Thursday, May 21, 2015

Montréal, May at the Market

Let's pack out shopping bags and head to the market for fiddleheads and early stawberries, some plants for the deck, perhaps a sweet scoop of ice cream.

Of course we're distracted by people-watching. I notice that most women are out of pants; dresses especially rule the sunny day.

A cherry print can't help but say "1940s", especially when piped in red: 



Planting season at last! Her sleeveless dress nudges black and white toward spring:



This is a dress-length abstract-print tunic over footless black tights, but the kicker is her black lace and net bolero. Women here wear this look at any age, and here's to them!



She radiates pleasure; maybe it's the day or the macarons she is considering. Either way, I admire her Mexican blouse and her red frames:



Jean jackets, in colours that reference the season: White with turquoise scarf and tee:



Coral, over a beige to brown palette:



Young women—especially those with beautiful legs—choose sheer little skirts that float with the breeze, but anyone can borrow the freshness of blue-and-white:



I caught you looking at men! And a few did catch my eye. I'm partial to pink:



A happy printed skirt would be fun to wear. She is also about to have her hand kissed, what more could you ask for? That ice cream? Sure!


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Nicola Sturgeon: Success in scarlet

Any woman who appears before an audience whom she wishes to influence, as women in politics inevitably must, faces the Image Issue. 

The New York Times (paywalled article here) ran a piece recently on Nicola Sturgeon, the newly-elected first minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party. She is now subjected the style scrutiny faced by not only well-known women like Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Dilma Rousseff and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but also by every female currently serving in electoral politics.    

The Times article says, "...Ms. Sturgeon... has been upfront about the role that fashion plays in politics. In April, for example, she gave an interview to ITV’s “Tonight” show, in which she said, 'You have to be thinking about what you’re wearing, but you don’t want to be thinking about it at the expense of what you really need to be thinking about.' ".

Exactly. Women politicians tend to find their look and stick to it; once a few fashion-police tomatoes are tossed, how many outfit jibes are left to make?

The articulate Ms. Sturgeon also speaks though her wardrobe. Look at her last year, before the campaign began:



and after her victory:


Red is operatically emphatic, beige murmurs. (She has also lost weight and brightened her hair colour.) 

I'm not suggesting a woman who wishes to be memorable, whether personally or professionally, has only red for her flash card—however, vitality is communicated through colour, and anyone on view for long days can benefit from the boost, which she will not get from beige.

If the solid version seems too intense, think about bouclés and similar fabrics that introduce colour without overpowering. (Because the bright-jacket-black-bottom formula cuts most women at the beam, I rarely admire that "split the difference" outfit.)

The NYT article says her transformation was not the work of image consultants and that she favours dresses from the Edinburgh boutique Totty Rocks. If you've ever wanted adopt the retro charm of Nurse Jenny Lee in "Call the Midwife" or yearn for an Edwardian tweed jacket, Totty Rocks will make your day.




Doesn't she wear red beautifully? Another dress, with an insouciant shoulder detail and tailored sleeve (and believe me, a sleeve like this is hard to find):



In a coral suit with fitted jacket, also from Totty Rocks:


The First Minister of course wears other hues, but she's a leading example of the power of a perfectly-fitted burst of colour, when you want to stand up and be counted.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Relaxed Real: Abalone's organic allure

Our friend Beth brought me a treasure, found on her recent trip to Mexico, this richly-hued inlaid abalone bangle. 


I'm always touched by travel gifts, from a little ceramic hippo to an art museum postcard; however, Beth's artist's eye makes such gifts especially pleasing. So generous of her to think of me, and tuck this beauty in her bag.

Admiring its organic natural palette, I wondered why I wasn't wearing more of this cousin-of-pearl, given its astonishing range of natural, undyed colour. Abalone is not a product of pearl-creating molluscs. Known in New Zealand and Hawaii as pāua and in the UK as ormer, abalone is the nacreous lining of the shells of gastropods (sea snails), and is primarily found in jewellery made near its native oceans.

Today, I'm dressing the Passage's windows with some abalone pieces that flash iridescence and are especially well-designed. Since sea snails that produce such jewelry are native to their waters, Mexican artisans excel at working with abalone, making both simple and more ornate pieces.

Etsy seller SaltedGems offer a set of two thin bangles for $6, the price of a few coffees. Can't beat that!



The same seller offers a substantial silver-set abalone ring, with an adjustable silver band, which is especially good for gifts should you not know the ring size. A dramatic piece for the price, $50.



I'd guess this silver and abalone vintage necklace is Mexican (the seller, Gary Germer, does not say).



 Detail, one of the links:


I'd definitely spring for it over the many trendy costume necklaces that are frighteningly close to the same price ($235).

