Monday, June 10, 2013
It may surprise you to know that most Frenchwomen are not traditionally beautiful. Rather, says Jamie in her book, they are artful. They delight in their traditions, their rituals, as they adroitly create art and beauty in their daily lives. How they do it is the subject matter of Ooh La La, as Jamie steers us to accept our flaws, expound on them, and ultimately appreciate our own unique selves.
Ooh La La tells us that everything a Frenchwoman knows can be learned. We can learn how to eat smaller portions, appreciate and wear fine lingerie, modulate our voices, enjoy small everyday moments. And we can learn to find joy in love again.
It seems to me over the past few years so many of us are rushing around trying to survive that we've forgotten how to live. How many of us have lunches on the run, rush through events to get home and finish housework, leave ourselves off our lists? Jamie tells us in Ooh La La how our French sisters take their time to simply be, how they look after themselves, and make time for enjoyment and for love. Love of children, yes, but also love of our men and husbands. The most interesting lesson of Jamie's book is that it is ok to make time for our man.
I also trust Jamie's advice because she is a woman of a certain age. She understands the special challenges that women over 40 have in feeling lovely and dare I say, sexy? She makes getting there easy and fun. A challenge, bien sur, especially if you are not use to taking care of yourself, but something that can be learned with her easy guidance. She has after all, led the way with a French grandmother of her own who began her own French journey.
I love the breezy style of Ooh La La, I trust its honest authoress, and it's finally cracked the Frenchwoman's code for me. It's about self-care, a painterly everyday, cherishing one's uniqueness and even falling in love with your man again.
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
The back cover said that The Light in the Piazza is “a woman’s film” and so, I knew right off the bat that it had possibilities. I had heard of the 2005 musical but not the film or book. The Light in the Piazza is about a lovely woman, serenely played by Olivia De Havilland, and her daughter, played by sprite-like and pretty Yvette Mimieux. Set in Italy, we soon discover a secret about Ms. Mimieux’s character, Clara, and the lengths that her mother, Meg will go to protect her child. I won’t reveal any more about the plot because I really believe that if you haven’t experienced The Light in the Piazza before and don’t know the story, you must let it reveal its charms leisurely and in due time, much the way the landscape changes from city to rolling countryside on a restful train journey.
I will tell you that Italy is beautiful, particularly Florence, and since the film was remastered, it appears to have been shot yesterday. Flattering the scenery further, are the gorgeous summer dresses designed by Christian Dior just for The Light in the Piazza. I’ve never seen so many pretty frocks; including a pale lilac two piece silk shantung which Meg wears twice. Clara’s clothes are sweet and darling: a spaghetti strapped sundress with a straw hat and blue ribbon, rattan handbags, a sarong style hot pink two piece swim suit, and pastel silk pajamas. Meg’s always appropriate gloves and coordinated pumps are not austere but elegant and made me long for the days when a woman’s outfit was not complete without her ladylike accessories, even in hot summer.
The Light in the Piazza’s musical score is lilting and never jars. Neither does the story – it ambles along with a few twists and turns that a gentle soul can easily handle. Rounding out the cast is young George Hamilton who has a persuasive Italian accent, and Rossano Brazzi, eternal Italian heartthrob.
Breathtaking and poignant, dignified and well-mannered, I think you will find The Light in the Piazza a true pleasure. And if you are in need of a little tender loving care, watch it on your personal device under the covers. Soon you’ll be bathed in golden sunlight. From the Piazza.
(Special thank you to Kay for making the introduction.)
Saturday, May 25, 2013
A few years ago, I took my daughter to Arlington National Cemetery. Just outside the gate, our guide told us we were not to laugh or talk loudly. She said she only wanted to hear whispering and told the kids in the group not to run or skip. Then she made everyone who was chewing gum, throw it out. She said we were about to walk on sacred ground and we were to give the experience somberness and respect. She said that she knew we all wanted to see JFK's grave but we would linger there only a few minutes. We would spend most of our time with the soldiers, reading their names and the names of the wives who often joined them years later. What we thought was going to be a quick tour, turned into 5 hours, including the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Back on the bus we were exhausted but nearly all of us turned and quietly watched the green knolls with the white crosses disappear through the rear window. Our guide stood up and asked if we had learned anything. In the darkening stillness, we barely nodded. She didn't ask anymore questions.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Aren't these line drawings adorable? They are from "Eileen Ford's Book of Model Beauty". My friend Kay introduced me to the book when she brought it to my house and I borrowed it for three years.
