A Parisian Treasure

Sonia Rykiel

Sonia Rykiel: copyright Sonia Rykiel

First I made a dress because I was pregnant and I wanted to be the most beautiful pregnant woman. Then I made a sweater because I wanted to have one that wasn’t like anyone else’s. ~ Sonia Rykiel

And it wasn’t like anyone else’s. Fashion designer Sonia Rykiel designed with women and beauty in mind; in a career that spanned nearly 50 years, Ms. Rykiel created clothing for the woman who wanted great style and value. The sad news from Paris yesterday that Sonia Rykiel died at the age of 86 leaves the fashion world a little darker. Reading about the life of Ms. Rykiel I am struck by her creativity and willingness to take risks.

In 1961, when she was pregnant with her second child, Ms. Rykiel began designing clothing that celebrated her body and the joy she felt to be pregnant. She wasn’t seeing maternity clothes that reflected her attitude – at that time maternity wear was designed to cover and hide. She started with a single dress: “I wanted to show the world how happy I was,” Ms. Rykiel told Newsweek in 1976. “My mother-in-law was scandalized, but my friends asked how they could find one like it.” She forged ahead without any formal design training – just her instinct – opening her first boutique on Paris’s Left Bank in 1968 with maternity wear and poor-boy knits (for which she was best known), developing a following and huge popularity. She continued to design chic, ready-to-wear pieces that were appreciated by women of all ages, without an age group in mind.

I find it interesting that Sonia Rykiel is likened to Coco Chanel because of the way their designs freed women from the outdated fashion restrictions of their day. Both were risk-takers and pioneers. And quintessentially French. In 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy named her a grand commander of the legion for lifetime service to the French fashion industry. Yes, a true Parisian treasure.

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Farewell to Downton Abbey Fashion

DowntonAbbeyHatsThe-final-ever-episode-saw-her-marry-Bertie-Pelham-422594Oh, Downton Abbey! So sad to see you go. The characters, the drama, the fashion! Yes, I will miss the fashion. Especially when things were getting so interesting. The fashion of the 1920’s is so much fun: the cloche hats, the long pearls, the dresses – simple, color-blocked, … all so very Coco Chanel. And the women were getting so interesting, too: strong and independent – the clothes reflecting this change.

Farewell, Downton. My fashion fave!

 

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Embracing My Color Palette

My Forever Ring of Colors!

My Forever Ring of Colors! Photo by Lauren Hagerstrom

There is a quote from fashion icon Coco Chanel: “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” I think the same could be said about dressing with color: wear the wrong color and you notice the color; wear the right color and you notice the woman … Let’s talk color palette.

I thought I knew my best colors – the ones that bring out the best me. I know, for instance, that the moment I put on a cherry red, I feel happy. I see my eyes pop and my skin shine. I know that I have always loved wearing pink and have a long history with pink (my mother tells me I have been a fan of pink since I was three years old). And I know that I wear a lot of black and white and have come to love wearing brown – but I can’t tell you why. Because I realize that I don’t know it all. I still make mistakes with color – and more often than I would like to admit. And because I want to understand my colors and make good choices and fewer mistakes, I took matters into my own hands and had a color consultation with experts. Continue reading

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Oh, What a BABE!

Barbara 'Babe' Cushing Mortimer Paley , Vogue, 1946

Barbara ‘Babe’ Cushing Mortimer Paley , Vogue, 1946

Whatever she wore, she wore in a way you would never forget.” ~ Oscar de la Renta

I vaguely remember hearing her name, but I had no idea that there was such a Babe in American fashion history. Barbara “Babe” Paley (1915-1978) was a fashion influencer and true style icon; I began reading about her and her two sisters Minnie and Betsey Cushing in the book, “The Sisters,” by David Grafton. And then the flood gates of my mind opened and I couldn’t know enough about this statuesque socialite and much-loved personality. Born to wealth and prominence as the daughter of a Boston neurosurgeon, Babe and her two older sisters (under the guidance of their socially ambitious mother) made marrying- well their careers and gained further popularity in high society circles. It was here that Babe Paley with her striking good looks, bone structure, and model figure, entered the stratosphere of high style and became universally admired for her fashion sense. Continue reading

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Discovering Paris at 23

At graduation: Emilie-Rose with her parents. Her dress is

At graduation: Emilie-Rose with her parents. Her graduation dress is from a French company called, ‘The Kooples

Last November, I met Emilie-Rose; a 22 year-old young woman, born in Paris, attending her last year of University in Cantebury, England. Now, at 23, Emilie-Rose has graduated (on July 18th – the hottest day of the year!) and is set to begin her life journey, adventure, and discovery. She has not lived in Paris for five years, but her journey takes her back home, to the heart of Paris, where her family has been living, and where she herself lived for 18 years. How is she feeling? What is she thinking about returning to Paris? Emilie-Rose had this to say:

I am excited to be back in Paris. After being away for a while, I have a new appreciation for Paris and I feel as if I have a chance to rediscover the city, and see it with new eyes. I have a few project ideas that involve discovering Paris. The city is built like a snail; there are 20 districts, called arrondissements, located spirally around the historic center, and each is given a number. My plan is to visit each arrondissement, spend a few days, and document the flavor of each: the food, the fashion, the look and the feel. I grew up in the heart of Paris, in Arrondissement #2, and I never really appreciated the beauty of this city until now. I look forward to taking this on …

The contemporary Parisian woman has become more trendy, with a somewhat laid-back fashion flair. You will find more young, Parisian women wearing sneakers with leather pants and leather jackets. My own style is shifting; I used to dress more girly, but I have realized that it’s okay to dress comfortably. I still love to wear dresses, but my favorite things now are striped shirts called marinieres, a very French style of white shirt with navy stripes, which sailors wore and were later made fashionable by Coco Chanel; I wear a lot of those. I notice that many people in my age group are dressing like me. I also like dressing high/low, mixing higher-end pieces with low-end fashion finds. Recently, I have been following Lucy Williams, creator of, Fashion Me Now, and I really connect with her style and her look.

