Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New York City Street Style, For Walking And Wearing

We took several walks, in Manhattan. The first night, we walked back to the Crosby Hotel from Momofuku Noodle Bar.* I kept getting turned around, which required consulting my iPhone GPS and muttering. Finally my daughter thoughtfully, um, "released" the phone from my grasp and ran off on a scouting expedition. We found our way.

The second day, we walked through the Museum of Modern Art, often known as MOMA. If you walk through the 5th floor, at the end of the 19th century, and then on down to the 4th floor, through to 1970, you will see the entire sorry and hopeful process of mankind attempting to figure out what fine art is - besides beautiful - in the face of hard science, technology, and psychology. To say nothing of remembering why Starry Night became a postcard in the first place. Although my real favorite is this.

Looks as though Matisse is scraping off a layer of burnt red to find his room. Like the paint comes first.

But our real walk, the long walk, the grinning walk, was on the first morning, from 59th and 5th down to 29th and back and forth between Madison, 5th, and Avenue of the Americas. Usually known as 6th. Good thing I wore my terribly glamorous Aerosoles.

It was a beautiful day. The picture below is neither retouched, nor painted by Georges Seurat. It's Central Park, taken with my little Panasonic Lumix from a vantage point on a street usefully known as Central Park South.

Come days like this, New Yorkers get giddy. Everyone rushes around as though it were their birthday, expectant, prepared for gifts. They sit outside for lunch, blowing out imaginary candles and making real wishes.

Don't get me wrong. Nobody slows down in the sun. They just hurry more happily. Past some of the greatest architecture of the Western world.

On East 59th and 5th, kitty-corner to Central Park, Mr. Jobs has constructed an outrageous retail experience. He plonked down a glass cube on a plaza, thereby referring inevitably to I.M. Pei's glass pyramid at the Louvre, all the while selling gizmos and gadgets to the entire world. Hats off, Steve, hats off to you.

Classic New York. Young Hasidic men, like young men everywhere, playing with their tech toys.

But retail of the technical type is not my home territory. I wanted to see what everyone was wearing. I did, and was surprised. New York is no longer the town of go black or go home. No longer about presenting an impenetrable surface.

It's not a luxe look, these days, not confrontative. It's about texture. Color. Patterns. People are wearing layers, clothes with little details, tone on tone color. That's important. This is not the wornout "pop" of color we've heard so much about. It's waves, maybe washes, of color. In terms of actual garments, we're talking lots of jackets, skinny jeans, and flats. Everyone in scarves. Even me, by the end of the day. I bought a scarf from a street vendor for $10, and wore it with my cropped military jacket. High WASPs don't need to be fashion-forward but we must, above all, feel appropriate. In tune with the social context.

I was wearing black, so there was no tone-on-tone way to join the throngs in floral joy. Gray with lettuce ruffles and lace was as decorative as I could get. But, I am blond, with blue eyes, and fairly pink of skin, so I brought some of my own pigment to the picture. And the trees were so green, the sky so blue, I believed there was enough color to go around. I only needed some flutter. And I got it.

If I were going again tomorrow, I'd find myself a shirt like this.

Or even a flowered dress to wear on the streets. What is the world coming to?

The woman below exemplified much about the style I saw.
  • An ornamented hat.
  • Flat sandals, tough but not too tough.
  • Jeans so skinny that they were leggings.
  • The trench with a fancy buckle.
  • A floral patterned bag.
  • And a patterned, colored, non-empire-waisted blouse in shades similar to the trench. The blouse is not visible here, due to my inability to buttonhole strangers and convince them to let me take their picture.
I'm working on that last part. I think.

I confess that the geometries of New York distracted me from fashion. Walking down the street, looking. The effort of assembling shapes into meaning, over and over again. If you live in the suburbs you are apt to see mostly what you know, day in, day out. In New York everything is familiar at a high level, like Plato's archetypes perhaps, but completely new at the level of experience. You've seen Indian men with good hair before, but never that man. Yes, graceful storefronts, but not one filled with flowers and sugar. Know all about hot dogs and sauerkraut, but have never eaten from that cart. Not that one. Something is always new, and more than new.

It's possible to feel drunk, just walking. Although this woman appeared to have no trouble keeping to her straight line.

We wandered undirected down 5th. It gets pretty plebian, 5th Avenue, once you pass Bergdorf's and Tiffany's and their ilk. Until of course you pass St. Patrick's Cathedral. And the Empire State Building. To say nothing of the Diamond District.** Otherwise known as 47th street, where the diamond dealers do millions of dollars worth of trade in gems, carrying sparklies down the sidewalk in paper envelopes, or speaking Hebrew into cellphones, leg up on parked limos. And Koreatown, where the smell of barbecue survives the exhaust of Escalades - which by the way appear to have taken over the city like alien spaceships descending from Dallas. Or Palm Springs.

We got tired. Tired but happy. Ready to close up the perceptual shop. And in Manhattan, there are cabs everywhere. Maybe not when the shows let out, maybe not when you leave work in the rain, but on a Friday afternoon around 2pm, plenty.

That day we took a cab to Chinatown and ate fish wonton soup, among other things. Just told the cab driver, "Chinatown." He knew what we meant. I was too full of visions to take any more photos.

The next day, after the MOMA, we had pizza at John's in the West Village. Squint your eyes. Doesn't this kind of look like Starry Night, in red? All that circular motion? No? I told you I was a little distracted. A crowd of celebrants took over several tables and persisted in saying the word, "Martini!" over and over again, loudly, even though it was lunchtime. New York will do that to you.

Here's our food from John's. If you can resist calling this a Tower of Pizza you're infinitely more dignified than I. The same would be true if you could resist asking for a box, stuffing it with leftovers and having your son carry it to the subway, like a tomato-based badge of Manhattan honor. Even though he's walking.

*I recommend the tamales.
**Where my father bought me pearls for my 25th birthday. Someday I'm going back in.

