Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mad About Plaid

HAIR & MAKE UP STYLING Gabriella Starbuck
MODEL Caroline Bruzuszek

Think of plaid, and images of kilts and WASPs spring to mind; what we may not see is the complex cultural richness this basic geometric pattern has to offer. Plaid originated in Scotland, where wool tartans distinguished between royal families, clans, and degrees of social status. During the British colonization of India, the pattern was transferred to a lightweight cotton from Madras. Adapted to the vivid colors of the vegetable dyes used locally, the Indian take on the Scottish tartans were beautiful, colorful and exotic. Madras plaids became widely popular in the UK and the US in the 1930s, and cotton plaids took on the familiar "Madras" label. The Indian vegetable dyes used in the patterns fade into gorgeous soft colors upon being washed; after an initial negative response to the change by consumers, the faded madras was cleverly marketed as a look of good breeding and maturity. Shortly thereafter, it became the quintessential Ivy league pattern.

Plaid got really interesting in the 1960s and 70s when the rebellious rock & roll set turned to psychedelics and spiritualism and headed into India where the complicated, colorful plaid fabric began to take on new meaning. The mystics of r&r used it to express their disillusionment with reality and their general mental weirdness. In the late 1970s and 80s, when punks, surfers, and skateboarders began wearing it as a mockery of traditional Anglo culture, plaid became an emblem of rebellion - an inversion of the traditional values associated with it. In the 1990s, Seattle's grunge scene took lumberjack flannel plaids, then associated with the working class, and wielded them as an anti-fashion statement (which of course quickly became a new fashion trend).

When displayed in hypnotizing, bright colors, plaid stands out in a crowd like few other patterns can. It clashes, matches, and shocks all at the same time. Wear it to invoke the various cultural connotations it brings to mind, and you can bring about your own Royal Psychedelic Revolution in your day-to-day life.

Shown here is an eclectic plaid mix using garments found at the thrift store. Being an historical pattern, some of the most beautiful examples of plaids are acquired in used or vintage clothing stores. Readers, how do you wear your plaid? What does it mean to you? Please share! I hope you enjoy plaid as much as I do.

Best wishes!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Deco Nouveau: Recycling Fashion

Styling Caroline for the shoot.

HAIR & MAKE UP STYLIST Gabriella Starbuck
MODEL Caroline Bruzuszek

The Art Deco period was one of those sparkling moments in design history when form was created to be timelessly elegant. The marriage of Nature and Geometry gave Deco fluidity, structure and balance, creating a sense of Modernity and Luxury that was unmatched. Here is a vignette I've put together with a hand-me-down dress, grandmother's home made quilt, and my home-craft feathered head dress to illustrate an eclectic take on Deco.

One of the nicest points of reinventing Deco is that you can gather almost any item that is minimal in style and apply surface treatments such as geometric shapes, patterns, mirrors or lacquer to invoke Deco's sense of glamor and luxury. Because of its minimal attributes, this is still a style that can be easily obtained with a little-home made arts and crafts.

Readers, please give us your tips on how you recreate the Deco aesthetic in your lives.
Happy Deco-rating!

Best wishes,

Friday, January 25, 2008

Modern Mata Hari

Margeretha Geertruida Zelle, the original Mata Hari, a woman who challenged
the Norm.

HAIR & MAKE-UP STYLIST Gabriella Starbuck
MODEL Caroline Bruzuszek

A Cultural Provacateur of her time, Mata Hari was a master of style and expression. In telling her wild and often tall tales, she would make the fantastic appear out of thin air, creating a sense of mystique which she used to her advantage. Her unabashed free spirit, and constant defiance of the current fashions made her stand out in a crowd. In her approach to life, she embraced all that was provocative, taboo, and exotic, and in doing so, she cast a spell over much of Europe's cultural elite. Her exotic dress, when she wore clothes at all, always bore signs of her unique sense of style. Here is a look that a Modern Mata Hari might sport today.

