The long lost film of my beautiful, stylish mother

My mother and me

My mother and me, captured on film: 1960

I was watching an old 8mm film made over a period of time by my mother’s family friend. The year was 1960. Images of my younger grandmother filled the screen followed by images of my Aunt Lila. My heart skipped a beat – they have both been gone for several years. Next, a few week’s old baby in a carriage popped on the screen and it took me a moment to place the baby – which I soon realized was me. Moments later, she was there; as her image panned up I first saw the dark sunglasses – followed by a white sleeveless sheath dress. And then her sweet, happy face I knew so well. It was my mother. The footage soon changed and shifted, next showing my mother holding me outside what must have been her apartment building. This time she was wearing a polka dot short-sleeved dress – very 1950’s/early 60’s. I didn’t pay attention to the baby at all; I saw only my beautiful mother.

Moving images preserved in time and space – all coming together to give me a long-lost hug from the formidable women I have loved so dearly. And the one mesmerizing me most was my mother, squeezing and hugging and holding me tightly, reminding me what true style is. The outfits, the accessories are all important. But above all else, true style … is love.

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End of an Era: Donna Karan Steps Downs

Donna Karan at her fall 2015 show: Giovanni Giannoni

Donna Karan at her fall 2015 show: Photo – Giovanni Giannoni

Fashion news: Noted American fashion designer, Donna Karan, is stepping down as founder and chief designer of Donna Karan International. She will remain a close advisor to DKI under a long-term agreement but Karan plans to devote more of her time to her Urban Zen company and foundation. Says Karan: “I have arrived at a point in my life where I need to spend more time to pursue my Urban Zen commitment to its fullest potential and follow my vision of philanthropy and commerce with a focus on health care, education and preservation of cultures.”

Donna Karan launched her business in 1985 with “seven easy pieces,” a concept which revolved around a jersey bodysuit and several interchangeable items. My mother first discovered Donna Karan when she was a co-designer with Louis Dell’Olio at Anne Klein; after launching her own collection she soon became a role model to women and their needs. We both loved her simple and beautiful designs and sexy fabrics. Last year, in a discussion at The New School’s Parsons School of Design, Karan said: “For me, the body was very important — and clothing with comfort and fit. So thank God for stretch. I was the first person to put stretch into fabric.”

I called my mom to tell her the news; it was personal for us as we talked about the role that Donna Karan played in our lives.

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My Mother’s Skates

My mother's skates

My mother’s skates

Optimized-LGH_150224_5368-EditI learned to skate on my mother’s skates. Not that I am a big ice skater. Not that my mother was, either. But the fact that they were hers and now they are mine means more to me than anything.

My mother grew up a city girl, a native New Yorker. She remembers owning these skates in her early 20’s and taking them to Wollman Rink in the heart of Central Park.  Funny, because I remember being in my 20’s when I tried them out for the first time. I remember wrapping my ankles in heavy socks to keep myself from wobbling (I think someone had recommended that), and then experimenting as I tried to stand up without falling. And believe me there was much falling! The sheer joy of finally getting myself up on the ice was unbelievable! I remember skating around and around and around the rink. Sheer. Joy.

Shoes, or in this case skates, carry memories that last a lifetime. Because these were owned by my mother before me, the memories linger into two lifetimes.

Photo by Lauren Hagerstrom

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Fair Isle Sweaters and Growing Up

TFIO Photo: Patricia Saxton

TFIO Photo: Patricia Saxton

My second podcast recording with my mom, Claire, brings me back to the days as an insecure college freshman. My school was the ultimate in prep; a style that was unfamiliar to me. Here I was, having grown up trusting my sense of fashion, for the first time feeling unsure and looking to those around me to define my look. My first school break, I told my mom that I needed something called a Fair Isle Sweater and my darling mother treated me to not one or two, but several, and in different colors. By the end of my freshman year these lovely sweaters were gone from my wardrobe as I began to feel more comfortable in my own skin and see my style return (but still … how I wish I had at least of these sweaters with me now!!!). Most important, I was left with a feeling of love and gratitude for my mother that I will never forget for as long as I live.

Here is that conversation with Claire as we talk about Fair Isle Sweaters and growing up …


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The debutante

I am here on vacation with my darling mother Claire. We spent some time today talking about her fashion life as I learned even more about her. Here is a part of our conversation:

MKG: Mom, can you describe your relationship with fashion?

CK: From early on I was aware that looking good and dressing well was important to me. I always had nice pieces and was able to put things together.

MKG: Weren’t you a tomboy growing up?

CK: I’m not so sure that I was a tomboy but I wasn’t as interested in clothing until my teen years. I remember when my older Cousin Ruth (MKG: she was fashionable, too!) came to visit my mother in the hospital in New York and she saw me and said, ‘There is my Cousin Claire – the debutante.’

MKG: How did that make you feel?

CK: I felt pretty when she said that.

MKG: Tell me about the clothes you remember.

CK: I remember a pale yellow shirtwaist dress I bought in my teen years. It had a small bud print, a dimity print … is that the word? We have to look it up … I bought it at Orbach’s. I wore it anytime I wanted to look good. The colors agreed with me.

MKG: What else? Didn’t you have a red coat?

CK: Oh yes. I had a red coat that I wore when we took my parents out for their 25th wedding anniversary. I must have been in my early 20’s. It was a princess style, fitted around the waist. A person once stopped me and complimented me. I also owned an olive green Ellie Tahari coat that I loved (originally, I thought Ellie Tahari was a woman). I bought it in Minneapolis. You were a baby – maybe you had something to do with liking it! Years later, I bought a red plaid corduroy jacket at Ann Taylor. It was a Betsey Johnson … is she still around? …

MKG: Yes, Betsey Johnson is still around. I remember that jacket very well. You gave it to me eventually, which you have done so often with your things!

CK: It makes me happy to continue through you.

MKG: The 1970s were a special time for me, in terms of fashion. I was in my early teens, and like you, I was coming into my own style. And you and I always had fun and shopped well together.

CK: Going shopping with you was always a pleasant experience for me.

MKG: What is happening now?

CK: I never lost sight of the pleasure of dressing well. But I just don’t have the ease of shopping that I used to have. The mall shops tend to be like each other and not interesting. It’s hard to find things that fit well when you can’t get beyond the low-slung waist.

MKG: I don’t think they make things for women who are aging.

CK: Certainly not the waistline … But I do remember with affection that yellow dress.

MKG: Thank you Mother, for sharing.

What do you think?

p.s. we did look up the word dimity. It is a lightweight, sheer cotton fabric having at least two warp threads thrown into and usually white, though sometimes a pattern is printed on it in colors.

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