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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Happy new year! I always overdress for the holidays, and last night was no exception. I wore a beautiful lipstick-red vintage silk gown from the 1950s. It’s got a Frank Starr label and was apparently made to measure in a Washington, DC, dress shop.
It’s finally autumn here, so I’ve been busting out the cold weather fashions. Last August, when it was still millions of degrees outside, I ordered two of Betty Le Bonbon’s fabulous winter-weight midi length skirts. I’ve been eagerly waiting for the day I could wear them, and that day is finally here!
A little while back I showed you two lovely Stop Staring! cocktail dresses suitable for holiday wear. I promised a third option from Collectif, and that’s what I’m reviewing for you here! Meet Penny, an attractive sweetheart front-cross halter strap wiggle dress made from stretchy black bengaline.
Bengaline is a comfortable, flattering fabric that works incredibly well in vintage wiggle dress styles. The Collectif Penny is no exception. The cut and construction are fabulous, and the fit is very good. This is the kind of dress that is snazzy enough on its own – look at that bodice! – but dresses up really nicely given its neutral color and sleek lines.
Not long ago I got a very pleasant note from the people who run Sin in Linen, a Seattle-based home textiles company inspired by vintage, pinup, rockabilly, punk, tattoo, gothic, and related aesthetics. Since 2004, owner Sandy Glaze has offered bedding, kitchen goods, and bathroom decor suiting a variety of alternative tastes.
From their main line, you can choose sheet sets, duvet covers, curtains, baby bedding, aprons, oven mitts, and other useful home items in a variety of exclusive fabrics. They kindly sent me one of their signature kitchen aprons and an oven mitt and potholder set in the mid-century modern-inspired “Atomic Dreams” print, a fabric specially designed for them by artist Ragnar of Ragnarama.
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!