Not long ago I discovered my mother’s ice skates hidden behind sweaters in my closet. It was a sentimental moment for me that brought me back to the time I learned how to skate – with these very skates. My mother grew up in The Bronx, 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. I remember that I was also in my early 20’s when I tried them on 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. There was, of course, much falling, but I will never forget the sheer joy of finally getting myself up on the ice. Sheer. Joy. I remember skating around and around and around the rink for what seemed like hours.
Shoes, or in this case – skates – carry memories. They tell the story of our lives. Finding my mother’s skates, something that she had worn and loved, gave my story more meaning. I am waiting for it to warm up, but I am ready to bring out my mother’s skates once again!
Last Sunday I was at a college tour with my son Cameron and as I looked around at the other parents and their kids – I stopped in my tracks: I saw a really stylish mom wearing a dress with fitted, ankle-length boots to die for! They were black with a kind of mesh material and I was mesmerized. I saw this mother and son pair several times throughout the day and each time I noticed something else about these boots. I smiled to myself, too, because we were in the heart of Manhattan and only in New York would you see a mother dressed this way for a college tour!
Of course, I did pay attention at the tour. I paid attention when we checked in and listened to the student panel; I paid attention when we toured the dorm; I paid attention (especially) during the admission and financial aid discussion; and I paid attention when we walked the streets and talked to the many student tour guides who shared their admiration of the school. But, those boots! They stayed on my mind throughout the day.
I find inspiration in everything around me. I see something in a window, in a magazine, or in this case, in the heart of Washington Square Park, during a college tour. Fashion is more than the clothes. It is about self expression and finding a way to be in the world – to be the me I want to be. Everything spurs my imagination. This is how my mind works!
Kenneth Jay Lane in 1970. Credit Neal Boenzi/The New York Times
I read that costume jewelry designer Kenneth Jay Lane passed away at his home in Manhattan last week. He was 85. Mr. Lane was regarded as the first American jewelry designer to make it not only acceptable but also chic to wear fake jewelry. “I myself am a fabulous fake,” he once said of his success. Born in Detroit, the son of an automotive parts supplier, the process to create his own persona started as a young boy when he first fell in love with fashion. He left home as a teenager to fulfill his destiny to be a designer – New York City his destination. His entrance into fake jewelry began almost by accident; he had been designing jewelry in his spare time when he was hired to design bejeweled shoes, some with rhinestone toes and heels, for a Scaasi fashion show. He suggested that he create matching earrings and and bracelets and designer Arnold Scaasi agreed. Mr. Lane went to a five and dime store to purchase plastic bangles and asked the shoe company to cover them with the rhinestones. Eventually, Mr. Lane would begin his own jewelry collection in 1962. His creations caught the fancy of high society and within a few years he was selling to most of the Fifth Avenue stores. Quickly, his name was in fashion magazines and society columns – he, himself, lived and jet-setted with his famous customers and friends, including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Greta Garbo, Nancy Reagan and princesses Margaret and Diana.
But it was also his 20 year relationship with QVC where his costume jewelry designs would expand to the mainstream. I heard of Mr. Lane through QVC. Chris Sheppard, executive vice president of Kenneth Jay Lane, said a memorial would be held during New York Fashion Week in September.
I remember walking down Fifth Avenue with my mom, a young teenager just starting to get a sense of my own style, and seeing for the first time The flagship Ralph Lauren Polo store. Elegant and sophisticated, it represented everything stylish and sleek in my young eyes – quite simply, it was the home of fashion. Now I understand this home is closing its doors on April 15. Struggling with declining sales, Ralph Lauren Corporation will close this flagship store on Fifth Avenue, revamp its e-commerce operations, and cut jobs.
I am sad knowing that it will be gone; it will take with it memories of myself at a younger age and times daydreaming with my mother about New York, and fashion, and style.
