Diamonds: A smidgen of sparkle

Marie airily dismissed diamonds for over thirty-five years, from girlfriends' engagement rings to the European-cut brooch she inherited from her mother. She refused my suggestions for restyling, saying she is "not the diamond type".

In April, her longtime partner, Barry, marked her decade birthday with a surprise: a Michael Aram silver and gold Butterly Gingko ring:

And guess who was giddy with delight? She said, "Oh! I never knew diamonds could look like this!" You can't really tell from this photo, but the centre pavé element lifts this ring from crafty to chic.

Diamonds stand up, far more than any other gemstone, to everyday wear, and are priced relatively reasonably in the carat range the trade call melee: faceted diamonds of 1/5ct. (20 points) or less. (See this GIA article for more detail.) When this small, they can fit into the "relaxed real" category of jewellery, and be worn every day, set in silver or gold.

Melee was once used to dress up a large centre stone, or for pavé. It took a generation for designs to place them as the focus; the early efforts, fussy, stiff "right hand rings" marketed in the late '80s, were awkward. We agreed that women didn't need a proposal to wear diamonds, but who wanted the jewellery equivalent of helmet head?

You can now choose small-diamond pieces that range from delicate to badass. Buck the hype of "bigger is better", but choose well-cut diamonds that flash. (Rose-cut or polki diamonds will have less sparkle but are also charismatic in a more minerally way.)

I've put small-diamond designs in the window today, the opposite of the solitaire perched in a prong setting. These are diamonds seductive as that guy in the tequila ads, ready for a good time...with you.

Top row, left to right:
Arik Kastan diamond padlock pendant: 2.5mm rose-cut diamonds, 14k gold; price, $2, 288 at TwistOnline.
Rusty Thought diamond moon ring; tiny 1mm and 2mm diamonds set in blackened silver with rose-gold halo; price, $2, 226 at TwistOnline.
Arc mobile earrings set with 2mm conflict-free diamonds; $410 for version set in 14k gold; from tara447.

Bottom: Anne Sportun large open diamond petal bangle: eight brilliant-cut diamonds set in 14k yellow or white gold; price, $2, 195.

Some of these pieces take serious reckoning with your bank account and possibly your Higher Power.  And I've done some of that, because diamonds last far longer than that chicklet-sized topaz. (Go ahead and wear the big 'paz to a party, but not every day.) Here's an example of their longevity: my ring, below, is twenty years old! Two tiny coloured diamonds, aqua and red, and one white. It's been worn hard, and has never needed repair except for resetting one of the diamonds.

If you have 'forgotten' diamonds, brilliant pointers stuck in a girlish puffed-heart pendant or Mom's  '70s earrings, now is the time to use them.  Jill brought hers, along with unworn gold, and asked a jeweller to make a pendant similar to Sophie Hughes' diamond brick:

She bought a few tiny, new cognac-coloured diamonds to accent the whites; the cost for the new diamonds was under $300.

Old-time twinkle

You will also find small diamonds in the vintage market, and I do love an antique piece worn with jeans and a tee. Antique jewellery will have an older style of diamond cut diamonds, prized when of good quality. Many pieces are bargains; just make sure the stones are not chipped or otherwise damaged.

Modern styles like the earrings at the far right, below, show up on the secondary market, too; waiting for such a piece is a brilliant strategy to stretch your kitty. 

Left: Antique rose gold and diamond earrings, ca. 1900; .30ct tw; price, $1, 100 at Beladora.
Centre: Victorian (ca. 1900-1909) gold buckle ring with seventeen small diamonds; at Luxyferjewellery; price about $545.
Right: Contemporary blackened gold and diamond quatrefoil earrings, the 82 diamonds; total weight, 1.80cts. Price, $1, 950 at Beladora.

Last June, I wrote my first post on small diamonds, and now it's spring again—must be something about sunny days that draws me to these light-loving baubles.


Paris: For the eye

We are often asked why we return to Paris so regularly, instead of expanding our horizons. Paris does, however, exactly that. The eye is built at every turning, facade, bridge, window and gallery.

Come along with me, for a few minutes' tour.

Spring delivered a riot of colour and pattern; shops vyed for the most arresting window:

I e-mailed a few examples to an artist friend who good-naturedly asked for more; I could have spent the entire trip shooting one luscious display after the other. And sister, does this make your grey tee and jeans look uninspired. That's probably why I bought that Uniqulo tee.

