Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Bring on those Ladylike looks in fashion in your wardrobe. Turn your heroine into a femme fatale that smolders passion underneath boucle suits, bouffant hairdos and baked Alaskas for dinner. The trend, which reigns supreme for fall right into spring 2012 revisits Dior's 'New Look,' the 1950s and 1960s and also takes inspiration from the popular 60s fashions graced by the “First Ladies of the Air.” Pictured right: Marc Jacobs collection. GRACE KELLY RECALL Remember those dolman-sleeved coats and suit jackets that so personified the Grace Kelly look. Well those shoulders were featured on the runways of Balenciaga, Donna Karan and even Marc Jacobs, and many others. Don’t forget the Kelly handbag or its hybrids as well as those pearls are demure ways to revive the Kelly look with a modern twist. Dressing-up also heralds the return of the 1950s black cocktail dress worn with a frivolity of the era, the cocktail hat. DIOR REVISITED A well groomed very feminine woman can be an object on display but she can also be a smoldering seductress underneath it all. The 1947 ‘New Look’ (pictured above) was introduced as the world recovered from World War II. Paying homage to the past the nipped in waist jackets and dresses returned at Christian Dior. His ladies were prim and proper in lovely suits and pretty print dresses, some with portrait collars. The head scarf makes a comeback and with it teasing brushes to create raised-hive hairdos. The classic pump is a must accessory and includes the black and cream tuxedo pump with vamp bow and a modest slim heel for ladylike chic. FLY THE FRIENDLY SKIES The hit TV show, which gives viewers a blast from the past with popular 60s fashions brings back crisp white blouses with shapely powder blue suits and oversized leather handbags. The proper suit with nipped in waist is a ‘must’ in a heroine’s wardrobe. For a modern twist on these iconic styles, visit OneStopPlus.com, Dots.com, the fast fashion retailer and eDressMe.com the contemporary fashion boutique, where you can find similar styles. WALK SOFTLY LIKE A LADY It’s time to lift up our feminine heads and walk the walk like a Lady. Your heroine gets interested in dresses in skirts for the first time in decades. Feminine details like gloves, particular white or pastel short styles that end at the wrist and “garden party” cosmetics, pink and lavender nail polish create pert looks that call for cat-eye sunglasses and puckered cherry pink lips.
Polly Guerin, fashion guru and former professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology writes about fashion presentations in her book, “Creative Fashion Presentations,” Fairchild Books. Visit her at www.pollytalk.com where you will find a link to her Blogs. Polly is currently soliciting for a publisher for her book, “A Tale of Two Sisters,” the founders of the Cooper Hewitt Museum.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

GUINNESS, DAPHNE The Ultimate Fashion Fantasy (c)

Shoe and dress by Alexander McQueen

Throughout history there have been celebrated women of style, but Daphne Guinness, a brewing company heiress, couture collector, and style icon is a special type of fashion insider. She not only inspires designers and brings their clothes to life, but Daphne actually re-invents looks that affect the way the fashion cognoscenti dress and/or think about dressing. She has re-invented herself using fashion to transform herself to become a creative force in her own right. Art historian, John Richardson puts it: “She’s the object of her own creativity. Her persona is her own masterpiece.” If you’re like me hovering in the classic rung of the fashion ladder you may ask, “Why should any of us care about what DG does? It becomes clear at the exhibit at The Museum at FIT in New York City that Daphne Guinness, the most stylish woman living today, can turn even a basic into a head-turner. The exhibit on view through January 7, 2012 features approximately 100 garments and accessories from Guinness's personal collection, plus films, videos and image of and by her.
DESIGNER CONNECTIONS A close friend of the late designer Alexander McQueen, the exhibition includes more than a dozen McQueen garments that have never been displayed. “I wish he was still here, he was part of my real friends. It wasn’t just about making clothes; you’re feeding off each other.” Daphne Guinness is also credited with inspiring some of the world’s greatest couturiers from Karl Lagerfeld to Valentino. Also featured is an extraordinary haute couture from Chanel, Dior, Givenchy, Lacroix, and Valentino, as well as demi-couture from Azzedine Alaia, Tom Ford, Dolce & Gabbana, and Rick Owens, and futuristic styles by young designers and clothes that Guinness has designed herself that show her love of uniforms. The breathtaking wide range of exceptional accessories, many which were created in collaboration with Guinness include Philip Treacy’s hats and Shaun Leane’s “armor” jewelry, not to mention towering platform shoes made especially for her by Christian Louboutin and Noritaka Tatehana. GUINNESS’S INSPIRATION When questioned: “Who did you most admire?” Daphne replied, “Diana Vreeland, she lived her clothes. In contrast to Vreeland who lived her clothes, Daphne added, “Some people put things on, but they don’t feel that they are part of them. With style you learn and adjust.” The Duchess of Windsor, Nancy Cunard, and Josephine Baker were other style icons Daphne mentioned. She added, “I am also inspired by books. I will envision what the heroine is wearing. I’m always going back to the basics in literature and art and I am an Old Master fan.” DAPHNE’S VIEW ON COLLECTING When asked “How to you approach collecting?” Daphne replied: “It has to be something so original it sparks something in you, reacting ‘Wow that’s something new and exciting,’ I was the first with skulls, but when skulls became mainstream I gave them up. I’m connected to music; rock and roll and fashion are very related. Music in the 60’s influenced a whole generation way of dressing. However, I feel that there’s a new movement seems to be happening in fashion now.” CREATING INDIVIUDAL STYLE “I would not say one style is better than another,” Daphne said in reply is the question, “Is there more of an opportunity today for individual style. Daphne: “Sometimes I feel that there is enormous pressure that some people feel that they must dress a certain way to be validated. Fashion hats and gloves may not be necessary but they are now fascinating. I always wanted to wear men’s suits. When cut right you can put it on again, again and again because the structure is good.” From her platinum-and-black striped hair to her towering ten-inch heels, from her to die-for couture collection to her amazing jewelry, Daphne Guinness completely embodies the rarified personal style of a fashion icon.
Several of Guinness’s films are shown, including The Phenomenology of the Body (which explores the politics of clothing), Mnemosyne (which was inspired by her perfume, and Tribute to Alexander McQueen, as well as numerous images and videos.
The museum’s annual fashion symposium, Fashion Icons and Insiders, November 3-4, 2011 will take place in conjunction with the Daphne Guinness exhibit

