Sunday, April 24, 2016


A Visit to the Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden

Last Saturday, we took advantage of the great Spring weather to attend the next to last day of the spectacular Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG).

That there are more than 30,000 varieties of orchids is mind-boggling. The NYBG had thousands on display. Individual blooms range in size from smaller than a dime to larger than your fist.  Among the first orchids we saw were these spidery orchids with fine long petals.

This pair of matte white with pale green features the distinctive 3-D slipper shape and looks quite different from flatter one-dimensional sisters.

This red and yellow variety is a colorful example of a slipper orchid.

Two flat, matte pastel varieties look even more gorgeous side-by-side.

Five rounded bicolor fuchsia and white petals surround the ball-shaped center of this species.

The variegations of pink and fuchsia on the five large petals on this flower are distinctive.

A tongue-like stamen protrudes from the center of these narrow-petaled blooms.

Doesn't this big bad boy remind you of a roaring lion?

The shiny deep oxblood-colored slipper orchid looks like it is made of patent leather.

Scalloped edges and white lace-like designs on these 6 pink oblong petals are particularly striking.

Schiaparelli pink striations on these cymbidium orchids highlight their wide, creamy white petals.

Shaped like no other orchids we saw that day, these deep red and bright yellow oblong flowers lack the big, wide rounded petals of many of their compadres but are showstoppers nonetheless.

Tiny bleeding heart orchids.

Saturated yellow orchids with splashes of deep orange.

The orchids were dazzling, but we were also captivated by the sheer variety of plant life at the Garden.  Here are just a few of the other wonders we saw.

Wonderful waxy blossoms (flowers?  fruit?) that hung over our heads.  (Yes, we know - we should have looked for the labels.)

A tender little curled up shoot.

One of a large variety of pitcher plants.

And this Dayglo colored spiky flower.  We swear we're not making these colors up.

The Garden and its spectacularly landscaped grounds, conservatory, restaurants and gift shop are all just a short ride on Metro North's Harlem line. The train station is located a half-block from the garden's front gate. Couldn't be more convenient.

We became members of the NY Botanical Garden that afternoon (it's a great deal - visiting twice as a non-member costs the same as a full year's membership), so who knows?  Maybe we'll have more stories in the future on plant and flower-centric events.  And maybe we'll see you there.

Sunday, April 17, 2016


elevator pad dress
photo by Denton Taylor

Jean has been hither and thither for quite a few days, so Valerie is posting on her own tonight.

The Jewish Museum has a real treat of an exhibition up at the moment - it's an Isaac Mizrahi retrospective.  As part of the festivities, a week ago Mizrahi spoke with The New Yorker's Wendy Goodman.  Mizrahi is a wonderful speaker - open, generous, funny, insightful, and refreshingly candid.  He is the opposite of monosyllabic, mysterious designers.  Although I can't reproduce more than a few quotes here, interested readers can watch his TED talk, Fashion and Creativity, or watch Unzipped, the 1995 documentary about him.  (Here's one of several snippets you can find on You Tube.)  That will give you some idea what it's like to be in his presence.

The exhibition is a marvelous potpourri, and it's clear that Mizrahi must have been deeply involved in  it.  It's warm, colorful, expository, well balanced, and just the right size.  On arrival, visitors are treated to a wall, probably 12 feet tall and 20 feet wide, of Mizrahi's collection of color-coordinated swatches.  Below is just a portion of it.

Twenty-four of the displays are supplemented by an audio guide that is so interesting and entertaining that the viewer could probably thoroughly enjoy those pieces blindfolded.  The audio guide explains, for example, that the 3-piece suit below, from his first collection, was preceded by a number of pieces in "subdued" "neutral" colors.  This bright, multicolored outfit, worn by Linda Evangelista and introduced by a change in the musical background, was a bold step away from prevailing trends.

Mizrahi is fond of mixing and matching in every sense of the word.  In this 1994 evening wear, he paired a taffeta silk ball gown with a cotton tee shirt.

This 1992 dress was labeled 'exploded tulip'.  Mizrahi explained that he printed this design onto a variety of different fabrics to see which material would have the most dramatic effect, and ultimately chose this silk crepe.  When seen in motion, the leaves on the tulip, which correspond to the wearer's thighs, come to life.

