Style influences: Piero Gherardi and Anita Ekberg, La Dolce Vita

Like most people, I get my style cues from so many different sources I can’t keep track of them all. More, I’m sure a huge proportion of my influences are so subliminal I couldn’t articulate them if I wanted to. That said, the spirit of self-exploration has taken hold and inspired me to try. So with that, I’m presenting my first style influences. Not the first in the chronological sense of my life, but the first I’m bringing to the blog: Piero Gherardi – art, set, and costume designer for many of Federico Fellini’s iconic films – and the luminous Anita Ekberg, one of the talented female stars of my favorite Fellini, La Dolce Vita (1960).

Sylvia's Fountain Dress from La Dolce Vita at a Cinecitta exhibition on Fellini. Photo by Cassia Afini via Wikimedia.
Sylvia’s Fountain Dress from La Dolce Vita at a Cinecitta exhibition on Fellini. Photo by Cassia Afini via Wikimedia.

Since Ekberg just passed away, she’s a logical first choice. The designs that she – and everyone else in La Dolce Vita – wore also happen to be some of my favorite clothes ever. Her strapless velvet gown from the famous Baths of Caracalla and Trevi Fountain scenes is legendary, but I’d love it even if it were 1/1,000,000th as famous as it is. With its sweetheart neckline, carefully-engineered bodice, and sweeping, diaphanous silk underlayers, it’s truly a dream dress. The way Ekberg whirls through the Caracalla scene, it’s almost like the dress has taken on a life of its own.

Sylvia dances at the Baths of Caracalla in La Dolce Vita
Sylvia dances at the Baths of Caracalla in La Dolce Vita.

My other favorite Ekberg ensemble from the film includes the off-shoulder, v-neck lace top her character, Sylvia, wears during the press suite scene soon after her arrival in Rome. It’s perfect – just the right balance of structure and femininity, balanced delicately on the pinnacle fulcrum of the best fashion era that ever was or will be – the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Sylvia's lace top
Sylvia’s lace top

It helps that Ekberg didn’t have a standard body. While not exactly plus, she had bigger curves than the average actress and looked amazing. This inspired me, as a girl who is nothing if not curvy.

 

Fluctuat nec mergitur: City of Paris – department stores from San Francisco’s past

Though all that remains of it today is its domed rotunda from 1909, City of Paris is one of those venerable old department stores that everybody from San Francisco seems to remember. From 1850 and the boomtown days of the California gold rush to the early 1970s, the store was an integral part of the culture and economy of the city. Legendary columnist Herb Caen deemed its massive Christmas trees the official Christmas trees of the city, and even people who never bought a thing at City of Paris were very familiar with the store and the high-end French and French-inspired goods that it was known for.

City of Paris dome
City of Paris dome

City of Paris is gone, but its beaux-arts rotunda and glass dome (which is reminiscent of those at Galeries Lafayette in Paris ca. 1912) live on at the store’s former site on Union Square, now Neiman-Marcus. The glass features the motto and crest of the real city of Paris in France: a ship and the words “Fluctuat nec Mergitur,” Latin for “It floats but does not sink.” This reflects not only the attitude of the business itself, founded by Frenchman Felix Verdier, but also the literal founding of the store. Verdier brought his first load of goods to sell from France on a ship called Ville de Paris. In fact, the story goes that Verdier managed to sell everything from the ship itself thanks to eager men flush with money from their gold rush successes, making the Ville de Paris, in effect, his first storefront.

City of Paris rotunda
City of Paris rotunda
City of Paris rotunda
City of Paris rotunda

The I. Magnin Bathroom LIVES: Department stores from San Francisco’s past

When I was in college in the mid-1990s, I shopped at I. Magnin on Union Square. I didn’t buy much – mostly makeup – but I had as good a time as anybody at this bay area institution. I was really thin then, so I could try on the Armani and Chanel and look good in it. More fun than anything, however, was the beautiful bones of the store.

I. Magnin main hall
I. Magnin main hall

The sleek marble facade and remaining post-deco interiors from 1948 gave the place an air of sophistication that a brand-new build – no matter how opulent – just couldn’t match. The downstairs “main hall” had several gorgeous painted glass murals by artist Max Ingrand and bronze balustrades reminiscent of a trans-Atlantic ocean liner. In fact, the main floor reminded me an awful lot of the Queen Elizabeth‘s interiors, barely a decade older.

Union Square
Union Square
I. Magnin marble exterior
I. Magnin marble exterior

When Macy’s – I. Magnin’s parent company – closed the store in 1994, I was gutted. I managed to happen upon the fixture sale in early 1995 and purchased the only remaining piece of I. Magnin I could afford or logically use – a large white flag with the I. Magnin logo (which I still have).

I. Magnin bathroom
I. Magnin bathroom

Years later, I found a beautiful 1940s vintage lace dress with I. Magnin labels and promptly fell on it. It got me thinking about the store and how much I missed it. Nowadays, everything from the original I. Magnin building, designed by Timothy Pflueger, has been overrun by the Macy’s next door and its boutique lessees downstairs. Well, almost everything. I did discover that one original 1948 interior space remains – a women’s bathroom.

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Beatnik Fashion: Not every member of the Beat Generation wore a beret!

Kim Novak in Bell Book and Candle
Kim Novak in Bell Book and Candle: a beatnik stereotype

Recently, my friend Gailynne asked me to write an article for our costumers’ guild newsletter. She knows I love mid-century fashion, and she needed someone to write a piece on “beatnik” fashion for our “On the Road” event coming up in November. I thought it would be fun, so I jumped on it! I figured it would be a good way to learn more about the “Beat Generation” and the (old school) hipster culture that inspired – and was inspired by – it.

