Sunday, December 27, 2009

Twelve Noteworthy Women

For the month of December, we are taking our cue from the Twelve Days of Christmas. The first week, we offered twelve of our favorite blings, then to commemorate our TV appearance, Timeless Girls in Hats, we focused on the twelve hats we wore for the show. Last week, following the tradition of many publications, we looked back on the year, recounting twelve of our favorite (personal) events of 2009. As the year comes to a close, again following in the footsteps of many of the publications we love, this week we’d like to spotlight twelve people we admire.

Because this is a style blog, and because style is mostly the prerogative of women, we won’t be featuring any men, even though many admirable men come quickly to mind. But because we’re idiosyncratic, we’ve also taken the liberty of naming a few women whom we admire for reasons that have little, if anything, to do with style – unless you count the style with which they pursued their passions and lived life on their own terms. Some of the women below were on both our lists; some are our individual special favorites. Jean’s list is first and Valerie’s follows, but other than that the names are in no particular order. Rather than the traditional nine ladies dancing, we feature only one lady dancing, but we have five ladies painting, one lady singing, two ladies working with animals (actually, one lady and one dame), two ladies of style, and two ladies who are harder to categorize.

So many extraordinary women are not on the list. This is not because we don’t love them. If anyone would like to send in additions to the list, we would be more than happy to do a separate post on our readers’ favorites.

(And don't forget: the last airing of Timeless Girls in Hats is Monday, December 28, at 9pm. See our December 9 posting for details.)

Jean says:

I have selected six women who have continued to fascinate me over the years. Some are responsible for making the world a more interesting place and others for making it a better place, and most for making it both. Half are contemporaries continuing to make a difference while the other half are dead, but not forgotten. To leaven the loaf, so to speak, I've interspersed the three tragically deceased women with the living movers and shakers. Join me as I run down my list.

Karole Armitage

The American choreographer/dancer once tagged the "punk ballerina" by Vanity Fair, Karole seamlessly combines classical ballet with modern dance in her work. With training as diverse as the Geneva Opera Ballet and Merce Cunningham, she launched her choreography career in 1978 and continues the dichotomy by requiring her dancers to have backgrounds in both ballet and modern techniques. She represents the next generation of female dancer/choreographers that followed Trisha Brown and Twyla Tharp. She was quoted in Dance Magazine as saying that "People who do only one or the other get left out." Rather than left out, she's front and center.

She has produced works commissioned by Mikhail Barishnikov for the American Ballet Theater and by Rudolf Nureyev for the Paris Opera Ballet and collaborated with fashion designers Jean Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix. Longtime partner of artist David Salle, she is as brainy as she is talented: Her recent piece, based on physics, string theory and black holes, named after the science tome "The Elegant Universe", premiered at the 2008 World Science Festival. She has Broadway credits too: Last year, she choreographed the Tony Award-winning musical "Passing Strange", with an all-black cast which ran from February through July 2008. Most recently, she choreographed "Hair", the American Tribal Love Rock Musical which opened in March 2009, won a Tony for best musical revival and for which her choreography received a Tony nomination. On Dec. 17, 2009, the Guggenheim Museum announced that Karole Armitage's "Made in Naples" will be in its lineup of events on Feb. 7 and 8, 2010 for the spring season of the institution's "Works & Process". Her new piece, inspired by the Neapolitan character Pulcinella, will feature sets by Karen Kilimnik inspired by Tiepolo's drawings and costumes by Alba Clemente based on the Commedia dell'Arte tradition.

In the 1980's, Karole used to rehearse in a loft on lower Broadway. At that time, I was on the board of directors of B. Muse Dance Theatre and took classes in the same space in the next time slot (given by Kate Thomas, that company's choreographer). I used any excuse to show up early for a glimpse of Karole at work. I'd often run into her at Stephen Petronio Dance Company's annual NYC gala performances and gush over her latest work. Her longevity and continued creativity are wondrous. Upon her return from 15 years abroad, she re-formed her company "Armitage Gone!" and last March revived her punk classics from the late '70s and early '80s that featured music by Rhys Chatham and David Linton. That her work holds up so well and that she continues to produce thought-provoking work and to thrive, three decades after first hitting the spotlight, gives me hope for the future of modern dance. Hooray, Karole. You're not in Kansas anymore!

