Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Jean is on vacation, so as promised a few weeks ago, Valerie is posting on the time capsule found in her basement.

 I'm cheating here just a little bit.  This post should really begin with the photo below - the one that shows us standing in front of the storage bin - to set the scene.  But as you can see, it's a little out of focus, and not above-the-fold material.  Okay, scene is set.  On with the story.

In the earlier post, we spared you multiple photos of all the junk, but this one is included now because it shows, in the neon green outline, the time capsule.

What I found in it were a few things I love and cherish.  Here are the contents, more or less chronological order.

First is a pair of bell bottom jeans I wore and embroidered when I was 16.  Bell bottoms!  We ALL had to embroider our jeans back then.  My boyfriend at the time asked me to embroider his jeans.  I had never embroidered before, and the very thought of failure, leading to rejection, terrified me.  But the results were good enough that I decided to do my own as well.  What a trip down memory lane!

Here's the left pocket:

Here's the right pocket:

I had bought a book on embroidery stitches (probably around the Bowery, which back then was lined with second hand bookstores chocabloc with beautiful vintage books) and I can see from the jeans that I was teaching myself the various stitches.  Of course, the bit I was proudest of was this:

The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers had just come out, and I think that was the first album to have this logo (on the label in the center of the LP).  You could buy patches, but there was a back-to-the-earth movement afoot, and making your own anything was infinitely to be preferred.  The mottled red material came from a splashed red pair of pants I had.  I cut the legs off of those, and made them into short shorts.  On the right knee, the deep blue velvet patch came from a gorgeous vintage blouse I think I got at Holly Harp while she was still selling unwanted 1930s clothes.  I wore it to death in short order, accidentally ripping both the underarm seams wide open.  But I couldn't entirely give it up (it had probably 20 jewel-like glass buttons down the front), so I put it on the pants.  The little white sliver of seersucker, added when I was around 19, came from one of the first dresses I bought - a floor length super A-line dress with milkmaid-like lacing up the front.  I think I wore it once.  It hadn't occurred to me how hard it would be to manage all that material and carry on an active life.

In my junior year of high school, the stodgy rules of dress, under which we had all long chafed, were completely abandoned citywide.  Instead of the rigidly enforced future IBM man look for boys and the Suzy Homemaker look for girls, we were suddenly allowed to wear anything we wanted.  And we did.  In my senior year, I wore short shorts.  Well, they were called short shorts in the 1950s (click here to hear the 1957 song by that name), but when I cut mine from a pair of jeans, they were suddenly called hot pants (click here to hear James Brown's 1971 song by that name).  

One day my brother, ever the agent provocateur, said I should embroider the back of my shorts with a tunnel and train tracks.  At first I was scandalized, not to mention I felt unequal to the task, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it.  I came up with a shorthand way to suggest the tunnel, and wore them to school as soon and as long as I could.  They're old and faded now, so you'll have to look carefully for the bricks.  I had silver thread for the tracks and woody brown thread for the trestles.  Back then, you could buy embroidery thread in dozens of colors for ten cents each, at Woolworth's.  When the price suddenly rose to twenty-five cents, I was quite miffed.  Then, as now, I was on a budget.

In retrospect, it's hard for me to believe I wore these to school.  I doubt my mother was pleased, but by then, with three teenagers in the house, I think she just shrugged her shoulders at everything.  I can only say it was the times; we all did it.

The front, all happy and whimsical and colorful (the sun, fringes, butterflies, a fish...), gives no hint of the thematic change on the other side.  We were not a picture-taking family.  Cameras were serious, posing was serious, extracting film was serious, and waiting days for pictures to come back from the drug store was serious.  So we have lots of pictures of Easter, Christmas, birthdays, graduations, etc., but far fewer pictures of random days.  I don't think I was ever photographed in these shorts.

My mother was a war bride, and when she started working, and had expendable income, she returned to Europe every summer to see her side of the family.  One year, when I was still a teenager, she brought me back the white summer cotton dress below, which I adored.

This seems like a good time to remind readers that I pulled these out of a box where they'd been for many years, and they're pretty wrinkled.  The fact that they haven't been ironed works against the photo quality, but I think it's more likely I'll become a reality TV star than that I'll iron anything you see here.  I regret the photo quality, but I don't regret not ironing anything.

From the same trip, I think, she also brought me back this peasant look blouse.  Like many of my peers, I wore this for years.  When I photographed it, I was disappointed to see that I had somehow lost the little twisted blue cotton cord that pulls the left and right side of the collar together in a bow.