A Review Of The Crosby Street Hotel, And Some Budget Alternatives

One of the most important things to plan when visiting New York is, "Which hotel?" No rocket science that. But there are so many of them. So many hotels. And they are often terribly expensive. So, here, for your reading pleasure, is a review of the Crosby Street Hotel, where I stayed last weekend for 3 nights. It certainly qualifies as expensive, since rooms start at around $500/night, but I also have a few budget alternatives in my pocket to share. Remember, the family fortune is dwindling, and sometimes one's job does not prefer to put one up at 5-star venues.

The Crosby Street Hotel is owned by the Firmdale Group, a London concern. As it turns out, this matters. The ethos of the place is dignified, pleasant, service in the best Anglo-Saxon tradition. (Oh, yes, I know there are bad Anglo-Saxon traditions, but hotel service isn't one of them.) The aesthetic is both clubby and quirky. But the heart is New York, and the Crosby Street Hotel functions with Manhattan-esque efficiency smack dab in the core of cobble-stoned, 19th-century Soho. It's even near the Spring Street subway station, on the #6 line. You can zip right on up to the Upper East Side if you must. I just don't think you'll want to.

Walk into the lobby to find the reception desk directly en face, as the French say. No need to navigate an echoing lobby. This is the perfect size, large enough that you don't bump anyone, small enough to feel more like a tony, tongue-in-cheek apartment building than a hotel. Behind the desk clerk, little mailboxes for your keys, in the European style. Your keys, of course, are actually a plastic fob with some mysterious beeping technology, but never mind that. The large lobby statue of a head made from words makes clear you're meant to be as much amused as served.

Two elevators. Phew. I hate those banks of 17 doors opening and closing with red arrows flashing and alerts buzzing. I always feel a faint anxiety that I will wind up on the 24th floor, unable to navigate my way back down, at the mercy of a mysterious card key I have failed to obtain.

The room itself is comfortable, elegant, colorful, and furnished with just enough extra details that, again, you feel both the aesthetic and the intent of the establishment. I mean, a little box of 3 aromatherapy lip balms as a favor? Thanks, Aunt Althea and Uncle Percy, the imaginary relatives you are coming to believe have invited you to their London house.

Althea and Percy have a unique sense of color, too. In the light of the floor to ceiling, paned windows, fuchsia is actually calming. Not something I thought I'd ever say.

The bed is properly fluffy, the television properly flat, the lighting properly adjustable, and the bathroom properly granite. My only quibble would be that I do not require enough room in the glass-walled shower to engage in Irish step-dancing and would much prefer a bathtub be included. Although the little runnels carved into the granite floor of the shower to enable fast drainage were a nice touch. Again, practical and graceful at once.

The hotel bar and restaurant is decorated in a similarly detailed, irreverent, and color-innovative style. Silver metal-covered bar tables. Light iron chandeliers hanging by the window. Warmly-colored glass globes overhead for light fixtures. And the most adorable felted wool chairs, each with a different totemic thingie appliqued on the back. All of which still manages to hang together. Nice work Althea and Percy. Super.

Althea and Percy have also managed to train a hotel staff to be solicitous, not obsequious. Having arrived very late, I was down in the bar hoping to eat, but the kitchen had closed. The waitperson, upon hearing I was a guest of the hotel, managed to find me some dinner anyway. Makes one feel quite, well, welcome.

At the end of the day, in a great hotel you must be both both home and away. Comfortable, in a foreign land. Witness orange stitching on felt pillows in the restaurant. Evidence of someone's handiwork. The spinach and goat cheese omelette I had for breakfast was as good as those I make myself, and I make a very good one. Whole grain toast. A pot of loose leaf tea and a hotel silver tea strainer. Home.

Away. New York City, right outside those floor-to-ceiling windows. Paying for a higher floor at The Crosby gets you more than just a night free of street sounds. One of the window panes cranks open, a bit. Just enough to sit on the cushioned window seat with a camera and breathe the rain as it falls past your face.

If, in fact, you are thinking about going to New York, not just dreaming as I do at pictures of hotels in other places, I have some additional recommendations. For traditional luxury, I like the The Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South. The rooms are small but fitted out in wood-worked details like crown moldings and chair rails and built in vanities that merit the over-used term "jewel box." Great park views too. For small luxury, I've stayed at 60 Thompson and The Gansevoort, but I prefer the Crosby to either of these, as the rooms are larger and the staff less prone to hipper-than-thou behavior.

If you're traveling on a budget (at least in the Manhattan sense of the word), I have stayed in two places I can recommend highly. The GEM Hotel Soho stretches things a big with the Soho name, as they're really on the Lower East Side. Oh well. Close enough. Manhattan is for walking. And, though they don't have a restaurant of any sort, there's an enormous Whole Foods right down the street, that serves a great breakfast upstairs. Yes, I said upstairs. It's New York, of course the Whole Foods has an upstairs. Silly me, I was surprised. You, I am sure, have much better sense than I. Rooms are usually priced at $269, but they have a special offer this summer of $159/night with Choice Hotels membership.

I also like The Best Western Bowery Hanbee Hotel for $250/night. It's in the middle of Chinatown, which is rather underrated as a New York neighborhood. The Hanbee serves a cereal and coffee type breakfast, but right out the door you can find both bao (buns) and Western diner grub for very little. And if you take a look, the Hanbee is even closer to actual Soho than the GEM Soho. Take a look at the map.

I knew some day I would appreciate the frugal boss who introduced me to these places. Have a wonderful trip.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Yes, I Do Know It's Tuesday

Sole purchases - a street vendor scarf and a pair of glasses from the MOMA

I got back from New York Sunday night. Today is Tuesday. The plane from JFK was delayed two hours, so I arrived home past midnight. Yesterday, Monday, I had to stare into space. Stare into space and look at my rather random and sparse photographs. Turns out that one can't put New York City into a lightbox and move its parts around like shoes. "Hey, you, you massive office building, could you please shove on over next to that tree?" And, although the Sartorialist and Tish Jett have figured out how to ask permission for photos of the stylishly dressed in large cities, I'm not quite yet up to, "Hey you, lady, dressed so fabulously, could you stop right there and turn your shoulders to the left?" So I've been sorting pictures. And thinking.

