‘Tis the Season for Hats

One of Ms. Colon-Lugo’s creations
Credit Dina Litovsky for The New York Times

Tomorrow marks the 143rd running of The Kentucky Derby – a day for horses and hats! Extravagant hats. That is why the recent New York Times feature about milliner Ellen Christine Colon-Lugo, is inspiring. This is Ms. Colon-Lugo’s, owner of Ellen Christine Millinery in West SoHo, New York, busiest season. And she herself has already spent hours preparing hats for women who will wear them at tomorrow’s Derby. Not to mention that May 15 marks Straw Hat Day, when people used to trade in their winter felt hats for spring hats.

Ms. Colon-Lugo has quite a story: she studied costume design at the School of Fashion Design in Boston and later at New York University. Her hats have adorned the covers of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and W Magazine, and she is president of the Milliners Guild in New York. Says Colon-Lugo, “The idea of balance is very important in a hat. I don’t do yoga, I do hats. Hats reveal our inner characters, and we have many of them.

Which of her hats will be watching the Kentucky Derby tomorrow?

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A Colombian Connection

Credit Corentin Fohlen for The New York Times

I have Colombian blood. I don’t think about it all the time but it is surely with me. When I see someone who is from Colombia I look carefully for something I recognize in myself. Something – I don’t know what. I guess I am looking for a connection. And when I hear about someone who is from Colombia, I take notice. It happened recently when I read that Nina Garcia, fashion journalist and critic (and long-time judge on Project Runway) is Colombian. And it happened today when I read the sad news that Colombian fashion designer and president of luxury handbag and accessories brand Nancy Gonzalez, Santiago Barberi Gonzalez, passed away. And so sad too, that he was only 40 years old. I didn’t know anything about the brand, but reading that it was deeply admired and that it’s design aesthetic was rooted in the natural beauty and rich culture of Colombia, touched me. And hearing about the kind of person Gonzalez was did connect me in some way – to his humanity. He sounded very special. As it happens, he and Nina Garcia were friends – she wrote on Instagram, “He was a star.”

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Don’t Dress Your Age?

Lucinda Chambers, fashion director at British Vogue. Credit Marcy Swingle for The New York Times

Lucinda Chambers, fashion director at British Vogue. Credit Marcy Swingle for The New York Times

So what does it actually mean to dress like an “old lady”? Or even just “dress your age”? Women are more often criticized for dressing like younger, not older, versions of themselves. When you reach 40, you’re suddenly inundated with advice about “age-appropriate” wear. ~ Julia Baird, New York Times

A few weeks ago I read a fascinating article in The New York Times: Don’t Dress Your Age, by Julia Baird. I loved reading this commentary. Bad to dress younger than your age but worse still, to dress older and age yourself out of the mix. What is a woman to do? And “finally, we are told to smile more. ‘The sulky, not bothered expression which you may think cool (see Victoria Beckham) will in your 40s start to look sour,’ writes The Telegraph’s adviser.

Be perky but not too young. Show some skin but don’t reveal too much. Don’t show off but don’t let yourself go. Again I ask, what is a woman to do?

Maybe the answer is this: don’t get sucked in by the don’ts – just the do’s – be yourself.

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Where Clothes and Fabrics Only Sell for ‘Happy Money’

Purushottam Goyal and Saroj Goyal have been married for 46 years. Credit Santiago Mejia/The New York Times

Purushottam Goyal and Saroj Goyal: Credit Santiago Mejia/The New York Times

Saroj Goyal organized fabrics at Dress Shoppe II, an Indian textiles store in the East Village. Credit Santiago Mejia/The New York Times

Saroj Goyal organizes fabrics at Dress Shoppe II: Credit Santiago Mejia/The New York Times

Yesterday’s New York Times’ Metropolitan Section featured a story about an East Village shop, owned by couple, Purushottam Goyal and Saroj Goyal. The Goyals have owned Dress Shoppe II since 1878 when it was originally, Dress Shoppe. Mr. Goyal has garnered favorites of the shop, where the main offering is Indian clothing made of cotton, silk and linen – and where his business philosophy is full of kharmic charm: “Just relax, and if you feel something, buy it. We want only happy money.” Among the favorites is costume designer, Katie Novello, who shopped at Dress Shoppe II to buy outfits for the cast of Hulu show, “The Path.” “It is a treasure trove,” according to Novello, who, as a costume designer spends huge amounts of time shopping for the perfect pieces to tell a character’s story.

