Sunday, November 29, 2009

What to Wear to Chemo

We are taught from an early age how to dress for most occasions, either by instruction or by example. Brides wear white; mourners wear black. Corporate America wears a dress or suit most days of the week, and jeans or chinos on casual Friday. When invitations specify "business attire", "black tie" or "festive dress" we know how to dress appropriately. We follow these dress codes so that everyone in the group feels comfortable, and everyone has an idea of each member's role at an event.

But when life invites you to chemotherapy, what do you wear?

Usually this blog centers on Jean and Valerie, the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas. Today it focuses on Orly Ginossar, wife, mother, artist, international traveler, Israeli citizen, woman of rare style, and breast cancer patient.

Orly received her diagnosis this past May, only days before her elder daughter's wedding (when the picture at left was taken). Not wanting her daughter "to stand under the chuppah thinking about cancer", Orly kept the diagnosis secret until the next day. In a life that has been full of adventure, she soon afterward embarked on the kind of adventure that no one is ever prepared for.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Orly rose to the occasion with strength and creativity. Illness forces us to compromise on many fronts, but Orly drew the line at giving up her very personal style. She adopted some of the tricks that previous cancer patients pioneered - for example, eyebrow pencil to draw in eyebrows that have disappeared, and earrings to distract the eye. But she pointedly rejected others, such as wigs and head scarves, and came up with a few tricks of her own. In particular, for the course of her chemotherapy treatments (eight in all, between July 1 and November 4), Orly began to wear pink (echoing the breast cancer pink ribbon), and even went so far as buying a pink cover for her laptop and painting her bedroom a dusty rose pink to raise awareness in her home. She and her family have been documenting her adventures in breast cancer. In this week's Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, Orly tells us what she wore to chemo and why.

In this photo, Orly wears a pink shawl over a black dress. The shawl is actually a length of wild silk cut straight from the bolt. This was not merely a fashion statement or a political statement: it kept her skin covered outdoors, since she was told to avoid exposure during chemotherapy; it functioned as a mask in crowded areas, since her resistance was low; and it helped keep her warm in the air conditioned hospital.

Orly's cotton dress from Turkey is of different lengths and can be worn both backwards and forwards. She wears it here with brown leather Trippen shoes with turned up toes. Her glasses are by Theo and her "Owlita" feather earrings were found on Etsy from Annieland. "I never wanted to look ill", she says. "I always wanted to look perfect."

Unafraid to bring attention to her smooth scalp (which she shaved herself, rather than see her blond hair slowly fall out), in the photos above and below, Orly wears a floral headband with looped petals made of vintage kimono fabric, as well as a necklace of the same material, both purchased on Etsy. Her black shirt is by Express Design Studio, and her unlabeled black skirt is from a second hand shop in Boston, where Orly lived while her younger daughter was attending the Berklee College of Music. Underneath the black skirt are two black tutus and a contrasting white felt skirt (no label). The black boots, by Trippen, were bought during a trip to Belgium, and the red felt flower earrings, also from Belgium, are by Silvana Riva. Most of Orly's wardrobe was already in place before her diagnosis. Additions have consisted primarily of earrings and wraps.

Below Orly wears her pink silk shawl over a red silk top made of two triangles, with matching harem pants by RetroReproHandmade, available through Etsy.

The flip flops, one green and one turquoise, were combined from two separate pairs bought at Target.

The straw earrings, from a street vendor in New York City, play off the necklace of cloth circles. Orly asked her friends everywhere to send her large, bold, cheap, colorful earrings. This is not only a very positive approach to both cancer and style, it's also an excellent way to keep friends involved and allow them to be active participants in the road to recovery.

Orly's fabulous glasses, again by Theo, are suspended from a metal strip at the bridge of the nose that goes over the head and is held in place by the tension of the strip, and a short metal bar at the back.

In the zen-like pose here, Orly makes chemo look easy, although she admits that it isn't. During chemotherapy, she was warned to avoid any kind of injury, including insect bites, injections, cuts, plants with thorns, splinters, and even blood pressure checks. Naturally outgoing and friendly, she was advised to avoid people while her immune system was compromised. Everyone who visited had to wash their hands as a precaution.