While gorgeous young people naturally drew looks (and look terrific in those exuberant styles), I wanted to see women my own age or older, for inspiration. Huguette and I took in the Frantisek Kupka exhibit at the Grand Palais.

Below left, one of the artists' works, "L'archaique", showing that Parisiennes in 1910 were as arresting as now, and at right, two real-life women, both I judged to be seventy or older. Very different types, but both projected an absolute authority, the famous "bien dan sa peau".

Behind the white-haired woman, you can see the back of a twenty-something woman: black athleisure pants, metallic shoes, fedora. How magnificent the elder women look, without following youthful trends, a lesson I summoned when I looked in at a few boutiques.

Though windows brimmed with summer accessories (studded sandals, bolero jackets), Paris is at heart a seat of deep tradition, built since its beginnings as Parisii around the end of the third century B.C.  I was as captivated by the classic beauty as the glossy new.

Left to right: After those tropical cocktail-coloured windows, I first thought strict clothing, a niche occupied by deceptively simple yet feminine clothing in discreet hues (perhaps plum, but not red) was impossible to find anymore. I so longed for that aesthetic that I'd go back to the flat and look at a photo of Annie Leibovitz in her black shirt. But the photo at left shows it alive and assured.

Top right: In Paris, I'm brought to a halt by wedding dresses, because they show tailoring literally married to romance. This short dress by Cymbelline is so nontraditionally chic that I stopped in front of it at least a half-dozen times.

Bottom right: In Repetto's window, a dreamlike, classical tutu that honours the house's history of making ballet shoes.

Paris is far more than its goods: the river, rose windows, the scent of muguets in the markets, the crackle of everyone out on a mild Friday night. We come to to appreciate, learn and grow, to spend time together or take off on our own and report our discoveries.

Years ago, we told our friend Marcelle that we would go to Paris for two weeks. She threw back a tart appraisal: "Too much of a good thing!" I was baffled by her perspective, but stayed silent (an uncharacteristic response).

While enjoying a midafternoon pastry with LeDuc, sitting in the sun at a café, watching street life, I remembered her criticism. Marcelle has been dead for five years, and I thought, Well, old friend, there's your reason: life is short; and so, as Audrey Hepburn said, Paris is always a good idea.


Paris: Shopping with Huguette

Or I should say, watching Huguette shop, a repeat of former outings, when my longtime friend ushers me through hip shops, with great brio. Last year I felt sorrowful, because nothing fit me, an American 12-14; now I ride along for the edification, as if visiting a museum.

Momoni trousers

But if you are a size 6 or 8 with a thin frame and a fat wallet, Momoni, an Italian company with audacious silk prints, would please.

As the aria goes, La Donna è mobile, and none more "mobile" than a clothes-collector Parisienne. Out with former flirtations (Cotelac, Maje, Irie), in with the new. She likes wild pattern mixing and quirky proportions and finds my wardrobe much less daring than when we met. She's right! When I asked if she ever wore jeans, she had to stop and think.

She whisked into NorieM—Japanese clothes and shoes, the exact flats on the model below, which edged over $US 400 and that was with a 'preferred client' card. You can't see the back detail, which offers a little tab like a cat's tongue that rises from the heel, and therefore those in the know see that these are not Clark's. Such cognoscenti codes are the lifeblood of this sensibility.

Shoes here seem expensive to me, but it may be where we were shopping (Carrefour Croix Rouge), and the sturdy pair she bought accommodate her bunions. I'm all for taking the hit on quality shoes that treat your feet kindly.


NorieM clothing is made from plush natural fibers, often hand-dyed, in the modern Japanese style—not simple like Eileen Fisher. It requires a devoted approach: you need to wear the whole look.

Another current favourite is Bellerose, where I admired touches like knit sleeves on the viscose Solong shirt; small details elevate the design.


After our tour, I realized it takes a population of women who understand these clothes and will thus make the investment to support such designers. (All shown have boutiques elsewhere.) I was sorry to see that one I long liked in our neighbourhood, Eunhwa, was gone.

I asked that we stop in when we passed Uniqulo, and now have a new tee from their Marimekko collaboration, of which Huguette approves, and so does my budget— it was under $20.


