Sunday, November 13, 2011

Knight at the Museum

We and cartoonist extraordinaire Joana Avillez will be at the Stella Pier Antiques Show this coming Saturday, November 19, to sign copies of LIFE DRESSING: The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, from 1pm to 3pm. (Really! See our smiling and behatted faces in the ad below.) This seems appropriate, as we are on our way to becoming antiques ourselves, and are of greater vintage than some (not all!) of the clothes we wear. Buy fabulous antique and vintage furniture, jewelry and clothes at the Pier Show, and while you're at it, just for contrast, buy the fabulous NEW book about NOUS. The Pier Show is way at the tippy end of West 55th Street (Pier 94). Drop by our table and say hi!

Cecil Beaton: The New York Years

We recently had the great pleasure and honor of attending the opening of Cecil Beaton: The New York Years at the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY). The setting of the show was masterful -- with walls painted with Beaton's wonderful illustrations and with incredible wall paper by Beaudessert. We wanted to try to share with you the entire experience -- the show itself and the event, since the opening night's festivities and the personalities were half the fun!

Sir Cecil Beaton (knighted in 1972) was an artistic jack-of-all-trades: illustrator, painter, costume designer and photographer. He was one of those rare creatures who was both voyeur and participant, able to smoothly glide among and record the doings of British aristocracy; stars of the screen (Hollywood) and the stage (Broadway and the opera); jazz babies and rock stars. This Jazz Age mural (above) of his drawings epitomizes the glamor of the Roaring Twenties.

It was especially appropriate to see one of Beaton's most famous quotes appear atop his portrait of a young Mick Jagger.

Remember last week we uploaded a picture of Jean tantalizingly dangling a black accordion-like thing? We only told you she'd bought it at the Metropolitan Vintage Show. Well, this is what it looks like ON. Jean says it looks like something out of "Beetlejuice", but in fact it's a Junko Koshino creation. With Jean is Eddie J. Bartolomei, the MCNY's Preparator who was responsible for the mounting of the show.

We didn't set out to take pictures of people in hats, but there were so many wonderful examples that we've catalogued a few for you, sprinkled here and there in this posting. We spotted this perfectly attired gent, Dandy Bill Webb, near the entrance.

This woman wore a spectacular vintage hat that she said she'd bought on a trip to Ohio. We had to include a photograph of the back. The milliner took the concept of netting that was popular back then, and translated it into a wire network, which was then covered with the same felt as the body of the hat.

Here's New York milliner Gretchen Fenston wearing one of her own superb creations.

Inside the exhibition, several of Beaton's charicatures were recreated on the walls. Using famously slender Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, to decorate a slim dividing wall was an inspired choice.

The gentleman on the left inserted an original program from Beaton's My Fair Lady onto his top hat. (Did we mention that New Yorkers dress for the occasion?) The gentleman on the right is from the British firm Beaudessert, which manufacturers Cecil Beaton wallpaper and which was responsible for reproducing the rose wallpaper on the wall at the entrance to the exhibit.

Here is the Beaton rose wall paper. White roses on a dark background were a great counterpoint to the other black illustrations on the white walls.

Linda Zagarian aways wears the most stylish outfits, and tops them with perfect hats. She posed for us with two of her friends. This hat looks from the front as though the brim goes all the way around, but like the other vintage hat above, it ends with a suprise in the back.

Valerie and Sandy Long pose under Beaton's drawing of Greta Garbo. Sandy looked fabulous in all white, complete with a maribou feather pouf of a jacket. For the hat-starved, we've included a close-up of Linda's chapeau.

Although his costumes for My Fair Lady are perhaps the most well known in this country, he designed a number of costumes for the opera, including these two lavish examples from Turandot.

The exhibition, while small, showed a wide variety of work. Below is a costume design he did, complete with fabric swatches.

Not all guests were be-hatted or feathered. The invitation mentioned no dress code. This gent came wearing a jacket that looked like it might have been derived from feed sacks. (Raise your hand if you remember when feed sacks came in very attractive prints that you could actually use to make clothes with once the feed was out of the sack. Those of you scoffing whuuuuuuuuuut???????, just google feed sack dress.)

We met this fab trio toward the end of the evening. The ladies approached us and said they'd recognized us from our recent TV appearance. We gave them invitations to our Life Dressing book signing at Primetime Gallery in Brooklyn 3 nights hence. Lo and behold, the lovely lady on the far right showed up in Brooklyn (looking gorgeous, of course), and brought yet another friend!