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Who would ever predicted that a young boy growing up in the 1960’s, who aspired to be an astronaut, would one day become the British Mad Hatter, Stephen Jones, whose celebrity is synonymous with the millinery he has created for the fashion cognoscenti, superstars and royals. Stephen Jones burst on the London fashion scene during the explosion of street style in the late seventies and his oeuvre has proliferated into millinery stardom. He is considered to be one of the world’s most radical and important milliners of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. No wonder Jones was selected to co-curate the 2009 exhibition Hats: An Anthology for the Victoria & Albert Museum and to return triumphantly to New York to present Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones, a collaboration between the Victoria & Albert Museum and Jones, which opened September 16, 2011 at the Bard Graduate Center of Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture in New York City. BECOMING THE CELEBRITY MILLINER Jones was one of the original style-blazers of fashion and opened his first millinery salon in the basement of a trendy store in Endell Street in the heart of Covent Garden. “Overnight I had a business,” Jones commented in 2008. The Stephen Jones mystique and his ability to create iconic styles drew to its atelier rock stars to royalty, from Boy George to his regular client followers from Blitz and even Diana, Princess of Wales as a regular customer, to give them the head turning headgear that would make arresting headlines. His celebrity on the rise, Jones had a hat commissioned by the Victoria & Albert museum for their newly refurbished Costume Court, which was the beginning of Jones’ long and fruitful relationship with the V&A. RED CARPET CONNECTIONS Jones’ prolific oeuvre brought his creations to the fashion world creating hats for the catwalk shows of many leading couturiers and fashion designers including John Galliano at Dior and Vivienne Westwood. In 1984 Jones relocated his studio to Lexington Street and that year Jean-Paul Gaultier invited him to Paris to make hats for his show and subsequently he received full credit for his hats thus assuring that the Paris cognoscenti was made aware of his hats. It was inevitable that Jones would enter the retail arena and in the same year he also sold his first designs to a department store, Bloomingdales in New York. From the red carpet to fashion runways to race courses, garden parties and fashion magazine covers millinery by Stephen Jones are crowning achievements of originality, head turners on the fashion and social circuits. STEPHEN JONES TODAY His work is always identified by its inventiveness, its witty statement, its novel approach to subject matter and most importantly its high level of technical expertise. From the catwalk to the couture collaborations Jones’s hats have been an integral component in some of the most memorable runway spectacles of the past quarter century. In addition to his Model Milliner collection, he designs the widely-distributed Miss Jones and Jonesboy diffusion ranges, plus a JonesGirl accessories line exclusively for Japan. His hats are represented in the permanent collections of major museums worldwide and are always at the forefront of fashion on magazine covers and in the window displays of the world’s most celebrated boutiques and retail stores. BECOMING A MILLINERY ICON If truth be told Jones came into the fashion orbit of millinery in quite a serendipitous manner. Jones readily admits his faults and his triumphs, “I attended Saint Martins, but I couldn’t master sewing. However, despite this shortcoming I became an intern in the tailoring department of the London couture house, Lacasse.” However, upon observing the magical haven of creativity elsewhere Jones soon requested a transfer to the next-door millinery department. It was presided over by Shirley Hex and between 1976 and 1979 Jones spent his summer breaks working for Hex and learning about millinery methods and techniques. Jones left St. Martins in 1979 and the same year he became one of the style-blazers at London’s legendary Blitz nightclub himself competing to wear the most outrageous outfits including a pinstripe suit with stiletto heels. Many of the Blitz kids became his first clients, with Jones creating outlandish hats for them to wear to the club. STEPHEN JONES IS POSSIBLY THE MOST ORIGINAL MILLINER TODAY Rising to the heights of creativity Stephen Jones born on the Wirral Peninsula in Cheshire on the 31st of May 1957, and schooled in Liverpool, has propelled his art into the future and continues to attract a celebrity clientele which includes Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, Whoopi Goldberg, and Cher. Hamish Bowles, Vogue USA said, “His genius is to enhance the mystery, allure and wit of the wearer.” Jones was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 2010 New Year Honours. STEPHEN JONES AT BARD The show at Bard is comprised of more than 250 hats, the majority of which are chosen by Jones himself from the V&A’s extraordinary hat collection. Visitors will see hats ranging from the twelfth-century Egyptian fez to a 1950s Balenciaga design and couture creation by Jones and his contemporaries. A selection of rare film footage shows the elegant Jacqueline Kennedy, who almost single handedly revived the hat industry in the United States by her allegiance to this sartorial finery, wearing hats at the presidential inauguration in 1961. Look into Jones’s amazing atelier workroom where creativity spills forth over desks and floor in a profusion of ribbons and trims. The exhibit runs through April 15, 2012.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