Alice’s shoes from Shoe Biz – photos supplied by Alice
I met Alice when I was in 8th grade; I thought it was 7th grade, when I had just moved to Connecticut from California, but Alice reminded me recently that we actually met in 8th. She was my best friend and my lifeline, at a time when I was woefully sad to leave a California life that I loved, and move at the peak of my awkward middle school years. We were inseparable and Alice became a part of my family until she moved away to the Midwest – which, of course, devastated me. We kept in touch as best we could but it wasn’t until years later, when we had both graduated from college and Alice returned to the East Coast to try her hand at life in New York City – that we met again. Alice found her first job with Shoe Biz, a wholesale shoe company on 5th Avenue and 58th street, across from the legendary Bergdorf Goodman and not far from the entrance to Central Park. Their shoes were Italian, French, and Spanish, and Shoe Biz sold directly to department stores, including high-end boutique, Henri Bendel. Now living in Northern California with her family, Alice and I met last week in NYC and talked about life, our friendship, those years long ago in New York, and why Alice will never part from the shoes she still owns from her days working at Shoe Biz. Here is Alice …
“I had just graduated college and decided to move to New York.The year was 1983. I found the job at Shoe Biz through an employment agency, where the agent pulled cards from the catalogue as she tried to match me to an opportunity. She was about to pass over a job for a shoe model/receptionist (with a size 6 shoe) when I stopped her and told her that I wore a size 6! That was it – I got the job as a fit model and receptionist, trying on shoes for buyers – literally because my feet were the right size! … Continue reading →
What luck to turn the channel and find one of my all-time favorite movies, Three Days of the Condor, a 1975 thriller starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway! This movie is a must-see for the story, the acting, the NYC backdrop, and of course, the fashion. Redford plays a member of the CIA who finds himself in grave danger without a sense of whom he can trust. He meets stranger Dunaway, who becomes involved in his dangerous plight. I have seen it a few times and each time I relive the thrills and chills. It is a movie easy to absorb and what you also notice – are the clothes. Redford in a black pea coat with the collar pulled up and Dunaway in that 70s style that is so effortlessly chic. In one scene she wears a long skirt, boots, jacket, and winter hat. You can imagine my joy when I was able to recreate this look myself, the very next day. Continue reading →
What is it like to be a freelance window designer at famed department store, Bergdorf Goodman? What is it like to have your heart in New York City but to have found your fashion inspiration in London? What are the consequences of leaving home at age 17? Erin O’Brien knows the answers to these compelling questions because they make the story of her life and journey. Here is Erin, one-of-a-kind style originator, sharing it with us …
I was always interested in fashion but it wasn’t until I traveled to London when I was young, that I found my true fashion sense. At 13-14 I visited my family in Ireland; while there, I begged them to take me to London. Being in London affected me enormously; the edgy style, the music influencers – I felt myself being drawn in to it all and that has stayed with me to this day …
Being a window dresser is not as glamorous as you might think. It’s a lot of grunt work and hard labor. I have been working with Bergdorf Goodman as a freelance window designer since 1997. I work on the windows at Holiday and for special windows throughout the year. For creating the Christmas windows, the process is year-long and begins as soon as Christmas is over. This Holiday, I helped install and style the window on 58th Street – a “Bird’s Eye View” of a dog maze – highlighting the most wanted luxury handbags. I selected the handbags for the window, and I also decorated and installed the Holiday Shop on the 7th floor of Bergdorf’s … Continue reading →
French fashion house, Givenchy, will be making news this September when it shows its collection at NY Fashion Week: members of the general public will make up a large portion of the audience. Givenchy is working closely with the city of New York on this project; most of the 1200 tickets (820 of them) will go to real people and non-celebrities – registrants on a /first-served basis in partnership with nycgo.com, the City’s marketing office. And a portion of the tickets (240) will be set aside for students and faculty from local fashion schools. Chief executive officer of Givenchy, Philippe Fortunato, says that it is creative director, Riccardo Tisci, and his fascination with American culture that inspired the decision to show in New York: “Riccardo talks a lot about America as the origin of trends, very much looking at the streets,” he explained, emphasizing the influence of both youth and minority groups on such trends.
The date of the show itself, September 11th, is notable, and Fortunato is well aware of the meaning of this date to this city: “Of course we celebrate craftsmanship, of course we celebrate creativity. But we want to celebrate what’s behind that, a kind of purpose for the house, and a message of resilience. And a message of humility, because we have to remain simple throughout the big elements of life. Despite what happened, the strengths of the American people, the strengths of New York, are even stronger after 9/11 than before 9/11.”
For too many of us the fashion world feels like an exclusive place we can only view from a distance. So this chance to bring this otherwise closed world to the public is exciting. I’m buying it – actually, I really will try – to buy tickets! I will keep you posted …
“The clothes I work with as a personal shopper (a title I have never particularly favored) are an extravagance unto themselves — the price tags on many are often too rich for my midwestern sensibilities. Yet the true luxury of what I do is the knowledge my client has as I slip a sweater over her shoulders or zip a dress up the back that I was thinking only of her when I selected the garment.” ~ Betty Halbreich, from her memoir I’ll Drink to That
This is how Betty Halbreich’s book, I’ll Drink to That, begins. I first learned about Ms. Halbreich last year, as I watched the glamorous documentary, “Scatter my Ashes at Bergdorf’s.” Thirty-seven years ago, Ms. Halbreich became the very first personal shopper for Manhattan’s Bergdorf Goodman, considered by many in the fashion industry to be the premiere luxury store. And Ms. Halbreich breaks all the molds by being the best at what she does; using her vast knowledge and experience, sense of humor, and an honesty and truthfulness unmatched. Most of all, Ms. Halbreich listens and cares. Women, the celebrities and the well-heeled among them, represent Ms. Halbreich’s clients. They have been clients for years, even generations, and trust her implicitly.
But, as I begin reading the book, I discover the story of this remarkable 86 year-old woman. As a young girl growing up in the 1930s on Chicago’s South Side, she found magic in her mother’s closet, where the “clothes were my playmates.” I see that Ms. Halbreich’s story goes far beyond the doors of Bergdorf Goodman. Hers is a human story, with joy and grief and heartache. But mostly, a story about resilience and heart. Ms. Halbreich has that in spades. And I can’t wait to read on. I’m buying it.Well, I already did!
In today’s podcast, my dear friend, Kylie, and I talk completely off-the-cuff about the connection between fashion and self-esteem. She and I have known each other a long time: we met in New York City’s Upper West Side, had babies together, and are now watching those babies grow and move up on their own. Our lives have been full and hectic. Here is what happens when we are left to our own devices!