Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Jean's Palm Beach Fling

It's Jean, here, kiddies, to narrate the story of my latest trip to Florida. For the second year in a row, I escaped the winter chill and headed to Palm Beach Gardens with five friends I first met 47 years ago when we started college together.  Here's the rogues' gallery above (left to right) as we got ready to grab a bite to eat on the evening we arrived: Mary Joy (our hostess with the most-est), Rosemary, Peggy, Ginny, Elaine and yours truly.

Below, we're all dolled up to go out to eat at Renato's in Palm Beach: Elaine, Rosemary, Peggy, Ginny, Mary Joy and me (in my Amy Downs origami hat that folded flat in my suitcase!).

We went to London together in 2000 to celebrate our 50th birthdays and are trying to decide where we'll all go for our 65th birthdays. Here, we're getting ready to eat at the Palm Beach Grill: Elaine, Ginny, Peggy, Rosemary and me.  (What's this, asks Valerie.  Is Jean the only person who goes to Florida and takes off her shades?)

We had so much fun last year, we decided to go back to the Palm Beach Winter Antiques Show in West Palm Beach. In the booth run by Fabulocity (don't you just love the name?) from Miami Beach, we spotted this rhinestone flapper's headpiece and a beautifully carved art nouveau flower medallion.

Fabulocity also had a great selection of carved necklaces and jewelry.

I was thrilled to see Adrienne Astrologo again and her booth LadyBag International which carries vintage name-brand handbags and accessories. We both agreed it was the perfect time to be down south as the "Polar Vortex" gripped New York City and the northeast in bone-chilling single-digit temperatures.

Poirier-Schweitzer Arts Decoratifs du XXieme Siecle from Montreal had this terrific handbag with hand-painted handle.

In the same booth, I totally swooned over this art deco picture frame with photo of Gloria Swanson circa 1918 flanked by two carved swans.

The gents who ran the booth were absolutely charming. Michel Andre (left) and Robert were very funny and quite entertaining and indulged me by speaking in English instead of their native French. When I told them I would be in Montreal in June for the Formula 1 car race, we agreed to rendezvous. When Robert told me that Toque, one of my all-time favorite restaurants in Montreal or any other city, features a painting by his partner, I vowed to pay particular attention when I made my annual pilgrimage.

How about this colorful duck pitcher?

A couple of days later, we went to downtown Palm Beach to check out the shops on Worth Avenue, cruising in our Enterprise red mini-van (it was the only rental that could accommodate all six of us) alongside the Maseratis, Bentleys, Jags and Ferraris! First stop: right across the street from the parking lot on Hibiscus, we discovered Balatro Vintage Gallery, with amazing red lacquer floors, lots of vintage clothing, hats, jewelry, furniture and bibelots.

I was threatening to take this adorable crimson mini-Mercedes out onto Worth Avenue to better "blend in" with my surroundings.

Remember paper dresses? Balatro had a whole selection.

We stopped in Sequin on Worth Avenue so Rosemary could look for a necklace for her niece to wear with a bridesmaid dress and met the owner herself, Kim Renk. She not only looks terrific, but also supports good work near and dear to my heart: animal rescue! On weekends, her shop provides a home base for local animal shelter volunteers to showcase their adoptable dogs, wearing tee-shirts identifying their agencies. On the day we visited, the tri-county humane society was walking a couple of adorable dogs, one of which looked like a Corgi-Dachshund mix. I promised to get Kim information on where my own favorite Social Tees Animal Rescue on E. 5th Street in New York gets its "Adopt Me' vests for their dogs, so everyone knows they're available for adoption. In the photo: Mary Joy, Peggy, Kim et moi!

We scooted next door to Taboo, a Palm Beach dining institution, to meet one of Peggy's friends, Ted, and his wife Jane for cocktails and a nosh. While we were chatting, models cruised by the tables to show off clothing and accessories from the local shops. My appetizer crab cakes with the name of the restaurant emblazoned on their mango sauce were an absolute hoot. I noticed after holding the plate up to show them to the rest of the table (luckily after I'd taken my photo) that the lettering started to slide to one side. (FYI: They were scrumptious!)

Off the main street are little courtyards, designed by Mizner, one of the better known local architects, who favored Spanish-style tiled roofs, and gardens and fountains, like this one near Via Amore.