I'm pretty sure I bought this little hand-crocheted midriff-baring top at a Salvation Army in my college town.  The job situation was so bad when I graduated that it was perfectly okay for me to wear this at my first job!  In retrospect, I'm flabbergasted, but again, I guess it was the times.

Tired of the cold weather and the dismal employment prospects, my then-boyfriend (not the one I embroidered for) and I moved to Dallas.  From that period, I have an unembellished pair of short shorts (which I did not wear to work, having found meaningful employment)

and this striped cotton body suit with a Bill Blass tag in it.  Readers of a certain age will remember that it seemed every top was a body suit back then.  It was a way to avoid wrinkles at the waist.  Body suits gave women a smooth, taut look.  When I bought this, I was intrigued by the technology that allowed the chest to be breast-shaped, not flat.

These are pretty standard pieces, so some of you will wonder why I kept them and why they're included here.  It's because my boyfriend was teaching himself dark room photography, and he photographed me in them.   (He entered it in a local photography contest, and it won honorable mention.  Which would have been fine, since he was an amateur, until we saw the winners, and then we were a bit disappointed.)  That's a Henry Moore sculpture, if you thought you recognized it.

Dallas had a branch of Loehmann's, and I spent many happy hours there, if only to admire.  One of my all-time favorite purchases there was something best described as a purple motorcycle cop uniform.  I thought I'd died and gone to heaven when I found the matching top and bottom in my size.  Loehmann's typically cut the names out of the labels back then, but I found one with the label intact, and the manufacturer was Cygne.  That label worked for me.  I liked so many of their designs.  Here's the purple jacket:

It's hard to see, but the pants are fashioned after jodhpurs, with flared hips, faux padded inner thighs with criss-cross stitchwork, and elastic stirrups to keep them looking crisp when worn.  Both the top and bottom had metal tabs for extra toughness.  I never much liked the epaulets, but that was a minor detail.  (And riffs on the military look were so IN, probably because the '80s were all about big shoulders.)

When I moved to Japan, with one suit case, this suit was in it.  I didn't know if I'd get a chance to wear it, but I couldn't bear to leave it behind.

Here it is, outside the Tokyo National Museum, somewhere between '83 and '86.  Got the boyfriend (by that time the husband) to take the picture, with one of those dreadful disposable cameras, I think.  Really grainy, and fading now.  If you're asking about the hair, yes, I guess that's a mullet!  And that's a perm on the top.  I was really lucky to get the red suede boots locally.  I wore a size 24.5, and most Japanese shoes only went up to 24, which pinched my feet.  On my rare trips back to the U.S., I made sure to buy enough shoes to last me.

Last in the box is this skirt by Chisato Tsumori.  She initially worked for Issey Miyake, then went out on her own.  I bought this around 1988 in Tokyo.  Remember when Norma Kamali made gray gym suit material chic?  This is Chisato Tsumori's take on that.  You might be able to see the waffle patterning in the material.  It also has amazing stretch.

What really drew my attention when I bought it, though, were the flaps at the hips.  It looks as though she started with a rectangular shape, and just folded the top two corners down over the hips and sewed them to the front.  I've never seen a cut like that before or since.  I believe somewhere there's a photo of me wearing this (with high heeled espadrilles, I think), but it's in the storage bin.  (That will be a job for our intern.)  

That's everything I found in the box.  For the record, not one of these fits the way it used to, and some of them don't fit at all.  Don't ask me which ones.  A little bit of mystery is good for everyone.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Our Collab with Morphew Concept

We were thrilled when approached us about curating our own Idiosyncratic Fashionistas collection of items from its vast selection of high end vintage clothing.  Click here to view the fascinating items of clothing we've selected, which appear under the MORPHERS section of ts website.  Read on to learn more about Morphew itself and about our amazing experience getting to go through racks and racks of clothing we've only dreamed about! is a luxury online retail platform with a coterie of insiders from across the globe who source rare and inspired pieces from designs' past.  Previously available exclusively to fashion designers and stylists, Morphew is now sharing its amazing collection with the world.  For our far-flung readers, they have a terrific online shop which shows multiple shots of the same items from different angles with a closeup zoom in feature.

We wanted to give you a little backstory on the items we've chosen.

Channeling her inner Sue Kreitsman, Jean selected not one, but two vintage 1920s kimonos which would add a touch of glamour to any outfit. This is the shorter of the two. Click on the Morphew link above to see multiple views of each of our selections.

Valerie zeroed in on this Yves Saint Laurent yellow linen jacket with contrasting black linen tape that reminded her of pencil shavings and graffiti.  And you should see the tapered back!  (Have a look - it's on the website.)