Nancy Cunard

Born in 1896, this great granddaughter of Samuel Cunard, founder of the steamship fortune, was an heiress, poet, editor and writer. She is instantly recognizable from her art deco period portraits with armfuls of African bracelets. In addition to publishing her own poetry, she founded The Hours Press in 1928 in Normandy, France and was the first to publish Samuel Beckett. She allegedly became the paramour of many of the famous writers of the 1920s and 1930s such as Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, Aldous Huxley and T.S. Eliot. In Paris, she mixed with Modernists, Surrealists and Dadaists, met Ernest Hemingway and William Carlos Wiliams, and was photographed by Cecil Beaton and Man Ray.

Nancy Cunard fought fascism in Spain, worked for the French Resistance and exposed the horrors of the French concentration camps. However, it was her involvement with civil rights which cost her most dearly. Her relationship with black pianist Henry Crowder and her publication of "Negro" (with input from Langston Hughes, Theodore Dreiser, Zora Neale Hurston and W.E.B. du Bois) in 1934 caused her family to disinherit her. Although she lived another thirty-one years and continued to support human and civil rights, she was in poor physical health and suffered from mental illness. Her eventual deterioration was exacerbated no doubt by her alcoholism and self-destructiveness.

In March of 1965, when she was was found sick and penniless on the streets of Paris and was taken to the hospital where she died, Nancy Cunard weighed just 60 pounds. The positive message in her life was the fact that rather stay in a comfortable cocoon of wealth and privilege, she confronted life head on. For more than four decades, she "mattered". She was quoted as saying "I've always had the feeling that everyone alive can do something that is worthwhile." She got that right.

Norma Kamali

In my mind, this FIT-trained native New Yorker is synonymous with glamour. Some of her most iconic designs are her most famous: Her sleeping bag coat (one of Valerie's personal favorites), first created in 1975, has been periodically reincarnated; high-heeled sneakers; an entire collection in sweatshirt material; parachute nylon jumpsuits; and a series of greco-roman shirred, draped, shoulder-padded evening dresses. The latter are my personal favorite since I wore a white one to my NYC wedding party (at Exit Art Gallery in Soho on April 19, 1986!). Norma's parachute designs are part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute. More than just a pretty face, she is a woman of diverse talents: Norma Kamali has won numerous awards for fashion design (Coty and CFDA awards), for writing and directing videos (including a Live AID fundraiser), for her 6 West 56th Street headquarters (AIA's Distinguished Architecture Award) and for commitment to NYC public School Education (Pencil Award). She was inducted into the Fashion Walk of Fame in 2002. In addition to founding her On My Own (OMO) line in the late 1970s, she successfully collaborated with choreographer Twyla Tharp to produce costumes for Twyla Tharp Dance's "In the Upper Room" in 1986 and for her company Tharp! for "Sweet Fields" and "Route 66" in 1996. She designed the memorable Emerald City costumes for the 1978film version of the musical "The Wiz." Our regular readers will recall that Valerie and I had the pleasure of meeting Norma at her store on Fashion's Night Out and that our September 13 posting opens with a shot of me and Norma. Included here is a shot of Valerie and Norma from that evening. Norma makes my top picks because she reinvents herself, continues to be creative and remains incredibly relevant more than three decades after the the start of her career.

Frida Kahlo

This Mexican painter was influenced by her own and European cultures, by Realism and Symbolism, and by the turbulence of her personal life. An iconic and recognizable figure who single-handedly made the uni-brow fashionable, she was born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon in 1907 to a Hungarian-Jewish father and Spanish-Mexican Indian mother. She sustained injuries in a bus accident at age 18 so severe that they required more than 30 operations and affected her health for the rest of her life.

During her long recuperation, she began to paint. At 22, she married muralist Diego Rivera and entered into the defining relationship of her life, marked by cycles of infidelity, betrayal, retribution and/or forgiveness. Despite her infirmities, Frida traveled and painted and entertained the likes of poets, revolutionaries and industrialists such as Pablo Neruda, Leon Trotsky and Nelson Rockefeller.

Her symbolic paintings are snapshots of her experiences, many of which are self-portraits, sifted through the prism of her emotions. It is impossible to separate her life from her work. Since her death in 1954 at the age of 47, she has taken on an almost cult-like following. (It is interesting to note the number of Frida "clones" when googling her image.) She was immortalized on film by Salma Hayak and remains an inspiration to artists, painters, bon vivants and -- doll-makers! The wonderful Frida doll (see photo), with uni-brow and watermelon hair ornaments, is just such an example of her continuing influence.

