Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Scarves: A sale of spring Hermès

I have several Hermès scarves (35 in./90cm silk twills) that are virtually unworn, and I'm offering them for sale here, for a limited time.

All are authentic and in excellent condition: clean, with plump hems, no spots, snags, or "sale" stamps. The care tags have been removed and the box is not included. More photos are available. 

If interested, send me an e-mail; the price is about half retail, with "La Rosée" more because of its rarity. Payment by PayPal. Shipping via Canada Post insured (about $25 in North America) in padded mailer or, if you wish, UPS at actual rate. There are several countries outside North America to which I regret that I cannot ship.

1. Ombrelles and Parapluies
The perfect jaunty spring scarf in a stunning colourway: vintage umbrellas and parasols in clear red, vibrant blues and greens against crisp white, worn by their charming owners and collected in an antique umbrella stand; by Hubert de Watrigant. Born to wear with navy.

Sold to J.!

2. Les Triplés 
For lovers of  Paris: three tykes (two boys, one girl) frolic amid the landmarks: Le Tour Eiffel, St.-Germain-des-Près, Les Jardins de Luxembourg, Notre Dame and more. In Hermès orange, soft yellow and leaf green, with a touch of grey. Playful, happy and perfect for informal outfits. "Les triplés" is a beloved French illustrated book series by Nicole Lambert, who designed the scarf.

Sold to C.!

3. La Rosée
One of the most sought-after of all Hermès' scarves, designed by Anne Gavarni: soft cream strewn with lush dew-drenched Indian roses in red, coral and yellow; pale taupe border. Romantic and graceful, the piece seems to glow from within.

Sold to K.!

4. Plaza del Toros
Toreadors and a "suit of lights" in the centre; corners of detailed passementerie; colourway is a vibrant ochre yellow with greens, robin's egg blue and touches of red, orange and black. A scarf that could absolutely be nothing but Hermès, it includes both warm and cool colours so is especially versatile. By H. de Watrigant.

Sold to F.!

These scarves are ideal for spring, but also multi-seasonal, so...? 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Precarity: How tenuous employment enables abuse

One of my 26-year old sons, J., has worked in the restaurant industry since leaving high school. 
He gets jobs readily, and receives glowing feedback; he's hard-working, dependable, genial, honest. He takes pride in the success of the enterprise.

He has been:
- hired for a full-time job only to hear after one day to one month that the job is now cut to two or three days per week (happened on five different jobs)
- assessed, without notice, $160 out of his tips for two required deluxe aprons that the place decided all floor staff now had to wear. (Not beer money to him, more like a week's groceries.)
- paid with cheques that bounced, and
- told when reporting for a scheduled shift, "We aren't busy, go home" (with no pay).

The recourse for workers in these positions is to file a formal complaint with a government agency, but J. and his colleagues fear reprisal and say blacklisting is prevalent. As Robert Reich wrote in "Why There's No Outcry", "No one has any job security. The last thing they want to do is make a fuss and risk losing the little they have."

He is but one example of precarity, the employment condition for so many workers. Precarity does not cause exploitation, but it makes abuse that much  easier for employers who want to treat people that way. 

"The politics of precarity", by Nicole Cohen and Greig De Peuter in Briarpatch Magazine describes the rise of this type of work, and the response of Andrew Cash, a Toronto Member of Parliament (NDP, Davenport riding). This is increasingly the world our youth face (despite high levels of education) so I recommend reading the article even if it does not reflect your political stance.

The authors say:
"Commentators use the tag “precariat” to refer to the swelling population of those in precarious work, which has grown amid changing conditions of production, deindustrialization, outsourcing, declining unionization, and a shift from full-time salaried work to flexible arrangements with weak protections. 

While lean businesses feast on a buffet of options beyond costly full-time employees, the consequence is a deepening insecurity for everyone else." 

Outside the notoriously exploitative restaurant industry, I have witnessed unpaid internships, unpaid overtime, and the practice of the "eternal contract", which allows employers to forgo paying employee benefits—not just among small business, but also in some of the world's largest global corporations.

I am sympathetic to the challenges of running a small business. But there is disciplined management and there's abuse, and I've seen far too much abuse, not only with my son. Youth, immigrants and post-50s are especially vulnerable to unfair practices

For several months last year, we paid J.'s rent while the dashing celebrity chef who owned his restaurant  told viewers of his cooking show how much fun they'd have (for about $175 per person) at his chic, popular restaurant, where his staff are dedicated to your good time. 

Meanwhile, a 50-year-old friend wrote that she was recently fired from a factory job for "trying to be Norma Rae". Unions arose for a reason, and though  struggling today, were born of people saying, This is not right. 