It looks like I'll have four posts. First, a review of the Crosby Street Hotel and a couple of budget alternatives I know of. Second, Walking Some Of The Vast Isle That Is Manhattan, And, The Style Of Its Streets. Third, Window Shopping On Broome Street In Soho. Fourth, The Night I Wore My Louboutins To The Mark Hotel Bar. All subject to change, as I claim middle-aged privilege to remember something I have for the moment forgotten.

I do want to make sure not to disappoint anyone if I can avoid it. High WASPs hate above all else to disappoint, although, of course, it's unavoidable if you live past the age of 3. So let me set context. This was not a trip of enormous sums dispensed in Fifth Avenue boutiques, or even hours spent looking over mirrored and scented countertops. There was a lot of walking. Huge quantities of pizza. More glitter from the sky and light reflected in windows than from gems. Works of art that you always forget are not just postcards. And, on my face at least, an enormous, almost perpetual, smile.

So I've been thinking. Thinking and eating lettuce non-stop. Turns out Californians are far more committed to lettuce than the rest of the country. On the other hand, Sweet Pea Soup With Parmesan Foam at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's restaurant at the Mark Hotel was delicious. Talk to you all tomorrow. Thanks in advance for your forbearance.

*And by the way, my son turns 20 today. Have a very happy birthday honey.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Spring Comes To Manhattan, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:12am EST

A few Manhattan thoughts of profound import.

1. The sky has been so blue this weekend we might have been in the countryside.
2. The Crosby Street Hotel has friendly service.
3. Food is a good thing.
4. Loved ones are a good thing.
5. My feet are intact but aware of their long journeying.
6. People here are wearing floral prints. And scarves.
7. The skinny jeans with flats phenomenon is nowhere near done.
8. New York has great taxis and a legendary subway.
9. You can see the work of laborers - bricklayers, welders, masons - everywhere. No pre-fabrication.
10. The sheer number of people is mitigated by neighborhoods.
11. Yes, I mean this. In the face of a big, big, city I hope everyone allows themselves a few cliches.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

10% Discount And Ciao Bella!

Paula asked about my blog schedule, given that I am off to New York. She also asked if I'd be visiting Tiffany & Co., or Iradj Moini. Oh Iradj, those are some outrageous, luscious big gems. But I digress. I plan to check in here Saturday morning to write the usual whatever-comes-into-my-head-that's-not-embarrassing-or-maybe-only-a-little-embarrassing claptrap. I should be back to posting by Monday, or Tuesday if the Xanax-induced hangover from Sunday's flight is too hideous.

Have I explained that I'm afraid of flying? Yes. Well. That.

In any case, on a final note of thanks to all, Margaret from NaraCamicieSF has this to say. In pink. Because that's her style and she knows it.
"I am so happy you all know about this exciting brand now, and I would love to help you choose something that makes you as happy as Lisa's blue shirt makes her. First step is checking our site Then call us at (415) 683-3204 in San Francisco or write us and identify yourself as a Privilege reader {use code PRIV) and get 10% off on any purchases. We ship anywhere..

Best regards from Margaret, owner, Naracamicie San Francisco, the most beautiful blouse in the world from Italy."
Margaret Lawrence
(415) 683-3204
As long as we're all things Italian today, I'm just going to say, and mean it, "Ciao bella!"

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How Sturdy Gals Do Cool In New York

I'm off to New York tomorrow. So excited. I spent much of my 20s in Manhattan. I always love going back. But it feels a little bit like returning to a high school reunion. A slight frisson of, am I cool enough? Or, in my case, at all?

Sturdy Gals are not natively cool. Competent, yes. Loyal, yes. Cool, not so much. But we are learners. And I studied Manhattan for 5 straight years. I have a strategy, for the city I nominate as one of the 5 Top Coolest Cities In The Universe. It might be Number 1, except I've never been to Tokyo or Berlin. And some city somewhere in Australia is on the rise. But I digress.

Manhattan cool, for Sturdy Gals, means you go all the way to Grande Dame, or you stay Sturdy. Sturdy with an urban edge, that is. Artsy Cousins have more options, including dyeing their hair black and coloring their lips dark red. Sturdy Gals? We give it a shot with what we've got.

And remember, above all, 1) do not strike a false note with inconsistency of purpose or aesthetic 2) do not let on that you are trying.

Time to start packing. One thing I know about Manhattan is you can't go wrong with black. Luckily, I am the queen of black shoes. As we have previously discussed, these Louboutins will come along. I'll probably wear them for about 4 hours. 4, cool-as-I-can-manage, hours. Might involve drinks at a fancy hotel bar, and dessert at someplace downtown. And a little black dress. I'll throw on a cheap black trench coat for diffidence. Perhaps some dangling gold antique Swedish earrings. As in, what, these old things?

I'll also bring Manolo quilted ballet flats. And I'll wear them for about 8 hours, all told. For Asian food and a little shopping. With flared dark 7 jeans, a plain white tee, small Chinatown 24K earrings, and a Chanel jacket. A very old Chanel jacket. I'd call it vintage, except really I just bought it myself in 1998, with the first bonus I ever got from Sun Microsystems.

Finally, my wildly glamorous Aerosoles will make the trip. These I will probably wear for about 16 hours. Maybe 20 or 24. Up and down the Avenues, to Riverside Drive, the Guggenheim, and that new High Line park which looks so gorgeous. I will wear them with Levis 501s boyfriend jeans, black tee, gray pearl and diamond studs, and a military jacket. Tough and sturdy. (What? Pearls are sturdy.)

The key thing about comfortable shoes is that you have to look like you wore them on purpose.
For Manhattan cool, try to appear as though you are out on an adventure where you might encounter something with teeth.

Never, ever wear solid comfortable shoes with fancy pretty pants. But wear them somehow.