There are rules of conduct when it comes to visiting friends or family.Whether it be a summer vacation, Thanksgiving or any other major holiday or simply a catch-up visit there are certain given points of etiquette that must be met so that you will be sure to hear your host say, “Come back real soon, honey, I mean it!”
When visiting my friend Dickie Van den Heuvel and his partner Chi Mui in Wells, Maine recently I was the perfectly fashionable house guest. Here are my ten rules that are sure to guarantee any self-respecting person another invitation.
1. THE TIME FRAME: In advance it is important to discuss the exact time frame in which the invitation has been extended to you. Visiting a host’s summer home is one thing and a city home another. A summer house may have a busy week-to-week schedule so the host would expect you to arrive and depart as planned. As for a city visit your host may have a weekday work schedule so do keep yourself busy during the day. However, don’t go off on your own merry way and treat the host’s home like a hotel. Instead make yourself free in the evening and weekend to spend quality time with your host. If it is a weekend only invitation the time frame is shorter but it is still necessary to respect the host’s schedule. When visiting family or relatives an entirely different set of rules would apply and the visit is usually negotiated on a personal level. However, in all of these situations there are ways to show your gratitude and make your visit pleasant any time of the year.
1. SHOW UP ON TIME: Remember to show up on time at the station or airport especially when your host has to travel almost an hour to pick you up at your arrival destination. Unexpected transportation delays may cause you to be running late. That’s quite understandable but be sure to call on your cell phone and update your host on when you expect to arrive.
2. COMMUNICATION: If you have any food allergies or even a medical condition that your host is unaware of be sure to discuss it in advance.Obviously you cannot expect your host to produce special meals to accommodate your special needs, so let them know that you will be purchasing those specific food items when you arrive. Don’t be shy; ask your host if they have any specific household rules. Smokers should check on the host’s policy on smoking in their house or apartment. As lovely as the sound of a clock chiming out the hours maybe to your host if you have sensitivity to these chimes, as I do and cannot sleep, politely ask your host if the clock could be turned off only at night. In any case it is best to remember to travel with ear plugs.
3. TRAVEL LIGHT WITH A TOTE AND HANDBAG: Since I never like to drag along a suitcase I always ship my fashionable digs and beach gear in a medium size box, which I send by U.S. Parcel Post so that it will arrive close to my destination arrival date. However, it is best to ask permission of your host first before you ship anything. Since the post office will deliver the box directly to the host’s home they should not mind your sending clothing this way, but obviously you should not pack a box so large that it seems that your entire fashion wardrobe has been shipped. That’s not acceptable.
REVERSE INSTRUCTIONS: Prior to your departure simply reverse these shipping instructions and repack the same box and mail it back to your home address. If time runs out before you leave and you need to request of your host to mail the box for you; remember to leave enough money to cover the cost of the postage and add a big ‘Thank You’ note.Always recheck the room to be sure that you haven’t left anything of value or importance to you behind. However, after you have returned home if you forgot an item the most convenient way to request its return is to send a padded self-addressed and stamped envelope in a larger stamped envelope addressed to the host and in a note politely ask your host to mail the missed item to you.
4. The PROS and CONS of GIFT GIVING: Unless you know exactly what the host or hostess really wants or needs, my advice is, “Don’t bring anything!” Politely tell the host that you would prefer getting them something they truly would like or need during your visit. I listened for this opportunity and when one of my hosts exclaimed that he wanted to shop for some potted plants to replant in their garden, I quickly joined
them on this shopping expedition.When check out time came I reminded my hosts that I wanted to give them a meaningful gift and at the cash register I gladly paid for the plants. This gesture not only pleased my hosts but it was something they really wanted and, since the perennials chosen would reappear each season, I would be remembered favorably as well. People in Maine like to hang patriotic and symbolic flags on poles by their front doors or garage. On another occasion we visited an amazing store, Harbor Flags in Wells, Maine which housed an incredible inventory of every kind of flag from all over the world. When one of my hosts asked if they had a signature flag of Scotland I took this opportunity to buy that flag and give it to him as a gift. It’s easy to be the perfect guest just keep your ears perked up to get clues as to what wonderful gift you can give your host that has personal meaning.
5. A ROOM OF YOUR OWN: This is a luxury that demands respect. Hang clothing in the closet and only use the drawers in the chest designated for your use. Show your housekeeping skills by keeping the room tidy, the bed made every morning. You may not have a private bathroom and will probably be required to use the hall guest bathroom so keep it neat and clean as you found it. On a chance encounter with your host remember to wear a robe. Dress is usually casual in a country or beach house setting but that dose not mean that you should arrive at breakfast in your pajamas unless you’re family. Otherwise show respect and appear at breakfast freshly groomed wearing T-shirt and shorts and flip-flops or bathing suit with beach cover up.
6. THE HOUSEHOLD ROUTINE: Every household has its routine so just go with the flow and fit into the host’s regime. Questions to ask: 'When is the computer is open for use?' Or 'May I bring my small dog?"
If you are an early riser, as I am, find out if you may make the morning coffee before anyone else appears for breakfast. In a casual breakfast setting, guests may be expected to help themselves to cereal and may freely open the refrigerator for juice and milk. However, do not leave glasses or dishes in the sink, rinse them out or put them in the dishwasher. You can pitch in at other times and put on an apron and help to prepare a noonday meal or dinner. However, if you are banned from the kitchen help to clean up afterward and put the dishes in the dishwasher. Ways to contribute and show that you are the perfectly fashionable guest include the following: One night let your hosts know that you are ordering take-out from their favorite restaurant or on another occasion invite them out to brunch, lunch or dinner, and of course, pay the bill. During your visit when the occasion calls for a group of friends dining out casually or formally together don’t disappear when the check comes, be prepared and pay your share of the bill.
7. REPLENISH SUPPLIES: If you are staying more than three days it
would show your appreciation for the visit by replenishing some of the items in the refrigerator. However, when the visit extends for more than a week or two weeks you may not realize how much of the general supplies you have consumed. It’s true that hospitality is a gift, but there are limits as to what you can expect from your host. The next time you accompany your host to the supermarket insist on purchasing some of the routine supplies like tissues or toilet paper which could run out pretty quickly with your use. With the cost of gas today if you have been taking excursions about by automobile, even if the host may refuse, insist on putting gas in the host’s car.
8. POLITE SOCIETY: When your host says, “Make yourself at home,”
don’t take that literally. It’s best to ask before you start using things like
sitting in the host’s favorite chair. I was upset once when a guest without
asking took a book from my vintage collection and proceeded to tuck her
feet under herself while sitting on the sofa. Another time, I found a guest
rocking back and forth on an antique chair doing some kind of exercise. I
was astonished by her lack of consideration for the fragile shape of the
chair. If your host likes country music and has the radio on all day, albeit
playing at a moderate sound level, don’t criticize and say that you prefer
Bach and suggest another station. Remember as a guest you need to go with the flow. Even if you are disappointed by a sightseeing adventure, a
restaurant or even if you have a negative comment about the host’s
neighbors keep your disappointment to yourself. It’s just polite. However, if your opinion is asked for that opens the gate for comment or discussion.
9. DEPARTURE: Most hosts would expect you to leave your room in the same state in which you found it. Specific tidying up may include a bit of
dusting and sweeping the floor with a broom or vacuum . You may have
removed framed photos or memorabilia, which were originally on display on the top of the dresser or on the desk, to make room for some of your
stuff. If this be the case then try to replace these items exactly in the spot in which they were located when you arrived. The day of your departure
remember to strip and remake the bed. Put the used linens and towels into the pillowcase ready for the laundry. However, for a visit that lasts a week or two, if your hosts are really busy and your time schedule permits, you can wash and the dry towels and linens and leave them clean and folded on the freshly made bed.
10. THANK YOU VERY MUCH: Having enjoyed the largess of your
host and the true hospitality that you have enjoyed then spare no time in
penning a thank you note. Show your gratitude by mainly stressing how
much you appreciated their hospitality and particularly mention one or
two very special aspects of the visit that impressed you. Don’t bother to
criticize anyone or anybody, stay firm in acknowledging how much you
enjoyed the visit with them and that you hope that there will be many more times to get together. Such a thoughtful individual who has observed the rules of guest etiquette can be sure to receive an invitation to visit another time and hear as they depart, “Come back real soon honey, I mean it!”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


