Sunday, January 31, 2016

Jacqueline de Ribes - The Art of Style

We had the great pleasure of visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute to see its current exhibition Jacqueline de Ribes - The Art of Style.  Since de Ribes was an internationally renowned style icon, and the show was such an eye-opener, we wanted to share our adventure and some of our new-found knowledge about her with you.

Jacqueline, Comtesse de Ribes is a French aristocrat, designer, fashion icon, businesswoman, producer and philanthropist.  First inducted into the International Best Dressed List in 1956, she was voted into its Hall of Fame in 1962. David Lees took this photo of de Ribes in 1985 wearing a gown of her own design.

Now 86, de Ribes planned to attend the November 19th opening of the show at the Costume Institute, but decided, in light of the then-recent terrorist attacks in Paris, to remain in France as a show of national solidarity.

Although she wore clothes by the most celebrated designers of the time, the Costume Institute exhibition focuses not only on her collection of haute couture gowns by such legendary designers as Valentino, Dior, Saint Laurent, and Ungaro, but also highlights her own designs. A striking woman (as all these photos demonstrate), de Ribes dressed to accentuate her height, slim build and aristocratic features. The dramatic portrait of her below was taken in 1961 by Raymundo de Larrain.

In the 1959 photograph below, she wears a dress by Christian Dior. The Greco-Roman design of her dress, jewelry and hair style further accentuate her own classic profile.

Her originality and elegance established her as one of the most celebrated fashion personas of the 20th century.  (Jean used to adore reading about her in W Magazine.) The thematic show features about sixty ensembles of haute couture and ready-to-wear primarily from de Ribes's personal archive, dating from 1962 to the present. In this 1959 photograph by Richard Avedon, she wears an Yves Saint Laurent gown.

Now widowed, Jacqueline is a countess by virtue of her marriage to Count Edouard de Ribes (m. 1948-2013).  One of the last of a dying breed of European aristocrats, she explains in her own words in the video below how she was born into a life of fashion.

Also included in the show are some of her astonishing creations for fancy-dress balls, which she often made by cutting and cannibalizing her haute couture gowns to create nuanced expressions of her aesthetic. These, along with photographs, videos, and ephemera, tell the story of how her interest in fashion developed over decades, from childhood "dress-up" to the epitome of international style. She was photographed more than fifty years ago by Richard Avedon, in this 1955 portrait.

A muse to haute couture designers, de Ribes had at her disposal their drapers, cutters, and fitters in acknowledgment of their esteem for her taste and originality. Ultimately, she used this talent and experience to create her own successful design business, which she directed from 1982 to 1995. Victor Skrebneski photographed her in 1983 wearing this pink gown of her own design.

While the exhibition focuses on her taste and style, extensive documentation from her personal archives illustrates the range of her professional life, including her roles as theatrical impresario, television producer, interior designer, and director and organizer of international charity events. The photograph below, taken in 1986 by Francesco Scavullo, shows her in another gown of her own design.

Want more?  Of course you do!  Did you see the link provided at the opening of the post?  No?  Never mind.  Just click here for background.  And here for great photographs.  And here for more great photographs.  And here for Judith Thurman's interview with the Countess herself in The New Yorker.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland

Jean, poor thing, is stuck in Los Angeles since her flight back to New York was canceled due to inclement weather, and sent this Instagram to elicit everyone's sympathy.

Valerie is reporting from New York on said inclement weather, also known as the city's second biggest snowfall since records were first kept in the 19th century.  (The first, for doubters of climate change, was in 2006.  And yes, we were here for that one, too.)

Even in the dead of night, the city was lit up by the reflection of light off the snow.

The city and state governments advised everyone to stay off the streets.  Cars were strongly discouraged, so snowplows could keep up with the snowfall.  Subways that ran in the open (not just underground) were stopped altogether to prevent accidents arising from snow on the third rails.  We had all been told beforehand to stock up on food, since supermarkets and restaurants would almost certainly be closed for lack of staff.

In the morning, as snow was still falling, I went out briefly to experience the snow.  Miraculously the local deli was open.  I asked the cashier if she'd had difficulty getting in.  Not too much, she said, but she would probably stay at the deli all night.  For the sheer pleasure of it, I sat down on a snow bank in the street.  How often does one get to have a leisurely sit-down smack in the middle of a New York street?  After a few more photos, I went back indoors.  On the radio, I heard that museums had closed at 3pm.

Nothing lasts forever, and pristine snow disappears faster than most disappearing things.  Here is a shot of the same street taken 24 hours later.