Mizrahi called this 1994 creation, another exercise in mix and match, the 'lumberjack ball gown'.  "I thought: make a ball gown something that she can actually have fun wearing... that she can actually apply to her life."  Thus the choice of lavender and turquoise over black and gray, and the plaid hooded anorak.

Inspired by Matisse's drawings of Ballets Russes designs, Mizrahi asked artist Maira Kalman to draw some checks and stripes for him.  Two of the results are below.  The jacket below (1990) is constructed of wooden beads; the gown of chiffon and linen.

In the photo below, you can see Kalman's interpretation of stripes in the beaded jacket (left) is very free and natural.  A close look at Kalman's harlequin design shows that there are no straight lines at all.  The lines all appear to be hand drawn - close to straight, but with just enough imperfection to give them a unique flavor.

The exhibition is divided into two rooms, with a narrow connecting hall.  As one makes the transition, first there are two additional walls of color, this time lined with Mizrahi's sketches.  Below is one of the two walls.  Mizrahi's first job was with Perry Ellis.  In many of these sketches, the kinship with Ellis is visible.  Mizrahi's love of color is also evident.

One display table shows designs not only with swatches attached, but with the name of the model expected to wear the design.  In each of these sketches, a variety of fabrics is used.  Even when the colors are more or less the same, they are combined with different textures and weaves.  The harmony of these multiple textures, colors and weaves is very subtle and very sophisticated.  Readers will note that one of the designs is intended for a then-future first lady of France.

These are followed by a small selection of theater costumes.  Mizrahi said that he came to fashion design through his first love: theater.
Mizrahi had a bit part in the 1980 movie FAME.
(Puppet by Mizrahi.)

In 1997, he collaborated with his friend choreographer Mark Morris to create three frog costumes for Platee, a comic opera.  Said Morris, "Being friends, I was very, very hesitant to ask him to design costumes for me because what if I didn't like them?  And I was more interested in us being friends than I was in working with a super, super famous fashion designer."  When he did ask, however, the results were as below, and gave the designer an opportunity to stretch his imagination and use zany colors, materials and designs.  Morris pointed out that in addition to being flattering to a body in movement, dance costumes must also be flexible and washable, further challenges to a designer.

Here's a still from the production:

In 2014, Mizrahi also designed costumes for a production of Mozart's The Magic Flute.  Below, the owl and the ostrich.  Interestingly, the ostrich's color palette of black and white has been entirely reinterpreted, with riotous colors appropriate to the fantastical nature of the opera.

The riot of fashion continues in the next room.  One of the most interesting dresses, the 1998 Baby Bjorn ball gown, comes with a matching baby sling.  Although the label reads "The birth of a child should be integrated into a woman's social life," probably quoting the designer, so much more could have been said about it.  Was this a special order?   For whom?  Was it commissioned by Baby Bjorn, or is that the designer's sense of humor?  Was it in response to a real life situation he was confronted with?  Any significance to the color?   This is the only instance where the viewer is left with more questions than answers.  The audio guide, which would have been the perfect vehicle for additional commentary, unfortunately makes no mention of this thoughtful and amusing gown.

The label for this 1994 dress reads: "Mizrahi worked with the charity We Can, which employed homeless New Yorkers to gather and flatten Coke cans.  These were then shipped to the luxury Parisian sequin maker Langlois-Martin, who cut the aluminum into paillettes.  The paillettes were sent to India along with the dress patterns, where they were hand-embroidered onto silk..."

Close-up of the paillettes.

Mizrahi explained that he made pants like these for himself when he first started working at Perry Ellis as a teenager.  He noted "they make the wearer feel like they have a waist, even if they don't" and "[the gathers at the waist] are quite pretty when they're folded down... They look like a little flower arrangement around your waist."

Another dress made in the spirit of turning convention on its head was his 2005 elevator pad gown.  "I've always been obsessed with elevator pads, always, as far as I can remember," says the designer.  "I also love the randomness of it. They just make elevator pads out of whatever the hell is lying around."  Unlike most elevator pads, however, this skirt is made of quilted silk and lamb's wool.  (This skirt resonates with me as I have an elevator pad dress, which you can see in the opening photo.  It's NOT made by Mr. Mizrahi, and until I saw this skirt, I foolishly thought I had something rather original.  Sigh.)