It’s easy to forget that women did not always climb mountains and ski, and become Olympic heroines. When we look at medieval tapestries we see aristocratic women riding to the hunt but in most cases women were relegated to sedentary roles. Gentle sports emerged in the 19th century. Women came out of the parlour and became active participants swinging a golf club, wielding a croquet mallet or playing tennis. There was no specific clothing for these activities. Though the skirt may have been shortened, you’d simply wear your daytime frock and hat encumbered with corset, bustle or crinoline depending on the era. In the late 19th Century a true liberation came in on wheels.
The bicycle afforded women the freedom to travel alone wearing of course bloomers, those liberating garments that had scandalized society when Mrs. Amelia Bloomer introduced them in 1851. Criticism about the bicycling craze erupted with a New York Times article from 1893 describes the phenomenon as ‘every woman must, does or will mount the iron horse.’ In Paris, women risked arrest wearing trouser-style garments while not in the presence of a bicycle.
Thank goodness those Victorian restrictions have given way to good looking garments that allowed women to participate in active sports unencumbered and sleek in new fabrics that afford comfort and speed. The Museum at FIT responds to some of these sport/fashion issues in a new exhibition, SPORTING LIFE, which explores the relationship between active sportswear from the past 150 years and fashion. The exhibit on view through November 5, 2011 features more than 100 garments, accessories and textiles representing 16 sports juxtaposed with sports-inspired, ready-to-wear styles by leading designers.
If you’re waxing nostalgic about the good old days imagine what it must have been like to ride a bike. Sporting Life features a circa 1888 woman’s tailored bicycling ensemble, with a divided skirt that was designed for mobility as well as modesty. Clothing for bicycling changed substantially during the 20th century giving way to stretch materials and streamlined design for maximum performance in competitive racing. The earliest tennis garment on view, circa 1903, is a two-piece summer ensemble with shirtwaist style blouse and long skirt. The exhibit also pairs a 1926 silk Chanel dress, with a loose cut and a pleated skirt, with a familiar white cotton tennis dress, circa 1926, to illustrate the relationship between sport and fashion.
Imagine garments for swimming and active sportswear made in heavy wool and how much it must have impeded one’s pleasure of the sport. The exhibition features a wide variety of women’s swimwear, ranging from a modest, two-piece wool suit from the 1850s to the body-revealing styles created by designer Rudi Gernreich during the 1960s. Other garments illustrate how new textile technology, including lastex and spandex contribute to today’s competitive sportswear’s high performance functionality. By the 1980s, spandex could be found not only in specialized sportswear and in exercise and dance clothing, but also in similarly body-conscious fashions.
The exhibition also has sections devoted to golf, skiing hunting, skating, horseback riding, motoring, surfing, dance, football and baseball. Some synthetic materials most often utilized in active sportswear are being using in fashion garments---neoprene, for instance, a fabric commonly used in clothing for surfing and aquatic sports. To illustrate, the exhibit displays a neoprene wetsuit alongside a sporty 1994 Donna Karan dress, also made of neoprene. Christian Lacroix’s 1990 beachwear ensemble is an eye-catcher with coordinated swimsuits, scarf, hat, sunglasses and shoes as is Gucci (Tom Ford) ski jacket, pink polyester/nylon/spandex, circa 1995.
Today companies are consulting with doctors and engineers in their efforts to make performance apparel that has “comfort, lightness, and style.” Meanwhile, fashion runway collections continue to present adaptations of classic sports attire.
The Museum at FIT is located at Seventh Avenue at 27th Street, New York City. Info: 212.217.4558 FREE admission. Closed Sundays, Monday and legal holidays. Tuesday-Friday, noon– 8pm, Saturday, 10-5 pm.

