your chance to see just such an exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center.

The show comes to New York from the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, where it had a larger space and a broader scope.  So there were bits we didn't get to see (so to speak) here in Manhattan, but the highlights are here, and the exhibition is so informative, engaging, and well thought out that we will be very disappointed if you don't go to see it.  The original French name of the exhibition, La Mecanique des Dessous, or The Mechanics Beneath, is a colorful, cheeky tell-all.

Below, in the first room, is a woman's so-called Spanish doublet on the left (dated app. 1600), with whalebone stays, a mock-up of a conical hooped farthingale from the period, and a painting of a woman of the period wearing both.

This is the small cartoon that appears above, showing women getting ready for a masked ball, also dated around 1600.    This gives some idea of the intricacies involved in dressing the wealthier classes.  The woman on the right is being fitted with a doughnut around her waist (like the two on the floor behind her) that will give extra volume to her dress.  The book that accompanies the exhibition has an entire chapter on ruffs which had to be left out of the exhibition.  We foolishly thought ruffs stood up on their own, but they had foundations too, sometimes in cardboard (covered in satin, of course), sometimes in finely wrought metal.

Whalebone stays came into fashion in the sixteenth century, and in some form or other remained part of fashion into the nineteenth century.  Whalebone had the advantage of being lightweight and sturdy yet somewhat flexible.  It was believed that whalebone stays helped the body remain upright.  In the center front of the stay was often a busk - a slim narrow rod made of any number of materials to help reinforce the straight posture.  In the exhibition is an engraved busk with a poem on it, a gift from the lover to lie near the heart of the beloved.

The exhibition has numerous examples of the structures that fill out the seventeenth century dresses.  Below, from left to right, a reconstruction of an undergarment for a robe a la polonaise, rigged to rise and fall to demonstrate how the folds were achieved; a robe a la polonaise, a formal French dress, and a robe a la francaise.

Here's what's going on beneath a robe a la polonaise:

(Click here for the full screen sized video.)

Children did not escape the wearing of corsets (and infants wore swaddling clothes), since these were believed to help them grow up straight.  According to the book, cradles of the time were narrow for the same reason.  Below, four children's wraps and, far right, mid-eighteenth century whalebone stays with cut-outs for a nursing mother.  The concept of the upright body was interwoven with religious views on morality.

The old regime undergarments are works of art in and of themselves. Can't you just see Beyonce or Rihanna working the red carpet wearing this?

Here, a reconstruction of the above eighteenth century pannier, and left of that, a fashionable woman wearing a pannier under her very wide skirt.  The articulation of the panniers allowed for some freedom of movement and for easier folding for storage.  Panniers could also be designed to allow for pockets.

This reconstructed pannier, mechanically rigged for the exhibition, shows its ingenious and painstaking design.

(Full size here.)

Popular cartoons of the day made fun of the extreme fashions of the times.  Here, this illustration dated 1786 imagines what a woman's body would really have to look like if fashion reflected the real body.

Here too, we see that the cinched waist was a fashion statement.  (Remember the scene in Gone with the Wind where Vivienne Lee as Scarlett O'Hara insists that Butterfly McQueen cinch her laces even tighter?)

On the wall behind the mannequins is a photograph dated around 1860 of a woman being fitted with a tremendous crinoline.  In front, three differently shaped crinolines.  The one on the far left is electronically wired to rise and fall so the viewer can see what it looks like when folded flat.

(Full sized video here.)

After the French Revolution, there was a period of unstructured dress in the early nineteenth century, but eventually hidden structures came back in the form of the bustle.  One, based on its shape, was called "the lobster tail".

Here's a short articulated lobster tail, folding and unfolding.

(Or click here to see the full sized screen version.)

Here is a close up view of one of the exhibition's beautifully crafted lobster tail panniers designed to accentuate the buttocks. Anyone wishing to imitate Kim Kardashian's famous rear-view shot on Paper Magazine's cover (that supposedly crashed the internet) should take note. Click here to view the infamous cover photo.

Approaching the turn of the century, the monobosom or pigeon breast became all the rage, and undergarments changed again to reflect that.  Tellingly, the poster behind the mannequin reads "Unbreakable Whalebone Corsets", so we know that breakage was a problem in corset production at the time.  (All the more reason to stand straight and still!)

This display of body shapes showed how fashionable silhouettes changed over the decades.  Notice the wild fluctuations in the first three.  The first is dated 1700 - 1800, the second is dated 1800, and the third is dated 1800 - 1900.  After that silhouettes change rapidly, reflecting the rise of commercially available fashions for the masses.

The original exhibition gave substantial attention to the male silhouette.  That had to be abbreviated here, although we were very interested to see that, while women were exaggerating their bosoms and hips, men were exaggerating their girth and their musculature.  Below, the upstanding leg is wearing padded calves.  Since men wore breeches in those days, it just would not do to show flaccid calf muscles.  (The equivalent today would be the so-called six pack underscored by the tight tee shirt.)

In the spirit of full disclosure, we have to give you some idea of what you missed from the men's exhibition.  We missed it too, of course, but here's a glimpse at what's in the book (which we also highly recommend).  Want the book?  Click here.  There is an entire chapter devoted to codpieces, entitled "Falsity and Pretense": Stuffed Codpieces, written by exhibition curator Denis Bruna.  For the ne plus ultra in the peekaboo look for codpieces, look no further than these breeches worn by Svante Sture of Sweden around 1567.

To close the exhibition portion of the post, let us show you this 1565 portrait of Antonio Navagero, with which Mr. Bruna opens the chapter in his book.  Yes, possibly "falsity and pretense" are words well suited to the chapter, and to Mr. Navagero's upward pointing bright red accessory. Readers, is it true that clothes make the man?  Was Mr. Navagero a man of few words?  Really, would he need to say anything?

Opening Night Exhibition and Reception

Shortly after our arrival, we had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Bruna, the exhibition's curator, pictured here with Beth Allen, Bard's Major Gifts Officer. Dr. Bruna is also Curator, Fashion and Textile Design, Musee des Arts Decoratifs, and a professor at the Ecole du Louvre.

After viewing the show, which encompasses three stories of the gallery, we walked down the block to the reception held at Bard's other space on West 86th Street. Just inside the lobby, we met another young woman from Bard wearing an antique whalebone crinoline. She and Valerie came face to face or hoop to hoop, so to speak. How could we pass up this priceless photo op?

Both of us admired the intricately quilted Chinese-inspired jacked worn by Hollis Barnhart, Bard's Communications Manager.

For future reference:  Wearing a metal appendage around one's waist does automatically demand space. While it may be a drawback in both intimate and crowded social gatherings, it might actually be a great advantage and personal-space protector in a jammed subway car.

(White eye is weirder than red eye, isn't it?  Sorry about the pics!)

Kathryn Hausman (left),  President Emeritus of the Art Deco Society of New York and founder of Medusa's Heirlooms, was also at the event with Designer Patricia Fox.  As we previously mentioned, the show is up until July 26th so if you're planning to to visit New York this summer, take advantage of this terrifically entertaining educational opportunity in one of the most beautiful and intimate exhibition spaces.

Some of you might be asking "What's that thing Valerie's got on around her waist?"  The answer is it's a Chromat cage in red enameled metal, made several years ago for a special promotional event.  The red block on one side of the front hides a battery pack (not attached that evening).  The underside is lined with LED lights, so even if all the light in the city went out, Valerie could walk home in the dark, followed by a gazillion fireflies.  If the battery pack was attached.  And charged.  The hat was made by Elizabeth Dean and designed based on Beijing's Bird Cage, where the 2008 Olympics were held.