Jean salivated at the chance to pick this wonderful 1970s Norma Kamali jumpsuit, only to learn that Valerie once owned one just like it in red suede. What can we say? When you've got taste, you've got ... taste! (No wonder we get along so well. We were probably each other in another incarnation.)

Stephen Burrows is hard to come by, so when Valerie saw this gorgeous red silk Burrows gown, she jumped at it.

If you've noticed a trend emerging in Jean's wardrobe involving jumpsuits, you are on the money.  Her preference spilled over big time into our curated selections. Check out this tailored black and charcoal striped wool 1980s jumpsuit by Issey Miyake!

Continuing on the theme of black, with contrast, Valerie chose this  black and white dress with dolman sleeves that looked sort of like someone had painted it, and sort of like someone had gone wild with a black crayon.

The beauty of Morphew's vast selection is that you can find so many variations on a theme. Take for example this white cotton minimalist jumpsuit which Jean thought looked very Japanese.

Another find was this Zandra Rhodes hand beaded silk chiffon dress.  Valerie has always wanted to own a Zandra Rhodes, so she grabbed this.  Zandra is famous for her surface details.  Take a close look at the wonderful designs on this dress.

Leave it to the French! Thierry Mugler's 1980s jumpsuit has a totally different vibe. Jean fantasized about wearing it out to dinner circa 1986 at her old hangouts like Cafe Seiyoken or The Odeon.

Morphew also has a large selection of clothing that (GASP!) predates us!  These were so easy to find when we were young, and now they're just about impossible, so Valerie loved finding this red silk dress with green velvet applique.  LOVE the very feminine floaty sleeves, and the way the yellow hue in the green plays so well with the yellow hue in the red.  You can imagine Carmen Miranda wearing this dress, with a marvelous turban in complementary colors.

In addition to rompers and jumpsuits, Jean did pick a few separates to round out her selections, focusing on items she'd like to buy and wear herself.  prime example is this black Marithe & Francois Girbaud skirt that would work nicely with a zillion pieces in her current wardrobe.

And maybe to go with that, this fabulous Comme des Garcons deconstructed jacket, which can be worn half a dozen different ways. Valerie loved the juxtaposition of the shades of gray.

Another of Jean's favorite silhouettes is that of the harem pant. She went a little outside her comfort zone in picking something with color! These 1970s print chiffon harem pants are a terrific look.

Here's another Issey Miyake (surprise!!).   LOTS of great detailing, with diagonal ruching, for the fitted look, and an asymmetrical hem.  Valerie was hooked when she read the caption for it: "a killer gown for the not so lady-like lady".

An unusual choice for Jean, this vintage print dress (in the same color family as the harem pants) just spoke to her. We think it would flatter women of any age and most body types.

Valerie loved this black Kenzo dress with floral designs.   (We do seem to be skewing toward a Japanese aesthetic, don't we?)  Look at the tapered waist and flaring hem of the top.  Swoooooon.  Very reminiscent of Saint Laurent's revival of the Ballet Russes look.  (And don't you just love the red sandals they paired it with?)

This Todd Oldham jacket has the most flattering cut-outs around the waist. Although he is no longer designing clothes, via the Todd Oldham Studio, Todd is now into product and furniture design.

So those are some of our choices!  Take a look at the Morphew Concept website yourself.  You might find the one that got away, the one that was a smash before you were born, or the one you didn't know even existed, and now can't live without!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


While Jean is away on business, Valerie paints the town - er - her lips - red.

Way back in the early '90s I worked for two weeks as an interpreter for Takashimaya department store when they hosted a number of Japanese craftsmen.  The now late lamented flagship store, serving an ambassador-like role, flew the craftsmen here to demonstrate much loved traditional crafts.  Each artisan had his own interpreter.  I was assigned the bamboo craftsman.  At the end of the exhibition, the craftsmen decided to give the female interpreters a tube of Chanel lipstick as a token of thanks.  The Japanese are world-renowned for the importance attached to gift giving, and the Chanel lipsticks were the perfect choice: they have worldwide brand recognition, they are a small but expensive luxury, and the recipient is familiar with their value.  I was brought to the Chanel counter, and told to pick the color I wanted.  I no longer remember the color I chose, but I remember my astonishment when I saw the price.  "Who would ever pay that much for lipstick?", I wondered.  I used that lipstick for months, till it was down to the nub,  and when I couldn't squeeze another dab out of it, I knew the answer: I would.