Jane Goodall

Anyone who read or watched National Geographic in the 1970s and 1980s knows Jane Goodall for her groundbreaking research with chimpanzees, our nearest primate relatives. It is fitting that Dame Jane Goodall is an English US Messenger of Peace, since she was instrumental in alerting the world to the plight of chimps and the threats to their survival (poaching, trapping, killing and selling body parts). She is the ultimate "ist" -- biologist, ethologist, anthropologist, primatologist, conservationist and activist. Along with Dian Fossey who lived with mountain gorillas (portrayed by Sigourney Weaver in the movie of Fossey's book, "Gorillas in the Mist"), and Birute Galdikas who studied orangutans, Diane was dubbed one of "Leakey's Angels" for her work in Gombe National Reserve in Tanzania.

Jane Goodall caused a stir in the scientific community by "naming" rather than "numbering" her chimps, which she studied for 45 years, beginning in 1960. No stranger to controversy, she continues to follow her own path. She had been a staunch member of Advocates for Animals, a Scottish organization against the use of animals for medical research, zoos, farming and sports. However, in May 2008, she split with the group over her support of the Edinburgh Zoo's primate enclosure which she though was a "wonderful" facility that provided an alternative to their current situation in which one out of six living in the wild is trapped and killed. In addition to her UN duties, she continues to work with the Jane Goodall Institute. The world is a much richer and more wonderful place with her in it.

Isabella Blow

As iconic as the sleek flappers of an earlier era who were immortalized by Man Ray and Alfred Stieglitz, Isabella was truly unique. An impoverished British aristocrat, she became an accomplished fashion editor and stylist but is perhaps best known as the discoverer and muse of designer Alexander McQueen and milliner Philip Treacy. She was given to extremes, extravagance and hyperbole. Her voice was described as "very loud, cut glass" and her lipstick was blood red, to match her hair. Her headgear ran the gamut of shape, size and color and included lobsters, flying saucers, crocodile teeth, pheasants and feathers. She raised the wearing of cocktail hats to an art form. She was given to memorable utterances such as: "My style icon is anyone who makes a bloody effort!" and "If you don't wear lipstick, I can't talk to you." Nicknamed "Dizzy Izzy" in the British press, she became infamous for her outrageously eccentric hats.

Born Isabella Delves Broughton, she directly attributes her love of fashion and crimson lipstick to her distant, detached mother. Ten years after four year old Isabella witnessed her two-year-old brother's drowning in the family's outdoor pool and her mother's leaving the body on the lawn to go upstairs and apply her lipstick, her mother abandoned her and her sisters and divorced her father. Despite all this, Isabella says her fondest fashion memory was trying on her mother's pink hat.

Isabella hailed from a long line of eccentrics: her grandmother, whom she called "the cannibal", was a female explorer who allegedly tasted human flesh in Papua New Guineau. In the 1940s, her grandfather, the notorious Sir Jock, who ran through most of the family fortune to pay his gambling debts, figured prominently in Kenya's Happy Valley White Mischief case. Although acquitted of murdering Lord Erroll, his much younger wife's lover, he later returned to England, drank poison and committed suicide. The father of Detmar Blow (her second husband whom she married in 1989) also committed suicide by poisoning.

Isabella Blow was an extremely successful magazine editor, credited with launching the modeling careers of Sophie Dahl, Honor Fraser and Stella Tennant. She worked for Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley. Unfortunately, her wild side had a dark side too. Prone to depression, she constantly fought against personal unhappiness. As her protegees went on to make millions, lapping her editorial career and her paycheck, she retreated into more frequent dark moods. Diagnosed as bipolar, she underwent therapy. Unable to have children, she unsuccessfully underwent fertility treatments. She and her husband separated. She reportedly was haunted by her own inability to "find a home in a world she had influenced". Although she and Detmar reconciled, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Like her grandfather and father-in-law, she poisoned herself by drinking weed killer. When she died in May 2007, she had already survived nearly a half dozen suicide attempts. Despite her downward spiral, her fashion legacy lives on. The highlight of her London memorial ceremony was the large number of attendees sporting wild hats as a last tribute to her enduring style.


Valerie’s List

Diana Vreeland

Vreeland has countless feathers in her cap, but I remember her most for the stunning fashion layouts she did for Vogue in the ‘60s. Page after page of stunning photography. Photographs that made you want to go everywhere, and work for Vogue as the water carrier, just for the privilege of traveling to the exotic places in the photographs. Vreeland was not a standard beauty, but understood her great features and made them all work for her. Everyone over thirty should take a look at her in her modified yoga pose below. There are reasons we get out of shape, but Vreeland proves we are not without options at any age.

