Sunday, September 19, 2010

Notorious and Notable (no, no, not us...)

Jean says: What better way to follow up Fashion's Night Out than with a night uptown at the opening of "Notorious and Notable: 20th Century Women of Style" at the Museum of the City of New York", and what better icon than Iris Apfel to greet us at the door? After a hair-raising, stiflingly hot, jam-packed subway ride to 103rd Street, we emerged at street level into a sudden downpour. Through unbelievable luck, Valerie snagged us a taxi, which - shall we say - tapped a limo in front of us as we arrived at our destination. We paid the fare and dashed through the raindrops, up the steps and into the museum. After chatting with the dashing Edward Faber of the Aaron Faber Gallery (a wonderful venue for contemporary and antique jewelry), we headed into the exhibit.

Valerie says: Photographer Linda Troeller kindly took these photographs of us while we dried off, toasted the show with Perrier Jouet and nibbled on truly delectable bite sized treats. Samurai in New York is another exhibition currently showing at the Museum.

Whom should we meet at the door but the Rara Avis herself, Iris Apfel. In its review of the show the next day, The New York Times dubbed her a "geriatric glamazon". She couldn't have been more charming, and kindly allowed us to photograph her. We told her we loved her photo in the Times' T Magazine with our friend Tziporah in Lynn Yeager's article.

The show focuses on the clothing and jewely of 81 women spanning the breadth of the 20th century. Phyllis Magidson, the Museum's curator of costumes and textiles, grouped the clothing by colors, mixing eras and styles, like some mad tea party. The "Notorious" range from Sunny von Bulow and the Duchess of Windsor to Gypsy Rose Lee and Edith Bouvier Beale (aka "Big Edie" from Grey Gardens). The "Notables" run the gamut from Brooke Astor and Jackie O to Marian Anderson and Lena Horne, Barbara Walters to Diana Vreeland, Isadora Duncan to Bella Abzug. What this disparate group of women has in common is the fact that all were at some point in time residents of New York City. The provenance of this particular outfit comes as no surprise, given the instantly recognizable large, round signature glasses on the mannequin: It is Iris Apfel's bright red Galanos gown encircled with a huge feather and fringe shawl.

As we were making our way through the crowd to try to view the exhibit, we met Judy and Stanley Zabar (yes, THOSE Zabars!). Well known as a philanthropist, Judy is also a great fashion maven. Here, she shows off her own personal tortoise shell version of Iris Apfel's eyewear.

Here's Valerie, stopping in front of the display of red dresses. (Click to enlarge photos.) The knee-length 3/4 sleeve jeweled gown on the mannequin to the left of the mannequin wearing Iris' gown belonged to fashion writer Eugenia Shepherd. Like the diminutive Ms. Shepherd, the mannequin is shorter in stature than most of the others.

Among the jewels on display, courtesy of the National Jewelry Institute, is Diana Vreeland's yellow gold, sapphire and ruby fish-shaped cigarette lighter designed by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany's. Also in the show is her Trophee de Vaillance jeweled brooch by Schlumberger.

This is my absolute favorite outfit in the show. This demure, high-collared 1940s mitred black and white striped ensemble with peplum jacket and long skirt belonged to none other than Gypsy Rose Lee. The outfit was actually a costume with tiny snaps all the way down the back so that it could be quickly removed when on stage. As the exhibit noted, Ms. Lee "put the 'tease' in 'Striptease'!"

This "tissue of diamonds" dress was a gift of Lauren Bacall. With black silk net studded with crystal briliants over peach charmeuse, the gown was made for her in 1963. (Image courtesy of the Museum of New York.)

This black 1970s Halston gown with a plunging V neckline was owned by model Betsy Pickering. Most New Yorkers of a certain age remember all of those images in the 1970s of Halston with Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol at Studio 54 and at parties at his East Side townhouse. This dress recaptures some of the elegance of the era, when cleavage was something a person was born with, rather than purchased and implanted.

Speaking of Studio 54, Valerie and I were both interested in seeing what piece of Tina Chow's they would select for the show. Hers is the long, slim Yves Saint laurent gown with trompe l'oeil jewel, pearl and gold necklaces, bracelets and belt embroidered onto the black velvet. On the far left of the photograph is the early twentieth century beige and black gown of Jane, Mrs. J.P. Morgan, Jr. (Photo by Karen Rosenberg of The New York Times.) Valerie says: I was hoping to see one of Tina's many Fortuny gowns. There WAS a Fortuny there, but it was someone else's prize.