Because dreams of coolness are fabulous and all, but being able to walk through New York unhampered by miserable feet is even better. Sturdy Gals everywhere, represent.

*BTW, these Ann Taylor shoes do a pretty good job of capturing the Louboutin aesthetic for $99. If only they'd added the internal platform, I'd have been happy to do without the red soles. Via Corporette.

**For anyone wondering what on earth I mean by Sturdy Gals and Grandes Dames, click here. There is, I hope, some method to this madness.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

We Have A Winner!

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. Small slip of paper, please....

Wait. First I wanted to take a minute to thank you for your stories. They were lovely. 69 people told us about clothes they loved, or how they would wear the pictured blouses. Let me mention a few, although I am tempted to simply repost every single one.

From the class factotum, who wrote about a nightgown her mother made her, "a mother's love, tangled up in blue," to AgathaMChristie's grandmother's turquoise sequinned top, to the Stafford Wife taking a pashmina as a security blanket on airplanes, to Walking Barefoot, writing about the robes she wore to accept her doctorate degree and her fabulous wedding dress, to Peacock Feathers and Diamond Rings wearing the striped shirt as a young lawyer, Abigail feeling powerful in her black pants suit, and MJ, with the skirt she wore to get her first job at the law firm (where she is now partner) too "freighted with memory" to give away - all wonderful. And thepreppyprincess with a Ritz Cracker vest. Still wonderful.

In reading everything over yesterday I wished I could give a shirt to everyone who commented. Thank you.

But when I drew a name, this time from a silver pitcher, it came up Buckeroomama.

And Buckeroomama*, who blogs at Mamahood....Among Other Things about her life in Hong Kong with two adorable children, wrote this:
That white shirt from the Italian catalog? I have a VERY similar shirt that I bought when I was in Paris. A prized shirt, not only because of how it "flatteringly" it had fit me and what I'd paid for it, but also because I didn't use a single word of English when I communicated with the salesperson (who didn't speak English)... that totally boosted my confidence in my ability to speak and understand French --at least during my stay there. :) Sadly, though, the shirt was irreparably damaged when our helper "ironed" it. I haven't found a shirt that fit as well since. Either that or I had been looking in the wrong places.
So Buckeroo, I will be getting in touch to give you contact information for NaraCamicieSF, and to ship the shirt once you've settled on which one you like. Congratulations! And again, thank you everyone who participated.

*And takes really great photos, BTW.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Happy Path, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:58am

I want to thank you all for your help. Last Saturday, when I posted my question, on what to do about choosing a college major and how to sustain oneself in the early years, I was not sure if it was a good idea. But over 75 people answered in the comment section, and a few more sent me emails.

Thank you.

Your stories and opinions have helped me build a framework in which to have a better attitude, and therefore a better discussion with my son. Thank you.

If I think back to everything you wrote, here's my analysis.
  1. Some young people have a clear early path. Maybe they want to make money and don't mind choosing a major and entry level job that takes them towards that goal. Maybe they have an interest they love and pursue right out of the gate, wherever that takes them. Maybe they just love work, engagement, projects, and it almost doesn't matter what they do.
  2. Others will take a more wandering path. I see 4 primary happy, if less directed, ways.
  3. You wander around trying stuff, earning what you can, until you find what you love/are really good at.
  4. Or wander around trying stuff, earning what you can, until you decide that you want to make a good salary. This will often involve going to graduate school.
  5. You can major in something practical, get out of college, earn a good if mundane living, and in your 40s or 50s change careers to something more fulfilling.
  6. Or major in something practical, and achieve fulfillment in your hobbies, and recreation. Your job remains just that, a job.
The unhappy paths are several. If you wander around young, there's a chance that you may not get back onto the mainstream path, even if you want to. But that outcome is usually caused by drugs, alcohol, a difficult temperament, or cognitive issues. Which would mean that no matter which path you take your course will be somewhat difficult.

If you settle down young, there's a chance that you will find yourself needing to throw off the traces later in life. The risk is that you may be stuck at that point, with a mortgage, and kids to put through school.

I think in the end these decisions are all about temperament and risk. Our own personal risk calculus. All happy paths are just that, happy. Like unhappy families, unhappy paths are different.

Which unhappy path is worse? Depends on the person. Never settling into a career that generates a good living, security, and social esteem? Or settling into one that does, always restless against its constraints? Different people feel differently. Some people can go to work every day and come home happily to hobbies. Others would feel brutalized by that life. Some people can wander, others would feel far too much anxiety with the lack of structure and security. It's a good exercise, understanding your calculus, either for yourself or for your kids.

The key piece I was missing, (the constant in the equation if I push the metaphor) before you all were so generous with your stories, is that work to sustain us during any wandering-around-trying part is available. It's possible to build a peripatetic life of minimal but not dangerous subsistence, with hourly wages, roommates, and friends.

As a parent of young adults I prefer to act as consultant. To assume that while I have knowledge and experience my kids are not me and I am not them. So rather than one single answer, I needed a framework. Again, thank you very much.

Have a wonderful weekend.


Friday, April 16, 2010

The True Reason To Buy Designer Shoes

Happy Friday everyone.

I wanted to remind you about the NaraCamicie giveaway. I'll be drawing the name of the winner end of day on Monday. The prize is a $175 gift certificate against any purchase from the store. Doesn't just have to be my particular favorites:). So if you're interested, comment here.

I also wanted to show you these.

Very, very special designer heel taps. They came with the new shoes. Kind of makes it all worthwhile, don't you think?

Have a wonderful weekend.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Do We Buy Christian Louboutin For Design Or For The Brand?

Remember this? I don't mean to be coy so let me explain. It's a Polyvore imagining how I would wear a new Narciso Rodriguez little black dress.

Turns out I wasn't kidding.