"But I decided that I should make it easy for myself and be as positive as possible (hard!!!!!) in order to gain quality and ... strength." Her unique style, one facet of her positive attitude, was noticed by everyone around her. "Everybody has a comment", she says. Fellow cancer patients say "You show us the way", "You have a lot of courage", and "I wish I had done this". A nurse told Orly she had never met anyone like her, saying she brought "so much liveliness, so much hope". Orly has seen people react to her with smiles, laughter, and even tears. On the streets, people unaware of Orly's condition compliment her on what they believe is simply an avant garde hairstyle. (Orly says she intends to continue shaving her head after treatment is completed.)

In the photo below, Orly wears cold mittens and shoes at chemo. These bring down the temperature of her hands and feet, and for several hours following the procedure she is not allowed to use shoes, socks, gloves or blankets. This treatment helps to prevent possible later nerve damage that could be caused by the toxicity of the chemicals.

Below, Orly wears a wool sweater with lace-like designs by Kedem Sasoon. The shape is so flexible that she can wear it upside down, as shown here. The felt scarf is from Etsy, and the necklace of red and black felt balls was bought in Switzerland. The clear plastic ice cube shaped earrings are perfect for the Theo glasses. The skirt, by Odille, was bought at a second hand shop in Boston; the fabulous shibori tights from a "junky shop" in Israel. The black boots with fake fur trim are by Trippen. All the outdoor photographs were taken at The Davidoff Center at Rabin Medical Center, whose beautifully groomed and thoughtfully laid-out grounds seem to have been designed to bring a sense of pleasure and contentment to a place that many people - understandably - tend to associate with anxiety.

Here Orly wears a bright blue feather boa interspersed with ribbons, available in Tel Aviv by the meter.

The 100% cotton multicolored men's striped shirt by Muji, very comfortable against sensitive skin, is color coordinated with a necklace of cloth rings (all "happy colors", says Orly). The glasses, by Teffany, are about thirty years old. The short black felt jacket is from a second hand store.

Now that the chemotherapy is complete, Orly feels herself getting stronger on a daily basis. Always in search of a new idea, she had a small yurt built in her garden, where she can meditate, entertain friends, and draw strength from the earth.

As for her post-chemo style, Orly says "Pink is over." Three weeks of radiation therapy will start shortly, and end just before the new year, leaving all of 2010 open to new beginnings, and new adventures - the kind one can embrace with relish.

All photos by Orly's son Itamar, 17, and her husband, Shaya (a man of a certain age).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fashionistas Meet One of Fashion's High Priestesses

Jean says: It's been a whirlwind week, dear readers! On Wednesday evening, we taped our first local access TV appearance. (More on that, kiddies, at another time! Stay tuned.)

On Thursday evening, we went to FIT for one of its most entertaining Fashion Culture Programs yet, featuring Glenda Bailey, Editor in Chief of Harper's Bazaar, in a conversation with Dr. Valerie Steele, Director of the Museum at FIT. (Editorial note: In order to minimize confusion and distinguish Idiosyncratic Valerie from Valerie Steele, I will refer to the latter as Dr. Steele.) My Mission Impossible assignment from Valerie was to show up ahead of time on Thursday and secure us two seats (preferably on the aisle) up front. I lined up outside the auditorium on 27th St. with numerous other early birds: more than a few well-coiffed/well-attired professional-looking women, lots of earnest students, and several of Ms. Bailey's ex-assistants and ex-interns.

When the doors opened, I checked in at the desk and received my complimentary copy of the December issue of Harper's Bazaar, featuring the subscriber cover shot of Twilight's Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. (As Journalistas in the audience already know, Bazaar, under Glenda Bailey's stewardship, was the first to publish two separate covers for the same issue of the magazine: one for subscribers who already knew what to expect and another version for the newsstand, to attract new readers.)

Hallelujah! I scored two seats on the aisle in the second row! I wore a distinctive bowler hat and thought Valerie would have no problem locating me in the crowd. (Although I was channeling my inner Malcolm McDowell a' la Clockwork Orange, my husband had dubbed my look "Odd Job" after James Bond's nemesis' bodyguard in Goldfinger. Hmmm...) Anyway, I'd barely settled into my seat when, lo and behold, the hostess and guest speaker strolled down the steps and sat right in front of me! I have long admitted to having Fashion A.D.H.D., so I was in a tizzy: In between admiring Glenda's long, dangling earrings and marveling at her and Dr. Steele's impossibly high heels, flipping through the pages of my new fashion mag, and checking out fellow members of the audience, I kept turning around trying to locate my partner in crime in the crowd. I noted the arrival of Stephen Sumner, Glenda's Significant Other of many years, who joined her in the front row. "Silly me," I thought to myself, "relax, these things never start on time." Ha! At 6:01 PM, Dr. Steele and Glenda took the stage. I looked all around. No Valerie.

