Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Ghost of Christmas Presents


We interrupt this blog temporarily to tell you there are lots of fabulous pictures of us taken by Ari Seth Cohen on view on his blog, Advanced Style. Fabulous videos, too. Do have a look. We're so delighted that we're getting another fifteen minutes of fame, and that Ari is such an able activist in the cause of growing old with spice.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled blog, brought to you by Bueller.

Jean says: When Valerie first proposed writing about favorite past Christmas presents, I confess I was stymied. Then, while watching the Wizard of Oz on Saturdy evening, (which always makes me nostalgic), I started to delve into my own memories of Christmas past. Here's a listing of my favorites, starting in 1953:

When I was 3, my parents bought me and my older brother John a kitten and a puppy that look a lot like the ones in these photos. We were thrilled. Both were females and were adorably cuddly. We named the black and white part spitz puppy Jonesy and the tiny black and grey tabby Clancy. Although my brother and I fought like cats and dogs, our pets got along beautifully. Clancy slept on my bed and kept me company and Jonesy slept on the rug next to my brother's bed. Clancy even let me dress her in doll clothes and push her around in my baby buggy. Jonesy died at 16 after a short bout with kidney disease. Clancy lived to be 24! I remember when I went away to college, my mother told me to be sure to say goodbye to her because one of the times I came home, she probably wouldn't be there. While I was at school, Clancy figured out what side her bread was buttered on and became my mother's BFF. That cat had the last laugh. She lived a long and healthy life. I finished college and moved to New York City before she passed on.

On Christmas Day 2008, Jodi Head (the East Village rock star guitar strap designer) gave me a gift certificate to one of our favorite neighborhood boutiques, Enz. Enz carries an amazing array of reproductions of vintage 1950s dinner doll dresses, biker chick leopard print sweaters, cocktail hats, gloves and jewelry. I redeemed my gift certificate in exchange for the fabulous black patent leather Lounge Fly purse. It has been surgically attached to my wrist ever since.

Embossed with skulls and flying hearts, it holds a ton of stuff. I absolutely love it. I take it everywhere. It was prominently featured in last year's posting "Old Bags' Bags". Here's Bueller the ferret lounging in the Lounge Fly.

About 10 years ago, Judy B., my boss st the time, gave me this fabulous black and white striped scarf labeled Nuno for MOMA from the Museum of Modern Art. I love its weight and drape and graphic impact. Here I've paired it with tons of black and butter white bakelite bracelets and rings, a Maria D. Del Greco hat with deco bakelite pin, Brigitte harem pants, Revue glasses from Fabulous Fanny's and Trippen "geta" booties.

I wore the Nuno scarf this evening to artist Katherine Crone's holiday party. Photographer and technophile John Lamparski took my photo and then plugged in a little rectangular accessory to his camera called a Polaroid Zink. It produced this little 2" x 3" instant photo print that has a peel-off adhesive backing. So, now I could apply my mug to my mug, so to speak. (Valerie says: Due to our technical inexpertise, John's photo looks a little washed out, but in fact it's a great picture. If we had more time to spend photoshopping our pix [heck, if we just KNEW more about Photoshop], you'd get a better sense of it. Of course, if we were better at Photoshop, we'd look more like Cindy Crawford and Christie Brinkley.)

(Back to Jean:) Technological changes continue to amaze me. Earlier today, Ari Seth Cohen interviewed me and Valerie for his Advanced Style blog on Flip video. It was the first time I'd seen a Flip outside of the TV commercials. Verrrryyy cool. Stay tuned for more about that interview in a future posting. Or, just look for us on Advanced Style!

In 1982, my girlfriend Kim and I went to Los Angeles for her sister's wedding. I think it was in the early fall. While we were there, we visited our friends Greg and Paula, who had moved back to LA from Soho the year before. Greg took our picture sitting on a bench at a picnic table in their yard. Imagine my surprise to receive a package that Christmas with an LA postmark. When I ripped it open, I discovered this fabulous framed portrait of moi that Greg had done from the photograph. That's Kim's red sweater in the right of the painting. Greg also sent Kim a portrait of her. She's now married and living in Santa Fe. I'd love to see her again and to put the two pictures side by side someday.

A true hoarder, nearly 30 years later, I still have the earrings and the glasses! I used to wear shades day and night. The frames are Sanford Hutton by Colors in Optics. I had a matching pair in white that I wore to my wedding reception. Alas (or thank goodness), my hair is no longer dark and permed with midnight blue streaks!

If I were rich, I'd treat myself for Christmas to a painting by The Me Noboby Knows, an artist who sells on Spring Street in Soho. Although he always hides his face from the camera, his color-saturated paintings speak for themselves. They are stylish, humorous, and thought-provoking, much like the artist himself. The last time we saw him was on Fashion's Night Out.

Valerie says: what makes a good Christmas gift? Defining a good gift might be a little like defining pornography, to blatantly steal from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: I can't define it, but I know it when I see it. Here are a few of my all-time favorites.