The next post will be on Tuesday, May 22.

Paris: Strangers in scarves

Because I’m awake, and thinking of scarves...what else, at 6 am., too early to have breakfast?

 My sense of community leads me to grab street shots of locals in Montreal, but feels invasive here.  If I were heedless about privacy, I would shoot the mature, rather than the young, who are beautiful everywhere. Once out of their twenties, most women's scarves are of good quality and even in spring, full sized.

Some of the best are by Inouitoosh, whose boutique I visited with Huguette. You can buy them online! They are fanciful but not juvenile, and the colour combinations are arresting, those 'almost off' shades, in many palettes.

Below, carré "Benoit" in anis nude, in a silk/modal blend. Price, €150.
The fanciful "Gili" (cotton-modal blend) shows summer sea life and is fresh and pretty on a shirt. Price, €70.

I haven't bought one; plenty of time to think it over.

The most audacious yet )relatively) accessible things I saw were by Carven; some of the clothes are classic and quiet but then... this skirt, which of course was in the window.

Paris: Spring means skirts

A quick post to say what you want to know!

A spike up into mid-20C/74F brought out legions of women in light skirts and those skirts, on all shapes and sizes of adult women-old enough to no longer carry schoolbooks- are from just below the knee to lower calf.

I have not seen a kneecap except on youths.

Oddly, dresses are a bit shorter but I do not see the short skirts Mme Macron is known for, at least not around the more relaxed neighbourhoods of the Left Bank.

The skirts of casually-dressed women riding bikes, grocery shopping, meeting a friend for lunch or going to work are soft, gently pleated, subtly gathered, or or a-lined. Gone are the extremes of tight tubes or those Lagenlook voluminous skirts that look like one is dressed in Russian blinds. This Bellerose "Suez" skirt is exactly the effect, down to the sneakers:

Here's s stunner from Sportmax, pricey but you should see it move:

Completely absent is a look that once was everywhere on this cohort: the tunic or short dress over leggings. Though useful for biking, somehow the combo has vanished except on a few tourists, possibly from Quebec, where it is embraced. If there's a tunic, it is worn over slim trousers now.

The Vanishing Legging is not due to weather; in 22C/70F heat, I was surprised to see women in sweaters, heavy coats and big scarves.

The knee-length skirt is worn with flat shoes, usually with laces; sneakers, substantial sandals, derbys. All very sensible yet pretty, in pale spring hues. And no stockings: legs au naturel, whatever the skin colour,  are clearly no problem.

A friendly boutique owner told me French women have definitely become larger in the 15 years she has been in business, so the easy-to-wear skirts may be related to that phenomenon- but I see them even on the classic échalotes. I will also veer into stereotyping again to note that their clothes fit.
A short woman can wear a slightly long skirt when her blouse and skirt fit.

No photos yet, jet lag has hit me terrifically hard this trip. I’ll see what I can do in a few days.

Something's up with buying nothing

A mini-trend has hit, that of buying nothing for a year.  Here I am in Paris, with one window more alluring than the next, and I'm thinking about this, perhaps because of the contrast.

The definition of "nothing" varies from no clothes or accessories and only basic replacements for cosmetics and toiletries, to more rigorous abstention that includes no trips, gifts, takeout coffee; grooming and haircuts strictly DIY.

The approach has been slammed as "poverty tourism", which is unfair, because writers acknowledge that they can pay rent, maintain a car, or take care of emergencies. Cait Flanders' book title reveals the outcome: "The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store."

They report annual savings from $US 18, 000 to $35, 000, which means these women were spending at least $1, 500 per month in non-essentials. That sounds like a lot, but $375 a week slips away fast on $15 cocktails and nail salons. Throw in a shoe sale? Done.

Like subsisting on Jenny Craig's packaged meals, you can't live that way for life. (Some women do mount multi-year marathons; Sal, of the blog oneemptyshelf, extended her run into a second year; Flanders' book covers the first year of two.)

The most relatable writers said, in one way or another, "Find what's worth owning, get rid of the rest." Sal spent to rebuild the library of books and CDs which she had given away without digitizing, but as she said, "No more wardrobe full of generic high heels."

I think it's smarter to learn how to manage money, but for those with a big shopping habit, abstinence is sometimes easier than moderation—and going cold turkey might get you a book contract.