Through a series of questions, Dr. Steele led Glenda into a conversation about how she got started in "the business". Quite simply, Glenda said she had "a passion for fashion", and described the improbable chain of events that led to her landing her first job, as editor of a new fashion magazine in London; her next job as editor of Marie Claire magazine's British edition during its groundbreaking coverage of women's issues (e.g., child slavery, cultural suppression of women in Afghanistan), and finally, her current position as editor of Harper's Bazaar, here in the U.S. In between surreptitious but vain attempts to locate Valerie in the audience, I did laugh out loud at some of Ms. Bailey's bons mots: "The only job I've ever had in publishing is Editor in Chief" and "Working your way up through the ranks is over-rated."

After her slides of Marie Claire articles, Glenda talked about and showed slides of award-winning Bazaar cover shoots and fashion layouts, including the photo spread in the recent September issue of 1980s supermodels (Kristen McMenamy and Cindy Crawford, among others) sans makeup, and another with airborne fairies! At the close of the presentation, she took questions from the audience on a range of issues, including inquiries from students seeking advice on how to make headway in a highly competitive field during a bad economy. (She was very encouraging.)

Then, while I was unsuccessfully signaling to ask a question, from high up in the seats diagonally across the auditorium, I saw THE ORANGE HAT before I saw the distinctive grey hair or heard that voice. It was Valerie, in the nosebleed section, asking a variation of the question on the tip of my tongue. In essence, it boiled down to: "What fashion advice do you have for women of style over fifty?" [Valerie interjects: And of COURSE I mentioned our blog for women of a certain age.] Glenda began by citing Bazaar's "Fabulous at Any Age" - one of the magazine's most popular features, and now a book as well. She also noted that women over fifty should feel free to be themselves and express themselves through fashion. Not exactly the answer Valerie or I were seeking, since we have no problem expressing ourselves on the style front. What we really probably wanted Brenda to say was "Yes, I think that's the women's issue I'll tackle next."

As you can see from the photo, Valerie got to meet Glenda onstage, up close and personal. Valerie also humored me by carrying a hilarious tubular orange bag I'd found for her at a second hand shop for $10! [Valerie interjects: I wouldn't call it humoring. It's a fabulous bag, and I was tickled to have the perfect opportunity to wear it. It's just that it's a small bag, and it's hard for me to let go of my inner Practical Person. My mother called her bag her office, and now that I'm my mother's age I embrace that concept. (Yes, I have become my mother, or a version of her.) I hate changing bags because something always gets edited out in the process, generally by accident. Jean herself ALWAYS carries a bag that's big enough to fit two bowling balls, and just as heavy. See the photo below. One day we're going to photograph the contents for a future blog entry. I think there's also an emergency full change of clothes at the bottom of the bag, but I suspect Jean would never be able to find it among her other supplies. It must be vintage by now, if it wasn't when she put it in.]

After the program ended, Isabel and Ruben Toledo appeared (see below). Regular readers will recall our September blog entry describing the FIT Museum's mid-career retrospective of Isabel's designs, aptly called "Fashion from the Inside Out", illustrated by Ruben and curated by Dr. Steele. We had also seen Isabel at her book signing at Barney's on Fashion's Night Out (but were separated from her by the THRONGS of fans who lined up to get Isabel to autograph it and Ruben to sketch in it).

When Valerie and I chatted with her about shoes, Isabel confided that she'd designed some comfortable but fashionable footwear for Anne Klein which was never manufactured. (SIGH....)

Then we told Ruben how much we'd loved his illustrations at Isabel's recent show, and he asked if we'd torn any of them off the scroll and taken them with us! When he saw our faces, he laughed and said he'd intended them to be carried off. (Who knew? Now he tells us...Next time, we'll bring our step ladder!) [Jean can bring the ladder- maybe in her bag. I'll bring the scissors and crushproof portfolio.- v.]

Before we all headed out into the evening for our respective feasts and libations, Dr. Steele and Stephen Sumner joined Valerie in a group photo commemorating the evening.