The Goyals were about to close shop at the end of the year but they received so many letters from customers that they decided to postpone their retirement until 2018, which will be the store’s 40 anniversary. I must make a trip to this shop – this magical place where fabrics only sell for ‘Happy Money’ – and meet the Goyals myself. I love their message!

 

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“The Best Fashion Show is Definitely On the Street …”

Photo: Steven Lane, New York Times reader

Photo: Steven Lane, New York Times reader

always has been and always will be.” ~ Bill Cunningham

News of the passing of New York Times photographer, Bill Cunningham, hit me hard. He was the friend I never met. His on-the-street fashion musings have long inspired me (you may remember that I referenced him often on TFIO, most recently with his capture of the latest summer trend, off-the-shoulder dressing), and his photos and voice soothed me. If Bill Cunningham followed the style on the street, it was a style worth following.

He died on Saturday at the age of 87. He had worked for the New York Times for nearly 40 years. A humble man himself, it was someone’s personal style that mattered most to him. He was not interested in capturing celebrities or red carpet looks; most people he captured were unknown. He became a part of New York City and the City embraced him.

Dean Baquet, New York Times executive editor, said: “He was a hugely ethical journalist. And he was incredibly open-minded about fashion. To see a Bill Cunningham street spread was to see all of New York. Young people. Brown people. People who spent fortunes on fashion and people who just had a strut and knew how to put an outfit together out of what they had and what they found.”

 

 

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Shall I Go Off-the-Shoulder This Summer?

Copyright 2016: The New York Times Company

Copyright 2016: The New York Times Company

One of the early fashion trends for summer is the off-the-shoulder look – in blouses and dresses. Bill Cunningham caught the look on the streets of New York pre Memorial Day, giving us an early indication of a major trend this summer.

I love this off-the-shoulder look and am so tempted to buy a dress for myself. But I wonder…should I? I am grateful for my broad shoulders (thank you, Mom!).  And they do say (whomever “they” is!) it is good to focus on the positive when it comes to dressing. But I have to ask myself if this particular trend sits better on a younger person. I dress in what I like and what I think works for me; in fact, I am offended by the notion that as we age we can no longer wear certain things. I think that style is a personal choice and we should always wear what feels best and what brings out the best in us. But, I know I am aging. I feel it every day. And certain styles are giving me pause. Especially as the warm weather hits, and I am naturally exposing more skin. I felt that way when I pulled out my beloved denim shorts just a day ago. And I am pausing now, as I contemplate purchasing an off-the-shoulder dress.

But, in the end, I am happy to report, that it is just a pause. Shall I go off-the-shoulder? Yes – I will let my eye guide me. I may have to look for a dress that suits me and feels right on the body I have today –  but I will do it. It’s too cute a style not too. And I will also be wearing my denim shorts this summer. I’m buying it!

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Nothing Tops the Turtleneck

Courtesy: The New York Times

Courtesy: The New York Times

Today is the perfect day to pull out my black turtleneck; I was reminded of something I wrote just a year ago. This New York Times’ article inspired me to find my own black turtleneck and bring me closer to my fashion icon, Audrey Hepburn. Here is the piece … 

Reading “The Turtleneck’s Comeback” in the New York Times by Erica M. Blumenthal inspired me to seek out a classic black turtleneck – one with a modern, playful edge. Blumenthal’s news that the commanding black turtleneck is making a fashion statement, and is far from basic black, was enough to push me out the door to find one of my own. Says Blumenthal: “Not for nothing did Audrey Hepburn and Diana Vreeland make the black turtleneck a signature look. It lends the wearer an air of discipline, of authority. But it doesn’t have to be sexless or strict. This fall, the style is back with a vengeance, and the new crop, far from being stern, is built for fun.”