Peggy Guggenheim

Peggy Guggenheim loved art, whether she was wearing it, selling it at her galleries or exhibiting it in her Venetian palazzo. She also loved artists, going so far as to marry two (Laurence Vail and Max Ernst), and dally informally with those who were otherwise engaged. The early photo shown here of Peggy in the highest fashion of the day was taken by Man Ray. The later photo shows her at her palazzo (now a prime museum in Venice), wearing the sunglasses she became so well known for. I love the photo of Peggy seated among her art. (I'm only sure I recognize the Magritte.)

Notice the awful Miss Marple-like sturdy shoes she's wearing here. (Sturdy is the kiss of death when applied to women's shoes.) I'm guessing she had foot trouble. It makes me feel just a tad better to think that, with all the money she had, and all the connections, she still couldn't wear a wonderful shoe after a certain point. Guess that's why she got the glasses - to draw attention away from her feet.

Georgia O’Keeffe

A pioneer in many ways, O’Keeffe created stunningly original artwork at a time when few women were recognized in the field. More handsome than beautiful, she dressed very severely, and had her own recognizable style. (She led the NY/Tokyo/Paris black or black and white look by more than fifty years.) Even in advanced age, O’Keeffe had a presence few could match.

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin, who has a Ph.D. in animal science, and is the author of several books (among them Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life with Autism, has led an extraordinary life shaped by her autism. Grandin designs humane slaughterhouses, and theorizes that autism allows her greater insight into the way animals think. (Her explanation, based on the similarities between the structure of the autistic human brain and the animal brain, is compelling and persuasive.) When inspecting slaughterhouses with problems, Grandin has been known to get down on hands and knees to help her see what animals see, with the goal of making the passage more comfortable for them. (It is no accident that the photo above shows her eye to eye with cattle, and not towering above them.) Grandin has little interest in fashion, but is known to have a fondness for cowboy shirts.

Romaine Brooks and Tamara de Lempicka

Both painters who chronicled the zeitgeist of their times, Brooks, born in 1874, specialized in strong featured women, often in men’s wear or androgynous clothes. While she painted both before and after WWI, the atmosphere of her work is imbued with the pre-war aesthetic. The painting of the woman with dachshunds is Una, Lady Troubridge; the woman in the hat (above left) is Romaine Brooks.

Tamara de Lempicka (born 1898) is an iconic painter of the ‘20s and ‘30s. Shown here (above right) is Autoportrait: Tamara in the Green Bugatti. Calm and self possessed behind the wheel, the aura she radiates is completely different from that seen in Brooks’ self portrait (or in the portrait of Lady Troubridge), but they all share spirit, independence, power and will.

La Môme Bijou

This photograph taken from Brassai’s masterful The Secret Paris of the Thirties raises countless questions, and answers none. Brassai himself did not know who she was. Clearly she is a woman who has fallen on hard times. Yet she continues to face the world. She makes sure she has her make-up on before she goes out, and decks herself in all her finery. Like any self-respecting woman, she wears a hat. Bedraggled though it is, it is a sign that she continues to make every effort to be presentable. In the end, this particular private war will be lost, but she’s going down fighting.

Bonus Noteworthy Woman: Susan Boyle

She beat the odds, had confidence in herself, got on TV, got a great new 'do, put out a CD and has sold more than a million of them so far. And all in less than a year. Way to go, Susan!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Year in Review / We'll Have These (12 Other) Moments to Remember*

Happy Winter Solstice! May we suggest that you will ring it in by watching us on cable TV or the internet on Tuesday, December 22 at 8:30pm or Monday, December 28 at 9 PM? Treat yourself! See the Babes in TVland notice in our December 9 posting.

Jean's picks for the Year in Review include:

St. John the Divine:
At the very end of 2008, Valerie and I and our two co-conspirators, Judy and Tziporah, journeyed uptown to St. John the Divine.

All dolled up in our winter finery, we posed in front of the rather intimidating statue in the churchyard. Not only did we visit the Craft Show in the Chancery, but we also attended the holiday festival in the Cathedral itself, to celebrate its reopening after 5 years' renovation following a devastating fire. An in-church tightrope-walking performance by Philippe Petit (star of the Oscar-winning documentary "Man on Wire") was the highlight. Philippe is the French high wire artist who rose to fame when he took an illegal stroll between the twin towers of the then unfinished World Trade Center on August 7, 1974. Here he is (below), just arriving with his bag of tricks.