Back at the house one afternoon, we were sitting around the pool and decided to open the large patio umbrella for some shade. Half way through the process however, we noticed a family of frogs that had taken up residence in the mechanism. Elaine and I retrieved most of them by hand, starting with the albino Big Daddy shown here (who peed all over my hand as I tried to extract him). We either removed or coaxed all 7 of his family members -- and a tiny lizard -- out to the garden before we proceeded.

When we went for our morning walks, we ran across a lot of local wildlife, including this contingent of what we thought were egrets. This group of bad boys kept their distance, but only just so.

Ah! It was so nice to sit in the jacuzzi and contemplate all those New Yorkers digging out of the snow and freezing weather.  Due to a snowstorm hitting from the Midwest through New England, all our Tuesday return flights were cancelled. A travel advisory was again issued on Wednesday, so we switched our flights to the next day and enjoyed the extra time in the warm weather.  The logistics of getting six women who live in four different states home to three different airports - with one rental car -- are mind-boggling, but we got through it all with good humor.

We all finally got flights out on Thursday. While waiting for my Delta flight back to LaGuardia, I met a couple of live wires -- Ruth and Ann. They were utterly adorable, confessing that they were salsa dancers who had come down to Florida to celebrate their 77th birthdays with their friends, who were also avid dancers. Ruth showed me shots on her smart phone of tall, suave octogenarian male friends who were their dancing partners and of female friends who also looked terrific and obviously enjoyed the positive, restorative effects of their dancing.

All too soon, the glamorous trip was over and I was back to reality - with a vengeance. I landed at Terminal C at LaGuardia where the air temperature was 16 degrees. Unfortunately, my luggage (which had my heavy coat) ended up at Terminal D -- a long slushy walk across the taxi-cab parking lot! Oy! Welcome to New York, kiddies!  But there's always next year ...

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Alchemist's Apprentices

Even in deepest, darkest January, when the sun has set before we even leave the office, there ARE fun things to do.  When we heard that milliner Heidi Lee (aka the Design Alchemist) would be holding a Jean paul Gaultier-inspired fascinator workshop called "MAKE" at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, we must have been among the first to sign up.  Not familiar with Heidi's work?  Yes, you are.  You just didn't realize it (and for the longest time neither did we).  We unwittingly introduced you to her signature hat in our 2013 Easter post.

Remember this Easter Parade photograph featuring Markus Kelle wearing a dramatically minimalist hat consisting of a stripped black lacquered parasol? Yup. That's Heidi's creation. We were thrilled to discover that Patricia Field carries Heidi's designs at her store on the Bowery and became big fans.

So you can understand why we were excited at the prospect of meeting Heidi and making hats in much the same way some people are excited at the prospect of getting together for a quilting bee -- or a Super Bowl party.  Here is the atrium of the Brooklyn Museum moments before the workshop started.  Heidi had mounted three installations to further inspire her students. On the mannequin in the center is the red version of the parasol hat.  In the background are tables equipped with the makings of all sorts of millinery marvels.

Here is a close-up of the the installation of the crimson red version of the parasol hat.

Before getting down to the actual hat-making, Heidi gave all of us a tour of the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit, in deference to students who may not have actually seen the show, to give them some background about the designer and his unique approach to fashion.  Heidi is a knockout. She is an amazing combination. An uber-talented, high energy, petite bombshell -- and a RISD alumna (naturally!) -- she seamlessly combines downtown hip and Brooklyn vibes with humor and haute couture in her tongue in cheek creations.

After a short beverage break (included in the price of admission, along with the tour and the materials -- which far exceeded the $25 ticket price), we all returned to the atrium and got down to business. At our table, everyone started with a length of red or black horsehair, a matching satin headband (seen here under the horsehair), a flat straw medallion on which to place our creation, and Heidi's gold business card.  Also on the table were bottles of glue, hot glue guns, red or black hat trim (to hide seams), scissors, and buckram, which Heidi had spray-painted red or black, to serve as a hard core on which to drape the soft horsehair.

Heidi went to each of about eight tables in turn.  While we were waiting (ours was among the last tables), we doodled with the horsehair.  This woman was the first one at our table to come up with a finished fascinator of her own design.  While most of us built our designs up from the straw base, which in turn was glued to the headband, this novel design wraps around the headband, and is finished with the medallion.