The radio said that all public transportation would run as close to normally as possible.  The temperature had risen and the sun was blazing.  I thought it would be fun to see what people were wearing on the day after the storm, so off I went to Fifth Avenue.   Snow and slush were everywhere.  Snow plows had concentrated on clearing all the major avenues, less so on the side streets.  All streets were lined with 1-3 foot snow banks created by the plows.  There was no crossing in the middle of the street.  Pathways had been worn at the corners, but the corners are also the locations of the sewer entrances, so many corners were submerged under inches of melting snow.  It was a day for great big boots and little tiny steps (so as not to go aslippin' and aslidin').

I'd barely gotten to Fifth Avenue when Robbie Quinn stopped me and asked to take my picture.  Quick thinking (for once!) I said okay, if he would take one with my camera.  The opening shot is Robbie's.

People at the Museum of Modern Art are often handsomely dressed, so I stopped there to see who was wearing what.  But West 53rd Street is now a canyon whose tall buildings make it impenetrable by sunlight.  Fifth Avenue was bathed in sun, but the entrance to MOMA was cold and dark.  I took a picture of the snow-covered Miro in the Sculpture Garden and left.

The more I walked around, the more my interest shifted and broadened.

How often does one see a well dressed woman on Fifth Avenue with a full sized shovel for an accessory?

A block away, snow had accumulated on the display windows at Louis Vuitton, and turned to ice.

Another of the hazards of walking the street was dodging falling shards of ice and snow.  I was almost hit on half a dozen occasions.  Across the street from Louis Vuitton, Tiffany had taken a proactive stance and cordoned off part of the sidewalk to force the collected snow down in a controlled manner.  From Tiffany's, I traveled uptown to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wondering if I'd see some interesting fashion statements there.

On my way, I saw hordes of people in Central Park.  In front of the museum, which usually has individual artists' stands, instead I saw a huge snowdrift.  A father watched as his kids variously sledded down the drift and tunneled into it.

Technology is allowing us to have lightweight coats with slim silhouettes that still retain warmth.  This man, coming down the great front steps at the Metropolitan, is wearing one of those coats.  What I really liked, though, was the way he matched it up with his thickly striped scarf with his thinly striped knit cap.

And people weren't the only ones dressed for the weather.

Despite wearing rubber boots up to my knees, every now and then bits of snow fell into them.  I made the mistake of not wearing socks, so these down booties really resonated with me.  (But shouldn't they be black?  Not because everyone in New York wears black.  Because... y'know...  I mean...  Is your floor always sparkling clean?  And even though they're machine washable, that's not what you want to spend your time doing, is it?  I vote for black.  Or even red, or blue!

A block away, I came across this couple with their daughter.  Everyone, but everyone, is wearing pompoms on their hats this year (although Jean and I did that last year), including this mother and daughter.  Oh, and take a closer look at the daughter's sunglasses.

These two young women give new meaning to the expression 'chillin''.  (And they're not even wearing hats!!!)

This guy, shoveling snow in his shirt sleeves (!) is also undaunted.  But another guy (not pictured) was wearing a full balaclava.  Maybe he was in from Hawaii.  The wide variation in how people dressed was remarkable.

I saw one snowman, in a tree bed, who was advertising for Little Eric, a children's store that faced him directly.

And a bike that looked like it might not be able to reunite with its owner for months.

I loved running into this woman, who told me her coat was by a Danish company, and her hat, which looks to me like a modern version of a Renaissance balzo hat, was French.

I wound up walking home from the museum, and not because there was no public transportation.  It was lovely to see the city transformed, if only for this short period.  There was one last treat in store for me as I made my way back.

F. P. Journe had a huge window display trumpeting his product.  It was so large, and the snow bank was so wide, that I had to stand in the street on top of the snow, keeping an eye out for traffic, to take the picture.  Here it is seen walking downtown.

Walking in the uptown direction, one sees an equally imposing but completely different time piece.  (You can see the reflection of the snow bank in the window.)

And straight in front of the store we see...

almost nothing!

If it hadn't been for the snow, I might never have seen that trompe l'oeil feast.  (Imagine how much time it took to prepare that!)  Or any of the other little treasures of the day.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Our Antonia*

Antonia's Bon Voyage Party
Photo by Denton Taylor

Everyone fell in love with Antonia Hemgesberg, who had come here from Bremen on an internship to work at Beautiful Savage, an online magazine of art and design, fashion, music, under the watchful eye of Debra Rapoport. They first met when Debra was in Amsterdam with Ari Seth Cohen for an Advanced Style Ted Talk and Antonia traveled all the way from Germany to attend. Debra and Stan Satlin took her under their wing when she came to New York City for ninety days. When it came time for Antonia to go back to Germany in early January, Debra and Stan threw a party for her. Antonia, below right, sparkles, as Debra pours sparkling wine.
Photo by Denton Taylor