Among the stout hearted, broad shouldered men pulled from the crowd to hold the rope was none other than David Duchovny (currently starring in Showtime's "Californication" and indelibly etched in memory as "X Files" Agent Fox Mulder). After fifteen minutes of positively spellbinding entertainment, Phillipe hopped down to the marble floor, gathered the rope into a bag, balanced his bowler hat on his nose, placed it on his head, mounted his unicycle and rode straight out the door, blasting a whistle to clear his way through the crowd. Every man, woman and child was positively mesmerized.

In the photo above, Jean's wearing a vintage black felt and velvet cloche hat, and Italian pleated leather men's samurai coat. Valerie wears an Ignatius fake feather hat, black and white felt coat by Tiiti Tolonen, black and white cotton boa by Junichi Arai. Tziporah's wearing a vintage top hat and genuine hand embroidered paisley shawl.

Ladies Who Brunch:
A cross between breakfast and lunch, brunch is the most wonderful of meals! And late Sunday mornings provide both a chance to get together to assess the past week's events and plan future escapades. Here are a few of our memorable brunch-related moments captured for posterity:

Brunch on July 26 was followed by a stroll in the East Village, where we tarried in front of what we were told is photographer Robert Frank's building, a few doors down from the Yippie Cafe. (Fans of Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, take note!) Channeling her inner Nancy Cunard, Jean is wearing rows of vintage bakelite bangles, her Tibetan hat, black Tahari T-shirt, Brigitte harem pants, Dansko clogs and a Nordic House Designs leopard tote. Valerie is wearing an Issey Miyake blue denim collapsible men's hat, a white linen dress from Sym's underneath a blue pleated transparent apron dress (no label) and a necklace of blue and white porcelain discs on waxed linen cord. She's leaning, English style, on her plastic Frank Lloyd Wright brolly from the Metropolitan Museum.

August 15:

Kirsten and Judy joined us for a late summer brunch. Jean's true confessions: Although in some circles, my knickname is "Princess of Darkness", I could never really pull off the complete Goth look season to season because I just can't acquire the pale and ghostly pallor they so favor. As you can see from the photo, I am a self-confessed tanorexic. Nothing recharges my batteries (physical and psychic) better than a day at the beach. I'm wearing my Tibetan hat, Only Hearts cotton empire dress over a Banana Republic camisole, vintage white plastic link necklace and earrings. Valerie wears an early Chisato Tsumori saffron colored straw hat (which some call a pagoda shape and others an orange juice squeezer shape), saffron Eileen Fisher suit in silk and linen, black tank top, and vintage Issey Miyake leather and elastic belt in brick red.

After an All Saint's Day brunch on November 1 (in a prelude to the Day of the Dead, featuring my favorite - skulls and skeletons!), we paused on the steps of Lafayette House, amazed at the balmy weather (shirtsleeves in November in Manhattan?). Jean is wearing a vintage '40s black felt Minnie Mouse-style hat, black Kyodan jacket, skull scarf, Urban Outfitters harem pants charm necklace and Lounge Fly bag. Valerie is wearing a vintage red and yellow velvet turban, yellow and black wool Norma Kamali knock-off (the label says Norma Winter), and a wool and acrylic plaid scarf from Co-op (a Japanese version of K Mart).

November 22:

After reconnoitering here in the garden of the Cooper Square Hotel, Valerie (looking somewhat surly, as if she hadn't yet had her coffee) and I hit our favorite East Village brunch spot for our blueberry pancake and fresh fruit salad fixes respectively, and to critique the NY Times' Style Section.

We were stopped in our tracks on our afternoon stroll by the ribbon of dots on the wall on East 11th St. (Note to file: Valerie loves polka dots!) Jean's wearing a Stetson bowler, Moschino motorcross jacket, Issey Miyake Pleats Please black with beige floral inset skirt, black Maurizioni Taiuti embossed croc bag and Tokyo Boy flying crowned heart black patent change purse (from ENZ on 2nd Avenue at East 6th Street). Valerie is wearing a green Nafi De Luca shibori'd fulled wool beret, vintage black Elizabeth Arden silk coat, green Mina Poe hand-painted reversible mongolian lamb vest (erroneously marked "vintage" at a resale shop), metal bracelet with verdigris patina, black Ilaria Nastri linen trouser-skirt (from Century 21), and Aerosole shoes.