I wore that lipstick for many tubes, so to speak, and was gobsmacked when I went to buy a new one one day, only to be told they were temporarily out of stock.  "But", said the absolutely gorgeous sales assistant, "can I recommend the Red Coromandel instead?"  This was the brightest, reddest lipstick I had ever seen, and I turned it down instantly as too much for me.  "No, you could wear this", the sales assistant insisted, ever so persuasively.  "Look - I've got it on now."  This put a different spin on things.  She did look great in it.  I walked away, but I couldn't get it out of my mind, and a day or so later I was back.  I found the same sales assistant, told her she had convinced me, and bought it from her.

I wore Red Coromandel for years, and the only reason I no longer wear it is that the last time I went to purchase it they told me it had been discontinued.  The horror!  The horror!, to quote Colonel Kurtz.  It has now been discontinued for so long that I can't find any good links to it on line.  If you look out of curiosity and find Coromandel, it's not the same as Red Coromandel.

Anyone who thinks it ridiculous that a woman could go apoplectic at the discontinuation of a lipstick color can be excused.  It sounds ridiculous to me, too.  But anyone who has spent hours or even days comparing lip colors knows what a crap shoot the lipstick hunt can be.  You can wind up with a pinky red or a raspberry red or a blue red when what you really want is pure red, or slightly yellow red.  You can't judge lipstick color from a paper sticker on the bottom of the tube; you can't judge it by a plastic replica; you can't judge it in a transparent tube.  And you can't judge it on your hand.  Your hand is not the same color as your face.  It's not.  So you wind up buying lots of lipsticks that you use once.   Not too long ago, my lipstick basket failed to close because there were so many in it.  Here's what I have after weeding out the space-eating losers:

Did you spot the Red Coromandel?  Yes, it's still in there.  I keep it for reference.  (Good luck with that.  I must have carried that tube around for months, comparison shopping. )  You know how colors differ from screen to screen, so this is not so much to show you the color as to show you the nub I'm holding on to.

All was not entirely lost when I ran out of Red Coromandel, however.  More than ten years ago, when I found myself in an international airport with hours to kill, I went to the duty free shop, thinking I'd buy Red Coromandel for less than the usual absurd price.  That airport did not stock Chanel lipstick, but it stocked others, so I frittered away some time looking for similar colors, and found Lancome Rouge Essentiel #50.  A good back-up, I thought, and bought a tube of that.  So when Red Coromandel disappeared from the face of the earth (for a while, you could buy it on Ebay for the price of a pony), I was not caught with my lipstick down.

Interspersed with others (see hodge podge above), I've happily used the Lancome for quite a while too, and just the other day I realized I was down to a nub (the nub below) again.

Off I went to the Lancome counter of a large department store, only to be told not only that this color too has been discontinued, but that all the lipsticks now come in a completely different kind of case - and have for some time.  This is what happens when you buy more than one tube of lipstick at a time: you lose touch with reality.

Now I'm back to apoplexy.

Several months ago I saw a glorious red on a friend of mine.  She was gracious enough to tell me the name and where to find it, but it turned out that it came with a lip brush, and is meant as a filler inside lip pencil lines.  Sorry, I just can't be bothered with that.  And even if I could have, the price on it put Chanel to shame.  "Who would ever pay that much for lipstick?", I wondered, and I know the answer: Not me.

And so the search begins again.   Just when you think your life is structured, one of the foundations gives way.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


Dear Readers, surely you have all had this happen to you - one of your treasures gets lost, and you make yourself crazy until you find it.  This has happened to both of us.  More than once.  Or even twice.  Or even ... oh, you get the idea.  So we thought we'd post about that.

Valerie's story:  I lost these earrings.

They're not valuable, but I love them, and it took me a looooong time to find a pair of black earrings I liked, so I was peeved when I couldn't find them.  I didn't worry, because my things almost always turn up eventually.  Not when or where I want them to, but they always do, so at least there is no hand wringing. Until there is.  I found an email to a friend dated January noting that I'd lost these "more than a month ago".  By the time I'd written that, I had done a very thorough search for them.

They're supposed to be in one of three small drawers of black costume jewelry I have.

When they didn't turn up in any one of those, it was time for a more thorough search.  Usually, they're in pockets of my black or white clothes, so I went through all of those, just like a suspicious lover in a movie.  All those things in the photo below that look like animal muzzles are pockets.  And those are only the left pockets.  So I went through twice as many (and we're not even counting the amount of time it takes just to see if there are pockets or not), but in March when I wrote to my friend again, the earrings still hadn't turned up.

Bound and determined to find them, I put aside some time one day when I could have been sleeping, and did a search so thorough I could have been a detective on Law and Order.  I went through all of the logical places.  I went through all the black and white pockets again, just in case.  I went through the black jewelry drawers again, tossing everything onto my bed and putting everything back by hand.  And I did more...

