Sunday, May 22, 2016

Jean's Excellent Spanish Adventure

Last week at this time, Jean was hanging out with friends in Barcelona, Spain, after the Formula 1 Grand Prix race.  (More about the race itself in next Wednesday's posting.)  Here is her story:

Here I am on the roof of Gaudi's Casa Mila listening to the audio-guide and contemplating my next move.  The weather was spectacular: upper 60s during the day and mid- to upper 50s at night, with a mild breeze and low humidity.

Barcelona is in the Catalan region of Spain. Architect Antoni Gaudi's works dominate the city's psyche and its skyline.  I met 3 friends from California for sightseeing and to see the Formula-1 Grand Prix race on May 15th. We stayed at a wonderful 4-star Hotel Murmuri (aka "Whisper") in a beautifully appointed two-bedroom apartment on a side street around the corner from the main hotel with living room, dinning area, outdoor terrace, full kitchen, washer and dryer and dishwasher.

Antoni Gaudi i Cornet was a Spanish Catalan architect from Reus and the best known practitioner of Catalan Modernism. Gaudi's works reflect an individualized and distinctive style. Most are located in Barcelona, including his magnum opus, the Sagrada Familia.

Influenced by architecture, nature and religion, Gaudi integrated crafts into his designs such as ceramics, stained glass, wrought ironwork forging, carpentry and plasterwork. One of the most iconic Gaudi buildings is Casa Mila at 92 Passeig de Gracia. Although revered today, Gaudi's work was very controversial at the time.

Nicknamed "La Pedrera" or "The Stone Quarry", Casa Mila is an apartment building commissioned by Pere Mila and Roser Segimon. As I toured it, my thought was "This man does not a straight line like."  Everything is curved.  Metalwork surrounds the balconies and the roof features stone and ceramic tile covered towers. His new techniques for treatment of materials included trencadis which used waste ceramic materials. Constructed from 1906 to 1912, the building still houses private apartments.  The museum lobby on the first floor, the rooftop and the Mila family's apartment are open to the public.  This model shows the rooftop towers.

A curved ceramic tile covered tower is in the background, while the towers in the foreground (some of which conceal stove pipes) have been described as topped by warriors' helmets or ladies' veils.

Many of the details in the family apartment like bed frames and furniture are also curved, echoing an art nouveau look.  This curved tea set caught my eye.

Check out the curved plasterwork framing the door and the window and note the pocket doors. The woodwork in the flooring and the gramophone add warmth to the surroundings.

Next stop?  We went to see Gaudi's still-incomplete basilica, Sagrada Familia, which is the most visited monument in Spain. Influenced by neo-Gothic and Oriental styles, Gaudi became part of the Modernista movement which peaked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  He and his work eventually transcended mainstream Modernisme, creating an individualized and unique organic style influenced by nature.

Estimates are that construction will continue through 2026.  [Valerie interjects: I was there in 1991, and it was replete with cranes even then, so that gives you some idea of the magnitude - or the endlessness - of this undertaking.]  Although numerous parts of the exterior and interior are construction sites, crowds of visitors swarm the exterior and interior.  Advice to travelers: If you are planning to visit Barcelona, book your tickets in advance online.

The interior of the basilica is illuminated by vibrant stained glass windows.

Although the altar area was walled off during our visit, the crucifix was visible overhead. One visitor commented that it looked like the cross was suspended from a giant, golden jelly fish.

Food in Barcelona features lots of ham -- and seafood.  Restaurants are crowded with happy, satisfied, well-dressed diners.  Outdoor cafes are also very popular spots for relaxing and people-watching. Nightlife is thriving.  Lots of bars and nightclubs thrive in downtown Barcelona.

Men in kilts:  Across the street from our apartment was Boca Grande - Boca Chica, which had a jam-packed rooftop bar filled with many race fans, including Fraser.  Our quartet had spotted him earlier in the afternoon on the street. He's hard to miss, with long blond locks, kilt and boots.  Fraser was sweet enough to pose for a photo.