For holiday brunch on December 3, Judy Berkowitz joined us to celebrate Kirsten's return from Colorado.
Serendipitously, we're all wearing something red. Jean is wearing a vintage Norma Kamali grey sweatshirt swing top, two "Made Her Think" skull rosaries (one black and one clear plexiglass) and a black fleece hat from East Village milliner Maria D. Del Greco, accented with a vintage coral bakelite pin. Valerie is wearing a Tib Design fulled wool jacket from the recent One-of-a-Kind show at the West Side Piers and a carved wooden Yantar pin from the Philadelphia Craft Show. (Yantar also makes wonderful edgy vests out of industrial felt.)

Flea Markets:

One of our favorites is the Upper West Side Flea Market in the school and schoolyard near West 77th Street. It was on a visit this summer that I purchased my grey, black and white Turkish felt hat that was prominently featured in our "Timeless Girls in Hats" TV appearance and in last week's Twelve Hats of Christmas posting. Valerie is wearing a light blue Eric Javits straw hat, cotton and lycra jacket with action art sprays of paint by Alberto Makali, imitation warring states bead on blue paper cord, pale blue dress with draw string hem by Spiritious ("made in Los Angeles"), and light blue wide flat leather shoes with, unfortunately, an unidentifiable label.

Jean is wearing her Titan skull cap and deco bakelite pin, Donna Karan jacket, Tahari shirt, charm necklace, black and white bakelite bangles, Ice Pirates skull watch and Alexander McQeen for Puma black patent high-tops. Positively "Mad Men": Beside Jean, one of the ladies from Off Broadway boutique struts her stuff, wearing a fabulous yellow cocktail print '60s dress with coordinating glasses, shoes, and rose handbag.

We ventured into DUMBO for the new Brooklyn Flea Market held on summer Sundays under the Brooklyn Bridge. Afterward, on our way back to the subway, we had to stop in front of the yellow building with the great pre-Columbian references. Jean's wearing her Tibetan hat, See by Chloe black 3/4 sleeve T-shirt, H&M harem pants, black vintage bakelite cuff, black Angela Caputi crocodile cuff, Kirsten Hawthorne black coral, brass earrings AND the find of the day: a white square-link bakelite necklace (for $5!). Valerie is wearing a vintage green straw hat with feathers and cut-away back, Issey Miyake dress and H&M black poufy underskirt.

Meeting the Mayor:
The honorable Michael Bloomberg dropped into the Stephen Petronio Dance Company's 25th Anniversary Gala last April, held in a prominent art collector's East Village loft. Valerie and I and my husband and our friends interrupted our partying to greet the biggest celebrity in the place. Kirsten and my husband thanked him for all the new Manhattan bike lanes! I took the opportunity to thank him for supporting the arts (most especially dance) and chide him for shaking hands and kissing people, since I'd just seen his H1N1 public service announcements. His response was priceless: "My wife and I took all kinds of precautions when our first child was born, sterilizing everything. Things had relaxed by the time the youngest came along who would eat off the floor with the dog. And do you know what? The dog never got sick!" Ba da bum! Valerie, dumb-struck, forgot all about asking how the city could promote the greenification of city roofs and terraces to combat CO2 emissions, and contented herself with just taking the pictures of hizzoner. Kirsten, Valerie and Jean are on the settee (right, above), checking out the crowd, the art, the food and the atmosphere. Joining us in the group photo (below) are Frank, JR and Jeff. Jean's wearing a vintage Italian straw pancake hat, Rick Owens black T-shirt, DKNY rusched cotton and lycra jacket, Issey Miyake skirt, charm necklace and Kirsten Hawthorne black coral and brass earrings. Valerie is wearing a gray and black Issey Miyake dress, feather hat, black lacquered metal cuffs from Matsuya Ginza, black and gunmetal silk shawl, and plastic red watch from the Museum of Modern Art.

Cocktails (aka The Wee Drinkie):
After many of our outings, we end up having a cup of tea or a latte or a glass of bubbly and a nosh. Grand Central is one of our haunts (in part because the shuttle buses from the Pier antique shows all stop there and in part because of the incredible vibe and the amazingly warm golden glow of the marble and lighting in the great rotunda [note our golden faces in these pics]). Both Metrazur and Cipriani Dolci atop opposite ends of the great hall afford birds' eye views of the main hall where commuters and tourists mix. Here we are last spring at Metrazur solving the problems of the world with the help of a little truth serum, aka Prosecco.

Valerie is wearing a polyester men's XXL size cycling shirt with hilarious cartoon face designs, an industrial felt and velcro bracelet from O-Matic, and vintage red plastic earrings.