Mizrahi expressed surprise that no one had ever reinterpreted the classic kilt.  This 1989 dress adheres to tradition by using wool tartan, and leather and metal buckles closures at the sides, but upends tradition by making the gown body-conscious, and relegating the pleats to below the knees.  On the mannequin, the pleats are barely visible, but when the dress is in motion, the pleats come alive and accentuate the legs.

The workmanship on this 1991 show-stopper, paired with chamoix gloves, is so stunning that one wishes it might have been placed where it could have been better examined by the naked eye.  Seen from a distance, it might appear to be a print, or a computer-generated weave, but it is intricately hand embroidered, with a single totem pole motif that never repeats and continues on to the back.  The audio guide reveals that Naomi Campbell wore it on the cover of Time magazine, but there is no information about ownership, or where it was worn, which would be especially interesting in this case.

Most of our readers probably know that Mizrahi now does a line of clothes for QVC (and that he's a judge on Project Runway All Stars), but he continues to create couture designs from time to time.  The exhibition ends with three such coats, created expressly for this show.  The most splendiferous of those, below, is made of "sequined and beaded tulle veneered to neoprene".  The coats "are so not art," says the designer.  "They're just clothes."  But everyone who sees them will disagree.

The exhibition closes with a frenetically paced ten minute mini-documentary with three screens showing different photographs, changing at different rates of speed, all voiced-over with commentary.  Try as you might, you will not be able to take in everything at the same time.  My advice to you: sit through it three times, and watch one third of the screen each time.  Or, you might want to see the exhibition three times.


From Los Angeles, Jean sent this update on the Baby Bjorn dress that she found in The New York Times:

In his last runway show before the closure of his first label in 1998, Mr. Mizrahi presented another signature image: an elegant satin gown for new mothers.

“She just had the baby, she can’t leave the baby with a babysitter, and she’s just desperate to go to the party, right?” he said. “The kid’s going to have a good time, you know?”

Gisele B√ľndchen wore the dress on the runway with an infant cast by Mr. Mizrahi. “He was wearing earplugs,” Mr. Mizrahi recalled. “No harm was done to that child.”

According to my interpretation, Mizrahi made it for a theoretical mother and child, and Bundchen had the fun job of presenting it on the runway.  It seems doubtful that Gisele Bundchen is ever desperate about anything.

Sunday, April 10, 2016


Last Friday afternoon, we went to the Manhattan Vintage Show at the Metropolitan Pavilion, one of our favorite venues.

Even if you didn't know the address of the Manhattan Vintage Show, all you'd have to do would be to follow the fashionable people going there.  Valerie spotted this woman saucily floating down the street in her Norma Kamali sleeping bag coat.

She turned out to be Liz Friedman.  You've seen her on our blog before.  She never looks less than stunning.   She also designs and makes her own line of jewelry.  Here, she and Valerie play dueling cameras.

Imagine our joy to enter the show and run smack dab into artists and jewelry designers Carol Markel (far left, just arriving) and Sue Kreitzman (second from left, an early bird, just leaving)!

Unusually for us, we went on opening day, taking a little time off work, and were treated to a number of diehard vintage fans we don't get to see when we go on Saturday.  It was a cold day, bleak and gray, but a number of people brightened up the Metropolitan Pavilion with robust color.  We met a woman (Elizabeth, or Sweetheart) dressed head to toe in vibrant green - including her hair and eyeglass frames,

a woman with bright orange hair, a bright orange kerchief, and orange temples on her glasses (be sure not to miss her gold shoes),

and Karen Resta, with sunburst yellow hair.

We ran into Sandy Long, looking terrific in a great red hat and colorful print jacket.

Black is still king in New York, but there are so many wonderful ways to do it.

We found Lulu doing a completely different version of black and white.  The dress and hat are by an Israeli designer.  At her collarbone (clavicle to Latinophiles) the designer placed what looks like a light splash of India ink, with a splashier splash at the hem.  (When Lulu's tired of it, we want it.)

Bruce Mihalski from Hollywood and Vine was working his 1980's black and white vibe.

Collin and Brandon, who run James Veloria, covered both bases.  Collin's transparent shirt has a wonderful sheen you can't see in this photo, and from a distance looks like a fascinating new plastic.  The abstract designs are printed on.