Consciously creating our appearance allows us more control over how the world perceives us. And dressing as individuals makes us identifiable as independent thinkers. Either you choose what you look like to become what you are, or someone else will do it for you. To stand out in a culture that constantly encourages us to follow trends requires a critical eye and a richness of spirit: an appreciation for the things that cannot be bought, an understanding of the true value of objects, a sense of pride in our difference, an inner joy that must be expressed, and an occasional sneer in the face of Polite Society.

Readers, please share! I'd love examples of how you express the spirit of a modern Mata Hari.

Best wishes,

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Spring Victorian

Preparing for the shoot...

HAIR & MAKE UP STYLIST Gabriella Starbuck
MODEL Caroline Bruzuszek

Spring has always been one of my favorite times of year, when flowers and plants begin to grow again, and we can all shed our winter coats. Here in New York, it's January and still freezing. While I wait for the warmth to return, there are still some comforts in my home that give me a tropical fix in the dead of winter: my house plants.

For the Victorians, indoor gardens were the epitome of decorative art - they displayed in living form one's taste and culture. Plants weren't the only way those Victorians showed their refinement: their clothes were utterly elegant, too. Their attention to detail and their fascination with the occult led to some very dramatic ideas and styles. Here's a look I've put together for Spring - my modern take on the Victorians.

Plants are fabulous in a home. They can add a splash of color to a room, give you something attractive to rest your eyes on, add humidity to dry air, and filter the indoor pollution from your home. Keeping some plants alive can require work. But most of the time, indoor plants just need a little careful attention to stay healthy. I've found the best way to avoid disaster is to cultivate the right kind of plants. For most people, low maintenance plants are the best solution. While my sister makes growing orchids in her bedroom look easy, I prefer simple-to-care-for large green foliage. Ultimately, the plants you choose for your indoor garden should express your eye for composition, balance, and decor.
Readers, please send in your plant tips, especially for caring for the exotics.

Best wishes,

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Treasure Hunt



I grew up in a family full of fashionable women. We all coveted each other's wardrobes and hoped and prayed that a sister, mother, aunt, or grandmother would decide that her wardrobe was too full, and that it was time to clean out the closet. This was a happy day for all of the recipients but often these events were few and far between.

Thrift shopper taking a break.

Finding new clothes for the season was always a miserable venture with the hideous, generic styles that one would find at the department stores. We wanted embroidery, jacquard, beads, silk! So we finally got wise, and started heading to the thrift stores at the beginning of every season.

The beginning of the treasure hunt.

The thrift store was a wonderful place full of possibilities and treasures to be found. Okay, the musty smell always made me sneeze, but my discomfort would quickly melt away once the excitement of the hunt took over.

Thrift stores are often color coordinated, featured here is the black skirt section.

But the prize items were not always easy to find. There are tricks to shopping second hand. Many people find their first few experiences disappointing. I remember the first time I went with my older sister and could not find a thing, while she walked off with cocktail dresses and mink trimmed coats! "Thrift store shopping is a skill. Not everyone has it." she told me. Through the years, I have learned this skill, and I will pass on some tips to my readers on how to acquire it:

Searching for skirts today. 

1. Always go to the thrift store with what you're searching for in mind. Thrift stores can be huge and daunting: if you don't know what you are looking for, how will you ever find it?

Sizing up a garment.

2. Check the labels. I recommend making sure the fabric content are natural fibers. And if you can find designer name labels, once on the garments are better than the hanger appeal would suggest.

3. Look for original price tags. This is oddly common. There are actually people out there who buy things, never wear them, and send them to the thrift store untouched! Shocking, but I'm always happy to take it.

A dress, turned into a skirt, and an interesting harness another shopper found.

4. Try on everything and anything that looks vaguely interesting. What may look like a mess on a hanger could be art in motion - think COMME des GARCONS.

Trying our finds on in front of the public mirror.

5. Wear under-dressing that you don't feel shy about showing. Leggings and a snug t-shirt under your street clothes always works well. Make sure you can feel comfortable stripping in front of the public mirror, which usually functions as the dressing room.