Earrings of abalone are light, and the material mixes well with pearls. These dangles, from Luccia, pair freshwaters that complement the abalone's blue and violet flashes. I especially like that the two pearls are complementary but unmatched, a quirky touch. Price, $40.



Abalone looks alluring with spring and summer clothes and travels well, wrapped in a jewelry bag or tucked into socks. The glowing hues whisper of the sea and the shifting, sensual palettes suit any complexion. Care is the same as with pearls: keep chemical products away and wipe after wearing with a soft, dry cloth to remove body oils or dirt.

Today's window also proves that my motto, After 50, Your Jewelry Should be Real, means you need not empty your bank account for serious stones and heaps of high karat gold. The natural world offers abundant beauty through semi-precious stones, shells, and organic materials such as wood and glass. 

We do have to search out stellar pieces that show superior design and solid craftsmanship, but that's the joy of the hunt—which in this case, was undertaken by a friend with an expert eye and generous heart.



Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Ursula K. Le Guin on Aging and Beauty, via "Brain Pickings"

The Passage rarely features re-blogged material, but I'm gladly making an exception today.  

Our visitor to the Passage, thanks to Brain Pickings blog: the graceful and lucid writer Ursula K. Le Guin (who is 85 now), on aging and what beauty really means.

In excerpts selected by Maria Popova, Le Guin offers a quirky exploration of the qualities of dogs and cats, as well as humans.


"For old people, beauty doesn't come free with the hormones, the way it does for the young... It has to do with what the person is. More and more clearly, it has to do with what shines through those gnarly faces and bodies."
- Ursula K. Le Guin


 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

April in Paris: What real women wear

I wasn't looking for the "must-haves" or classics while in Paris, but there they were right under my nose, worn sunny mornings by women who walked to work or ran their errands. 

I am assuming these are not tourists, because of the neighbourhood, time of day, and their assured movement (no maps, no checking street names) but who knows?
 
The scarf: always present, always emphatic:



The trench: Feminine detail is the secret ingredient:



Abundant black, even in high-60sF weather. The woman in the background is as formally-dressed as anyone I saw going to work:



Black and red sweater-coat, a long grey tunic, leggings, heels and the big ecru scarf, lots of jewelry, long grey hair—loved this look:



Given the unseasonably warm, sunny weather, her white jacket looked fresh as the day:



As the day warms, we can see what's under those coats. A marinère dress (stripes are the French woman's pattern), worn with bright red-orange trainers, which are often paired with dresses or skirts.



Shoes of fine metallic leather on awoman (of at least 60), who wore them with a black pencil skirt, off-white blouse and black blazer.




A woman in a classic navy sweater, white jeans and scarf, whom I wanted to show to reassure anyone who worries about what to pack, if you visit. You already have something similar, I'll bet. (Also, she is not a skinny little thing; there are all sizes here, despite what that book says.)



Though all hues of blue comprise the official spring colourway, some women give theirs a spark; I loved her accents: purple scarf and trilby:




And in one of the great crossroads of the world, there is the occasional surprise of someone in national dress, like her exuberant ethnic prints:



What didn't I see? Makeup, at least by day—not even lipstick on many women (and not just youth). 

I became rather obsessed with this lip shift, and eventually spotted a bit of sheer rose and the rare flare of poppy red. Nor did I see the shiny-wet gloss that some North American women favour. When the sun set, colour came out, so those bags and briefcases must be hiding a makeup kit.

Nor did I see multi-colour eye makeup (the sort of effort that rules YouTube makeup videos) in daytime. My post on Isabel Marant was a harbinger. The one time I glanced into a face precisely painted with everything possible was that of an octogenarian in fishnet gloves.

Women of all ages turned their faces to the long-awaited spring—and I hope, applied their sunscreen.  



Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Giving with grace: Kirsten's necklaces

When reader Kirsten mentioned, in a comment, that she had made a coral and pearl necklace (two of my favourite gems), I asked if we could see it. She kindly sent several pieces for the Passage's window:



Madonna! I'd wear every one of those, and wondered, How does she do it? Here are some of Kirsten's tips about the hobby she picked up in the 1970s when, as she says, "I realized I could make jewelry for very little money and have items which were unique."

Kirsten's first steps:
"I went to a bead store and a helpful saleslady told me what I needed to buy and how to finish off a piece with crimps and a clasp. That was the only formal instruction I had. I learned everything by trial and error, observation of jewelry pieces, and reading. Today, there is endless information online, including tutorials through large suppliers such as Fire Mountain Gems."

Building technical skills:
"Since crimping the ends and adding clasps are the only essential skills you need before making anything, practice these before beginning, to give yourself confidence. Even cheap plastic "kiddie beads" will work as you master skills. When you feel confident, plan a better-quality project."