Donatella, also from Hollywood and Vine, wore a sweater from the 70s, with the characteristic ribbing of the period.  The great flavor in her sweater comes from the large red and black polka dots that have been embroidered on with large chain stitches.  What a great idea!

Was Zondra Foxx meditating about vintage dresses and bouffant wigs?

We hadn't been at the show for an hour before we were each able to find a new hat. (Surprise!)  If you need to be convinced of the virtues of hats, let us point out that even if your weight fluctuates, your hat size stays the same.  Other clothes may get relegated to the back of the closet, forgotten, but your hats are always there for you.  We bumped into Carol Markel, and it turned out she had also bought a hat.  That seemed like as good a reason as any to take a photograph.  So here we are, below, commemorating our new purchases, proof once again that great minds think alike, even though they don't wear the same hats.   (Valerie's hat from Columbia U Consignment; Jean's hat from What Was Is Vintage.)

As an aside, we would like to remind you, should you buy a second hand hat, that it might be a good idea to wrap it in heavy plastic and put it in the freezer for a month.  Invisible critters sometimes make homes in hats, and from hats they can migrate to new homes.  It may never happen, but better safe than sorry.  Below is Valerie's newly purchased green hat in its brand new home in the freezer.  The brim is so wide, it couldn't be placed flat.  (The things we fail to think about!)  Instead it was placed diagonally on a hat block so it would keep its shape.  Sharp eyes might spot a red hat on the shelf below it (and chai ice cream on a shelf above it). In a belt and suspenders approach, even when you take your hat out of the freezer, it's not a bad idea to keep it in a light plastic covering (think dry cleaning bags). That keeps the dust off, but allows you to see inside. And keep your hats out of the sunlight. When exposed to light over long periods of time, hats can fade, and worse, they can fade unevenly if partially covered by something else.

What else was there?  There was this wonderfully graphic dress in polyester knit from BuisandWhistles,

and a colorful bag with prints of antique Persian miniatures at Patina.

At Andrea Hall Levy's Lofty Vintage booth, Valerie couldn't resist trying on these terrific yellow bamboo sunglasses and red and yellow bakelite earrings.  (The latter had a smashing matching necklace.)

Jean found this wonderful print skirt at Lulu's Vintage Lovelies,

and The Retro Shop had a fabulous Einstein print two piece dress by Nicole Miller.

This time the House of Findings had hilarious and challenging hats created by their friend Fernando.  Valerie wears his hand hat, and in the mirror you can see House of Findings' Mayra wearing an antler fascinator.

Check out this graphic print dress suspended above Amarcord's booth.

Valerie fell in love with this vest from Marilyn Hitchcock.  The spring-like color combination, the peplum shape at the hem, the shaping darts, and the careful way the pattern is matched across the center opening are eye catching right off the bat.

But the best part was the print itself.  Here's a close-up.  There are dragonflies and crickets (those are crickets, right?), but there seem to also be two varieties of flies, a little army of red ants, and those beetles could be potato bugs or stink bugs or boll weevils.  (Readers with an entomological background are encouraged to write in and set us straight.)  This fabric designer definitely had a sense of humor!

Another marvelous vintage piece was this beautifully designed and sewn felt circle skirt from Barbara Johnson.   Valerie figures (no pun intended) this would have fit her not too long ago.  You can't see, but it's not quite zipped all the way up and not quite buttoned at all.  As with so many things, that was then, this is now.  But some 50-60 years after it was made, the skirt remains as great now as it was then.  Valerie would like to thank photographer Denton Taylor for kindly taking the photo.   Oh, and the black jacket?  That doesn't really exist.  Valerie "magic marker-ed" it onto the photo with the wonders of Sketchbook Express.

And now for the piece de resistance.  How much fun is it that Carmen Bury of Atelier Montclair made these dolls of us and of Mieka from Another Man's Treasure and of Hamish Bowles? She'd also made dolls of Lynn Yaeger and another of Michael Musto, but they'd already been picked up by Lynn.

Imagine the delicious scenarios one could choreograph!

Mieka: Mr. Bowles, I thought you'd like to see this gorgeous little beaded bolero. Look - it has a Balenciaga label.

Hamish Bowles: Hmmm. This might be an original...

Jean and Valerie (in unison): I SAW IT FIRST!!!!