You see, I'm going to New York at the end of next week. To visit my kids, stay in a new hotel, wander through the city looking. (All those dressed up people walking on rough sidewalks past windows.) During said trip, it's possible that I will need to wear my little black dress. It's possible that ever since I acquired said little black dress that I have been wistfully remembering matching Louboutin pumps the fab Barney's salesguy showed me. And it's possible that I am fortunate enough to occasionally receive generous presents.

Let's move to the realm of the certain. This is one of my new shoes. I do have two. I promise.

We might ask, why these? Why did they pester me, for months? Design? Brand? What?

The design is absolutely impeccable and reasonably comfortable. I bought a half size up and had them put a pad in. We Sturdy Gals, even when we Grande Dame it up, aren't a fan of foot pain. Although in my dreams I was wearing what Mr. Louboutin, or his minions, call the Jazz Decollete 100 pump, with a heel height of 3 3/4", in fact I don't do heels higher than 3". Luckily, Mr. Louboutin, or his minions, have deigned to offer similar shoes in the Simple 70. With an internal platform that brings the experienced heel height down to about 2 3/4".

That internal platform also transforms a plain black pump into a terrible object of desire.

Where to start? It was the lines that did me in. The underside curve from heel to sole juxtaposed against the toe. What they call the "almond" toe. Almond as in fingernails - not pointed, not squared, not round. That same internal platform also creates a snub nose, adding a touch of what in a woman we would call "jolie laide." The ugly pretty of a sleek brute. Reminds me of a Chrysler 300, another shape that bedeviled me for months and months and months.

Luckily the quality of the shoe matches the hissing yes of the design. Soft kid. Lovely, quirky gold lettering on the instep. A well-made red sole. Yeah, wait. That red sole. A necessary part of the design, but also the brand. The moral equivalent of a logo.

We might well ask, how do we feel about Louboutin's extremely recognizable red-soled brand? The mythic image of the shoe vs. the actual product? Your mileage may vary. I believe I bought the shoes 80% for the design, 20% for the brand. But it's a very mixed 20%. Complex. Worthy, I think, of some deconstruction.
  • Did I buy just because they were Louboutins? No. Clearly not. I wanted these shoes, and only these. I searched through 3 stores, passing up dozens of other Louboutins.
  • Would I have bought them if they were not Louboutins? Imagine everything else was the same, even to the red sole, but they had been made by some nameless other Italian shoe manufacturer? Not so clear. Maybe. First of all, how would I have known they existed? How would I have become convinced that only these shoes would make my wardrobe for Manhattan complete? I don't, all evidence to the contrary, spend that many of my days shopping. But let's say that fab salesguy had shown me identical nameless Italian shoes. Would I have bought? Maybe. Probably.
However, I wouldn't have paid over $400. So Louboutin's savvy non-marketing, with a red-carpet and celebrities platform, has in my case reaped a luxury premium. Why did I think Louboutins were worth more? Damned if I know. A tangle of inferred quality and desirability. Difficult to deconstruct. Perhaps I wanted some Angelina Jolie bruised-mouth glamor to rub off? To feel that I can participate in a trend, even at 53? Or maybe just to buy status? Which brings us to the next question.
  • Do I like the fact that, because of the red sole, everyone knows that I have Louboutins? A flash of yes, and then, no. No. Not really. Which is complicated. I don't mind people knowing I spend a lot of money on items of clothing and accessories. Evidently. In fact, as I have confessed before, luxury goods assuage some unresolved identity issues.
But I do mind the possibility that people will think I own these shoes just because I want to own a name brand, that I am, in fact, a status wh***e. Because while I may be a status loose woman, so to speak, I want to suffer only the censure I deserve. I wish that the red sole did not so clearly identify the maker. I would like to keep my Louboutin love to myself. To my way of thinking, the Louboutin brand, because it's so obvious, has in fact jumped the shark. At least the High WASP shark. I would have loved it more two years ago. When only the cognoscenti knew.
  • Will I buck up and cease to perseverate over these issues with luxury goods, as long as I am going to continue to buy them? Good lord I hope so. My new shoes are so beautiful to me that I have one sitting next to me on the sofa as I write. Just to admire the play of light on the leather. Privilege should be enjoyed. Shared whenever possible. Perseverate is the big word of the day. My sister the academic taught it to me.
And with that in mind, I recreated my original Polyvore. Shoes, Christian Louboutin Simple 70 Pumps via Neiman Marcus, Nars Sheer Lipstick in Cruising via Sephora, pearls via my life. Et voila. Manhattan here I come. With Paris, evidently, on my side.

*If I had a little white dress, or a big one for that matter, I'd be wearing these...

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

9 Pillows That Add A High WASP Touch To Your Sofa, Or Chaise Longue

It has come to my attention that High WASPs believe throw pillows to be a critical component of house decor. That with a naked sofa, or chaise longue, you just haven't finished decorating. Luckily, should you be inspired to try High WASP decor in your house (for reasons known only to yourself), nifty pillows these days are easily come by.

That did not use to be the case. Interior designers were required, with mysterious swatches. Terracotta chenille squares, flecked with blue, strewn across the floor. Although the ultimate luxury is to have a skilled human being directing your pillow implementation, one can now, if necessary, do without.

I remember, my first sofa ever came from Macy's in New York City. For some indecipherable reason it was brown. No pillows. It's possible that this bothered my mother. She never said. The next sofa I had made by some fab New York design studio or other, with the guidance of a designer. It was a mushroom colored velveteen. Definitely had pillows. Cream and gold ikat-style silk with a fuchshia accent. Quite subtle, actually. Really, they were.

When that sofa's upholstery finally gave up the ghost, we had it recovered. Never got around to the pillows. A sad situation. When I finally sent that sofa off to live with my daughter, I was no longer interested in or able to afford custom furniture. I made my way to Pottery Barn. Where I discovered that they did the pillows for me. I will love Pottery Barn forever.

However, if you have the energy and desire to do your own pillowation, here are some pillow thoughts.

Restful, serene, camel cashmere. For the bedroom, on your chaise longue. (Note. This particular piece of furniture is not pronounced chaez lounge. It's more like chaez long. The term means, simply, "long chair," in French. Who knew?) One would not monogram one's living room. But the bedroom, yes, in peaceful shades.