The horsehair had a natural tendency to adhere to a spiral pattern. A student at FIT seated at our table forced the material out of its comfort zone and made it blossom in several directions.

Variations on the built-up spiral were the most popular among those of us with the horsehair.  While both of these ladies made spiral fascinators, the woman on the left added a feather at the top and left a bit of a tail at the end.

This woman built a lot of height into her fascinator and added the trim to give it extra dimension.

Even guys got into the act. This gent added cut out hearts from Heidi's card to festoon his black fascinator.

A top hat on the left, a spray of loops on the right.

How this woman created a black rose, and managed to get it to face forward, rather than up, remains a mystery to us, but we loved the result.

Loved the look of this frothy red flower-shaped fascinator.

This fascinator makes very sparing use of the material, to great effect.

It's very reminiscent of a Tudor headpiece.

Some of the guests had just the right attitude to carry off their creations, like this blonde woman in her black fascinator.

Forgoing a headband altogether, this hat design uses the material alone to give both height and width.

Not all the hats were made with horsehair. Heidi drew some of her inspiration from the halo-like headpieces in the Virgin collection in the first room of the Gaultier exhibition, shown here behind the master himself, flanked by the curators.

Two tables were given these cobalt blue discs to fashion halo-like hats.  This woman embellished hers with several of Heidi's gold playing card/business cards.

This innovative hat turns the rules on their head, so to speak.  The blue headband is festooned with feather-like shredded black buckram, and more of Heidi's business cards.

Okay, by now some of you are asking yourselves what OUR fascinators looked like.  Here, a fascinator from the House of Jean.

Jean confesses that she was actually trying to make something a bit wider, aiming for something like this masterpiece (by another, more talented student):

Although Jean's hat's silhouette looks more like Stan Laurel than Oliver Hardy, she is quite pleased with the end result and can't wait to find an evening event at which to wear it.

While the majority of guests fashioned fascinators wider at the base and narrower at the top, Valerie (apparently fascinated by a fascinator just out of sight of this picture) chose the opposite approach, with narrow base and wider top.

Doesn't she look great wearing her House of Valerie creation?  (The hair style, as all hat wearers know, is called hat hair.  Ladies the lesson here is: never - EVER - let yourself be photographed without first checking a mirror.  A BIG mirror.)

On the big screen, a shot of the fascinator Heidi wore for the evening.  That's us, silhouetted on either side of her creation.

Here we are, with the maestra herself, modeling our creations.

Heidi donned her signature parasol hat and we accompanied her to the 5th floor in an attempt to photograph her in it in front of the JPG exhibition, but alas, were turned away by the guard. We did manage to get this shot in the elevator on the way back to the first floor.

Running out of time, we hurriedly packed our creations away and got ready to go.  We were lucky to snag Heidi, in front of this wonderful white screen for one last photo op.  Did you guess the source of the inspiration for her fascinator?

That's right! The spiraling twin headlights of JPG's infamous cone dress!

BONUS PHOTO: A full-length shot of Heidi in her signature hat.  One note: the museum vetoed her wearing this hat during the tour and class for fear she'd poke someone in the eye.  Guess that's where being as tall as Markus (over 6 feet -- plus the added height of his giant platform pumps) really pays off and allows one to wear such a hat whenever and wherever.

That's why having a smaller version is always a great alternative!!! (image from

Before we knew it, it was minutes before 10 o'clock (yes, the Brooklyn Museum of Art is open till 10pm on Thursdays!!!!), and the guard was rushing us out.  No patience for the Design Alchemist nor her apprentices.  Business is business.  But we had a terrific time and a great experience!  Already dedicated believers on our arrival, we emerged from our super evening with an even greater appreciation for the creativity and craftsmanship of milliners in general and Heidi in particular. For much, much more on Heidi, please click here.

What we're wearing:
Valerie is wearing: shearling hat by Owen Barry, jacket by Dana Buchman, shirt by Gaultier, pants by Issey Miyake, Gustav Klimt print shoes by Icon.

Jean is wearing: a Jean Paul Gaultier Soleil dress; vintage red felt hat from Incogneeto; tube skirt from Ivan Grundahl; vintage red wooden necklace; vintage red bakelite and resin earrings, rings and bracelets; Angela Caputi red Greek-key cuff; vintage eyeglass frames from Fabulous Fanny's; cross-body bag from street vendor;  DIY customized-platform Dansko clogs.