Monday, May 23, 2011

ILLUMINATING FASHION: Rich Historical Imagery (c) by Polly Guerin

“Illuminating Fashion,” the fascinating history of fashion and its ties to politics, social upheaval and cultural influence during the Middle Ages is a rich study in which clothing styles provide clues to how the royals and gentry expressed their fashion preferences and reacted to the vicissitudes of the world around them. The nearly 200 years covered by the show provides the viewer seeking fashion accuracy a rare opportunity to see a rich era for fashion, a period in which clothing styles changed rapidly, often from one decade to the next. The exhibition at the Morgan Museum and Library, “Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Netherlands,” explores the evolution of courtly clothing from the “Fashion revolution” around 1330 to the flowering of the Renaissance in France following the accession of King Francois I in 1515 in shaping fashion.
ILLUMINATING FASHION Because few actual garments from the Middle Ages survive, the Morgan focuses on the art in the illuminated manuscripts and early printed books to reveal how historical dress in Northern Europe provides clues to the wearer’s identity and character. The exhibition connects through a historical timeline the potential impact of political unrest and social upheaval on the history of fashion during one of the world’s more calamitous eras: The Hundred year’s War, the occupation of Paris by the English, and the arrival of the Italian Renaissance in northern Europe. The exhibit also demonstrates the richness of symbolism in medieval art and how artists used clothing and costume as a code to help viewers interpret an image. In these works of art, what people wear is a clue to their identities and moral characters.
FASHION OPULENCE Viewers seeking fashion accuracy need only examine the magnificent illuminated books to see the colorful, gold leaf illuminated fashions which provide a rare glimpse into the era of fashion opulence. I might suggest that you bring along a magnifying glass to look closely at the amazing detail and preserved colors in some of the tiny books. Replicas of some of the fashionable images from the manuscripts have been reproduced in colorful large-scale portraits on the walls which form an impressive panorama above the glass cases where the timeline connects historical facts. HISTORICAL REPRODUCTIONS To enhance appreciation for the fashions of the era, on display four full-scale reproductions of late medieval ensembles depict actual garments in the illuminated manuscripts. Using period hand-sewing techniques and authentic materials including silk, velvet, gold brocade, linen, straw and ermine the recreations include the Catherine of Cleves, Duchess of Guelders richly attired, her voluminous ermine-lined Houpeland, with cascading bombard sleeves, her hair is enmeshed in reticulated cone-shaped headgear.
When I mentioned that I would have expected to see such an impressive historical fashion interpretation at a fashion museum, Curator of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, Roger S. Wieck replied, “Yes, but we have the manuscripts,” and that is what this exhibit is all about “Illuminating Fashion” that touches on the potential impact of political unrest and social upheaval on the history of fashion during one of the world’s more calamitous eras. At The Morgan Library & Museum, 225 Madison Ave., New York, through September 4, 2011. www.themorgan.org.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