When most people hear the word “beatnik,” they probably imagine bored-looking bohemian gals in berets and guys in turtlenecks and weird little goatees. These stereotypes are rooted in truth, but like the term “beatnik” itself, they’re not really very representative of the movement defined by the “Beat Generation” nor the people inspired by its counterculture philosophy. The reality is that the intellectuals, artists, and anti-bourgeois iconoclasts of mid-twentieth century America dressed a lot like everyone else.

Legendary San Francisco columnist Herb Caen created the term “beatnik” in 1958, a portmanteau of “beat” and “Sputnik” (as in the Soviet satellite) that – in conjunction with a short report about freeloading hep cats helping themselves to booze at a magazine party – was meant to poke fun at common perceptions of the counterculture. Namely, that the group was full of lazy opportunists with far left political leanings. According to Caen, however, Beat Generation mainstay Jack Kerouac didn’t find it very amusing. “You’re putting us down and making us sound like jerks,” Kerouac apparently told him. “I hate it. Stop using it.”

I’ve linked the newsletter .pdf below if you’d like to read the whole article!

http://www.gbacg.org/newsletter-links/finery-issues/2014_SeptOct.pdf

Heywood Wakefield hoarder ahoy!

Yeah, that would be me. In the last two weeks I got two more (yes, these make three) vintage Heywood Wakefield M308G “step” side tables in the “Champagne” finish and the M320 “kneehole” desk in “Wheat.”

Heywood Wakefield Side Tables
Heywood Wakefield side/end tables.

I seriously love this side table model. If I could be a piece of furniture, this is what I’d be. steppy second level and the sweepy legs are quirky, yet graceful. The inward-upward taper created by the legs and the smaller upper step take a page straight out of classical Greek architecture. This is the freaking Parthenon of end tables.

While this particular style was only in production for about six years (1948-1953) and they don’t come cheap, there are enough M308Gs out there to populate your own modest-sized mid century furniture planet if you really wanted to. I got these from a knowledgeable collector who had a nice HeyWake buffet project in the hopper and didn’t have time or space to deal with them now.

Now for the desk and chair. I picked them up from a nice couple who needed to make room for their baby’s crib. The wife’s grandfather had purchased the set new, which made me a little sad to think that such a nifty piece was leaving its original family. That said, I will give it a very nice, loving home, so no one has to worry.

Heywood Wakefield Kneehole Desk
Heywood Wakefield kneehole desk.

Heywood Wakefield produced this iconic kneehole design from 1950-1965. Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky – the 20th century Russian-American industrial designer known for his streamlined, modernist style  – created it. What makes the desk extra-nifty is the very wide upper drawer. And the left-lower double-high bottom drawer, which makes it perfect for storing file folders. And the fully finished desk back. And…well, pretty much everything.

My plans for world domination through mid century birch furniture are becoming reality! Craigslist, I couldn’t do it without you!

Fashion Icons: Vertigo, Edith Head, Alfred Hitchcock, and Kim Novak

Vertigo Costume Sketch
Madeleine’s icy white coat, worn by Kim Novak in Vertigo. Scan from an Ebay poster auction.

Anyone who knows me knows I love me some Vertigo. It’s my favorite Hitchcock film. The mystery involved makes it an obvious choice for Halloween, but there’s more to in than that. There’s the local aspect (I’m from Northern California), the Edith Head costumes (which aren’t exclusive to this Hitchcock piece, though they are particularly wonderful in it), and Kim Novak, whom I admire greatly.

She’s not just beautiful, she’s a tremendously sensitive actress. Novak’s very raw, vulnerable portrayal of Judy resonated with me. I could relate. Plus, she looked darn hot as both a rough-edged shop girl and a sanitized stand-in for the very patrician Madeleine Elster.

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I <3 WTC

WTC Model
Early 1964: Architect Minoru Yamasaki and Gov. Nelson D. Rockefeller pose with the first “finished” configuration model of the World Trade Center.

This humble post is dedicated to Minoru Yamasaki, modern architectural master, and Guy Tozzoli, the man who directly managed the original World Trade Center project and deeply loved his Twins.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was a source of political contention and financial worry. In the late 1970s, it was a symbol of metropolitan glamor (it was the Emerald City in The Wiz, after all!). In the 1980s and 1990s, it stood for commercial success and tourist fascination. In the early 21st century, it became Ground Zero. And now, for most people, the World Trade Center is back to being the World Trade Center once again, proof that determination can – just as in the 60s and 70s – overcome political strife. Things may never be right in Lower Manhattan again, but things can be good.

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Happy 58th, Disneyland! and the Barstow Family’s “Disneyland Dream”

The Barstow family in Disneyland, 1956
The Barstow family in Disneyland, 1956.

Disneyland’s 58 years old today! To celebrate, here’s the Barstow family’s 1956 D-Land adventure! One of the kids won the trip – a dream vacation to the then-one-year-old theme park – through a 3M cellophane tape contest.

The film – titled “Disneyland Dream” – is a great record of early Disneyland, but it also includes glimpses of old school Knott’s Berry farm and 1950s SoCal in general. These days, it’s hard to imagine northern O.C. covered by anything but pavement and buildings… Continue reading “Happy 58th, Disneyland! and the Barstow Family’s “Disneyland Dream””