Here we are with another dapper member of the crowd.

For those of you who won't make it to New York to see the show, don't despair! A companion book, Cecil Beaton: The New York Years, by exhibition curator Donald Albrecht, has been co-published by the Museum of the City of New York and Skira Rizzoli. Look for it on line. Christmas is coming!

Further Adventures: Later that same night ...

After exiting the museum, what better way to end the evening than with a cocktail, we thought, and hailed a taxi to make our way from 106th Street to MOMA's Modern at 53rd Street. To our wonderment, we were let off right in front of the new UNIQLO store - the one we'd heard there were LINES for on opening day -- to see what all the fuss was about. In full night-out-on-the-town regalia, we gave the joint the complete once-over. It is a mammoth place with seemingly endless escalators, mirrored surfaces, hallways as long as the Golden Gate Bridge, bright lights and moving parts. Think Superman's fortress of solitude turned into a carnival fun house. So we decided to have a little fun ourselves.

Dueling cameras! You can see Jean's reflection higher on the escalator taking Valerie's picture. (Warning: Trained professionals at work! Do not attempt this at home -- or at your local mall. Give mall security a break.)

The place is huge, maze-like, and confusing to women of a certain age accustomed to single room boutiques and thrift shops. When we asked for the leggings, we were told by the all-black-clad sales assistants (all of whom appear to be under 22, and project the poise and confidence it will take to become the next contestants on Project Runway) to look in the Heat-tech Hall (wherever that was supposed to be). After eons of searching, we found it. Jean evokes our success with her triumphant gesture.

We couldn't resist checking out the lighted stairway in more detail. Don't you love how color-coordinated the steps are with Valerie's kimono? Not only do the colors change, but the mannequins also revolve! They started out facing left.

After noticing the fabulous shape of Valerie's hat (doesn't it resemble Carvel frozen custard swirl?), check out the right-facing mannequins.

As the color shifted from orange to mauve, the mannequins faced front.

Et voila! Back where we started. Pity the poor shoppers who try to get their bearings by saying "we'll meet in front of the mannequins"!

Jean with booty. So to speak.

Even later, that same night ...

But enough fun! After the unexpected detour, we were off for serious cocktails at the Modern. In typical fashion (for us), there were photos we forgot to take, but here are a few. First, check out the really cool shaved eyebrows on our hostess.

OK, we shouldn't show you table crumbs, but we were having too much fun noshing and imbibing to think of photographing. What we want you to see here are the round white marble table, the place mats that are cut to fit the round table, like pizza wedges (but in infinitely cool contrasting black), and the obsessively centered (except where we've moved things ever so slightly for convenience) white tablewear.

And here's a close-up of Jean's fabulous hat and blouse.

And so back home, to prepare for the next day's work.

What we're wearing: We admit we have been quite remiss in recent weeks in describing what we're wearing, so we wanted to report what we wore on this exceptional evening:

Jean is wearing a vintage black stretchy polymide nylon and elastin top with thin metal wiring in the sleeves by Japanese designer Junko Koshino; a tri-pronged straw hat by Ignatius (from the Philadelphia Museum Craft Show), yellow and black plastic and cloth bag by Issey Miyake (from a sample sale); Trippen boots; charm necklace with an amalgamation of skulls, talons, dice, wishbone and cross on leather cord; vintage aluminum wire and marble earrings, vintage bakelite bracelets and rings collected over decades.

Valerie is wearing a pink felt hat labeled Chisato Tsumori, dated around 1990; a pink and black abstract kimono dated around 1950, a black dress by Bettina Riedel and black patent flats by Cole Haan/Nike.


  1. This post just re-activated my NYC withdrawal symptoms--how awesome is the Cecil Beaton Exhibit! So glad to finally see Jean's Vintage Show score in a photo, and really, she's the only one who could wear it with such panache! Valerie, you look gorgeous in that kimono and hat; what delicious colours! I miss you wacky dames...

  2. As usual you two are dresssed to the nines, or tens! Love Jean's new black top - can you get a coat on over it:):)?? Thanks for taking me to the most fabulous fashionable places in NYC that a Wisconsinite can only dream of!

  3. I love this blog- inspirational and completely enjoyable. Such an eye and mind-ful every week. Thanks ladies!