You might decorate your living room, in mid-century style, the pillows an ironic commentary on something. Or not.
The Artsy among us might opt for Bengali handiwork.

Or make pillows ourselves. Not forgetting, of course, the purple zipper as a discreet color rumpus.

Others might prefer a Grande Dame Palm (Beach or Springs, no matter) reference to the vacation house.

...or a Sturdy, tongue-in-cheek, poke at themselves.

You might find these in your mom's living room. Oh, wait, that is my mom's living room. Because she, of course, is never without the right accoutrements. I doubt she's ever bought anything at Pottery Barn. But times change. As they must. And should.

*Jill also has a thing for pillows over here.
**This is my favorite pillow of all time.
****Spellcheck courtesy Lauren

Queen of Cashmere via Saks
People Pillows from Bloesem via Love You Big
Purple Zipper Pillow via Love You Big
Folk Art Pillow via Toast
Links Pillow via Jonathan Adler
Fresno Pillow via Jonathan Adler

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Would You Like To Win A Fab Shirt From NaraCamicie SF?

Well guess what? We have another giveaway today. I feel like a kid.

Giveaways are not too common here on Privilege, as I don't feel right giving away anything I don't know that I want myself. But this time, the prize is a very generous gift certificate from the NaraCamicie store in San Francisco, for $175.00. Yes. Generous.

If you all remember, NaraCamicie is where I found this shirt.

Which I love and have already worn repeatedly.

Here are some bad pictures that I took of other shirts in the store. Also some pocket squares. Cute, no?

A Jackie O, '60s sort of vibe going on


Crisp, classic, the Sturdy Gal dresses for lunch

Yes, BTW, that is some orange going on you see behind the more traditional red striper.

And here are some good pictures from the Italian NaraCamicie catalogue.

For the nautical among us

Daring garden party gear
Anyway, after I posted about my original purchase, Margaret, the owner of the SF store, found me and emailed to say thank you. She then took me for lunch, and a tour of her store. It was really fun. She showed me books and catalogues from her time at Versace. I almost got lost in a dream of my parallel life as a trophy wife on Capri. I recovered. Good thing, too.

I wanted to thank her for her kindness, and it occurred to me that this was an opportunity for that elusive "win-win" that we used to banter about in the corporate world, jaws squared, and desire for profit paramount. Only this really did seem to be win-win. Margaret gets to show off her wonderful shirts to this audience, and one of you gets to win a generous prize. My favorite type of business deal.

So here's the plan. We'll communicate without Powerpoint, shall we? Leave a comment below to enter. I would like to hear about a piece of clothing that was special to you, anything, for any reason. Or about one of the shirts you see here, and how you might wear it. I love your stories and this is a good excuse for more.

Please confirm that you either subscribe to this blog via the RSS feed or the Google Followers widget, or simply that you are not scanning the wide Internet for prizes and pouncing on our little corner like a hawk on a fieldmouse. If you blog or tweet about Margaret's lovely wares, you get two entries. I will keep the comments open until Sunday of this week, draw randomly, and announce the winner next Monday or Tuesday.

Since NaraCamicie San Francisco doesn't have an e-commerce site (they are store specific in the US), you will fulfill your winnings either by phone, or by coming into the store if you happen to be in San Francisco. The store personnel are used to working in this manner, and can send photos, emails, etc. to help hone in on the right purchase.

In order to make this giveaway open to everyone here, I will pay for any overseas shipping if one of you beautiful people from Finland, or Scotland, or England, or France, or Australia, or Hong Kong, or wherever, should happen to win.

Thank you in advance to everyone. To Margaret for such a fun giveaway, to you, the readers, for, well, um, reading.

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Parental Worries About Children Making A Living, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:59am

I believe I may have reached a place in my parenting where I do not know what to do.

Which is not to say that I'm in a state of anxiety, or a tizzy, or a panic. Only that my children are growing up, and reaching places in their lives where their experience will diverge from mine. Without direct knowledge, I have to research, I have to ask questions, I have to gather information.

I'm thinking maybe you all can help. I know many of you are in your early, or not so early-twenties. Thank you in advance.

My son is a sophomore in college. At Princeton, as I have said, as was my daughter. I am very proud of both of them. But I digress. My son is choosing a major, and a course of study for his next two years. He will graduate, if all proceeds without interruption, in 2012. At which point, it would be good if he was earning some kind of living. Since my family fortune has dwindled and all that.

Here's my issue. I inherited enough money at the age of 21 that I could major in Comparative Literature, graduate, take what were essentially internships, with Cameron Mackintosh Productions in London and Circle Repertory Theater in New York, and travel through India for 3 months. Then, and only then, I decided to go for an MBA and enter the world of salaried, health-insuranced, tax-paying employees. Which was perhaps not the best decision, but that's another story.

As a result, I don't know what kids do who graduate college without a clear path to revenue. What if, for example, someone majors in the creative disciplines, graduates, take a job teaching English overseas, then returns to the US? What are the opportunities, what are the requirements, what are the characteristics of early life out of college when still discovering a career path? What do kids do these days if they don't have a clear route to an entry-level salaried job?

I am not saying I mind if waiting tables is the fallback. Only that I do not know if waiting tables is even an option these days. And where does one live? With whom?

I worry less about the eventual career part. It's the wandering around preliminary stuff that I can't envision with much clarity.

Well. That's it. I thank you in advance. If you tell me all is well I imagine my son will thank you too. That is, if he can understand that I ask this question out of a desire to do a better job at mothering, and hence he can forgive me for having brought it all up to begin with.

Have a wonderful weekend.


Friday, April 9, 2010

What To Wear For Your Second Wedding

My mother married my stepfather in the early 80's. They held their small wedding, family only, at the chapel at Columbia University, where I was in the middle of my MBA studies. It's a beautiful place.