I love that fashion reinvents itself to fit the times while understanding that what makes a classic, a classic, is at the heart of fine dressing. A turtleneck surely fits that bill. And who doesn’t want to capture the iconic look of Audrey Hepburn for herself?

 

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Behind the Birkenstocks – One Man’s Story

Courtesy T Magazine: Photo Credit

Tom Lonergan in his studio – Courtesy, T Magazine: Photo – Aaron M. Conway

I discovered a gem of a story in T: The New York Times Style Magazine about Tom Lonergan and his booming business as an independent repairman for the shoe company, Birkenstock. Here is a man who, after retiring from real estate 10 years ago, was looking for something to “keep him ‘out of trouble,'” had worn Birkenstocks himself, and enjoyed working with his hands. The company offered him a trial license as an authorized repairman as long as he agreed to buy the equipment necessary, which he did. Lonergan knew nothing about the rise in popularity of the Birkenstock sandal a few years ago (thanks in part to Céline’s Spring/Summer 2013 collection), or how it has grown to be a fashion hit in places like New York and L.A.; in fact, he has no idea about couture, or  fashion trends and fads, or when this shoe went from ugly to super-cute.

What he does know is his craft – repairing over 1,000 pairs a year – that Birkenstock customers are long-standing and loyal. And that the business of repairing Birks may be going to the dogs. Says Lonergan, “The people who’ve been loyal wearers are really good customers. Plus, there’s always the dogs. People love Birks, but dogs love Birks. I probably get three phone calls a week where the dog has destroyed a pair.”

The Birkenstock Doctor, written by Alex Ronan, appeared in T Magazine on August 28, 2015.

 

 

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Where Style, Substance, and Politics Meet

Republican presidential candidates from left, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Ben Carson talk Thursday during a break in the first Republican presidential debate.  (Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

Republican presidential candidates from left, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Ben Carson talk Thursday during a break in the first Republican presidential debate. (Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

In the spread of just a few days, two iconic papers on each coast, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times, addressed the style of suiting during the recent GOP Presidential Debate. At issue: how the candidates chose to dress and differentiate themselves from the pack from a style perspective. Candidates should remember that in today’s visual world, substance is important but may be overlooked if not for style. Furthermore, the American public will not only be affected by but possibly influenced by the fashion choices of the presidential candidates. Says Los Angeles Times reporter Booth Moore: “What struck me while watching both the early GOP heat and the main event was that every male candidate could have used a more closely tailored suit.”

I remember seeing images of the first-televised Presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy; much was made of the fact that Kennedy seemed poised and relaxed while Nixon was seen perspiring and nervous. The message is what matters most, but how the message is delivered is essential. In our new reality, clothing can be a candidate’s best friend – or not.

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The Legacy of Helen Gurley Brown

Helen Gurley Brown: Getty Images

Helen Gurley Brown: Getty Images

You know you can’t hope yourself to a better life – You must take yourself there.” ~ Helen Gurley Brown

You have to be of a certain-age to know what it means to be a Cosmo-Girl! And if you do, then you are familiar with the legendary editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, Helen Gurley Brown. The Cosmo-Girl, according to Ms. Brown, who passed away in 2012, was a woman who made herself into a powerful, self-possessed, confident, and yes, sexy, force. Proving that you don’t have to be born that way, Helen Gurley Brown was herself the living embodiment of making yourself into what you want to be. This original Cosmo Girl was also the original “mouseburger” as she called it (her reference to plain Janes) – un-pretty and un-social – but she had brains and would not let anything hold her back. She was a trailblazer and a feminist and quite simply, changed women’s lives. I started reading Cosmo in my 20s, at a time in my life when I was trying desperately to appreciate the grown-up version of me. And Cosmo was there to inspire me and push me along. I was not the only one; even three years after her passing, young girls want to be like her. Continue reading

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