It's not just written for models, although it contains a lot of advice for aspiring ones. It also contains good solid health and beauty advice that has stood the test of time. The first printing was 1968 and so, the illustrations reflect that time but they seem rather timeless to me. If you saw the film "Nine", you may agree that the girl on far right resembles Kate Hudson in the movie, as they were trying to capture the 1960's.
The chapter titled "The Maturing Beauty" really interests me. In 1968, most "over-40 beauties" looked really old to me. Recently, I have been in touch with a researcher whose focus is how women over 40 dressed in the 20th century. I had an excellent subject for her in my grandmother, whom I've written about more than a few times in this blog. Nana's style was chic and classic, but in my eyes, she was most certainly "old". I will post a link to my guest piece on this researcher's fine blog soon.
What I really love is the message in this book. Beauty care doesn't have to be done in expensive spas and salons. Most of it can be taken care of in your own home - the old fashioned way. As a teenager, I spent my beauty hours doing my own nails, hair, makeup, and more than once, put myself on a successful regimen of exercise and diet. I followed popular advice found in my mother's magazines or books like Eileen Ford's. Today, so many women spend a fortune on getting buffed with facials, threading, waxing, pedicures, manicures, massages, etc. And yet, with running water, a bathtub, some budget-friendly drugstore supplies, I really think we can become gorgeous right in our own homes. Constantly schlepping to a salon and trying to rearrange the family dinner hour, is not the way I want to spend my money or my time. After all, look at our cuties above. See how well-rounded they are? Gardening, dancing, and hanging the wash in the fresh air...They are do-it-yourselfers who have plenty of time to enjoy life. Self-taught self-care is fun too, and it gives you other things to think about than what silly design you want on your nails this week. So, how do you get your beauty on at home?
P.S. The post about my grandmother: http://americanagefashion.com/?p=3351
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
There was another version of the ad with a slightly different copy that included "I like girls who are my height". I loved that one too but I couldn't locate it - they are both enchanting. As I read through it again, it is almost a poem itself...I like boys that are shy, girls who aren't, fathers with a sense of humor, and oh yes, my brother's best friend. It conjures up a different type of teenage-hood than today. Perhaps with a father like Robert Young in Father Knows Best or Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride. Maybe Dad even called her Kitten or Toots. It made me think of homework, music, books, and um...oh yes, my brother's best friend.
Helena Rubenstein commissioned a few of these types of portraits during the late '60's and early '70's. The photos were taken by a woman photographer, Marie Cosindas, who trained under Ansel Adams. She often used polaroids and softening lenses. It certainly made for a romantic picture here.
Heaven Sent was a fragrance that was in nearly every local drugstore and relatively inexpensive. I recall it having a gentle powdery scent. I also love the model's black velvet mini dress with the beautiful lace cuffs. And the baby's breath added to the bouquet of pink roses lends even more softened loveliness.
Still, it's the copy that really touches me. Ads from this time told us it was ok to be the fairer sex, to want to be female, and to enjoy being a girl. It was ok to like long nightgowns, small babies, your middle name and, well you know - your brother's best friend.
Monday, May 6, 2013
All little girls dream of being brides one day, but when I saw the pink meringue confection that my mother wore to my father’s senior prom hanging in the attic, I unabashedly longed for the day I would be asked to a prom by a boy and wear a pretty gown. My grandmother often remarked how exquisite my mother looked in the dress's 1950’s effervescent frothiness.
I was lucky to be invited to two junior proms one spring. The first one was a cold March evening and since my mother chose a mint green chiffon gown, extremely chaste with only puffed sleeves for protection, I froze that night. Mom pitched the dress to me by pointing out the petite embroidered flowers under the chiffon overlay. For the second prom, we bought a wheat linen Gunne Sax frock which to me, epitomized Juliet Capulet in Franco Zefferelli’s romantic film of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. A poster from that movie hung on my bedroom wall for years and also captured my imagination and fueled many a girlhood dream. The gown had a cream lace panel which ran perpendicular to the trim empire waist, and the sleeves tapered down to delicate points over the tops of my hands. It was prosaic and tender and I felt oh so pretty in it. Both dates were gentlemen but the second was a boy who really liked me and 30 or so years later, I still regret my reaction that night in the living room when he enthusiastically handed me the simple white box that held my prom flowers.
The girls in my high school asked their dates for flowered wrist bands for proms. These small posies had pastel carnations and the pervasive baby’s breath, scrunched together on a wide plastic band. They hardly ever survived the type of dancing we did and looking back, I think they were rather pedestrian and uninspiring. However, I was hoping that my date would know enough to order one after he asked what color my dress was. But he had a mother with good taste and so I was unable to hide my disappointment when I opened the flower box that night.