Jean is wearing her war horse, go-to wardrobe staples - Titan skull cap with bakelite domino pin, Kyodan black peplum jacket, Issey Miyake Pleats Please skirt, charm necklace, Dankso clogs and Lounge Fly bag.

You heard it here first! "60 is the new black!" Yes, it's official. I am a sexagenarian now. I rang it in in high style surrounded by girlfriends and lots of food and drink. In deference to the solemnity of the occasion, I wore my Minnie Mouse ears with my white bakelite chain necklace, thrift shop white rosette gum ball bracelet, '60s vintage dice earrings, Angela Caputi crocodile cuff, 14 gold or bakelite rings, Marithe & Francoise Girbaud black "fin" dress, Trippen boots and my heart on my sleeve.

Valerie is wearing a black (in my honor) Issey Miyake spiky turtleneck top and skirt, black felt '40s porkpie hat with leaves, and Jean's mother's earrings. Judy Berkowitz and the sailfish joined in the celebration along with (below, clockwise from left) Tziporah (doing her caravan of dreams look), Jodi Head (showing off her tats and her constant canine companion, RJ Cash), the Dumpling Diva (in plaid splendor) and Ginny (who eschewed her own anniversary and son's birthday celebrations to attend my birthday bash and whose homemade cookies blew us away). Space and local fire laws prohibit us from showing all the revelry.

Among the things Jean and Valerie have in common is that both had a birthday this year. Numerically, Valerie had a fun number, but Jean trumps with the milestone number. Here are just two photos from Valerie's Very Inconvenient Birthday party, in which she looks very much the harried hostess. You just can't get good help these days! Tziporah, shown below with her parasol at the ready, is a wonderful story teller, and had a story prepared for the occasion.

Valerie's Picks:

Tribal Arts Show
On May 19 we had the great good fortune of attending the wondrous 2009 New York International Tribal and Textile Arts Show at the Armory. This is always a rare feast for the eye, exhibiting as it does everything from Wiener Werkstatte curtains to Japanese fingernail weaving to Incan feather ponchos, to Rothko-like ceremonial handspun wool veils from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, to pleated Miao tribal skirts (stiffened and polished with animal blood and egg whites) to Hawaiian bark cloth. As hat lovers, we particularly enjoyed the Gail Martin Gallery, as Gail was showing a variety of African hats, including one made of pangolin scales.

The show is also great for people watching.

Here we are with a woman doing a very creditable Betty Page. (If you know her name, please contact us so we can credit her appropriately.)

Jean is wearing her deco bakelite pin and cap, Issey Miyake long jacket and skirt, faux ponyskin White Moutain clogs, charm necklace, and armloads of black and white bakelite bangles.

Valerie is wearing a hand painted kimono (1970s?) with Japanese hairpins (1870s?), a small suede backpack to which she attached a giant Hut Up felt leaf from the recent Cooper Hewitt felt show (labeled in the gift shop as a trivet), Rocket Dog flip flops decorated with vintage green buttons, and lustrous green toe nail polish.

Later in the evening, as we sought out the perfect spot for a wee drinkie, Jean posed by one of the iconic, graphic images embedded in asphalt that have been popping up on the steets of Manhattan, which seemed totally in keeping with the spirit of the Tribal Arts show.

A.I.R. Gallery Opening
Every year A.I.R. Gallery, a non-profit art gallery which recently moved from Chelsea to Front Street in Brooklyn, raises funds at its Wish You Were Here exhibition, in which it invites artists to submit art work on a 4x6 inch postcard. The gallery receives a dazzling array of entries in a variety of media, all of which are sold for $40 each, with all proceeds going to the gallery. Yoko Ono, Tom Otterness and other well known artists often contribute. This year tiles, watercolors, photographs, graphite drawings, wire structures, wood constructions, oil on masonite, and feathers were among the media of the donated artworks. Because there are no other criteria (such as an art school background or previous exhibition participation) Valerie contributed a piece of her own – a portrait of Andy Warhol constructed of straight pins. The original idea was to cover the iconic photo with pins, but after hours of highly detailed labor, eyes a-crossing, Valerie rethought the concept, and went for highlights only.

For the June 24 opening, Valerie wore a 1940s red straw hat with red polka dot ribbon from M&J Trimmings, reading glasses in a red polka dot frame, a 1950s red polka dot nylon dress from the DUMBO flea market, and a vintage red leather Coach belt.