Admiring each other's finds.

6. Try on the "old lady" clothes. If it looks like something that your grandmother would have worn, chances are the tailoring is immaculate. Most clothes used to be tailored to be form-fitting and flattering. Old school design houses such as Balenciaga, Prada, and Lanvin still use the classical tailoring methods. But the companies that produce the clothing that reaches the majority of shoppers have now given up on tailored fits, and instead try to fit every garment to all body shapes. So try on some of those older styles, especially if you're trying to achieve a more polished or sophisticated look.

Trying on "PETITES".

7. If you're thin, try petite - this used to refer to anyone with a delicate frame. The vintage version is not the same fit as the Ann Taylor petite of today.

Doing the damage check.

8. Check for damage. Stains, holes, broken zippers and missing buttons can render a great garment unwearable. Some stains you can remove, and if the garment is really good you can even make minor repairs.

A goat coat we found at a thrift store while traveling in Argentina.
Photo by Toshi Yano

9. Seek out-of-the-way thrift stores; visit thrift stores while on vacation or in other countries. Remote location thrift stores usually carry amazing varieties of vintage. What you find in different cities, climates, and cultures will bring a whole new flavor to your wardrobe.

A basket of the finds of the day.

Once you've found all of your new treasures, you get them home and, well, quite frankly, they smell like a thrift store. While some things can be washed in the laundry to get the smell out, many of the choice tailored goods require dry cleaning... I don't do that. How many times have I sent items to the cleaners only to get them back two inches shorter than when I dropped them off? I also have no intention of paying someone to coat my clothes in the toxic chemicals that are used in standard dry cleaning . While new Eco-cleaners keep appearing, I am wary of their "GREEN" techniques. And the expense of those Green Cleaners is astronomical!

Home dry-cleaning methods. Photo by Toshi Yano

So I have devised my own methods of dealing with this dilemma. I like to call it "home dry cleaning". Here's how I do it: I make a sprayable solution of strained lemon juice, white vinegar, and water and put it in a spray bottle. Then, I thoroughly spray down every garment, inside and out, on a hanger in my shower. On stains, I have found sprinkling baking soda on the spot and then spraying it with my cleaning solution will lift the stains; then, I pat the excess off with a cloth.

The cleaning airing out on the line.

To finish, I hang it all out on the line to dry in the sun and breeze. All of this seems to remove the funk from the thrift store, and I usually don't have to iron anything when it's been drying on the line. Readers, let me know if you have any great tips for home, non-toxic dry cleaning. Enjoy your new-found treasures. I hope they last you all a long time!

Best wishes,

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Good Morning, Tomorrow!

"Eliza Red/Blue" photo by John Michaels

Hello All,

I'm very excited to be starting this blog. Although my thoughts are continuously rattling around my head, I will do my best here to hone them in the hope that I make some kind of sense. I wish to offer my friends and readers quick studies of culture, fashion, and decor, which are ever linked with social consciousness in my heart.

"Stop" photo by John Michaels

In a time when ordinary consumption is tearing the planet apart, maybe our best foot forward will be one that can nimbly navigate our frighteningly unknown future. Armed with hearts of gold and an understanding that solutions may change as quickly as the climate, we hope to have some positive effects. But can my winding, vague, run-on sentences even make a mark in such a climate? My husband regularly tells me that my rhetoric makes no proper sense. I'll admit that I wield the English language as if it weren't my own, but I hope that the readers can make me out anyway. Readers, please let me know your opinions and what you make of my scratch. I will take it all with a grain of salt and post all comments that keep this a friendly forum for open minds to meet.

"Boxer" photo by John Michaels

To begin, I present to you my new favorite photographer, John Michaels, He is a man who can photograph even the most insignificant-looking subject and turn it into something meaningful. He approaches his subjects honestly, and in doing so he points out that everything in life can be beautiful when looking through an open lens.

Best wishes,