Instead of the candy colored wristband, I found a traditional bouquet. There were no carnations but a blend of unusual blossoms with a creamy lily in the center. Strands of ivy trailed down alongside the deep forest green looped silk ribbons. It was far more special than any trendy wrist band but that evening in the living room, I could not hide the letdown on my face and made a quip that carried the weight of my disappointment. My appalled mother whisked me into the dining room where she told me I had been rude and that I should appreciate my unusual flowers and thoughtful date.
I carried my bouquet and as the night wore on, I came to see that the earthy green ribbons looked very pretty against my romantic plain colored dress. I also noticed the intoxicating scent of the star lily when I held the bouquet at my waist for the prom photograph. And at the end of the evening, despite all the dancing and socializing, I took home a lovely keepsake to place atop my dresser mirror which lasted far longer than any of my friends' flowers. The other day, I found the ribbons from the bouquet tucked inside my old high school scrapbook. I recognized them right away - they are the deepest most everlasting green I've ever seen.
(A thing of beauty is a joy forever ~ Keats)
Monday, April 29, 2013
For me, self-care has always helped in times of sorrow: long soaks, cozy pajamas, time with my knitting needles...and perfume. Even if my heart isn't into it, as it really hasn't been, I couldn't help but notice the lovely new scent about me one afternoon. The name of the fragrance doesn't matter as much as the way it swarthed me in a delicate warmth as I tried to focus on my job. The watery tuberose sat on the edge of my consciousness as the deeper notes of musky jasmine floated about, reminiscent of a damp greenhouse in winter filled with hot house flowers and the promise of a fresh spring.
As part of my soothing ceremonials, I've been even more liberal with my perfumes, finally trying the generous samples sent to me by a New York boutique. Those vials gave me a sense of the expectant hope I know will come full-on again soon. I sprinkled an old favorite on my arms before bed the other night and woke to its fragile remnants - just enough to jumpstart a better mood as I rose for work. A lily of the valley cologne perked me up on laundry day after I spritzed the linen closet - for just a second I was back in high school, a world far away from terrorist bombs and hate. Later, when I reached for a clean towel, I went back again and this time the cheery timbre lingered longer.
Perfume's gift is that it takes us on a quick trip to yesterday where happy memories wait to sustain us. But for real healing, perfume offers us blessed comfort and a prayer for better days ahead.
(Photo Credit: "Maiden in Contemplation," painted by Gaston La Touche)
Friday, April 12, 2013
My daughter and I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art for their wonderful exhibit, "Impressionism, Fashion, & Modernity". (And by the way, if you visit New York City in early spring, you are nothing without a leopard scarf.) The exhibit is a powerhouse and simply too large to see all at once, so I am contemplating one more trip before it leaves town.
The clothes of course, were lush and beautiful, and the exhibit flowed perfectly between each costume and its accompanying piece of art. What I especially loved were the quotes I found everywhere about the power and meaning of dress. One could clearly see that this exhibit was well planned and so inviting that it drew me into the very threads of the dresses. About half way through, I was convinced I needed a parasol of my own. That is until I saw the hats, the shoes, the stiff corsets, and the lingerie. The co-creator of the exhibit, the Musee d' Orsay, sprinkled its fairy dust everywhere; in the choice of paintings of Paris boulevards and theaters to the landscapes by favorite French impressionists who focused on the hem and trim of their models' gowns.
I don't pretend to know art but I gleen more fashion ideas these days from well-done exhibits then I do from any glossy fashion magazine. I love the way the impressionists loved their women - right down to the buckles on their well-turned heels. For me, the exhibit made me want to go home and clean my closet and find some poetic touches to add to my everyday wardrobe. No shopping required.
I had a harrowing day yesterday - and the cacaphony of frustration had me mindlessly keeping a list a negative experiences as a way to reality check that it wasn't me. I jotted down three in succession: a co-worker's curt email response to my simple query, a demeaning IT worker who dripped with sarcasm as I described my software problem over the phone, and a friend who misread the tone of my voice and laughed inappropriately.
Today was different...a dear co-worker hugged me goodbye as she goes off to much greener pastures. The fact that she is older than I and has found her dream job is immensely inspiring though I will miss her terribly. And then, at lunch, I was browsing the magazines at the market when I felt a woman at my elbow. I sensed she wanted to speak, so I let myself smile and turned openly to her. She asked me which magazine I thought her friend, who was in the hospital recovering from a stroke, might like. "I avoid all the magazines down that end", she said pointing to certain publications with nearly nude celebrities on their covers. I chuckled and nodded and together we selected a thick and happy shelter magazine with a photograph of a vase of blowsy pink peonies on the cover. She also picked up the Times and then thanked me. I wished her friend a speedy recovery and she genially thanked me again. It was such a sweet civilized moment that come to one's life so infrequently these days.
