Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Conversation with Edith Head

We recently attended "A Conversation with Edith Head: An Evening of Wit, Wisdom and a Whisper of Gossip",  Susan Claassen's incredibly engaging and entertaining one-woman show, at the National Arts Club.

About 10 years ago, while watching a TV documentary about the legendary costume designer, Susan was struck by her uncanny physical resemblance to Edith Head. That was the start of it all. She exhaustively researched the designer's life and discovered Paddy Calistro's book Edith Head's Hollywood and eventually collaborated with Paddy on this play, based on Paddy's book and 13 hours of taped interviews with Edith herself. Having this record of the designer's distinctive voice undoubtedly added to Susan's accurate interpretation of Edith's unique vocal cadence and deadpan delivery.  To learn more about  Susan Claassen and her show, click here or go to her website at  For an additional perspective on our evening at the National Arts Club show, check out Malinda Knowles'"take" on the show at
David Zyla, chair of the National Arts Club's Fashion Committee, was the Master of Ceremonies, introducing Stuart Moulton, Miss Head's host, who serves as a foil, periodically interrupting the actress with his own questions or corrections and with questions from the audience. Stuart is visible in the right of the photograph, perched in the front row, ready to pounce with the correct date of a film or other detail stemming from the designer's humorously selective memory.
Below is a press shot of Susan Claassen in character on the set. Edith Head  (1897-1981) won a record-setting 8 Oscars for costume design and received a record-breaking 35 nominations. Edith's famous quote: "There's nothing like a row of Oscars for putting the fear of God into an actress who thinks she knows everything about dress designing." The designer had "attitude" in spades. One of Jean's favorite songs by the band "They Might Be Giants" is their song "She Thinks She's Edith Head", which appears in both their 1999 album "Long Tall Weekend" and their 2001 album "Mink Car". The song itself deals with the singer's remembrance of a girl from his past who assumed a more sophisticated facade and whose attitude he compared to Edith Head's and to Cosmo editor-in-chief Helen Gurley Brown's.  (Sounds like good company to us!)
Components of the set can be rearranged depending on the size of the stage. This is a shot of the stage at the National Arts Club. The show is set in 1981. Ms. Head's career spanned 58 years. After 44 years at Paramount, when the studio did not renew her contract, her good friend director Alfred Hitchcock put in a good word for her with Lew Wasserman, head of Universal Pictures, who not only gave her a raise, her own bungalow on the studio lot and a monogrammed golf cart, but also gifted her with a Mercedes! Her signature look -- straight-cut bangs, dark glasses and tailored suits -- made her immediately identifiable. She dressed plainly so as not to compete with her movie star clients or the costumes she was designing. Her tinted glasses were to help her see how the fabrics and colors would photograph in black and white.

One of the designer's favorite actresses was Bette Davis, and the respect was mutual.

This is a recreation of the costume Bette Davis wore in "All About Eve", for which Miss Head won her third Oscar in 1950. Although it photographed as black in the film, in real life it was decidedly brown.   The films for which she won her eight Oscars were: The Heiress, 1949; Samson and Delilah, 1950; All About Eve, 1950; A Place In the Sun, 1951; Roman Holiday, 1953; Sabrina, 1954; The Facts of Life, 1960; and The Sting, 1973. Before 1967, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave separate Oscars for Black and White and for Color films, which is why Edith was able to win 2 Oscars in the same year: Samson and Delilah was in color and All about Eve was in black and white.

The mock Oscars which appeared on the set were courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Photographs of the designer's favorite stars populated the set and inhabited the designer's thoughts and reminiscences.  There are several of Gloria Swanson, for whom Edith designed costumes for her amazing performance in Sunset Boulevard in 1950, for which the actress received an Academy Award.  Sunset Boulevard is Jean's all-time favorite movie and Gloria Swanson is her most favorite actress ever.  Often, when asked to describe her own style, Jean says: "Goth meets Sunset Boulevard!"  In the show, Edith mentions the actress' infamous shoe size:  2 and a half!
Edith talked about Grace Kelly, whom she dressed in Rear Window in 1954 and To Catch A Thief in 1955 with Cary Grant, and how the actress' future husband had come to the set on the Riviera to meet the actress.
Front and center in the photographs is a shot of the ultimate movie stars who need no last names: "Liz and Dick".
Elizabeth Taylor was one of Edith's favorite actresses, with whom she had a long-standing friendship.