This delicate platinum, diamond and pearl pendant belonged to Edith Bouvier Beale, one of Jackie O's more controversial relatives. It is displayed in front of a wedding photograph of Edith from the 1920s in which she looks absolutely beautiful. (Image courtesy of the Museum of New York.)

One of the most striking pieces is this gorgeously theatrical dress designed by dancer/choreographer Geoffrey Holder for his dancer/choreographer wife, Carmen de Lavallade. He is from Trinidad and she was born to Creole parents in New Orleans but lived with her aunt in San Francisco. They were the most regal couple in American dance. Both appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, and she toured with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. In later years, she taught at the Yale Repertory Theater. They have been married for more than 50 years. Valerie says: this was my favorite.

The long pink dress on the left with the deep V-neckline was designed in 1985 by Yves Saint Laurent for Annette Reed, Mrs. Oscar de la Renta, close friend of the late Brooke Astor, who is also featured in the show.

Toward closing time, we ran into Suzi Winson, and HAD to engage her in conversation because it sure looked to us like she was wearing a Philip Treacy hat. (She was. The photo doesn't do her or her hat justice until you click to enlarge.) Does anyone remember the TV show "What's My Line"? I doubt that anyone would have guessed that Suzi is an aerialist! She flies through the air with the greatest of ease, that daring young lass on the flying trapeze. Her business is called Circus Warehouse, and she invited us out to try one of their many classes. Now, Valerie keeps threatening to try it. We'll see ... Valerie says: I love gymnastics. When others watch the Olympic skaters, I watch the gymnasts. Their precision bodies fascinate me, and no one ever makes them wear silly costumes. I definitely want to take a class. I like thinking of the sense of accomplishment I'd have if I could do even one thing a Cirque du Soleil performer can do.

Valerie says: I'm wearing an unlabeled vintage gray velour hat, Danielle Gori Montanelli brooch (unseen), metal and rubber (?) earrings, James Minson glass necklace, Issey Miyake jacket, sleevless Blayde wool knit dress, red plastic ring from El Museo del Barrio, Mexican silver bracelet, silver ring from Pastec, vintage Bottega Veneta bag (with not much more than credit cards, some cash, lipstick and business cards in it - evening bags demand sacrifice!), and Nicole sandals. (You can't tell, but the dress was made for someone taller, so I bundled the excess at my hips, and fixed the bundles with two giant safety pins. This had the unintended but welcome effect of giving the dress great draping at the hips - like little panniers.)

Here I am at the end of another fun evening. In the bag are two wonderful toys that I found at the museum store. I'm wearing a black straw Ignatius hat with denuded peacock feather; Costume Nationale jacket; Brigitte harem pants; black and white 100% cotton scarf by Nuno for MOMA and designed by Sayuri Shimoda (gift from Judy Berek); dice and ice plastic and lucite necklace (gift of designer Kirsten Hawthorne), lucite vintage cuffs, bubble bracelet and rings; and Dansko clogs.

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What's in Jean's bag?
The Museum Store has a great selection of books about and photographs of New York City. It also has some terrific toys, such as the two I found irresistible. The first is this tin Future Car by Schylling. The turquoise color scheme reminded me of Robi Willard's Comet Caliente. I'm a sucker for great tail lights and I love the yellow and black fin detailing. It cost about $13.

The packaging is also wonderfully reminiscent of Flash Gordon and suggests a cartoonish future like Tomorrowland at the World's Fair. Last Monday, there were lots of red cars on display that looked like the illustration. The metallic-looking finish on the cardboard adds to the allure. The box is marked "Made in China Shanghai".

My other purchase was this very deco-looking tin wind-up toy Ocean Liner, complete with wind-up key, also by Schylling and also about $13. Just as the packaging for the car looks very comic book futuristic, the packaging for the Ocean Liner is very retro, very Art Deco. It reminds me of the display of glass panels taken from the S.S. Normandie at the Forbes Galleries. The illustration look like the old 1930s travel posters. Since my apartment is furnished in Art Deco, it'll fit right in.

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We've had new readers just about from the proverbial four corners over the past few weeks: Iran, New Caledonia, Argentina and the Canary Islands. Purists will say the Canaries are part of Spain, so no new ground broken there. OK, technically you're correct, but the Canaries are about 800 miles from the coast of Spain, so we want to give them credit as a whole other place. By that standard, we should also list Tasmania, from which we recently had another first time reader. Welcome, all!

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