(Note: Many supplier sites show step-by-step videos for creating pieces, such as Nina Designs' video on how to knot pearls onto leather, a beginner project that delivers advanced style.)

The tools:
"The minimum tools include: flat-nosed pliers without "teeth", round-nosed pliers, and a side-cutter. (A little kit with these three tools is quite inexpensive.) You may also add a crimping tool and a bead board for laying out your designs."

Kirsten in Maui
Materials:
"I love beautiful beads and collect them when and where I can, often in my travels, and then work them into designs. (Kirsten found her coral stick beads in Maui.) I also buy necklaces and other items at thrift shops or on sale at stores. Sometimes, people share things they no longer want, or I remake seldom-used pieces of my own. All are cut up and stored by colour and design."

 Design:
"After making hundreds of pieces over the years, I believe it's very important to make pieces which enhance your own style, coordinate with your clothes, and fit your body proportions. For myself, I don't make pieces that have cluttered designs, jump rings galore, too many chains, or ones made from tiny seed beads, woven into patterns."

"Make others happy with your work and give them a gift of yourself as well as something unique, in their style and colours. If they have given you beads, why not use a few in the gift?"

The Inner Game:
"Because ideas don't always work out as you planned, be patient and unafraid to redo something until you have it right. Have fun and don't let the setbacks prevent you from creating with joy."

Kirsten's creative journey:
"My plans for the future include using fabrics and making fabric/paper beads."

Two more of Kirsten's pieces: Left, olive baroque pearls given by a friend, to which she added crystal spacers for length and interest; right, blue (dyed) freshwater pearls with white faux pearls and sparkling beads:


I feel a tug to return to jewelry-making, despite my initial flopped project. As Kirsten said, "(The bead store) did not start you in on the essentials, or on the design process. Nothing works out well without these essential parts."

Even if you don't long to wield pliers, each of us can admire Kirsten's verve and vision. I thank her warmly for sharing examples of her work and her insightful advice.  

To see more of her work (and those of others whom Kirsten admires), follow her Pinterest board or search "Pinners" by entering Kirsten Giving. 


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Paris shopping Part Two: From treasures to tears and back

My Parisienne friend Huguette took me to her favourite boutique; I had warned her that I am an extra-large French size (44 or 46, maybe a relaxed 42), not easy to find, and my height often is a dealbreaker. I know where I can get French clothes that fit, but her place would be all new, exotic, exciting. 

She waved off that concern like a croissant flake on a blouse, hailed a cab, and we were soon entering Trésor by Brigitte Masson, in a tiny lane (6, rue du Trésor) in the Marais. This was the magical little gem I had literally dreamed about.



Huguette was right: I liked everything I saw. The colours were unusual and nuanced, the price point reasonable for the quality, and the pieces had that "don't see that on everyone" effect. The racks murmured: "Venez ici!"


The racks were organized by colour groups, with a notable paucity of black.

But the clothes didn't fit: sleeves and skirts too short, buttons in the wrong places. Mme Masson had maybe ten items in my size and I tried every last one, even things I couldn't really use. A woman of my proportions was twirling before the mirror in a shift dress over pants, but it's not a look I like on myself. 

Much as I wanted to join my friend in her spree, I was shut out of the action. Huguette, presently size 38, merrily bought a spring coat (around €400), hat, and scarf.

I too found a scarf; coincidentally, we both chose the same Epice linen/silk in different colourways. Below, she wears hers with her winter coat, a soft peach tweed coat from Trésor, which is lined with a photo-print of gondoliers in Venice, a secret mural that delights the wearer. (You can just see the pale blue of the lining at the rolled cuff.)



I wore mine with a featherweight down jacket which I packed at the last minute:


I'm smiling in that shot, but I surely wasn't when I came home, miserable and owly, partly due to a painful arthritic knee, but mostly from frustration. Le Duc was initially annoyed with Huguette—he had to put up with the fallout. He reminded me that I've had more or less the same experience for decades. 

We walked to a favourite restaurant—but despite the very best food and company, I felt a lingering mournful longing which, I'm embarrassed to say, dampened the evening. 

Life resolved my snit, the very next day.

On Sunday morning, we strolled through a street market at Place Monge and fell upon a sidewalk sale held by a local church parish. I spotted a quirky tweed (pinks, violet, burgundy, off-white) wool-and-cashmere jacket in unworn condition; it would have looked at home in Trésor's chest of delights.  




Cost? 10 euros. (Full disclosure: I'm having it tailored to fit me precisely, for another $65.) Even at that, it's a bargain-priced lesson in not letting frustration dent one's joie de vivre.