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.
You don’t just wear a necklace any more; when you put something around your neck nowadays, you are making a statement. You may be saying something bold or delicate, excessive or refined. But you are definitely saying something.
The concept of statement necklaces—wearing a piece of jewelry to convey a message about yourself—feels new, but it has a long history behind it. Cleopatra loved her bib necklaces; the Indian Maharajas loved to pile on the jewels.
With her lucky 13 collection of little icons, no one makes it easier to make a personalized statement necklace than jewelry designer Alex Woo. Her work has appeared on The Carrie Diaries and Gossip Girl. It has made the Elle magazine’s accessories issues and graced the neck of some swimming suit models in Sports Illustrated. Currently, Woo’s work can be purchased at the boutique of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, as well as online through Nordstrom or Bloomingdale’s.
The trends for this summer’s styles have mainly been loud and bold: horizontal stripes, neon florals, or kaleidoscope prints. J. Crew offered a wonderful T shirt that offered a two-for: Breton stripes with red and orange flowers across the bottom (It is now sold out.). And many designers, from Tory Burch to Prabal Gurung for Target, are showing wildly mixed prints. Even Title Nine, the athletic clothing line for women, has mad hatter pattern mixes in their sundresses.
But one trend stands out for its simplicity and quietness: the white dress. It comes in all shapes and styles: flowing, lacy, sleek, or sporting peek-a-boo cut-outs. The little white dress is the little black dress of this summer.
Historically, white has always been a summer color. The Edwardians loved to don summer white, but the appeal of the light color was understandable: women were coping with bustles and corsets in the soaring heat. During this time, white began to be associated with wealth and status. It was the required color for tennis and polo players—both sports that originated with the well-to-do. Only those with a large staff could maintain the cleanliness of pale clothes. But our lives today revolve around much more activity than taking a cup of tea in the garden or a rigorous game of croquet.
Long before that poster of Cheryl Tiegs in a bathing suit, long before the legendary one of Farrah, there was Esther Williams. No one wore a swimming suit better than Williams.
She died this week at her home in Los Angeles at the age of 91, leaving a unique legacy. She was one of the original California girls, a competitive swimmer who broke many records. She would have competed for the U.S. in the 1940 Olympics, if they hadn’t been cancelled due to World War II. In the 1940’s, MGM signed her to a movie contract, where she splashed her way through over a dozen movies, specializing in underwater ballet and synchronized swimming; she radiated a wholesome sexiness while wearing a swimsuit in the majority of her scenes. Movie critic Pauline Kael once wrote that Williams’ greatest movie talent was “her magnificent athletic body.”
Her swimsuit style may seem a bit modest today, but she was an advocate of the “more is more” approach. And all the retro styles she popularized are back in fashion now, currently available in a variety of stores like Urban Outfitters and Target. This season Spanx makes a swimsuit that could be straight out of Williams’ closet and so does the designer ASOS.
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.