After our rooftop nightcap, my friends and I descended in the elevator with these 3 adorable young ladies who insisted that I had to check out the ladies' room and escorted me there forthwith. The large, brightly lit white tile covered unisex space featured stand up cocktail tables, lots of big mirrors, communal sinks, large stalls and beautiful people.

Teaser for Wednesday night's Formula-1 race coverage: a group of more than a dozen British gents combined their trip to the race with a bachelor party.  They chose a hilariously novel way to celebrate at the racetrack and after: dressing as matadors, flamenco dancers and senoritas.  Tune in Thursday for the full story!

On a related note:  On Sunday evening as we were walking home after dinner at Balthazar, we met this group of 5 ladies celebrating the upcoming nuptials of the lady in purple.  The bridesmaids dressed in red outfits matching the bride's purple one, including net skirt, feather boa, headband and feather, combined with black sweaters and tights.

All good things must come to an end. All too soon, my trip was over. At the airport, waiting for my flight back to JFK, I was recognized and approached by Manuel who lives in Mexico City.  That he would know me from our blog and from the Advanced Style documentary was wonderfully flattering and so much fun.  His sister obliged by taking photos of us with both of our cell phones.  What a sweet ending to a marvelous trip!

Sunday, May 15, 2016


We are always puzzled when we hear our lady friends lament that they can't wear hats.  Many say they don't have the right face or the right hair, when the obvious answer is that they just don't have the right hat.  We were particularly puzzled when none other than Dayle of Artful City Style said this.    Dayle combines so many eclectic accessories with such style that we imagine her adding a hat with equal aplomb.  So we threw down the gauntlet.  Bring over any five outfits of your choice, we said, and we'll find a hat for it.

If you've been looking at our Instagram account (what do you mean, you haven't?!), you know that Jean is away in Barcelona, so Valerie undertook to match up each of Dayle's outfits with an appropriate chapeau on her own.  To keep it simple (that is, to minimize the amount of shlepping), all the photographs would be waist up or higher, so Dayle brought tops only - no pants, skirts, or shoes.

Dayle immediately presented Valerie with a challenge because their thought processes are at odds: Valerie thinks in terms of hats that match the outfit; Dayle wanted hats that contrasted.  For her black and white outfit, she requested a red hat, but...

... the first red hats Valerie brought out did not meet with Dayle's approval.  Then she saw this black saucer hat with the red trim, and asked to try that on.  This worked quite well.  Those of you who know Dayle know that she is closely identified with her wild curly blond hair.  This hat didn't balance well with Dayle's lush head of hair, so Valerie convinced Dayle to pull most of it back.  Most of it.  Dayle wanted to keep a few tendrils (comfort tendrils?  like comfort food?) to remain visible, and that worked quite well too.

Before we started, Dayle said that she envisioned herself in a broad hat with the brim turned up, and one was found for her in black and white, to match her outfit.  In this picture, you get a better view of her wonderful contrasting earrings.

Dayle then brought out a turquoise jacket.  Another challenge, thought Valerie, who doesn't have any turqoise hats.  But Dayle, remember, didn't want a matching hat.  She asked for an orange hat, to play off the small patch of orange on the turqoise.  Valerie brought out a conical orange straw hat, but that turned out to be a challenge for Dayle, who nixed it as soon as she put it on.  This is perfectly okay - you have to be comfortable in your hat.  If you're not, you won't feel confident and you won't wear the hat.  Because the jacket has a modified Chinese neckline, we tried a modified coolie hat, which looked great.

Valerie pulled out a forgotten but much loved small orange fascinator, although fearful that Dayle would find it too dramatic.  But Dayle took to this hat, which allowed her to showcase her beautiful hair.