Needless to say, Valerie experienced the same angst up in the rafters as I had down in front. Thinking I had not been able to accept the aforementioned Mission Impossible (not a stretch, given my habits of late), Valerie kept trying to spot me in the audience. Despite my best efforts to look like Mr. Steed (stunning Mrs. Peele's dapper partner in the Avengers, favorite '60s show of every hip teen), she didn't see me sitting in the second row. (So much for thinking I stood out in a crowd!) She'd been looking for me all night and had saved me a seat. We had a good laugh about it as we recounted the events of the day at underground Under Bar at the Union Square W.

Upstairs earlier on the main floor of the W, we met the rather exotic looking and very personable members of a band from Philadelphia and their friend, a DJ with a palm-sized remote-controlled helicopter. We'd run into Wes in the elevator where he showed us the electronic contraption that he proceeded to launch in the lobby, to the joy and laughter of an appreciative audience.

Jean is wearing a vintage Stetson bowler hat, vintage Comme des Garcons jacket, Brigitte harem pants, Lounge Fly bag, Gucci glasses, Kirsten Hawthorne silver skull and crystal earrings, Dansko clogs, charm necklace and about 10 rings.

Valerie is wearing a Hattie Carnegie orange felt fur hat (second hand), street fair reading glasses, vintage Issey Miyake shirt (second hand) and newish matching Issey skirt, stone and sterling necklace and bracelets from the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Searle wool coat (second hand), orange bag by Backyard Oaks (sec- well, you know...), and black suede Aerosoles flats.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Road Trip

On Thursday, November 12th, we took a road trip to the City of Brotherly Love to attend the Philadelphia Craft Show, said to be the best craft show in the United States. At 8 AM sharp, we boarded our Peter Pan bus at Port Authority. With thoughts of Tinker Bell dancing in our heads, we were promptly lulled to sleep by the rhythmic sound of the windshield wipers. (Yes, dear readers, we embarked on our journey in the wake of the remnants of Hurricane Ida.) Undeterred by the weather, we carried on, determined to make the most of our $24 round-trip tickets.

Luckily, the station was only two blocks from the show and the rain temporarily slowed down to a sputter as we made our way to the Convention Center. This year's is the 33rd annual Craft Show sponsored by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The show itself is a juried exhibition and sale of contemporary crafts by 185 talented artisans, including 26 guest artists from Korea.

[Photos: Jean, above left, and Valerie, below right, sporting new hat boxes.]

Once inside, our plan to methodically work our way up each aisle, starting at the far right perimeter, quickly evaporated as soon as we spied the first booth -- Ignatius hats! (Astute readers will recall that Ignatius was the creator of Valerie's fabulous Guggenheim hat.) Ignatius Creegan and Rod Givens are the extremely creative milliners behind Ignatius Hats.

Needless to say, we spent the entire first hour of the show at just this one booth, trying on an amazing array of (dare we say it?) idiosyncratic headpieces. So much for our resolution to not tarry long at any single booth. While they do produce very beautiful traditional hats in straw and in felt (which appeared to be selling like hot cakes, judging by the large number of women trying them on), we were drawn to their more esoteric straw creations, such as this exotic tall black, curvy number.

To create this effect, they take wheat straw plaits and sew them with a special machine, starting at the top of the crown and continuing in concentric circles to wherever their whimsy takes them. Located in Petersburg, VA, the pair travel to a number of craft shows. Do check out their website at to see where they'll turn up next. Two additional pale straw hats caught our eye: one that resembles a rumpled pacifier and the other that looks somewhat like an old fashioned juicer.

Obviously, one of the most distinctive features of their hats is their wide variety of shapes and sizes, from tiny sequined ovals to wide brimmed skimmers. They even had fleece "Who" hats for winter.

The photograph with all three of the straw hats gives you an idea of the relative differences in scale among the three hats.

Once we'd thoroughly appeased the hat gods, we finally moved on to admire the dizzying array of pottery, metalwork, glassware, textiles and clothing. The attendees of the show really dressed to the nines for the exhibition, so the people-watching only added to the event. The women in particular were extremely well informed about the crafts on display and many accessorized their own outfits with beautifully wrought handmade scarves, shawls and jewelry. After a few hours, when we'd covered about 75% of the space, we took a lunch break to cool our heels and compare notes.