This is a sketch of the gown that Elizabeth Taylor wore in A Place in the Sun, for which Head won her 1951 Oscar.

Onstage is a recreation of the gown worn by Elizabeth Taylor in the film, which showcased her 19-inch waist.

Head always wore a necklace made of round ivory opera passes dating from the 18th and 19th centuries.  She bequeathed it to Elizabeth Taylor in her will. In 2011, it went up for auction at Christie's in New York, where it sold for over $314,000!  (Christie's lowball estimate: $2,000.)  Here is a shot of the actual necklace.

And here is a close-up. Susan wears a beautiful recreation on stage.

Below, a costume worn by Katherine Hepburn in the western Rooster Cogburn in 1975.

Miss Head and her star on Hollywood Boulevard.

Here is Jean's lousy shot of the on-stage sketch of Edith's sketch of Paul Newman and Robert Redford for The Sting, for which she won her eighth and last Oscar in 1975.
Next to the Oscar for The Sting is a photograph of Paul Newman.
Milliner Ellen Christine was in the audience that evening, sporting a chapeau of her own design. Also seated near us was our buddy artist Jane Folds, who first alerted us to this program, and departed before we could take her photograph.
We were happy to run into our friend Linda Zagaria looking very chic and summery.  (Don't fail to peek at Valerie's new/old Andy Warhol shoes.)

After the show, Susan Claassen, still channeling her inner Edith Head, greeted members of the audience and bestowed a gold metal foil sticker with her seal of approval which read: "Edith Head Approved"!  We would have been devastated had we not gotten one each.  If you look closely at the photo of Valerie and Linda Z above, you can see they are both sporting their gold seals!

As an added treat, not only did the star of the show pose for photographs, but she also emailed everyone a copy. (Can Edith "vogue" with the best of them or what?)  Here's our photo.  Thanks, Susan!!!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What He Saw Today, and Last Week, and Last Month...

When our friend Jane Folds invited us to a lecture and show at the National Arts Club by illustrator Richard Haines, we jumped at the chance.  Haines is currently causing a stir with his street style blog, What I Saw Today.  Now before you say "oh, not another person with a street style blog", let us point out that Haines draws what he sees, often telling a story in just in a few quick but well chosen lines.

That's Jane above, instantly recognizable in her signature heart shaped glasses.  (An artist in her own right, only days later Jane had a quite inventive piece in the Round Table show at the NAC which we were lucky enough to see -- a marionette entitled Erotic Picasso. Trust us when we say that the name says it all!)

We were stopped by this handsome devil, artist William Varner, who introduced himeself as a graduate of the School of Visual Arts who attended at the same time as our very personal favorite illustrator of all time -- Joana Avillez.  Small world.  We had a look at some of William's great illustrations (on his iPhone, of course - oh, modern times!), and could see why he was interested in this program.
David Zyla, chair of the Fashion Committee at the NAC, led the first part of the presentation by asking specific questions of his guest, followed by Qs and As from the audience.  Might we add that the room was packed to the gills with a standing room only crowd of artists and illustrators and fashion types of all ages.
What I Saw Today is "a visual record of cool stuff guys wear and other things that inspire me".  That's Richard above, in the black shirt and glasses, holding the mike.
A wonderfully self-deprecating and down to earth speaker, Richard Haines moved to New York in the mid-1970s to become an illustrator, but somewhere along the way got lost and became a men's fashion designer.  Now in his sixties, Richard expressed some surprise at the twists and turns his career took before he was able to return to his roots.  He is now illustrating full time.
Richard, who recently moved to Brooklyn, is influenced and inspired by the people he sees there every day.  Their casual and personal sense of style is immediately evident in his work.
His subjects range in age and style.
"Louche" was a word he mentioned that intrigued him, and seems to define the style of many of his subjects.
David still focuses on men's style, but the occasional woman catches his eye and graces the pages of his blog.
A couple of his illustrations combine guys and chairs in a light-hearted manner.  As an artist would, David spoke about the importance of "line" in what attracted him to his subjects.  His current attraction to chairs lies in their lines.

