Sunday, May 13, 2012

Now If We Just Had a Bugatti...

Here we are in our Louise Brooks art deco helmets, courtesy of artist and milliner Carol Markel. For the story behind them and our adventures in them, read on.

Readers of our recent Metropolitan Pavilion Vintage Show post will remember that we had to leave early to make it to Carol Markel's open studio. We were the last guests to arrive that day. A look at Carol's blog, Femme et Fleur, details some of those who came and went before us.

Here are Carol and her husband, Richard. Richard is also an artist, but this was Carol's day. Behind them is some of Carol's work. Both Carol and Richard love color, and express it with great flair in their wardrobes.

Carol introduced us to these three lovely ladies who had included the studio as one of several stops in their tour of the Lower East Side.

Here is a wall of work. When we arrived, there were all sorts of tasty treats on the table, including bottles of Prosecco. Great minds think alike!

In addition to paintings and puppets and videos, Carol makes these colorful necklaces for which she hand-dips each of the wonderful wooden beads. They looked like huge, shiny, round gum balls.

But we digress. We didn't come for the hats, but those were what wound up capturing our attention. (Big surprise.) We'd seen Carol wear one of her helmets, and we both admired - and secretly drooled over - it, but it didn't occur to us that there might be more where that came from. In fact, it turns out Carol took FIT's certificate course in millinery.

Here are three of Carol's felt helmets. The card under the photograph says: "Louise Brooks was a silent film actress in the 1920's. My helmet-style hats are based on her fabulous bob haircut."

Two more examples of her handiwork flank a 1940s figurine. No two are alike. Even the shape of the helmet (e.g., how long the side panels extend forward) varies from hat to hat.

One black and two brown hats show some of the different embellishments she adds to the basic hat for variety.

And for those of you to whom Louise Brooks is not a household name, here's a picture that shows where Carol got her inspiration.

Carol and Valerie model two of Carol's stunning helmets. Valerie ended up purchasing the one that she was wearing.

Jean couldn't resist trying one on. They are surprisingly comfortable and lightweight, hugging the head like a glove hugs a hand. Although she always gravitates first to anything black, Jean surprised herself by buying the one Carol is wearing in the previous photo. Behind and beside Jean are some glimpses of Carol's paintings and her inspiration wall.

The hats are as amazing for their construction as for their looks.

Valerie couldn't resist accentuating her selection with her newly purchased gloves from the vintage show.

Back in our own headgear, we started home with our purchases. Giddy as kids emerging from the proverbial candy store, it seemed a good time to celebrate. While walking down Essex Street, we passed CO-OP on the ground floor of the Rivington Hotel. As we were contemplating stopping in, we came across these fabulous youngsters, who seemed to recognize us. We did the Mutual Admiration Society thing, taking pictures of one another. Now that everyone has a cell phone, this can take a long time as everyone gets a shot of their own!

The temperature was balmy and we were hungry and suddenly in the mood for a cocktail. It wasn't quite opening time at CO-OP, but Brad Rosenbloom, the maitre d'hotel, spotted us, gave us the nod of approval and seated us at a table right up front. That sealed the deal for us! And how could we not be charmed by a bar with huge sets of photobooth photos blown up on the wall, each face blotted out with a huge colored dot?

We ordered some sort of lovely concoctions to drink (Jean's had tequila and some sort of jalapeno flavor in the salted rim; Valerie thinks she got the strawberry margarita with cilantro), and had a hard time choosing between nibbling on the french fries flavored with truffle oil and the truffle-flavored popcorn. Jean went for the fries. But Brad came to our rescue and brought us the truffled popcorn -- on the house. How fab! We thought Brad had made our day with truffled popcorn, but we were in for yet another surprise. Brad topped that by bringing Jean a latte and Valerie a bowl of fresh berries mit schlag (no one seems to say 'with whipped cream' anymore), also on the house! Every last thing was Delish! For our part, we were no slouches either. Passersby kept stopping to photograph us and call out to us, and several decided to come inside to sit down.

Valerie, mit schlag.

Jean, mit Brad. Brad rocks!

With the check comes a slip of paper covered with pink candy dots. (Hmmm.  Dots on the photo booth faces on the wall behind Jean.  Dots on the paper that comes with the bill.  Hmmm.)

But the story of the helmets doesn't end there!

The following week, we took advantage of the Guggenheim's "pay what you wish" Saturday evening admission policy to see the John Chamberlain metal sculptures and the Francesca Woodman photographs. We also took full advantage of the drop in temperature to wear our new helmets before having to put them away until next fall. In our continuing efforts to be ever so slightly beyond parental control, Jean sneaked the photo below of one of John Chamberlain's sculptures on display at the museum (while other visitors were less discreetly doing the same thing, we might add). Made of crumpled parts from automobile and other bits of salvage (we think we recognized bits of semi-disguised air conditioner and refrigerator, among other things), the monumental works are free-standing on pedestals or mounted on the walls. We would have LOVED to photograph ourselves in our helmets standing by a crumpled car. Next time.

Both are great shows, by the way, and we highly recommend them.

When we emerged from the museum, we ran into a quartet of young people, and were surprised when both of the young women recognized us from our blog. They did us the favor of taking our picture.

(The Valerie version of a smile, below.)

Since we were on the Upper East Side, we decided to drop into Cafe Grazie, one of our favorite après musée haunts. In celebration of the fact that our photos were featured in that day, we toasted each other with champagne-based cocktails.

Sometimes there's nothing like a little comfort food, so we dropped into a favorite diner where Valerie chowed down on a BLT and Jean on a grilled cheese sandwich. At both of these stops, a number of people stopped by our table to admire our fabulous new hats and inquire about them. We gave Carol's name out several times, and regretted that we didn't have her business cards with us.

And in closing, the best rendering ever of a woman in a helmet:

Tamara de Lempicka, Auto-Portrait (Tamara in the Green Bugatti), 1925.


  1. I absolutely love this post. Thank you Valerie and Jean!

  2. You two are fabu! Love the helmet hats.

  3. Carol's studio is full of so much eye-candy, hats included. I really like the one embellished with felt leaves. They really need to be worn by someone fearless and fabulous, so of course they suit you two perfectly. Sounds like such a wonderful day (truffle fries!!) and I will have to add Co-op to my list of places to go to in NY. Those 6 "youngsters" are some of the most stylin' kids I've ever seen. Hope they hang onto that as they get older.

  4. Love color and you two have captured it so well!

  5. Recently discovered J and V and just love your life's work - more, please. A misplaced New Yorker in Portland, Maine . . . and turning 50 this fall.

  6. OK, I'm officially green with envy. You guys are always having SUCH a good time. And without me! (Boo, hoo!)

    Cheers from England,

  7. What a wonderful day the two of you had! I am totally in love with Carol's helmets; your choices are sublime. It must have been difficult to put the beauties away for the season. I must say that I am also admiring the headwear that you wore into Carol's studio, but no big surprise there.