Fortuitously, the famous Reading Market is conveniently located just across the street. The market contains just about any type of prepared food, ranging from Amish Shoo-Fly Pie and sushi to pizza and barbecue. After surveying our many options, we decided on crepes. While each of us enjoyed a variation on a veggie crepe (Jean's had feta cheese), we assessed the show so far. At the conclusion of our scrumptious meal, we were pleasantly surprised when our (French?) chef, who for most of our meal was perfecting that air of condescension required of all French chefs, presented us with a complimentary dessert crepe made with Nutella, fresh bananas and strawberries. Heavenly!

Fortified with food, we returned to the Convention Center to cruise the remaining booths with clear heads and full tummies. As we exited the show, with hat boxes in tow, we headed back home to the Big Apple. We can attest to the fact that the ride was both painless and economical. Since we didn't have to worry about traffic, we could sit back, relax and review the events of the day.

[At left: Jean shakes her booty at the Grayhound terminal. Compare number of bags to earlier photograph.]

Jean is wearing a vintage Stetson bowler hat, Comme des Garcons jacket, skull and star scarf, Michiko Koshino skirt, Dansko clogs and Lounge Fly bag.

Valerie is wearing a gray fulled wool Strawberry hat finished off by a gray and black pin in industrial felt by Danielle Gori-Montanelli (who also had a booth at the show); gray nylon zipper coat by Final Home over a herringbone wool coat by Tamotsu; a Jill Anderson fulled wool sweater with snap front, H&M cotton and lycra camisole, Huge Apple black cotton pants, Reiko Sudo black and white cotton ties around her ankles, and ever-so-comfortable-for-a-full-day-of-walking, if not exactly fashionable, Sebago shoes (apparently meant for yachting, but also great for land-lubbing).

Sunday, November 8, 2009

High Crimes and Misdemeanors

Fashion designers! Do you ever wonder why we don’t wear your product?

Here is our top ten list of fashion NO NO NOs.

Reasons we didn’t buy your otherwise really cool product. These are in order of most obvious and most often to less obvious and less often. So if your particular crime or misdemeanor is at the bottom, that doesn’t mean your offense is any less serious. It’s just not as problematic on a daily basis.

First, the list itself. For the whys behind the list, scroll down.

1. It had your logo on it.
2. It didn’t have pockets.
3. The pattern was only on the front.
4. The seams or hems puckered.
5. The material was inappropriate or poorly made.
6. It had poorly chosen buttons.
7. For shoes: inadvertent puckers and creases.
8. For sneakers:
a) multiple garish colors;
b) design lines implying speed.
9. For coats: no closure.
10. For patterned stockings: not designed to account for leg curves.

Bonus crime/misdemeanor:

11. For socks: too short.

We’re betting most designers already know about all of these problems. They’re thinking these problems are expensive to fix. From our perspective, if we don’t buy the product, doesn’t that make the problems more expensive NOT to fix?

[Technical difficulties: We're slowly adding photos. Please check back in the days to come while we see what we can come up with.]

Here are our reasons:

1. Logos:

If we were both named Carol Channing, we might buy clothing marked with Cs, interlocking or otherwise. But we’re not, so we’re out of luck. The way we were raised, if you advertise someone’s product, you get paid for it. Magazines get paid for it. TV programs get paid for it. And if you say that’s apples and oranges, it’s not. Guys who walk around all day wearing sandwich boards saying “Eat at Joe’s” get paid by Joe for what they wear. Tennis players and race car drivers get paid to wear logos. We pay for clothes we wear because they don’t have logos, and the opposite should also be true: we would be paid if we wore clothes that do have logos. Why should we pay designers to wear their logos? It’s illogical.

We think people who wear logos are making a statement. “I don’t know anything about dressing, but it doesn’t matter. I paid a lot of money for this, and a famous designer made it. As long as you know that, I feel great.”

Our statement is: “We look good in everything we wear. We wear our clothes – our clothes do not wear us. Our clothes advertise us, not our designers.”

2. Pockets: Everything should have pockets. Even a bridal gown, even a night gown. A jacket without pockets might be ok, but pants or a dress or skirt without pockets is for Queen Elizabeth, whose assistants carry everything for her. The rest of us need pockets. We do things and go places. Most of us are not Ann Margret, so we don’t need skin-tight pants without pockets to show off our figures while we do the twist. The police tell us never to carry our keys in our bags. That way we prevent thieves from taking our keys to the address they find in our wallets. The smart thing to do is carry your keys in your right hip pocket and your Metrocard in your left hip pocket (or vice versa). Then if your bag is stolen, you can get home even without your wallet, get into your apartment and console yourself with ice cream before canceling all your credit cards. If you’re a bride, you can carry lipstick or eye drops or a digital camera. If you’re in evening wear, you can carry your cell phone in your pocket so someone can ‘emergency call’ you away if you get bored. Your nightgown? Put a tissue in it, and you won’t have to fumble for the Kleenex box in the middle of the night. What if you fell out of bed? You'd never get back to sleep.