Then Dayle put on a purple jacket.  Many women share a love of purple, but matching two shades of purple can be a challenge of its own.  The purple of the Dayle's jacket and the purple of the hat don't match, but neither do they conflct, and the hat shape balances the jacket shape.  Keep an eye on Dayle's eyeglasses, which she changes to suit her clothes.  Those are purple frames she's wearing in this photo.  Dayle is very drawn to color, and the big smile across her face is her initial reaction to the kimono in the background.

Another challenge!  Dayle's purple jacket is reversible to green with red polka dots.  Valerie's initial reaction was 'I have a green hat to go with that', but Dayle wanted to bring out the contrasting red.  What to do?  Do both.

First, here's Dayle in a lush green velour hat.  For the photograph, we kept the tilt to a minimum, so it wouldn't shade her face, but it also looked wonderful at a greater angle.

Throughout our hat challenge, we kept using the word 'experiment'. Try this shape, try that color, try a different angle, etc.  And if we didn't like it, out it went.  Sometimes you get lucky on the first try, sometimes you have to do a dozen experiments to get a winner. Valerie has quite a few red hats, but which one would work with this outfit?  This little hat, which can be folded up and put in a pocket, did.  And it looks better with this jacket than Valerie's first choice, the green hat.

Valerie was stumped by Dayle's final challenge.  Dayle put on a yellow top, accessorized it with a green and red scarf, and challenged Valerie to find her a hat that matched the red of the scarf.  We did try two red hats, but neither of them set the outfit off in a way we were happy with.  Giving up on red, we tried three yellow hats - all nice, all inappropriate to the outfit.  Finally Valerie pulled out an old green straw picture hat with a contrasting yellow ribbon from the early 50s, which Dayle loved.

What are the results of The Hat Challenge?  We've proven definitively that not only can Dayle wear hats, she can wear hats in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes.  This is a very personal decision, and she may very well choose not to, but the fact is she could if she cared to. And why shouldn't Dayle show off her hair, rather than a hat?  Just for example, Dayle said no to the three hats in the opening photo. They work for Valerie but not for Dayle, even though the colors go with the outfits.  So if at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again.   Don't blame the hat, or your hair, or your face, or your outfit or your make-up.  Just look for another hat, the way you would look for another dress if you didn't like the first one you tried on.

Not everyone can wear an Isabella Blow hat,

but everyone can wear a hat.  (And that includes our men friend readers, too.)

In closing, we just want to take this opportunity to say - all of you ladies who have been complaining that you can't wear hats - we don't want to hear any more about it.  Case closed!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

MANUS X MACHINA: Fashion in the Age of Technology

Last week, we attended the press preview for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute's newest exhibition MANUS x MACHINA - FASHION IN THE AGE OF TECHNOLOGY on the morning of the day of the red carpet gala.

Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute, who took up the reins after Harold Koda retired last year, has mounted the show which features exceptional fashions that reconcile traditional hand techniques with innovative machine technologies such as 3-D printing, laser cutting, circular knitting, computer modeling, bonding and laminating, and ultrasonic welding.

The exhibition opens with a Chanel bridal gown whose train alone, bedizened with countless Swarovski crystals, takes up most of the very large entrance hall.

In contrast to the mind boggling train, the design of the dress itself is classical, spare and simple, no doubt to heighten the surprise of viewers, slowly absorbing the pageantry of the bride as she passes.   Your eyes do not deceive you - that is our friend Judith, The Style Crone, between us.

The show features ninety astonishing pieces ranging from Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel's iconic tweed suit to Karl Lagerfeld's 3-D-printed version. We often play a game at exhibitions called "If I could pick one thing, what would it be?" Jean's selection, hands down, is Thierry Mugler's A/W 1990-91 pret-a-porter "NEON DANS LA NUIT" suit. Made of machine-sewn black silk velvet, hand-embroidered with optical fluorescent stripes, the jacket and skirt's trim glows in the flash of the camera.