Jean wore a black and grey striped Strawberry jacket, Issey Miyake Pleats Please skirt, black cap and deco bakelite domino pin, charm necklace. With us is our friend Rosa. There were countless great buys, and we all wound up buying something. Besides Andy, Jean's favorite was a pen and ink of a dog entitled: "50% Lover, 50% Warrior, 100% Chihuahua."

Spice Market / High Line

Like all good New Yorkers, we had to go see the High Line after it opened, and so had brunch at Spice Market on July 12, in the hot and happening Meatpacking District, where the food is spicy (meaning no berry pancakes for Valerie), and so are the interiors. We had to take a picture of ourselves against the papaya-colored walls downstairs, but you can see we still have lots to learn about photo styling. That's Valerie's digital camera nestled in her lap.

Jean wore a Tibetan woven straw hat from the Rubin Museum of Art, a Hanes T-shirt inherited from her dad and an Imaginary Journey grey cotton tunic, accented by the ubiquitous charm necklace, black Angela Caputi crocodile bracelet and vintage bakelite rings.

Valerie wore a vintage Kokin hat, vintage Issey Miyake jumpsuit, and Jean’s mother’s vintage polka dot earrings. Our friend Judy Berkowitz wore her beloved Ray Bans.

As luck would have it, just steps away was a street fair, where we were entertained by spice-colored stilt walkers and fantastic giant sea creatures crafted out of balloons. (We also stopped to admire one of the local shops, where Jean tried on a fabulou$$ hat.)

When we finally made our way up to the High Line, we were treated to a breathtaking panorama of our marvelous city.

9 (and 1) on 09-09-09, 9:09pm

Valerie has a fascination with numbers, even though she’s lousy at math. Some numbers simply attract one's attention. Phone numbers can be interesting, but they might not change for forty years.

The number of miles between here and the moon might be interesting (what if it were, say, 1,234,567 miles?), but that number is unlikely to change in anyone’s lifetime, so there’s only so much time one can spend contemplating numbers like that.

Dates, on the other hand, change daily, and can present all sorts of amusement for the idle mind. This year, for example, we had 07-08-09. And if you were paying attention, you could have commemorated 4:56am on that date, for a wonderful series of numbers.

The past decade has been replete with great numeric combinations because we’re still in the oughts. Once we pass 2012, the frequency of really cool numbers will fall precipitously (since the year won’t be able to match up to December or 12am or 12pm), so we have to enjoy them now.

With that in mind, Valerie contacted some friends and suggested that everyone meet at Tabla (where they have wonderful cocktails) to celebrate 09-09-09.

As luck would have it, nine women showed up, and one man (what man doesn’t dream of finding himself alone with nine women?).

At 9:09pm, we raised our glasses to a very special day and a very special alignment of numbers. (If you missed it, don’t despair! Next year you can celebrate 10-10-10 at 10:10pm.)

Jean is wearing an aubergine Armani jacket, black Calvin Klein T-shirt, vintage black bakelite necklace, cuff and ring. Valerie is wearing a gray and black Issey Miyake dress.

The 9 (and 1) at the party were:

Judy Berkowitz, scarf designer (
Dorothy Black, potter and painter
Katherine Crone, book artist and fiber artist
Theresa Ellerbrock, weaver
John Lamparski, fashion photographer
Becky, dealer in ethnographic art and seashells
Charlotte Thorp, basket maker
Rosa Valentin Content, fine jewelry consultant
Jean, trouble maker
Valerie, ringmaster and trouble maker


Valerie says: Ernesto Neto's Anthropodino, at the 67th Street Armory from May 14 to June 14, was like nothing I’d ever seen in that space before. I was used to seeing dignified people showing vetted antiques in orderly rows of booths. Anthropodino was wonderful chaos and anarchy, a treat for all the senses. Lots of spaces to explore; the scent of herbs and spices (chamomile, lavender, and cloves among them) everywhere – on the floor, in eye covers, in bags hanging from the rafters (see photo). There were events for little children that I was able to horn in on. It was great to fall into the all-enveloping bean bags, and fabulous to alternately nearly float and nearly drown in a sea of small plastic balls. The photo is very staid – as if I were still among the rows of dignified booths – and doesn’t at all reflect the fun of the experience. I’m wearing a zip up knit cotton/lycra shirt from Strawberry, matte black fingerprint beads from Peter Lane, Huge Apple pants with velcro closures and Land’s End mary jane shoes (which I happily took off for many of the Anthropodino festivities).

* With apologies to The Four Lads.