JEWELS FOR A PRINCESS, The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels (c) By Polly Guerin

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend but then there are rubies, emeralds and sapphires to color one’s life with vibrant fine jewelry designs that any princess in a romantic novel would cherish. Van Cleef & Arpels the legendary French jewelry brings to the fashion stage a world of beauty, fashion, mystery, storytelling and magic! The luxury jeweler has revisited its iconic surrealist Zip necklace and the gem-setting procedure known as the Mystery Setting at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York in the exhibit “Set in Style,” which showcases several themes: Innovation, Transformations, Nature as Inspiration, Exoticism and Fashion on display with all its historical dazzle until June 5, 2011. Even if you cannot afford this luxury---it is well worth admiring the detail of these exquisite works of art, the Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry, for themselves.
On view are over 350 jewels, timepieces fashion accessories and objets d’art, many of which were created for the American market. Since its boutique opened in 1906 in Paris Van Cleef & Arpels has played a leading role in style and design innovation in the world of the fashion cognoscenti. Its timeless pieces have been worn by royalty as well as heroines of the silver screen, queens, princesses and famous women including style icons the Duchess of Windsor, H.S.H. Princess Grace of Monaco and Dame Elizabeth Taylor to name a few. By far one of the most unique design is the Zip necklace that the jeweler recently introduced in Paris with four new spectacular versions at their Place Vendome boutique.
Van Cleef & Arpels is renowned for transforming objects from one form into another, hence the theme Transformations and the Zip necklace has a zipper that really works. What you’ll see on display, is the iconic surrealist Zip design, which was originally commissioned by the Duchess of Windsor in 1938, but only got as far as the sketch stage, being too difficult to engineer in platinum and diamonds as she had requested. However, the first yellow-gold version was produced in 1951. The highly technical piece the Zip necklace can be worn as a necklace or zipped up to form a bracelet, giving the piece great flexibility. It was the ultimate design solution by the firm’s head designer Rene-Sims Lacaze, and artistic designer Renee Puissant, daughter of Alfred Van Cleef and Estelle Arpels. Their liaison begins in 1926 and the next two decades are a highly creative period for luxury jeweler.
Truly remarkable is the Mystery Setting an innovation in which matched gemstones are grooved and set in channels so that the setting is invisible. The Mystery-Set Ribbon bracelet, circa 1943, for example, emeralds are softer than sapphires and rubies, making exact cutting difficult; they are also harder to match for color, so Mystery-Set emeralds are particularly rare. Van Cleef & Arpels is also the originator of the Minaudiere patented in 1934, a vanity case the size of a small clutch that is popular with fashionistas worldwide.
When Van Cleef & Aprels opened its doors it was an era of high collars and frilly lace, but the luxury jeweler has kept pace with the times of changing tastes and fashion. Whatever the period, VC&A has understood the line between fashion and jewelry as a powerful emotional sensibility that greatly influences contemporary design. The celebrated women and their choices of adornment are also a significant part of jewelry-design history. Among the great ladies legendary opera singer Maria Callas showed off her jewelry onstage and off including her flower brooch fashioned with rubies, diamonds and platinum, and always a favorite the adorable poodle brooch of the model owned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in gold diamonds, rubies.
The history of Van Cleef & Arpels is a saga of the merging two families that formed legendary alliance as purveyors of fine jewelry, luxury jewelry. Both families had long been in the diamond and colored-stone markets in the Netherlands and Belgium. The daughter of Salomon Arpels, a dealer in precious stones, married Alfred Van Cleef, whose family were sheet merchants living in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. That same year, Alfred Van Cleef and Salomon Arpels established a jewelry business and in 1906, they registered the “Van Cleef & Arpels” trademark and opened a boutique in the tony haute couture enclave at 22 Place Vendome. Progressively, the second generation joined the business and in 1942 the Arpels family immigrated to America and opened their first boutique in New York, on 5th Avenue. Venturing further the firm later became the first French jeweler to open boutiques in Japan and China.