I like to think that while I was in college, I made an effort to dress with style. Now that I have graduated and am returning to Paris, I look forward to seeing where my style, and the road, take me.” ~ Emilie-Rose

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“Out damn’d spot! out, I say!”

P1040509This spring, I had one new clothing purchase in mind: a blue and white striped, Breton t-shirt. It’s classic and comfortable and a versatile item to have in your wardrobe, made popular by none other than Coco Chanel herself. I searched and finally found mine at British retailer, Boden. It had everything that I wanted: the sturdy cotton, the right fit, and the best price. And then, I wore it ... twice …

I was simply doing some cleaning in the kitchen, when I looked down, and there they were – two, gross, brown spots. Of course, on the whites of the tee. I panicked. Continue reading

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Cristobal Balenciaga

Cristobal Balanciaga - copyright Lipnitzki/Roger-Viollet/The Image Works

Cristobal Balanciaga’s Paris Portrait – 1927 – copyright Lipnitzki/Roger-Viollet/The Image Works

Isn’t that a beautiful name? Doesn’t it just ooze glamour and roll off your tongue? I never knew much about him except that there was a beautiful handbag designed by Balenciaga introduced a few years ago. Mary Blume (a native New Yorker who lives in Paris) has written a book that brings his story to life: The Master of us All, Balenciaga: His Workrooms, His World. After reading the book I am touched to see how someone so intensely private could become so successful and revered; it reminds me of the power of genius. Allow me to share with you some facts about Cristobal Balenciaga:

– he was very private and he avoided photos of himself, he never gave an interview in his years as a designer, he never took a bow at the end of a collection, and he remained a mystery throughout this life Continue reading

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“The Empress Vreeland”

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Diana Vreeland in the office of Vogue
Photo courtesy of film, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, her granddaughter-in-law

I wasn’t a fashion editor – I was the one and only fashion editor.” ~ Diana Vreeland

My holiday break has been about spending time with my family … and watching movies. Movies like, Hitchcock, Lincoln, Argo, The Silver Linings Playbook, (all wonderful films, by the way), and today a movie just for me: the documentary called Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. I must confess that I did not know very much about the iconic editor before seeing the film. The woman and the movie are fascinating and I was moved by her life and her story; much of the documentary is told in her own words, in her own voice.

She was born in Paris in 1903, during La Belle Epoque, to a life of adventure and beauty and Le Ballets Russes, where, according to Mrs. Vreeland: “my education was the world,” and to live a happy life, “the first thing to be done is to arrange to be born in Paris. Everything else happens quite naturally.” But it was her mother, who told her that she was the ugly duckling of the family, who may have inspired Mrs. Vreeland to dream her big dreams, spark her desire to stand out from the crowd, and be where the action is. After she met and married the very winning bachelor, Reed Vreeland, she says that her mother’s words no longer hurt her, and “Reed made me feel beautiful no matter what my mother made me think.” Oh and by the way, while living in Paris, she met Coco Chanel, with whom she says she was very close.

Her family later moved to New York, and eventually, as a grown and married woman without any formal education or training, found her first job as a columnist for Harper’s Bazaar Magazine. Her column? Why Don’t You? A sort-of-how-to, way out, eccentric but  tried and true fashion Q&A, that represented her first step into a career in fashion, which she continued writing until the onset of World War II. She stopped when she believed the column to be frivolous. But Mrs. Vreeland’s role at Harper’s Bazaar grew and she would eventually become a fashion editor: the first of her kind in a role that she truly invented. Before that, magazines like Harper’s Bazaar didn’t have fashion editors; the role of women and fashion was more about society ladies dealing with the social do’s and don’ts of running a household, including how to make pies. But Mrs. Vreeland revolutionized that: she gave fashion a bigger, exotic life, she took people to new places they couldn’t reach on their own, she launched the careers of actors like Lauren Bacall, and put bikinis and blue jeans on the map. And after 26 years as editor of Harper’s Bazaar, she moved to Vogue, where she would become editor-in-chief during the explosive 1960s and set the world on fire again, turning a sleepy magazine into a global fashion runway.

She did it all her way. She was an original with a vision – always a vision. And I wonder, as I often do, what gives someone that indescribable drive? I am left with a compelling thought; that beyond her success in the fashion world, it is perhaps her personal story of drive and determination to find her own way and step away from the ugly duckling messages that her mother placed on her, to stop at nothing to express who she really was: magnificent. Here she is, in her own words:

I think when you’re young you should be a lot with yourself and your sufferings. Then one day you get out where the sun shines and the rain rains and the snow snows and it all comes together.” ~ Diana Vreeland

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A young Diana Vreeland

 

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