They held the reception at the Junior League in New York. Another beautiful place.

And my mother wore a Chanel shirtdress. Extra beautiful. Which still hangs in the upstairs storage closet in Santa Barbara. It was, unsurprisingly, peach.

We shopped for dresses together, mom and all three sisters. At some point we tried on Zandra Rhodes dresses, and laughed so hard we fell over. One sister found a dress that she now describes as a giant pink puffball. It had a lot of attachments. I wound up in a dark blue-green, satin, Albert Nipon, with sleeves that, had we filled them with popcorn, would have been bigger than my head. My mother wore this.

My sister agreed to try the dress on this weekend. It doesn't fit my mom any more. Fitting into your dress 25 years later shouldn't be one's first priority. I Photoshopped out my sister's identifying details. Leaving behind a virtual High WASP mannequin, I suppose. Thank you sister.

Before the wedding we rampaged around New York with our step-sister and brother to be, speaking fake Swedish, ascending the World Trade Center tower and visiting the open viewing deck, where I clung to the coin-operated binoculars in fear. After the wedding we rode in taxis and drank champagne from bottles. I know. I have a picture to prove it.

But that one we really don't need to plaster all over the Internet, now do we?

This post is in honor of Meg and her relaunched Practical Wedding site, and all the brides, new or second time, because weddings are always new, and always to be cherished even if someone drinks from the bottle. Perhaps especially then. If you are a bride-to-be, go there now. If you are a mother of a bride-to-be, go there now. Many things will be made clear.

Columbia University Chapel via mrkw's photostream on Flickr.
New York Junior League via wallyg's photostream on Flickr
Dress photos, me and my sister

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

At "Already Pretty," Subversive Style

Today I am at Already Pretty, explaining my tricks on how to dress with originality even in conservative workplaces. With photos of red shoes and Issey Miyake blouses.

Already Pretty is the brainchild, and heartchild, I'd say if I were Northern Californian (oh wait, I am), of Sally McGraw. It's an oasis of positive body image and very original, exuberant style. She's also one of the more genuine people I have found in the blogosphere and I'm honored that she accepted my idea for this guest post.

I hope to see you there.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Vintage Color Analysis, For A Woman Of Style

My mother has Style. Very classic, but with a twist, and a clear sense of color. In fact, she had her colors, "done" back in 1980. This weekend she presented me with an historical artifact. Foxed and faded as old documents often are.

If I bring my mother to mind, there's always peach in the vicinity. Although I can't say I've ever seen her in peach lace, exactly.

Apparently, this color typing system, in which you are cast as a season, had been around even longer than I knew. And is that a Liberty print? Copyright, 1963.

However, choosing colors to wear is not just about which hues make you look good, it's how much, how often, in what combinations. As Imogen is discussing this week, with her usual intelligence, over on Inside Out Style.

My mother was a traditional stay-at-home mom, of the gracious generation. She decked her four out children in clean and matching clothes from Saks Fifth Avenue. Every day. Cooked like a foodie, when Alice Waters of Chez Panisse was in junior high. And dressed to complete an identity. To express herself.

Mom's not afraid of color. She will go head to toe pale yellow. Or rose. When she wears black and white, she WEARS them. Black cashmere tunic with white stripes, silver and black beads at neck and wrist, black patent flats with a lucite toe ornament. Still dignified, even with all that sartorial detail.

I don't dress like my mother. How many of us do? Maybe it's because I spent most of my middle years in corporate America. Fighting like hell to prevail, against customers, peers, subordinates. Managing up and managing down. My clothing wasn't self-expression, it was protective gear. Aqua makes a piss-poor weapon. See? Even the language changes when I put myself back into that world.

But just as likely my color-avoidance is due only in part to what we might lovingly call, "the suits." I was protecting myself not only from the corporate environment, but also from my own senses. I am thin-skinned. Color startles me. Too much causes dangerous rapture, to the point where I shudder at the thought of vivid flowers out my back windows. But you know, you work with what you're given all around. I am imagining a set of temperament swatches, one that we could carry to the office, or to our kids' schools, a guide to put in our pockets to remind ourselves of our emotional makeup. Pale green chiffon for anxiety, navy satin for dignity, cream chenille for affectionate, orange burlap for irritable. Black velvet for the mysterious part we will never figure out.


Monday, April 5, 2010

Awards and Happiness

I have been awarded membership in the Preppy Mafia by Preppy 101 at All Things Southern and Preppy and the fabulous Beth Dunn at Social Climbers, given the Beautiful Blogger Award by A Basement, and directed to list 10 things that make me happy by Our Friend Faux Fuchsia. Thank you all very much.

I have always wanted to put together my own identity, not to have to accept one cut from someone else's whole cloth. So to be included by a gracious Southern preppy mother of the bride, a Main Line socialite who discusses her riding hobby and her anxiety attacks in the same breath, a lesbian wife documenting her project to conceive and her new life with her bride, and an Australian lawyer who rules in frocks, that, that is happiness for me. Thank you.

I feel compelled to merge these two sets of questions, so here is the Preppy Mafia Manifesto....that makes me happy.

1. Who is your style icon...that makes you happy? Paloma Picasso. I wish I had the consistency and impunity to dye my hair a stark color and wear strong lipstick every day. In my imaginary life I flout convention, stand tall, quell doubters with a hawkeyed glance.

2. What is your favorite socialite lit book...that makes you happy? Arabella, by Georgette Heyer. In which the strong-willed heroine discovers that a stomacher can be fun. Which makes me realized that I have assumed for 40 years that I know what a stomacher is. Perhaps erroneously.

3. Favorite party theme...that makes you happy? Birthdays. I love presents, dozens of candles on cake in a darkened room, and birth.

4. Go to Halloween costume...that makes you happy? I do not as a rule wear costumes on Halloween. The only adult costume I've ever put on was when I ran Product at a My team and I dressed as software bugs. We thought we were hysterically funny, antennae and all. But as a child, my mother made our costumes. One year I was a letter to the Great Pumpkin, my brother was a pencil, and my sister a mailbox. It's amazing what a little posterboard and some desire can do.