3. Front only patterns*:

We (the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas) buy clothes because they suit our personalities. Our personalities are 360° entities – they do not disappear when we turn around. So it’s disconcerting to try on an item with a great design in the front, and a vast expanse of blank in the back. Dresses, skirts and pants do not really suffer from this, but shirts and sweaters do, and so does lingerie. The design doesn’t have to be the same, but there has to be some continuity beyond the side seams. William van Alen didn’t say ‘Hey, I’ll just design the front of the Chrysler Building – no one’s ever gonna look at the back, anyway.’ He didn’t say ‘Well, gosh, it’ll save Mr. Chrysler a lot of money if I just do the front.’ He designed the whole darned building, and he had FOUR sides to do, not just TWO. So designers, your job is a lot easier. Do it.

In the photo above, a shirt from budget-minded GAP not only has front and back designs, the designer has chevroned the lines in the front - notice how they all match up - AND, as a bonus, made the lines horizontal in the back for more flavor. Notice too that there are no puckers on any of the seams. (See the next NO NO, #4)

In the photo below, William van Alen (center, dressed as the Chrysler Building) shows you how it's done.

4. Puckered seams: Seams and hems should lie smooth and flat. Puckered seams and hems detract and distract from the designer’s purpose.

5. Bad material: Every material, from polyester to silk, comes in a variety of qualities, and part of the designer’s job is to pick the right variety for the right job. Acrylic that stretches too much is not good for sweaters; very thick cotton is good for jackets, but not for shirts. Stiff or shiny material, unless it’s well made, will wear quickly at friction points. Garments that have formed pills before they’ve left the shop will look like little pharmacies by the time they’ve had their first cleaning. Materials have to be chosen carefully (and some materials should probably just get early retirement).

6. Buttons:

It’s difficult (i.e., basically, it ain’t happening) for an Idiosyncratic Fashionista to pay a lot of money for a garment that’s fundamentally wonderful but has awful buttons. Who’s in charge of choosing buttons, anyway? Sometimes it seems it was the pizza delivery guy. It’s possible to replace buttons, but a good button is expensive, and if a garment has, say, 12 buttons, that could easily add up to an extra $50 or more, depending on the button. That’s not counting going to the button store, schlepping the offending garment with you, finding the right button, and then checking to see whether it will go through the button hole. If a garment has bad buttons, a Fashionista REALLY has to love it to invest that much time and money (or she has to buy it second hand). Getting a new set of buttons is the clothing equivalent of taking your kid to the orthodontist.

(And speaking of second hand and buttons, button collectors who collect them at second hand stores, in secret, in dressing rooms, with the help of razors, while they are sewn to garments to which price tags are still attached, are not only violating the letter of the law, they’re violating the spirit of second hand shopping. It is a little known fact that the Salem witch trials of the seventeenth century were really about prosecuting button thieves.)

A Salem woman flaunts her headdress and necklace of ill-gotten vintage buttons as the children look on in opprobrium.

7. Shoe puckers and creases: The horror! The horror! You find what you think is a wonderful shoe, but on closer inspection you can see that the leather is bunched up, and where there should be a smooth surface there is an unsightly leather wart. In purple suede, no less. On a hundred dollar shoe. Or: you buy a perfect shoe, and two weeks later there is a crease on the left big toe, and another crease on the right middle toe. There shouldn’t be creases at all, but if there are, you want them to match. Creases are a sign that the manufacturer built the toe box badly, but it doesn’t matter what it’s a sign of. When you buy a professionally made product you expect a professionally made look. Shoes with creases across the toes look as though they have been stepped on or run over or worn every day in the rain for a month.