Readers, the brain is a funny thing.  This was best elaborated on by cartoonist Tom Tomorrow in a wonderful cartoon dating back to 1995.  It's worth reading, so you might want to double click on it.  I want to particularly draw your attention to the panel I've helpfully outlined in red.

Here it is:

So, even though I knew it didn't make any sense at all, I went through all the pockets of my colored clothing, too.

Not surprisingly, the black earrings did not turn up, but at least I could cross that off the list.  And while we're on the subject of what makes no sense, I went through the red jewelry drawers (there are two of those)

and the yellow jewelry drawer (only one of those)

and the blue one, the green one, the pink one, the gray one - and all the rest of them and - you know the end, right?  It wasn't in any of them.  And then I went through all my coat pockets, even though I have trained myself only to put gloves in coat pockets.  I'll spare you the picture of those pockets.  The earrings didn't turn up there, either.

On occasion, I have been known to put my earrings in a bag pocket, so I dragged out all the bags that have pockets in them, and went through those too.  Bupkis.

So the only thing to do was wait for nature to take its course.

Last week, we were invited to a fashion shoot, and all we needed to bring were accessories.  You never know which accessories will work with something you've never worn before, so you bring several choices.  Since jewelry can have sharp edges, you don't want to put all your jewelry in one bag.  You have to separate them.   For this, I have a little travel bag with four pockets.

When I opened it up, out slid a little carefully folded tissue paper (helpfully circled in yellow), and when I opened the tissue paper, there were the earrings, where they had been since August.

See?  I knew they'd turn up!  Never mind that I started looking for them eight months ago, and that they were in none of the logical places.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Jean's story:  When Valerie suggested today's blog topic, it sounded like a good idea at the time. She even suggested the jewelry items I should attempt to retrieve: a wonderful bright red pair of Kenneth Jay Lane bee earrings that have been missing for a long, long time. Always up for a challenge, I muttered "let the games begin" and, as soon as my husband left for work this morning, began the search. A note of advice for amateurs: To maintain marital equilibrium, searches through lots of random boxes, resulting in all sorts of detritus strewn about the apartment are best conducted in private, especially when one is already skating on the thin edge between collector and hoarder. One must also allow time to put everything back in its place at the finish.  Here are the earrings in question in a photo from our December 2009 post about (what else?) Christmas.

The most promising box likely to contain the earrings did not ultimately do so. Neither did any of the dozen other boxes examined in the allotted five hour time frame. Although I was unable to locate the elusive red earrings, I can share a sample of the flotsam and jetsam that surfaced during the mission. Just this week, when we were discussing storage and saving, Valerie asked if I'd saved any of the New Year's Eve glasses that we'd bought and posed in over the years. Of course, I said I was sure I'd tossed all of that. Aha! Not so. In the first box, slipped down the side in its original cellophane wrapping was this pair of black glitter 2011 sunnies. What are the chances I'd locate glasses from four years ago that she'd asked me about earlier this week?

Again, only a week earlier when we were passing the bodega on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg where I'd purchased them probably three or four years ago, Valerie quizzed me about the red and yellow handballs that I was going to make into a necklace. The added treat were the red rubber funnels nestled next to them in the box. Who knows to what use they'll be put? Anyway, the chances of me drilling the balls to string them into a necklace are only slightly improved by the fact that I now know where to locate them.  (It was so weird that Valerie actually asked about the first two items that surfaced in the hunt. I was beginning to feel like Ingrid Bergman in "Gaslight".)

Another find involved about four sets of red wax lips, very popular at Halloween, that we'd discussed using in a photo shoot that hasn't yet materialized. Again, just four more bricks in my boulevard of broken dreams ...

A definite holiday theme was emerging. These orange sequin cat ears were the next remarkable item to surface. Who knows when I'll need them, right? And they're brand new - still have the price tag on them.

But wait, there's more! A bag of dozens of orange and black plastic spiders was the icing on the cake. It seems like the universe is somehow telling me to get it together for a Halloween party this year. That is, of course, if I can find all this stuff again before the holiday comes and goes!

I'd totally forgotten about this multi-colored woven felt scarf. Here's to hoping that you'll see me wearing it this winter.

And last but not least on the hit parade of all things that are NOT red earrings is this carved wooden salad server. Its mate was not in the same box, but did show up in another and they've been reunited. Since I anthropomorphize inanimate objects, I can't help speculating whether I'll find them surrounded by lots of little toothpicks the next time the box is opened.

Alas, no earrings. So, although Valerie has found her missing earrings and I have not, there are many more boxes that haven't even been touched, so stay tuned for further adventures.