5. Extravagance you cannot live without...that makes you happy? I hope that I could live without extravagance, if I had to. But I have no guarantee that's true. I wonder sometimes who I'd have become, absent extravagance, but I am unlikely to have the chance to find out at this point. Where do I indulge now? Massages. I love that moment when you wiggle into the warmed sheets. I've had to go to 90 minutes instead of an hour, otherwise I am too sad when they finish.

6. Living person you admire...that makes you happy? I'm going to keep this one secret. Everyone should have a secret that makes them happy.

7. Greatest fear...that makes you happy? Can any fear make you happy in the having? Or only in the overcoming? My sense is that in fear there is never, ever, any happiness. Which is maybe the point.

8. Trait you deplore in yourself...that makes you happy?
Thin-skinnedness. Both in the absorbing of the outer world and the communicating of an inner world. It's as though sometimes all the world comes rushing in and then overflows the usual buffers. I am prone to blurting out my thoughts. But I think this same thin skin sometimes gives me the ability to see things as though they were new. So, deplore and appreciate.

9. Which talent would you most like to have...that makes you happy? To sing well. For my own amusement.

10. Greatest achievement...that makes you happy? So far my greatest achievement has been getting as far as I did in a career to which I was not temperamentally suited. I spent a long time in corporate America, squaring my jaw and holding my tongue. I could have stomped off in a huff, and I didn't. Now that I'm 53, I'd like to use that same restraint and effort in service of something that I enjoy.

But in all seriousness, I am made happy by the smallest of things, the way the electric coils on my mother's range look when they are orange with heat. And by the largest of things, the ties and revelations of family. Everything else in the middle is a crapshoot, largely, as far as happiness goes. Sometimes you find it, and sometimes you don't. Still, you get to be alive, which puts me in a good mood almost every morning.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Some Bunny Special, Or, Saturday Morning at 5:49am

My daughter called me. Giggling.

"Mama, I got the cookie. And the card says, 'Your mom thinks you're some bunny special.'"

I explained to her that I had won the cookie from a giveaway on Pink Martini's site. That Pink Martini makes these cookies and decorates them herself. How cute they are. That no, I had not suddenly gained skills to do this kind of thing. That Pink Martini, being a mom herself, had volunteered to make 2 cookies, although I'd only won one, just so that neither of my children felt left out. We talked about what the cookie looked like, how it had a pearl necklace on, and that the ear had broken in transit, but she didn't mind.

I IM'd my son.

Mother: Did you get the cookie?
Son: Yep.
Mother: How is it?
Son: Good.

Week passes. We IM again.

Mother: Did you get my email to take a picture of the cookie?
Son: I ate it.

Happy Easter to those who celebrate Easter, and I hope those celebrating Passover have had a wonderful week and great Seders.

Friday, April 2, 2010

And Stately Boulevards Precede Us. India, 1982

An ongoing and occasional series on a 3-month trip I took to India in 1982. I was 25, and traveled by train across the country alone, writing an article on the then-unknown Indian film industry and combating the anxieties of youth and solo travel. Often includes references to what I wore. You can find the previous posts here.

I came into Delhi unannounced.

I wrote,
I expected Delhi to be different. I expected to arrive and find Paris waiting for me. I expected New York City taxi drivers all lined up with air-conditioned cabs and digital meters. Instead I got India. "Hellomadamrickshawscooterhotel? Noproblem20%nightcharge." A kindly old gentleman offers to share my scooter, and deals with the cab driver, and asks me to come to his house. Or to meet him later this week. Like I said, I got India.
I think I was not using the word, India, to explicate. Rather, I was reciting an incantation to create some meaning. Listing the things that shocked me and naming them India. Human beings need to understand, and they will work harder at this task than anything. (Reading now, I see that I also wanted to sound tough and world-weary. "Good luck with that," I say to myself, 30 years later. "Good luck with that." Trying to sound tough gets in the way of understanding, but at 25 I didn't know.)

Let me state the obvious. I had trouble understanding India using standard, rational, processes. But I was not alone; clearly the British also struggled. They constructed, in Delhi, a typical capital city, broad boulevards, monuments, squares. Made for processions of the ruling class. But they got India. As did I. Where sometimes events looked like home. But different. My first day walking around, I ran into this march.

The strikers above wanted to belong to the Ministry of Tourism, instead of the Ministry of Agriculture. OK. To an American, it sounded Orwellian. Except they wore chef's hats. A little ornamental for Orwell. OK.

The cow above mowed lawns, pulling a cutting tool behind to keep the open, green, public square open. OK.

On the other hand, when you get India, some things are in fact the same. Comprehensible.

When I was little my mother pulled my hair into braids every morning. I never sent my kids to school uncombed. We make sure our children go into the world looking tended to, so that no one will assume that they can be harmed, unnoticed.

Found in big cities anywhere. I lived in Manhattan, after all. Why was I still shocked that people slept on the ground? I think because India was so overwhelming, so new, that I razed my structures of knowing to the ground. I had to start fresh. Everything surprised me. What I knew. What I didn't know. But I could feel the new framework rising, in Delhi. Almost hear hammers in the background. Some of what we think, when we are trying to understand, is admirable. Some is just silly. Usually it's all comforting, however, there's comfort in the effort, and that's maybe as important.

I left Delhi after a few days. I went to see the Taj Mahal. Another response to the inexplicable. When someone you love dies, if you are a maharajah, you build this. A monument. With stately boulevards.

The thing is, we never control all the approaches. Even the grandest routes may be strung with wires. Glimpses sometimes tell us more.

That night at the Taj Mahal, I stayed in a little local hotel. I sat on my bed, and brushed my hair watching dust fall onto the covers. Outside, at a Muslim festival, men played music all night long.

Images: Me, an old camera, and dusty slides. For a more recent view of Delhi, with a different perspective, and great photos, visit The Existential Expatriate.