Exhibit categories are delineated by method. For example, PLEATING clearly demonstrates major changes in processes over time. Case in point (below), Spanish designer Marion Fortuny's 1930's haute couture gown made of hand-pleated and hand-sewn red-purple silk charmeuse, hand-embroidered with Venetian glass beads.

Mary McFadden's 1986 gown continues the pleating tradition while updating both fabrication and method of creation. Her machine-sewn and "Marii" machine-pleated green polyester charmeuse gown has hand-applied gold metallic passementerie.

The Miyake Design Studio, founded in 1970, is world famous for further automating the pleating process. This "RHYTHM PLEATS" gown, from Japanese designer Issey Miyake's S/S 1990 pret-a-porter collection, is machine-garment-pleated, machine-sewn yellow and red-purple polyester-linen plain weave. While it looks so three dimensional on the body, off the body, it is a flat rectangle.

In the "If I could pick one thing" game, this is what Valerie would probably wind up picking.  You have to look really carefully, but you might be able to see that she's wearing a scale model copy of the dress as a necklace.  (Try double clicking.)

In its time, this dress design was considered so innovative that the Museum felt it necessary to show it in three stages - from  left to right, its flat storage look to its on-the-body look.

Also in the Pleats section was this oversized ruff by Comme des Garcons, large enough to extend to the elbows, reminiscent of the starchy ruffs worn by the Dutch, but taken to the requisite edgy CDG extreme.

Among the most exotic examples of machine-made attire is Hussein Chalayan's S/S 2009 pret-a-porter dress. It is made of white polyurethane foam, hand-painted and airbrushed with green, blue, brown, black and red crushed automobile imagery.

Dutch designer Iris van Herpen's 3-D-printed silicone designs were arguably the most avant-garde, and certainly the most diverse, incorporating futuristic methods and techniques. From her Autumn 2012 haute couture collection, this 3-D-printed (stereolithography) dress of dark orange epoxy by Materialise is hand-sanded and hand-sprayed with a transparent resin. We both had the same reaction to this amazing dress, agreeing that while it is absolutely beautiful, it would be impossible to sit down or lie down in. If someone were to wear it to the gala that evening, they'd have to walk all the way from their hotel to the museum, remain standing all night and walk back or shed this amazing armature afterward.  But it would be so worth it!

We had to show you another of Iris's stunning creations. It's easy to see the source of her inspiration, to which Herpen has puckishly added a vestigial tailbone.  The label reads (in part) 3-D-printed (selective laser sintering) white polyamide.

And finally, one last Iris creation, this one made of patent leather.  The detail work, all done by laser, is extraordinary.

Flowers was another major theme.  The shape of Hussein Chalayan's "DUCK" Dress from his S/S 2000 pret-a-porter collection resembles the bird's upturned tail. The combination of humor and exquisite tailoring makes for an outrageously gorgeous gown. It is machine-sewn pink polyester tulle, hand-gathered and sculpted into tufts and machine-stitched to pink cotton twill.

In an amazing 180° turnaround, Chalayan also made this dress, labeled as "cast fiberglass painted with gold metallic pigment, hung with Swarovski crystal and pearl paper "pollens," rear-entry panels with motorized hinges, radio-controlled digital handset".

One thing we really liked about the exhibition was the way it bounced back and forth between the past and the present, showing old and new techniques, comparing and contrasting hand work and machine work.  We were reminded during the press briefing that some techniques we consider to be old news were, in their time, hailed as innovations.   This court presentation dress by Boue Soeurs, dated 1928, was made with a melange of hand- and machine-work.

We have to show you some of the detail work to give you an inkling of the amount of labor that went into deceptively complicated dress.  The label reads, in part, "hand-sewn ivory silk tulle, machine-embroidered with couched silver cord... metal lame with machine-picot edging; hand-appliqued with hand-embroidered white silk tulle with artificial flowers..."