Visit Van Cleef & Arpels at www.vancleef-arpels.com.
The Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum is located at 2 East 91st Street. www.cooperhewitt.org.
Biography: Polly Guerin, a former professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and is currently working on a book entitled the Cooper-Hewitt’s of Old New York in which the founders of the Cooper-Hewitt museum, Eleanor Gurnee and Sarah Cooper Hewitt, granddaughters of Peter Cooper, are featured in the chapter, “A Tale of Two Sisters.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


What could be more binding, more permanent a document than the legendary “Ketubbah” a marriage contract? The ancient Ketubbah was not merely a legal document it became a splendid work of art, but it did not begin that way. It originated as a contract protecting the interests of a woman and her children. From the first simply decorated examples of these magnificent treasures, frequently embellished with decorative borders and fine calligraphy evolved with increasingly elaborate ornamentation with texts and decoration providing rich sources of information on the artistic creativity, cultural interactions, and social history of the communities in which they were created from Iraq and Iran to Italy and the Netherlands, and finally to the United States. Recently there has been a renewed interest in the formalities of the Ketubbah and celebrations that follow the traditional Berberisca ceremony.
Similar to modern marriage contracts of intent, the Ketubbah not only outlined the rules of engagement and the sacredness of marriage it was a symbol of pride and displayed in the homes of Jews, be they wealthy or poor, scholar or layman, living in the West under Christian governance or in the East under Muslim rule. The largest number of Ketubbot in ‘The Library of Jew Theological Seminary’ are from Italy, where the art of the decorated Ketubbah found its most beautiful expression during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries under the influence of Renaissance and Baroque art. Thirty magnificent examples of marriage contracts from the Library from Egypt, Persia, Afghanistan and India are on view in the exhibit, “The Art of Matrimony” at The Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street, Manhattan. http://www.thejewishmuseum.org/.
Before a wedding, the families of Jewish brides and grooms traditionally negotiated a marriage contract, a legal document that sets forth the husband’s obligations to his wife and specifies the monies due her in the event of a divorce or his death. By the seventeenth century they were richly decorated with figurative, floral, architectural, and geometric designs. Regional stylistic traditions developed, emanating from the two major centers of Ketubbah ornamentation, Italy and the Middle East. The Marriage Contract, 1816, pictured above reflects the custom of Jewish couples in Italy and Amsterdam of creating a secular legal document to confirm their financial obligations. Watercolor and gold paint on parchment. The decorative border of flowers and birds was characteristic of Ketubbot from Ancora, Italy beginning in the early eighteenth century.
The ‘Noche de Berberisca’ ceremony, which takes place during the week before a Moroccan Jewish wedding, is an intimate gathering of families and friends that precedes the wedding. It is enhanced with Sephardic songs, or Judeo-Arabic music, fashion, delicious dishes and pastries made with almonds and honey. The richest and picturesque Noche de Berberisca or Soiree de Henne means that the bride’s hands and feet are decorated in elaborate designs with henna (Henna is a red dye from crushed henna) to prepare the bride for leaving her family. In the Marriage Contract from Meknes, Morocco, 1896, two blessing hands are inscribed with Priestly symbolism, and also amuletic and protective connotations, especially popular in Morocco.
The evening reaches its climax when the bride makes her entrance magnificently dressed in the Berberisca Traje de Panos, or Vestido de Berberisca (Spanish), or Keswa Elkibra (Great Dress in Arabic). *Note picture above. She also wears a gorgeous crown embellished with imitation or real gems. In this elaborate attire the bride-to- be is announced into the reception room and greeted by waiting family and friends. The event is enhanced with songs or singing and adulations (wailing noises) to show their happiness about the couple’s upcoming marriage. At this time the bridal presents may be displayed and tokens of adornment from bride and groom presented. The celebration is followed by a Moroccan tea and pastry reception. The traditional Moroccan Jewish Bridal celebration was part of The American Sephardi Federation’s exhibit “2,000 year of Jewish Life in Morocco: An Epic Journey.” http://www.americansephardifederation.org/.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Ellen Christine Couture Millinery
“Glamour” with a capital “G” and polished, lady-like looks are predicted by Fashion 2011 and along comes the revival of the Cocktail Hat. This sophisticated little frippery is making a strong comeback to complement the glamorous, chic new look. There are now many talented craftspeople and millinery designers creating their version of these tempting hats and one of the rising stars is designer Ellen Christine Colon Lugo, Ellen Christine Couture Millinery, who has designed the hottest accessory items of the moment. Although she makes a variety of one-of-a-kind fashionable hats for every head, the feminine, fun and sexy little gems recall the era of the 1930s and 1940s when cocktail hats first emerged on the scene to be worn to cocktail parties and soignée events. Ellen Christine’s precious cocktail hat creations and luxury millinery can be viewed at the Metropolitan Opera Gift Shop and by appointment at admin.ellenchristine.com.
Little cocktail hats with peak-a-boo veils and flowery/feathery fascinator headpieces, worn at the side of the head, have been around since the 1800s. This bit of fluff has come in and out of fashion, but they have finally caught on and even modern fashionistas are perching these chic little nesting hats on their heads to be worn with almost everything. An alternative to wide brimmed hats, these delightful concoctions are the perfect finishing touch for cocktail frocks, prom dresses, evening and wedding gowns or afternoon tea.
Cocktail hats and cocktail dresses are fashionable partners. Celebrated French fashion designer, Christian Dior was the first to name the fashionable frock “a cocktail dress in the late 1940s. Traditional cocktail dresses were inspired by the little black dress, introduced by Coco Chanel circa 1926, when the black color was acknowledged as the most appropriate and elegant solution for cocktail attire. This fashionable duo grew into the cocktail culture of the 1950’s when the cocktail hat and the sleeveless cocktail dress were designed to satisfy most discerning constant visitors to the cocktail party.
Dressing for cocktails or a special occasion was a fine art of feminine prerogative. Traditional cocktail dresses were worn with lots of accessories, particularly those little flirty hats, small black purses or gem-studded minaudieres to hold cosmetics and a bit of cash, shoes to match the color of the dress, elbow-long gloves that accented the elegance of a woman’s hand in the absence of sleeves. These accessories were ‘must haves’ to the cocktail dress well into the middle 1960s. If 2011 fashion has its way similar accessories, with the replacement of spike heels instead of matching shoes will capture the imagination of modern women, who covet the elegant, feel- good femininity that these accessories can convey to their sophisticated fashionable appearance. CONFECTIONS OF IMAGINATION
Those small extravagant cocktail hats are often decorated with romantic frills upon it including beads, jewels, sequins, flowers or feathers and very often have a peak-a-boo veil. They are closely related to fascinators, which are extremely charming hairpieces, decorated with feathers or flowers and worn on the side of the head. Most fashion stylists advise that the sophisticated little cocktail hat should be perched forward on the head, often at a titled jaunty angle, over one eye---so sexy and flirty. These witty hats contrast perfectly with the immaculate, polished groomed look today. No other hat in history has beguiled and provided a look that is so feminine, romantic, and seductive.
Double Model Image Photo by Sandy Ramirez