8. Sneakers:
a) What is it about sneakers that makes manufacturers think they need to be green and orange and white and pink, all on the same shoe? And that the green has to be leather, the orange has to be suede, the white has to be vinyl, and the pink has to be mesh? With a black rubber sole. Those sneakers go really well with my green leather, orange suede, white vinyl and pink mesh evening gown, particularly when I coordinate everything with my black rubber evening gloves (I wore the whole ensemble several weeks ago to an opening at Lincoln Center), but they’ve been very hard to match with anything else in my wardrobe. And I really do love them because I have foot issues and they’re so comfortable, but I haven’t gotten to the point yet where I feel confident wearing them with my blue business suit.
b) And why do all sneakers have to have speed lines on their sides? I have a size 8.5 foot that I put in a size 9, 9.5 or even 10 shoe. There is nothing fleet about either foot, and putting speed lines on the side isn’t going to fool me into thinking there is. I'm not buying them for speed. I'm buying them for comfort. What about a blue velvet sneaker (for David Lynch fans, or even for people who don’t get this sly reference), or a red suede polka dot sneaker? Now THAT would be rad right about now.

9. Coats with no closures: It’s WINTER, for heaven’s sake! Who wants a coat that doesn’t close? Women with 100 arms can spare two to hold their coats closed. If you only have two, as soon as you have something to carry, your coat leaves you exposed to all the elements. And anyway, don't you get cramps in your joints from gripping your coat so tightly? This is the perfect place for form to follow function.

10. Patterned stockings: We love patterned stockings, and have seen any number of clever designs. The problem is they are made for flat cardboard legs. As soon as a real leg comes anywhere near patterned stockings, the patterns stretch all out of proportion, like images in funhouse mirrors. A Kate Moss type will probably be fine in any patterned tights. For the rest of us, computer design being what it is today, is there no way to make a design that takes into account the contour of a leg? The ancient Greeks employed the concept of entasis in making columns which, though wider in the middle, gave the appearance of being straight. Stocking makers should be able to do the same thing.
In this photo, the striped pattern works, partly because it's strictly horizontal, partly because it's knitted. The polka dots, unfortunately, go from round to oval as they travel up the leg, partly because, well, legs will be legs, and partly because they've been printed on, and do not stretch evenly. You can see a bit of the cracking effect on the more oval dots.

Bonus crime/misdemeanor:

Mind the Gap!

11. Short socks: The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas have, between them, over 100 years of experience in dressing. We’re not crazy about stockings anymore, because they restrict the waistline. But socks are good. LONG socks are good. They look great under pants and (certain) skirts. Short socks, despite their fabulous designs, are prone to exposing that odd, indefinable expanse of skin between where the sock ends and the pants or skirts begin. It’s not erotic, elegant, natural or logical. It’s just an odd space. Long (knee length) socks eliminate that space, and the right sock builds an artful bridge between the shoe and the pants or skirt. We love so many sock patterns, and buy so few of them. All because the designer is only thinking of the pattern, and not the function.

So that’s our list of designer no nos. Anything we forgot? Please feel free to write and remind us!

* Yes, we know there are certain instances where a front only design is entirely OK. We’re not talking about those. One design on the center front of a shirt does not demand another on the center back. But a design all over the front demands a design all over the back.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to ...

Jean says: Invariably, when I am on my way to or from the subway or the bus, I have a strange encounter of the idiosyncratic kind... sometimes solo and sometimes with Valerie, my trusty partner in crime. Following are the results of some of my recent solo forays.* (Click on photos to enlarge.)

One September evening, after alighting from the subway, I walked east, turned the corner at Bleecker onto the Bowery and nearly collided with a beautiful young Asian woman dressed in black rusched tank top, black hot pants (OK, short shorts), with iPod and ear phones -- and black feathered wings! (Please keep in mind, dear reader, that Halloween was still over 7 weeks away at this point in time.) When I asked if I could take her picture, she smiled and said yes, but also added that "I usually like to dance like this," as she climbed up onto a 2 1/2' high parking stanchion and proceeded to groove to whatever was playing on her iPod, facing the Bowery Hotel. She was literally shimmying on a surface smaller than a dessert plate. When I asked her name, she said "Lawn, like the grass." When the song was apparently over and she finished dancing, she hopped down, turned and waved and continued walking north on Bowery. As her pony tail and wings disappeared in the distance into the crowd, I laughed out loud. She was an angel with an edge. I admired her verve, her choreography and her charm. Where else on the planet could such an outfit blend in so effortlessly?

About a week later, while strolling up First Avenue from Houston St., I came upon an amazing car. Every non-windowed or non-mirrored surface was covered with brightly colored plastic toys. Small plastic musical instruments (guitars, keyboards) and telephones mixed with small plastic discs, tiny action figures and 45 rpm vinyl records.