But back to Chalayan for a moment.  Yet another extraordinary Chalayan dress was this post-Jetsons creation, which echoes the shape of the Dior suit on the left, and its material concept from the Paco Rabanne dress on the right, and is able to express both shapes with motorized panels.  Don't believe us?  Watch this video from 3:05 to 3:35 and see the dress - and a hat - metamorphose before your eyes.

Christian Dior's AW 1949-50 haute couture "JUNON" gown for House of Dior has a machine-sewn, hand-finished pale green silk faille and taffeta foundation, hand-sewn pale blue silk tulle embroidered with opalescent sequins, hand-appliqued with forty-five hand-cut pale blue silk tulle and horsehair petals, hand-embroidered with opalescent blue, green, and orange gelatin sequins.  It faced its mirror image, with lighter sequins.

Perhaps the most wonderfully unexpected is this dress by American designer Thom Browne, better known for his menswear line. Made of laser-cut white ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam, it is from his SS 2013 pret-a-porter collection.

This was juxtaposed against a Paul Poiret coat dated 1919.  The two white panels down the front are 'hand-appliqued' 'kidskin cutwork'.  Cutwork existed before the use of lasers in fashion, but in Poiret's time each individual cut had to be made by expert hands.

In the spirit of upcycling, we had to show you this Gareth Pugh dress, which the label tells us is created from transparent drinking straws.


Judith Boyd, aka Style Crone, in town from Denver for the Advanced Style: Older and Wiser book launch and for a number of get-togethers with friends, joined us for the press preview. Her striking red velvet turban is by Schiaparelli; Valerie's pale green straw boater is from her trip decades ago to Printemps in Paris; and Jean's straw hat by Ignatius Hats is from last November's Philadelphia Museum of Art's Craft Show.

We got a brief glimpse of Vogue edtior Anna Wintour in a lovely colorful dress, and without her trademark sunglasses, before we were shooed away by a very zealous person.  At left is Met Director Thomas Campbell.

Thom Browne, instantly recognizable for his fitted high-water pants and sock-less look, made an appearance at the press preview. Just the day before, The New York Times' Sunday Style Section featured an article about how Thom and the show's curator, Andrew Bolton, spend their Sundays. Click here for  the story. (Spoiler alert:  they've been a couple for five years and devote much of their Sunday -- and, actually every day -- to spoiling Hector, their little wire-haired dachshund. )  Fashion note: both were wearing the high pants hem look you see here.

Legendary designer Mary McFadden, whose iconic pleated designs appear in the show, was seated just two rows in front of us at the press conference.

TV fashion personality Joe Zee was also in the crowd for the press conference. When we emerged later after the show,  he was on camera in front of his video crew, reporting about the show.

Our pal, Gay City News writer David Noh, got into the act, combining a machine-made silver lame shirt with a cowboy hat and American flag scarf.

Before and during the welcoming remarks, we couldn't take our eyes off this woman's wonderful Comme des Garcons checked jacket with humongous 3D roses.  (Yes, they're on the back, too.)

Canny designers working in new technology brought and wore their own designs to show off.  Alisha Trimble is flanked by two models wearing her designs.

This young woman wears a design of her own.  The glossy silver material, laser-cut (we think) into diamond shapes, lies flat, but moves beautifully with the wearer's body.

But for us, the show stopper, the item-that-wasn't-in-the-show-but-should-have-been, was Maiko Takeda's headpiece.

As outrageous fortune would have it, we just happened to be there as Takeda took the soft, lightweight jumble of prongs from her hand and slipped it over her head as easily as if it had been a plastic rain bonnet taken from her pocket.  Takeda's name is listed in the Met credits as a contributor.  We took the liberty of looking up her name to discover a stellar background: Takeda is a graduate of Central Saint Martin's, which seems to be graduating all the interesting designers these days, she has worked for both Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy, and is now designing accessories for Issey Miyake.

All in all, we were dazzled, and hope you have a chance to see this show.