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

FASHION: HIS & HERS (c) by Polly Guerin

In her book, It’s Still Spinach (1954), fashion designer Elizabeth Hawes noted that American women usually wore skirts, while men almost always wore trousers. This edit seems to reflect common belief that most people dress in ways that they consider to be appropriately “masculine” or “feminine.” However, perceptions of gender vary according to place, time and individual experience, and no clothing style or color is “naturally” linked to one gender or the other.
The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology presents HIS & HERS, a new exhibition that examines the relationship between gender and fashion. Side-by-by side comparisons of men’s and women’s clothing highlight the differences—and the similarities, through May 10 at the Museum at FIT, 27th Street and Seventh Avenue. Beginning with the 18th century and leading to the present the exhibit explores the so-called unisex and androgynous dress, as well as the developments in cross-gender appropriation. While skirts, for example, are generally regarded as “feminine” garments in Western culture, garments such as kilts and sarongs are common attire for men in other parts of the world, and in recent years, Western designers such as jean Paul Gaultier have created skirts for men.
The exhibitions chronology begins with a brocaded silk court dress circa 1760 which is displayed alongside an elaborate embroidered velvet man’s suit from circa 1785. At that time, aristocratic dress for both men and women featured luxurious fabrics with lavish adornments that are today usually considered “feminine.” The opulence of the 18th-century menswear provides an interesting counterpoint to the generally staid men’s fashion of the 19th –century. During this period, day and eveningwear for men was typically dark and somber, while women’s dresses were brightly colored. However, men did wear exotic garments at home.
Moving into the 20th –century, His & Her features a sporty, checked wool man’s suit from the 1920s paired with a checked silk day dress by Louiseboulanger. In the 1930s, women’s preferences for broad-shouldered suit actually preceded a similar trend in menswear. The “Peacock Revolution” of the 1960s, transformed menswear. Meanwhile, many women began wearing miniskirts, as well as trousers for day and evening. I remember being denied entrance to a posh restaurant in those days because I was wearing a pants suit.
By the 1980s, the growing presence of women in the workplace resulted in the creation of women’s “power suits.” A typical example is Yves Saint Laurent’s version with “feminine” details, such as a soft bow tie and playful animal print, alongside a man’s power suit by Alan Flusser.
Pictured above: Purple wool man's suit by Jacques, c. 1965, and red wool woman's suit by Tape measure, c. 1967.
Text Credits: Colleen Hill and Jennifer Farley, curators, The Museum at FIT
The Museum at FIT: Hours Tues-Fri.-noon to 8 p.m. Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sunday, Monday, and legal holidays. Admission is FREE.