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The Look with Marcia Froelke Coburn
As expert analysis of contemporary fashion morphs up to fine art, Marcia Froelke Coburn knows who, what, when and wear this season. From celebrity statements to fashionistas in the streets, this blogger and bold face name's commentary channels the mind behind the designs.
When the stage version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the enduring 1958 novella written by Truman Capote, debuted on Broadway recently, a number of female audience members showed up dressed as the main character Holly Golightly, an adventuresome young woman in the city. They wore little black dresses accented by dramatic pearls. A few added dark over-the-elbow opera gloves.
That look is pure Holly Golightly as depicted memorably by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 Tiffany movie. (Capote’s novella didn’t have much emphasis on fashion.) The most recent reincarnation of this character on stage wears 25 different WWII fashions as interpreted by famous costume designer Colleen Atwood [from the movie Edward Scissorhands], including a flowing satin dressing gown and shirtwaist dresses with cinched-in waists. The new look was more Carrie Bradshaw circa 1943 than iconic Hepburn.
It is probably best that Broadway went another direction instead of tinkering with the way Hepburn looked in the movie; her style there – high French twist hair, oversize Rayban Wayfarer sunglasses and statement alligator pumps – cannot really be improved upon. That is why the little black dress, along with many of Hepburn’s accessories, is just as relevant today.
The word iconic gets tossed around easily these days, but Lilly Pulitzer’s vibrant shift dresses were truly emblematic of a certain time and a certain lifestyle. Famous for her vibrantly colored resort wear, the heiress and fashion designer died, at age 81, in her home in Palm Beach on Sunday. While she retired decades ago (a licensing company revived her brand in the 1990’s, putting fresh spins on her vintage prints), Pulitzer’s strong influence can be felt in today’s fashion world, with the current intense interest in color and prints.
Pulitzer began designing her wildly patterned clothes in the 1960’s and they reached their peak of popularity a decade later with the Lilly Pulitzer company topping sales at over $15 million. Not bad for a dress that was sold, at the time, only in a limited number of boutiques in places like Southampton and Palm Beach.
“Lillys,” the shorthand used by the wealthy who wore them, were the quintessential tropical uniform for women who, as Pulitzer said, “followed the sun.” Simple to the point of shapelessness, yet so colorful as to be garish, the shifts threw together colors in an abandoned way: turquoise with lime green and hot pink; orange, yellow and Kelly green; or purple, pale pink and sky blue. Flower prints were the most popular, but Pulitzer liked to incorporate anything that caught her interest: flamingos, wine glasses, pandas, sea shells, palms, tigers, or elephants.
It’s déjà vu all over again with designer Jason Wu’s new contemporary line Miss Wu, introduced on January 7 and being exclusively sold through Nordstrom [both in stores and online] for one year. That is, its mod girly vibe feels very 1960’s, an image Wu has played up by having his models photographed sporting floppy-brimmed hats and long straight hair.
Wu first sprang into the fashion spotlight when Michelle Obama wore his ethereal white chiffon gown, embellished with organza flowers and crystals, to her husband’s 2008 inaugural ball. The dress was romantic (some fashion critics compared it to a wedding gown); at the time Wu told CNN, “It’s all a little dreamlike, and we’re making history, and I wanted to really reflect that.”
Now the 30-year-old Wu has reached back in history for inspiration, to a time that occurred decades before he was born: Swinging London of the `60s. Evidently Wu was inspired by photographs of two iconic style setters of that time: singer Marianne Faithfull and actress Jane Birkin. Both of them were advocates of mini skirts, A-line dresses, floral prints, and simple designs topped with girlish details like bows. (Birkin continued her style influence: In the 1980s, Hermes also made a large leather bag for her after she spilled the contents of multiple tote bags on a flight from London to Paris while sitting next to Hermes’ chief executive. Now the bag is a $10,000 status symbol.)
You rarely get a chance to re-style the big events in your life. You will always have that crazy haircut in your high school graduation photo, and there's nothing you can do about it.
Now imagine that you had to choose a special event dress that would be viewed by billions, preserved for the ages, and exhibited for public viewing for decades. The dress has to not only flatter you but also symbolically represent the hopes and dreams of the nation when you wore it. That’s the daunting task for First Ladies face when choosing an inaugural ball gown.
But a rarefied group of First Ladies get to have a second chance at restyling themselves for such a momentous occasion. In the last sixty years, there have only been a handful of women who got a second chance to pick an inaugural ball gown: Mamie Eisenhower, Patricia Nixon, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush – and now, Michelle Obama.
The latest buzz in the beauty world is a literal one: bee venom facials. Also known as apitherapy, bee venom is said by purveyors and devotees to have anti-aging properties.
Hailed as “the natural botox,” bee venom has been used by such famous faces as Michelle Pfeiffer and Victoria Beckham. But it really gained popularity after it was revealed that Kate Middleton, now known as the Duchess of Cambridge, had a bee venom mask before her 2011 wedding to Prince William.
A quick survey of five cosmetic dermatology medical practices in the Northwest Indiana and Chicago area turned up no skyrocketing trend. None of the doctors had heard of bee venom facials. “Eeeww, bees,” said one medical practice manager. “We don’t like them and we don’t want to put them on our faces.” Thankfully, though, that’s not the way bee venom facials work.
Today a blushing bride sounds like something out of a Jane Austen novel—charmingly quaint but definitely belonging to another century. Women in the U.S. are waiting longer to get married (the average age is now 27 years), which means higher education, careers, and traveling before settling down. And yet the hottest trend in bridal fashion is wearing a blush-colored gown.