Some pictures feature strong colors; others are more monochromatic.

His ability to shift focus from street style to the salon is evident in these following two rather dreamlike visions. Doesn't this one remind you of the well known photograph of the author Colette?

Love this Great Gatsby / David Hockney couple.

We were seated behind Angelica Melendez. (Since we were in the last row, we were technically sitting behind everybody that evening. The one advantage to the last row? You don't have to take off your hat when the show starts.) Anyway, we loved Angelica's glasses! It turns out that she and her friend with whom she was sitting -- Thomas Raab -- both work for one of our favorite designers, Donna Karan. Angelica is creative director for Donna Karen Intimates and Thomas is a designer for DKNY Jeans (mens).

Richard Haines said he was recently inspired by chairs and had started a series of drawings of chairs.
They really reminded us of the illustrations and style of the some of the artwork in the New Yorker.
Prada approached Richard to sketch some of the designs on the runway and then published his drawings in a limited edition book.  Sweet!
These illustrations depict well groomed sophisticates, a far cry from the simple toned-down types in his 'hood whose images often populate his blog.  His ability to switch back and forth effortlessly shows the breadth of his talent.  The recycled paper, complete with print from its previous life, is deliberate.
The Prada designs are apparently available on a line of Hanes tee-shirts. Hanes by Haines, get it?
We're looking forward to future Fashion Committee events.  Hope you are too!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Goo-Goo Eyes

In summer, a woman of a certain age's fancy turns to ... sunglasses! Now that summer is finally here and we are just two days past the longest day of the year, we are pulling out all the stops and going goo-goo eyed over sunglasses to block the glare and shade the eyes.
A while ago, we wandered into the Bond Street outpost of Selima Optique and were instantly enchanted. Initially lured in by the collection of vintage clothing in the front of the store (always good bait where we're concerned), we stayed to ooh and aaah not only over Selima's extensive collection of frames but also over her private collection of sunglasses spanning decades.

Selima Salaun is the creative vision behind Selima Optique, the trend-setting, luxury eyewear brand she founded. Selima believes your eyewear is a reflection of your look — the personality you project. She says your look is the mood you convey each and every day! For more about Selima and her boutiques, click here or go to

Jean tried these vintage round tortoise and metal frames on for size.

Valerie was fascinated by these purple-pink round frames.

Jean went for the round black and white checked number.

These glasses have an intriguing additional half frame above the full frame, like a visual echo. They're almost mask-like.
These half and half frames caught Jean's eye. So to speak.

One drizzly Saturday, when we went to the Brooklyn flea market, we discovered another source of glasses. Valerie was the first to try these big round glasses that extended over the top of the frames. She's hatless because the large lenses clashed with her hat brim. The glasses won out for the picture, but were ultimately rejected because they couldn't play nicely with the hat.

Jean tried them too but decided they probably wouldn't work with her prescription lenses.

The black and white polka dots make an interesting contrast with the black and white stripes.

Since Jean wears prescription glasses, here are the frames in her current rotation: These are Jean's lucite Woodstock frames with her Varilux prescription.

These amber-colored frames are called Frieda by Illesteva. The frame ends half-way down the round lenses.

Jean is wearing her Missoni prescription sunglasses which feature black lace embedded in plastic.

And these are Jean's old stand-bys, her vintage Mod Oath frames by Revue with her Varilux lenses.

Valerie is still playing that glasses on/glasses off thing, going back and forth between readers and regular sunglasses. Big old pain in the neck. Don't ask. Pink glasses from France, spray painted in Tokyo around 1990.

These are the red version of the black polka-dotted glasses above. Can a girl wear too many polka dots at once?  Right around here is about the breaking point.

Valerie has some idea that Peggy Guggenheim would have approved of these glasses with cobras (with red ruby eyes - ok, red GLASS eyes).

These may have been copied from an old pair of Issey Miyakes.

Now, where's the sunblock?