The effect was both startling and amusing, almost cartoonish. The amount of work involved was mind-boggling. The car's owner (visible in the third car photo) was dressed in an equally traffic-stopping outfit, from the Emmett Kelly school of haberdashery. In other words, his attire had a certain circus quality about it. The owner handed out flyers about an upcoming film at the Anthology Film Archives entitled "Automorphosis," in which his fabulous vehicle was featured.

(Apparently, there were more where that one came from.) I was quite moved by the fact that he was so visibly proud of his creation and so willing to share it with the rest of the world. When the movie premiered, many of the crazy automobiles were parked at the curb outside the theater, literally bringing art to the streets.

Who could resist a photo op, against the show-stopping backdrop of this jazzy roadster? As you can see from the photos, the wildly original car is quite a work of art. One can easily imagine Wile E. Coyote at the wheel, careening down the canyons in pursuit of the Road Runner, inevitably crashing the car in dramatic fashion. And if you look closely, you'll also note that I am actually wearing color! (Valerie says: OMG!)

On my way to the subway one morning in September, I ran into Jodi Head on Second Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets. A designer of rock star guitar straps, she is an East Village fixture.

This morning proved to be an extremely rare sighting of Mademoiselle Head without her constant canine companion, RJ Cash, a Yorkie. Needless to say, her little man is spoiled rotten, but, despite all of his royal treatment (outfits, toys, treats, rides in his mistress' bicycle basket, back stage passes to rock concerts), he is amazingly well behaved and people-savvy.

Although she was sans RJ, Jodi was, as ever, sporting tattoos and attitude in equal proportion. Check out those groovy purple-tinted shades that set off the long, feminine hair and masculine boots so well. Although she works harder and longer than just about anyone I know, she always has time for RJ and her 6 felines (yes, 6 cats!). Not the shy wallflower type, she knows how to work her outfits without masking her personality. Her look exudes strength and confidence and self-assurance. The French have a saying for it: "comfortable in your own skin."

One evening in late September, as I was walking to the subway down Fifth Avenue near St. Patrick's, I got sidetracked. (I have a serious case of fashion ADD) and ended up in Diesel. Although I do not own a pair of jeans, I inexplicably took a fancy to a jodhpur-like pair in the window. Once inside the store, however, I was thoroughly distracted by the presence of Dell, my bi-coastal saleswoman extraordinaire.

A strong personality, Dell possesses that lethal combination of a dry wit, quick mind and wicked sense of humor. Her tattoo collection is extensive and eclectic, to say the least. Her asymmetrical hair with bleached highlights and her piercings set off her tattoos quite nicely. Dell exudes a mellow West Coast surfer-chick vibe despite her somewhat "Road Warrior in the urban jungle" East Coast aesthetic. She sports black dog tags with poker chips around her neck. Her under-chin 4-jeweled diamond tat was a first in my book and she indulged me with a close-up shot.

(Oh, yes, about those jodhpur-jeans: I loved, loved, loved how they fit and hated, hated, hated how much they cost. Anything whose cost approaches $400 ought to include round-trip air fare to Europe or something equally fabulous. Any single article of clothing in that price range is an extravagance that neither my conscience nor my budget can justify. Ladies, repeat after me: Women of any age can be stylish without going broke.)

What all of the individuals in these photographs have in common is a strong personal sense of style and of how they wish to present themselves to the world. While such looks are not for the faint of heart, they suit their owners particularly well. This is not a easy task, as evidenced by their many counterparts who are not quite up to the challenge - yet.

In front of the crazy car, Jean is wearing an Issey Miyake Fete long black jacket and pea green skirt, Donna Karan black tunic, Dansko clogs, Lounge Fly bag, red skull ring from American Buffalo in the East Village, Gucci glasses and black Calvin Klein eyeglass chain. In Diesel, she is wearing her vintage black ziggurat hat, charm necklace, Kyodan jacket, Lilith skirt, Ice Pirates watch, Missoni glasses and the ever-present Dansko clogs.

*Because the time and space continuum occasionally prevents simultaneous joint outings by both IFs (Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, of course), we shall from time to time include entries on our solo expeditions. Fans of one or the other of us, please bear with us. In addition, however, it is very interesting to note that while one IF is sometimes intimidating or baffling, two IFs create a critical mass that is somehow much more approachable. While comments from passersby on solo jaunts do occur, they are not presented with the same frequency or urgency or air of shared intimacy as are reactions to our excursions in tandem.