The common elements for a long-term moratorium:
1. Take a fearless spending inventory.
Flanders was amazed how much dribbled away on non-essentials. For many women, that step alone incites change.
2. Go public.
Put your commitment on your blog, Facebook page, or in front of your (non-enabling) friends. Get an accountability buddy. Roommates or friends might make a pact and do it together.
3. Set explicit rules.
Will you buy and accept gifts? What about occasions for which you do not have the appropriate clothes?
4. Purge your inbox of all consumption-related e-mails.
Unsubscribe from vendors, flog-blogs, fashion-oriented Instagram accounts. You can't buy what you don't know about.

Cheats and treats

Unalloyed abstention makes dull reading. Falling-off-the-wagon incidents include visits to thrift stores, and hinting so broadly that she really really needed a new bag that the beleaguered partner bought it as a "gift". Ann Patchett allowed herself supermarket flowers.

One woman agonized about whether choosing replacement cosmetics to get a gift-with-purchase was cheating. (She concluded it was, and gave the gift away.) Someone avoided clothing but tumbled for house decor; another bought her sister a birthday spa day for two, knowing she would be the guest.

The author of one book, published over a decade ago, co-owned two houses (a summer and winter residence) and three cars. Needless to say, readers posted acerbic criticism on Amazon.

Age and stage

Moratorium memoirists are mostly in their thirties to early forties. Their wakeup call came from popular minimalism books like "Everything that Remains" by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, but more often, they were fed up with their credit card bills and decade-old student loans.

By the time we're fifty or older, most women see the folly of overbuying, the flamboyantly fabulous, nearly 97-year old Iris Apfel notwithstanding.

If your parents lived through the Depression, you grew up with the mantra, Borrow, Make, Mend. I've written before about Mom's voice in my head.

Still, our cohort is not immune. At a neighbourhood boutique, a woman around my age was just ahead at the cash, with an impressive stack of clothes that I admired as I fiddled with my three-pack of sneaker socks.

She said as she punched in her Visa card, "You can't take it with you, right?"

I thought, You can't take your clothes, either. But who am I to determine what's right for her? And Iris, who said in her documentary, "More is more, less is a bore", would approve.

What I'll wear in Paris

Today, I'm en route to Paris, where May can skip into 28C/82F heat or sulk down to a damp 7C/45F, from day to day.

I packed black, white, and pale grey—or as I like to think of it, pastel black—spring-ified with pink.

Key items:

There are also Lolë black travel pants (shortened to slightly cropped length for spring), a pair each of black and blue jeans, cotton v-neck tees in white and fuchsia; a black lace tee, and that Piper rain shell.

Scarves in the palette: linen or cotton, several in silk to dress up the tees for evening:

The rain shell will dry quickly, but if shoes get soaked, they're soggy for days. I'm flying in black patent rain slip-ons (Merrell), which have excellent support. In the bag, sneakers (Timberland) for clement-weather walking, metallic silver flats (Ecco) for evening.

We will walk, hang out with friends of over thirty years, shuck oysters. Bookstores, the ballet, markets, and an apèro at an outdoor table. To my consternation, I will miss both materfamilias and Janice Riggs (of The Vivienne Files), as well as two other dear friends, by one day!

Does this outfit make my butt look touristy?

Several of the friends I will see, two Parisiennes, could not be more different. Last time, Huguette took me to a boutique where nothing fit, and the clothes were fantastic. Oof, major pain. This time, the ballet, and if we shop: accessories.

Someone asked if I thought I'd look like a tourist. No, but out with either, I'll look low-maintenance.

Danièle will wear grey jeans, a crisp white shirt, an impeccably-cut blue blazer with an antique lace pocket square, and brown loafers. Huguette will wear a ditsy-floral midi dress, a peach 7/8-length coat, a funny little Japanese knit hat, and mustard ankle boots. They represent the antipodes of French style: BCBG vs. eccentric chic. I can't muster either look (and am not the eccentric type anyway) with a carry-on bag.

Posts for the weeks following this will be sporadic at best or I'll be absent, replacing writing with watching bees dart through spring blooms, communing with art, buying fish we never see here.

I'll awaken next to the oldest music school in Paris; from the common courtyard, song floats through the casement windows. It's as sublime as it sounds.