When I was very young, my older brother gave me a small (3") Steiff bear. My brother would also have been fairly young, so for him to spend what I knew was a good amount of money for a fellow child touched me deeply, even at my tender age. I have all my Steiff toys packed away now, so I can't show you a picture of my actual bear, but it looks a lot like the one in this picture, which I took from an Ebay posting. It wasn't only my brother's lovely gesture that bound me to this bear, though. It was also the bear's size. A girl can't carry her toys with her everywhere she goes, much as she loves them. But she can take one if she can put it in her pocket, and there were many days when I did just that. When I carried him around with me, he was the representative for the other stuffed plush animals who were too big to come along for the ride. He was the lone representative of his peers to come with me to Japan for the same reason.

My mother did a really champion job of Christmas from every aspect. I wonder now at her ability to find lovely gifts for every member of her family for so many years all by herself (since my father worked long hours). I buy gifts with trepidation. She may have, too, but she never let that stop her from being creative about gift giving. Every year she loaded me down with books, just as an oak tree litters the ground with acorns, in hopes that one might take root somewhere. One of my favorites ever (which I've mentioned before) is The Panda's Thumb, which is kind of a Ripley's Believe It or Not for animal lovers. (I loved the original Ripley's, with its interesting drawings. It was fascinating to read about the blind Indian yogi who stared at the sun all day every day, the guy living with the steel beam in his head [following a construction explosion, I think], and other such anomalies.) I was still at the age when kids are intrigued by the weird - everything from ancient Egypt to dinosaurs - so that was the perfect book for me.

This snakeskin belt with an abalone buckle was given to me by my ex-husband when we lived in Texas, early in our marriage. I loved its color and texture, and the beautiful abalone buckle left me speechless. This was when we first started to have small expendible incomes and could do just a little more than window shopping. I wore this belt all the time, mostly with a pair of billowy perriwinkle blue wool Yamamoto Kansai pants that I found later, after we first moved to Japan. I can still get this belt to clasp, although my palette has changed, and I haven't worn it for years. But I still find it quite charming, and marvel at my ex-husband's great choice (or great luck?).

I marvel also that this is one of my favorite Christmas gifts ever. It's a tool box that my sister gave me several years ago. It might sit in the closet for months at a time, but when I need it, I'm SO happy to have it. I LOVE that everything fits in its molded place in the box, sliding into place with a reassuring SNAP! that means it won't fall out (witness the photograph). I love that everything is arranged so clearly, and I love that the box fits in a small narrow space, and is light enough to pick up and carry. Recently my bathroom sink stopped up, and I was able to fix it using internet instructions and my tool box. As a single person, I don't have the requisite male to do odd jobs around the house for me, and the tool box helps me to feel I can take care of myself. I think it's odd for a woman to admit she loves a tool box, but there you have it. When I grew up, women on TV were always gesturing lovingly at odd objects like refrigerators - remember Let's Make a Deal? Vanna White continues that tradition today, so it was with that in mind that I took the above photo. (Dress by Ivan Grundahl; vintage beads. When I'm better at Photoshop, I'll discreetly remove the flab from my arm.) A couple of years ago, when I took shoe-making classes, I also bought a dremel, eye goggles and a face mask. All I need now is a drill! Here are close-ups of the contents of the tool box:

Over the years, a few people have complained that I'm a hard person to buy gifts for, and they're right. The main reason for this is that I work, and buy what I want when I want it. It's nice to have that freedom, but it does pose problems when I'm asked what I want for Christmas. Below is not a photograph of a favorite gift, but I bought myself a pair of shearling slippers a few days ago, so I guess they are a Christmas gift.

For several months now I've known that I would need new slippers. I had finally worn holes into the heels of the beloved shearling slippers I bought many years ago. (They're great for neuromas!) I considered telling someone to get me shearling slippers for Christmas. But the buy-for-me-what-I've picked-out-myself style of holiday gift giving makes me uncomfortable, even while I acknowledge that it makes gift-givers' lives easier and cuts down on the problem gift phenomenon. As you can see, they're BROWN, a color on my list of NO NOs. But importantly for me they have soft soles, so I gave in to these when I couldn't find black ones, and I am planning to hand paint them. Remember when you wanted to buy your mom something glitzy for Christmas, and she would leave you crestfallen when she said she wanted something you considered really homely? Well, here you have it: I have become my mother. And it's not bad at all...

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Update on the gift card screed of a few weeks ago:

Ages ago, I received a Macy's gift card with $30 on it. I'm not near Macy's so it sat unused for the longest time. This past May I finally used it to buy a red knee length slip for $24. A week later, I found a longer slip, and brought the red slip back to Macy's. When I gave the clerk my gift card, she was new and didn't know how to work with it, so she asked for help. A more experienced clerk assisted her, and I left with my card restored. I thought. This week I called the Macy's gift card hot line because I'd forgotten the amount on the card. The automated service told me I had $6 on the card. The $24 purchase was recorded. The $24 return was not. Silly me, I didn't keep the receipt I was given at the time, so I have no proof, just a cautionary story.

Remember: friends don't let friends buy gift cards.

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If you're wondering what we will be buying one another for Christmas, we won't. We're sending the money we would have spent on each other to charity.


  1. What a great idea for a post--memorable Christmas gifts. I'll for sure be looking forward to your feature at Advanced Style.

  2. I'm so excited to find your blog, and wondering how have i missed it? Just another over 50-er and jealous as in the burbs I could never get away with REAL fashion! Paula

  3. Wow, I just found your blog thanks to Ari's blog! It's so beautiful, and I really enjoyed reading your stories ! Merry Christmas !!