Creatively dressed as always, Debra is an amazing hostess. (Particularly love the harlequin stockings.) She and Stan, barely visible over her right shoulder, create the closest thing to a modern day salon, where artists and musicians and creative people of all ages can connect. Click here to read Antonia's article about Debra for Savage Beauty,
Photo by Denton Taylor

Stan, left, is wearing a Japanese michiyuki (a coat worn over a kimono) that he received in trade for a Chinese robe he owned but rarely wore.  He paired it with jeans and cowboy boots. Joining him are Carol Markel, in the middle, in a hat of her own design, and Sue Kreitzman, right, in a coat and collar of her own design.  On the back of her coat is a large and hilarious reference to the legendary alligators in the New York sewer system.
Photo by Denton Taylor

Denton Taylor (who kindly allowed us to use several of his & Teresa's photos for this post) wore a vintage Jhane Barnes shirt, and Diana Gabriel paired her new red eyeglasses with red earrings of her own design.
Photo by Teresa Taylor

The guest of honor, Antonia, and Teresa, Denton's wife.  That Antonia wrote all of her articles in English is a testament to her mastery of our language.
Photo by Denton Taylor

Elke Kuhn, left, and Joyce Carpati, whose braided hair when uncoiled is about as as long as her strings of pearls, both wore shades of purple.
Photo by Idiosyncratic Fashionistas

The guest of honor photobombed several pictures during the course of the evening.  (Guests of honor have special privileges.)  Here, she crashes a photo of Nonnie Balcer and Teresa Taylor.
Photo by Idiosyncratic Fashionistas

Antonia, Carol and Joyce.
Photo by Denton Taylor

Yes, if you were wondering, Valerie's dress DOES look like it was made from the quilted paneling used to line elevators and cover armoires when people are moving.  But unlike elevator liners, the dress has pockets, so it's a keeper.  Jean embellished her hat with a multi-colored felt pin from the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show.
Photo by Denton Taylor

* With a nod and a wink to Willa Cather's masterpiece, My Antonia, in which Antonia travels west from Bohemia.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


While Jean is traveling, Valerie takes a toothy trip down memory lane.

All my life I've had a gap between my front teeth.

For the past several months I've noticed that when inhaling air between them (an unconscious habit), I pull in far less air than I used to.  So during my semi-annual prophylactic visit to the dentist in December, I took the opportunity to ask Cindy, my absolutely wonderful dental hygienist, whether it was my imagination, or were my two front teeth growing closer together.  I kind of wish she'd looked at my old x rays for comparison, but I was satisfied when Cindy told me that as we age, our teeth tend to move in two directions simultaneously: inward and downward.  That must be what's happening with me.

Thinking about the closing of the gap brought back all sorts of memories about growing up gap-toothed.

Readers, you might be looking at the opening picture and asking "WHAT gap tooth?"  When I was 14, I got a night retainer specifically to deal with it.  It never entirely went away, but four years of the night retainer got my teeth to the point where I no longer felt quite so self-conscious.  And I had been very self-conscious.

I don't remember anyone ever making fun of my teeth, but they were very different from my family's and my classmates', so I concealed them.  Combing through my childhood pictures, there are almost no photographs of me with a toothy grin.  My parents couldn't understand it, and I wasn't about to tell them.  It took a friend of my mother's, a professional photographer, to figure it out and explain it to them.  I'm tight-lipped in most of my childhood photos, like this one, taken at school in second grade.

When I was growing up, there was an English actor, Terry Thomas, who had a gap so large he could just about have fit an extra tooth in it.  My gap wasn't as pronounced as that, but it was big enough for me to fit my tongue in it sideways.  That's pretty big.  And besides (to a child's way of thinking), Thomas was English, not American, and old, so it didn't matter if he had a gap.  As far as I could tell, I was the only American with funny teeth.  And kids, as we know, want to look like their friends, not like old English actors.

One of the odd benefits of having my large gap was that I could whistle tunes through it.  I could also whistle the conventional way, by pursing my lips, but if I whistled through my gap, I could do that with my lips perfectly still, as long as they were open to let air through.  (And in perfect pitch, too!)

In 10th grade, I was bedeviled by the world's worst gym teacher.  Everyone cycled through Mrs. B. (not her real initial) at least once, but when they cycled me through her a second time I was aghast, because by that time I'd seen how many good gym teachers we had, and couldn't understand why anyone was saddled with her at all, much less saddled a second time.  (I think now that it must have been a tenure issue.)  Not only could she not perform any of the tasks she gave us (or was supposed to give us), not only was she burned-out and mean as a snake, she also preferred to have us standing in ranks for most of the period, either perfectly still or marching in place.  My otherwise very good school should have been ashamed of itself for allowing Mrs. B. to stand in front of a class.  She brings to mind Ma Barker (below) more than anyone else.  (If you are asking 'Who's that?', read a little about Ma Barker here.)