A co-worker of my daugher's, a pretty young teacher, has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She will be fine, but this lovely creature is a single mother of two little ones. The day after her diagnosis she donned her lipstick and new spring coat and attended a teacher's conference just as she had planned. I find I am asking my daughter about her nearly every day now. I'm sure she can teach us all something.
So, I've decided to keep a better kind of list. One of pleasant serendipitous moments with strangers, co-workers I see off to dream nicer dreams, and courageous young mothers named "Joy".
credit: Marguerite Stuber Pearson
Thursday, March 14, 2013
My mother embraced her heritage too which was Italian and therefore, we were not encouraged to wear green on St. Paddy’s Day. Neither were we encouraged to wear colors in support of the great Italia or in support of Scotland, home to our other ancestors. We went to school un-green and neutral and learned that St. Patrick’s Day in Marlborough was sacrosanct.
In second grade I was home sick one St. Patrick’s Day. Aside from the small agony of a cold which was quickly forgotten, sick days meant Mom’s sweet attention, and that was not forgotten. Lunch was delivered on trays and the portable TV was wheeled in to enjoy between naps. The periodic touch of cool hands on our feverish faces was balm to the very soul. But on this particular sick day, Mom thought it would be ok to take me out to Shopper’s World for a little fresh air. It was a warm almost spring day, a rare March gift, and as I hopped into our station wagon I was thrilled to have a day out with Mom all to myself, another rare gift. We both wore our lightweight spring jackets and even today I recall the warm breeze and the smug glee I felt that day.
I skipped ahead of Mom in the outdoor corridors of the shopping center, my sneakers sliding across the windswept sand and salt left after the melting winter snows. We shopped for thread and buttons and paused so I could dip both my hands in the large button bin and feel the cool disks fall over my fingers like a small waterfall. We ate at W. H. Grant’s luncheon counter and I was tickled when Mom ordered the same thing as me, grilled cheese and chocolate milk. My skinny legs dangled from the round stool and I could barely stop twirling to take a bite of my sandwich. Later I trailed behind Mom as she searched for cards in the card department. It was then that I noticed a display of St. Patrick’s Day accessories, especially a large dazzling green leprechaun hat with a buckle of gold glitter. It was way too big for me and as I dared to try it on, Mom raised an eyebrow and asked, “Now why would you want that thing”? Still, the look of longing on my face implored her enough to buy the cardboard hat as a keepsake for our special outing.
On the way home, I sat in the back seat of the station wagon, proudly sporting my new hat, its brim repeatedly edging down my forehead. I caught Mom glancing at me a few times in the rearview mirror with a half smile on her lips. Then...suddenly, she called out, “My you are a pretty Irish girl today”! And alone in the roomy backseat, and underneath a ridiculous oversized green hat, my dark Italian eyes were smiling.
Friday, March 8, 2013
I have been thinking about the women who have led the way before me, in whose footsteps I try to tentatively place my own. There is Mom, of course, my grandmothers, some of the muses I have written about here and some yet to be written. But I also turn to literature and books for my life guides. I found one last year in Mrs. Delany, as presented to me by Molly Peacock in her delightful book, "The Paper Garden, An Artist (Begins her Life's Work) at 72", and now I am finding one in Mrs. Diana Vreeland, the great visionary stylist and editor. Both women reinvented themselves, most remarkably in their 70's, an age when women are usually considered to be too old for new beginnings. Mrs. Delany entered one of her most creative periods by scissoring her famous "mosaiks" at 72, and Mrs. Vreeland began working as the Metropolitan Museum of Art's historical costume curator at 70. Their art is still considered timeless, beautiful, and important.
I've called this post The Key because yesterday, the day the ax fell, I was entering a friend's office building to collect her for dinner. Just beyond the glass door, I noticed something glint on the floor of the lobby. As I leaned over, I saw that it was a silver key. Not an ordinary key, but a gorgeous oversized decorative one with black onyx stones and diamante. It's special looking as though it would fit the keyhole of a child's playhouse or a secret garden door. And since I found it in a large empty office lobby, I pocketed it, rightly or wrongly and it will stay with me now. If one believes in signs of the universe, perhaps it is meant as a message to me, it so obviously shouts KEY. As to what it will open, I'm not yet sure.