The trend burst into the spotlight with the weddings of several actresses. First Reese Witherspoon got married in September 2011, wearing a custom gown of blush hue by Monique Lhuillier—and we all got a good look at the pastel dress with Chantilly lace accents when it made the cover of People magazine. This fall Anne Hathaway, who often wears white gowns at red carpet events, donned a frothy pink custom Valentino gown for her wedding. The dress, with a long train, had a very pale tint except at the floaty tulle hem, where the pink was deeper in tone. (That ombre effect calls to mind one of the original blushing brides, Gwen Stefani, who in 2002 wore a John Galliano gown of graduated color, ending with bold pink petticoats peeking out.) And immediately after Hathaway, Jessica Biel wore a petal pink custom gown by Giambattista Valli at her wedding to Justin Timberlake. No mistaking the color here: Biel’s gown was a very girly pink.
Other actresses recently wedded have worn other colors: Julianne Moore in lilac Prada; Sofia Coppola in blush violet by Azzedine Alaia; Cynthia Nixon in pale chartreuse by Carolina Herrera, and Amber Tamblyn in bold yellow by an unknown designer.
In a current show at Chicago’s Field Museum, fashion designer Maria Pinto indulges her inner anthropologist. Fashion and the Field Museum Collection—Maria Pinto (running through June 16, 2013) explores the universal world of design by mixing clothing from the museum’s collection hand-selected by Pinto with some of her own past designs. Included in the show is an original design by Pinto, inspired by the spirit of the Field’s collection.
Pinto is probably best known for dressing Michelle Obama for years. But she has long harbored a harder, more anthropological edge. It may not have been apparent to her fans who sought her out for stylishly understated, ladylike clothes, but tribal design has always been one of Pinto’s inspirations.
The results at the Field Museum show are thought provoking and often startling—for example, the juxtaposition of a translucent Inuit raincoat made of seal intestines paired with Pinto’s “Tema” dress from her spring 2010 collection. Other museum items that Pinto has selected to pair with her own work include a parka made of bird skins, a necklace of woven monkey fur, and an 18th-century Chinese theatrical headdress. All of the items show meticulous craftsmanship, as do Pinto’s own designs.
In a dream world, we would throw out the contents of our closets every season and begin anew. We would wear only new, hip, trendy clothes—straight out of fashion magazines. After all, that’s what the stores and catalogs try to sell us: the idea that we need to completely revamp our look every year.
Of course, it doesn’t work that way. We shop our closets and we build on what we have, in part because of the economy but also thanks to plain common sense. After all, why exactly did we buy those investment pieces if not to make them the workhorses of our wardrobes season after season? Plus it is easy to develop a sentimental attachment to some clothes. For example, the black Eileen Fisher storm coat and the cashmere-lined dark plum gloves I loved last fall seem like trustworthy, welcome friends as I bring them out this season. I’m happy to think about spending more time with them again.
But it is nice to add a refresher piece or two to your reliable standbys, just a new pair of shoes or a stylish sweater that give a little spark to your jeans or jackets. Sometimes it doesn’t take much—just a little hit of new—to bring everything you already own into fresh focus. With that in mind, here is my list of Five Easy Pieces that could spruce up your fall and winter basics.
For the auspicious occasion of the first presidential debate on Oct. 3, both Michelle Obama and Ann Romney did what thousands of women do every day: they shopped their closets and turned up wearing outfits they already owned and had worn before.
It’s a nice fashion nod to the realities of everyday life. Sometimes you just go with what you already have, particularly in today’s economy.
The First Lady wore a dress and matching cropped jacket by Preen, the London-based label of designers Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi. The two started with a Notting Hill shop in 1996, expanding until they began showing in London Fashion Week in 2001. Preen is known for its “modern Victorian look,” utilizing antique fabrics and vintage trims. Mrs. Obama’s dress is from their 2011 collection; the top part is a geometric print inspired by the Northern California Arts and Crafts Movement. The jacket features an inverted pleat back and bracelet-length sleeves. Mrs. Obama first wore the ensemble on a visit to London with the President in May 2011. She repeated the outfit, the next time pairing it with an up-do, when she visited the U.S. Department of Labor in January 2012.
To those of us not attending the highly touted, uber-produced fashion shows in New York, Paris, London or Milan, the concept of a designated Fashion Week feels remote. It is easy to wonder: Do the current designs by Balenciaga or Valentino or Calvin Klein have anything to do with our everyday lives? The answer is yes, although their influence may come in a trickle-down manner. But eventually, some version of those designs is going to show up at the stores at the mall, in the accessories or shoes or jackets we will buy to spruce up our existing wardrobes.
For many of us, every week is our own personal fashion week—every day we struggle to look good within our budgets, to shop our closets, to figure out how we can wear those same black pants or that familiar ruched top in some new way. It may not matter to those around us, but, at heart, women want to feel that we have done our personal best to look good. What we are looking for in our wardrobes isn’t excitement or innovation but purpose.
The designated fashion weeks that begin in September and wrap up in early October are held to inspire, to set a mood in the market. The clothes presented by designers in these runway shows are rarely wearable as shown. Occasionally, there have been breath-taking moments on the runways, when the entire direction of fashion changed. Think of Christian Dior’s “New Look,” presented in 1947. His cinched waist, rounded shoulders, and full skirts defined a decade of women’s silhouettes. And there was the Japanese avant-garde revolution on the Paris runways of the early 1980’s. There Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons threw symmetry and body-contoured shapes into the history bin. Their designs were geometric, textured and slightly frayed looking; this, too, became the look of a decade.