I still have my high school year book, but there are no pictures of gym class, so I've substituted the very reasonable facsimile below.  (There's a picture of Mrs. B., but who knows if we'd be sued for defamation.  So I've uploaded Ma Barker who, in any case, looks a bit friendlier and more fit than Mrs. B.)  See the nearly vertical line at the extreme left of the gym photo?  That tells you you're only seeing half of a very large class.  That's about the size my class was.  (My graduating class had 2,000 students, so you get the idea.)  See the girl in the yellow circle way in the back toward the right?  That's about where I stood.  (Fashion note: we did not have white uniforms.  We had the most awful green, and I say that as someone who likes to wear green.)

In the midst of a full day of academic rigor, where we had to be silent most of the day, you'd think gym class would be the perfect place to run and jump and let off steam and generally be joyful in physical activity.  Not in Mrs. B.'s class.  One day, as on many days before that, Mrs. B. demanded silence as we stood in our places, and after months of enduring her barely veiled sadistic streak, something in me snapped.  I began to whistle through the gap in my teeth, knowing that my lips would not give me away.  I was also way in the back of the class, which I figured was the perfect camouflage, as Mrs. B. never made the effort to wander through our ranks.  Again Mrs. B. demanded silence, but I continued whistling defiantly, relishing the opportunity to at last torment my tormenter.  What I didn't count on, however, was that Mrs. B. would single out an innocent classmate if she couldn't find the actual culprit.  Amazingly, she zeroed in on Francoise (not her real name), the girl right in front of me, and demanded that she come to the front of the class.  This meant she would get a mark on her report card.  Francoise stepped out of line. As she started for the front, I grabbed her by the arm. I couldn't let her take the blame for my bad behavior.  It was my transgression.  I thought I could get away with it, but since I couldn't, I couldn't let anyone else take the blame for it either.  But Francoise shook me off, shot me a glance, and motioned for me to stay where I was. The whole class was now silent with tension - it's never good to get called out, or to get a mark on your report card - but even so there was a bit of black humor in the whole thing.  We all felt that way about Mrs. B.  I took the step of defying a bully, and Francoise supported me by taking a black mark on her gym card. Even now, decades later, and the undercurrent of comedy notwithstanding, I am still humbled and awed by what Francoise did for me that day.

(The third time the school tried to cycle me through another of Mrs. B.'s classes, I played hooky until administration called me on the carpet, and I scared them into transferring me to a qualified teacher. But that's a story for another time.)

In college, young men studying English literature delighted in comparing me to the bawdy gap-toothed Wife of Bath in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.  It was great to have men wonder about me based on the reputation of a 500 year old woman, but that only piqued the imaginations of English majors.  The gap tooth reference was a dead loss on the guys in pre-med.
from The Chatterbox, 1880

Even though the gap in my teeth is barely noticeable these days, it's had a lifelong effect on me.  I can't count how many times Jean has had to ask me to smile for the camera.  It surprises me because I think I am smiling - I'm just not showing my teeth.  But when confronted with the photographic evidence, by golly, she's right.  I actually look a bit grim.  The big toothy grin, such as the one in the opening photo, takes a lot of practice, and still doesn't come naturally.

While we're on the subject of gap teeth, Terry Thomas's is not the only well known gap out there.  Vogue cover model Lauren Hutton has a gap tooth.  Here she is wearing a little cover on her teeth.  (Remember how big the safari look used to be in the 70s?  And how big fur coats were?  [But really, who wears a fur coat on a safari???]  That's New York's 59th Street Bridge in the background.)  Eileen Ford had told Hutton to have her teeth fixed permanently, but the little cover she had made for the purpose worked quite well.

Here she is au naturel, so to speak.

Much newer on the scene is Georgia May Jagger who, far from wearing braces or cover-ups, flaunts her gap tooth, like the good Wife of Bath, as a badge of sensuality.

Some of you must be skeptical about this post, since I haven't shown any evidence of having a gap tooth, and quite to the contrary have only shown photos that undermine my story.  Well, it was difficult, but I found a picture to support my claim.  I probably thought my lips were closed when this picture was taken.  Or maybe I was ordered to smile since it was a formal photo, and managed this as a compromise. Arguably, I'd say I outgapped both Hutton and Jagger.  I must have been about 12 when this was taken.  I was in that awful in-between phase, and I can see my mother still controlled my wardrobe and hairstyle. Sigh...  So, with much ambivalence, I present Exhibit 1.

I wonder if I was whistling.