Women of a certain age will remember that Diana Vreeland (herself a woman of a certain age for much of her professional life) wrote a column for Harper’s Bazaar entitled Why Don't You…. (For example: "Why don't you… turn your child into an Infanta for a fancy-dress party?", and, tellingly, “Why don’t you... turn your old ermine coat into a bathrobe?” Given that last month we celebrated Diana Vreeland as one of our twelve memorable women, it seemed only fitting that in a tip of the hat to her we subtitle this column:
WHY DON’T YOU… WEAR A STRANGE MAN’S BATHROBE TO THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART?
I did this myself just last week, and found it quite enjoyable.
Mind you, I am not advocating that you find the bathrobe of Vlad the Impaler, or one of the Collyer brothers, or Michael Jackson. Our subtitle uses strange in the sense of unknown, and you can occasionally find the bathrobe of an unknown man at local resale or thrift shops. The bathrobe I found is a fabulous little (well, rather big actually, although only a size medium) silk number made by Andrea Fezza. It was lying in a discarded heap at Goodwill, but its random zigzags were so eye-catching that I could not help but be drawn to it. When I tried it on, I assumed it was a plus size women’s spring coat. I had no idea what I would do with something so large, but Goodwill’s prices are irresistible, so I bought it, thinking “there’s an app for this” (not in those exact words, which didn’t exist when I bought the bathrobe one summer day more than five years ago).
I am not good at sewing, so I knew I would have to be able to use it in its original form, or it would stay in my closet forever. How to make use of the extra yardage??? Then I remembered that I had a reversible Norma Kamali sleeping bag coat (purple outside, neon blue inside, and filled with marvelously warm and lightweight polyester batting). What if I put the Andrea Fezza over the puffy sleeping bag coat? Wouldn’t THAT take up all the extra fabric, I wondered, even before arriving home with my prize. Probably as excited as Benjamin Franklin was when he tried his key-and-kite experiment, I couldn’t wait to test my theory, and was probably again as excited as Franklin when I discovered it worked. 'Eureka', thought I, mixing my inventors, but not my metaphors.
This meant I had not one coat, or even two, but three different coats that I could wear on the very coldest days of the year (such as we have had this week) and still be toasty warm.
Soon after, on googling Andrea Fezza, I discovered he was a menswear designer, and that was when it became clear that I had purchased a man's bathrobe, and not a woman's coat. Sometime later, while channel surfing one evening, I discovered that Jack Nicholson wears the very same bathrobe in his 1987 film The Witches of Eastwick (above). So after all, the alternate meaning of the word strange, mentioned above, is applicable here.
Actually, the walking-around-in-a-strange-man’s-bathrobe concept is not a new one. New York’s own Vincent “the Chin” Gigante was often spotted walking around the city’s streets dressed in his bathrobe (left, in 1990, in a bathrobe not designed by Andrea Fezza), in an attempt to prove that he was mentally ill, and thus avoid a prison sentence. (It didn’t work.) And in an unusual case of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, Law and Order did an episode featuring a bathrobed Mafia don trying to outwit the police. So there is high profile precedent for the public wearing of bathrobes, both in fact and in fiction. (For trivia buffs, Gigante in his bathrobe phase was dubbed “The Odd Father”, which has a more mellifluous ring to it than “The Strange Father”.)
[Jean says: Emphasis on "strange"! Did I experience deja vu photographing Valerie in her royal blue Kamali coat and bathrobe? Living in Soho in the '80s, my friends and I encountered "Vinny the Chin" on several occasions, muttering and talking to himself, strolling in his royal blue bathrobe and matching blue cap, often near the Triangle Social Club at 208 Sullivan Street. Vinny managed to evade jail for years - until his 1997 conviction. Both Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano and Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso (former Lucchese underboss) testified against him. What I found most interesting (next to his bathrobe, of course) was the fact that his wife and his mistress had the same name: Olympia. I thought this was most convenient, even for a man feigning mental illness, since it greatly reduced his chances of using the wrong name at the wrong time! He fathered 5 children by the former and 3 by the latter. Not bad for a former boxer (24 fights and 23 wins). Unfortunately, Vinny died in prison in 2005. His funeral was held at St. Anthony's on Sullivan St. So, dear readers, if Valerie ever starts mumbling to herself, you'll be the first to know!]
[Valerie again:] In the photos above, where I loiter with intent just steps away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (where Jean and I saw the exhibitions of Japanese armor and art deco furnishings) and in the photos below, taken at Celcius, the temporary restaurant overlooking the ice skating rink at Bryant Park (where we had a glass of bubbly to ring in the new year), you can see the Norma Kamali coat in all its permutations. One wonderful quality that the coat shares with the bathrobe is outsized sleeves. As you can see in most of the photos, the sleeves are long and wide enough that they can serve as a muff, obviating the need for gloves. (That is, as long as you're carrying a shoulder bag, as I am in the first photo. If you're carrying a clutch, unless it's slim enough to slide up the sleeve, be sure to bring your mittens.) Another wonderful advantage of the oversized sleeves is that you can use them as a buffer between you and doors, handrails, subway straphangers, etc. In this age of H1N1 and hand sanitizers, minimizing your contact with public surfaces is - well - nothing to sneeze at.
This photo shows the pre-steroid bathrobe in its native habitat as it may have looked before it got its big break, and got discovered.
The cobalt blue sheepskin hat by Owen Barry was made in England and purchased at Sym’s. Blue suede shoes by Arche. Shoulder bag by Le Sportsac.