J. left the restaurant world to pursue his career in butchery, partly because he always enjoyed that work, and partly as a reaction to what he experienced. While some of his colleagues embrace precarity as a strategy that permits time for other interests, J. isn't that guy; he longs to build skills within a steady job.

Tenuous employment has increased across sectors and nations; the accompanying erosion of employment standards has politicized my sons and their friends, regardless of party affiliation.

They are not alone; as Ross Douthat, writing about the American situation in "Leaving Work Behind", says, "Both 'rugged-individualist' right-wingers and more communitarian conservatives tend to see work as essential to dignity, mobility and social equality, and see its decline as something to be fiercely resisted."

Precarity removes opportunity, but more importantly, it removes the aspects that Studs Terkel described in his 1974 book, "Working":

“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Helen Mirren's floral frock, three ways

The Daily Mail recently noted that Helen Mirren has been photographed in the same flowered Dolce & Gabbana dress at least five times since 2012. 

I applaud Mirren for not only her abundant talent, but for her realistic approach: if it's a great dress, give it a good run! We can learn from how she's styled it at various times.

The two earlier shots serve as a) a cautionary example, and b) an it-depends.

At left, what seems to be a matching jacket worn with the dress makes her look like a walking wallpaper sample. Her bland hairstyle makes even Dame Helen look like one of those matronly, carefully-coiffed women you see at charity events. The nude heels don't remotely go with the dress.

The pearl rope gives pearls a bad name and explains why some women avoid them: too high on the neck, creating a strangled, tight effect, and at the same time, drooping toward the famous bosom in oddly-arranged strands.

Sidebar: Dame Mirren does know how to rock pearls; here she is at the Geilgud Theatre in an ultra-long rope worn with wit and a marvelous grey-lace dress I would kill for:

On a second occasion (top right), she seems to have put herself in the hands of a stylist who thinks leopard plus floral plus bootie equals hip. The coat desperately attempts a pattern-mix, but the leopard bears no relation to the floral and its length looks haphazard: just shy of long enough, but not short enough to be smart. (Or perhaps the dress was altered to remove the sleeves and create a new neckline?) However achieved, the slight scoop is a more flattering cut and her hair is softer, less staid. The ensemble at least moves into the right decade.


The third time's the charm; finally, as seen above, the dress comes into its own. The cardi frames the print without competing, the box bag is chic, the leg is light, the shoe discreet and though not as edgy as the bootie, suits the retro-print dress. 

The only questionable note here is the necklace, which has a nice vintage feel, but seems to sit low. I think floral print plus flower necklace is a bit repetitive, but if I looked like Dame Mirren, I might try it.

Hair and makeup just superb!

A closer look at the necklace; what do you think?

As contrast, and part of my own internal might-I-wear-print-in-this-lifetime? dialog, I checked out Mirren's recent appearances in solids. Here she is in ecru, at a Women in Film pre-Oscar party (with Melanie Brown):

And in one of my favourite-ever Mirren evening gowns, an enchanting shade of green, at this year's Golden Globes:

She's wearing glamourous emerald earrings, and here's a closer look at her hairstyle, a vast improvement over photo #1, but maybe she was growing it; we've all been there

I'm thinking a solid shade lets the woman wear the dress, not vice-versa. 

Your take? 

PS. Upon receiving her star, placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last year, Mirren said, “I couldn’t be prouder and more happy that I’m actually going to finally lie next to Colin Firth, something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time.”

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Gifts: Travelers' treasures

Friends came to dinner last week, just back from a trip to Mexico, still immersed in its warmth and colour. They brought us several treats, and after opening the goodies, talk turned to how gift customs have changed.

When I was a kid, the return of a world traveler hauling a bulging suitcase was an event

In 1957, when my sister Jane made a grand tour of Europe after college graduation, she brought me a Swiss dirndl embroidered with edelweiss. (I should be clear, I was eight.) Mom and Dad received a Liberty scarf and Viyella shirt; there were souvenirs from the Vatican, a straw hat from Capri. Such wonders were absolutely unattainable in our small town, and even most American cities.

Jonathan recounted how when he was a child, relatives from the Mideast would visit his New Hampshire home and spread gifts over the the floor. They would invite each family member to choose, as well as give specific gifts to each person. 

But globalization has invaded the souk; nearly everything that spilled out of Jane's trunk could now be bought online or in a local shop. A Toronto shopkeeper I knew kept a stack of pretty French tea towels, a classic travel gift, in stock. She sold them to people who'd returned from Paris short a gift or two.

Still, some travelers seek out the handmade and local, tuck these unique items into a suitcase and share them, along with stories and photos.

In the past two months, I've received three such gifts from friends. Ronni took a business trip to India and once there was bitten by the textiles bug. Always a quick study, she made an intuitive choice on the spot, and surprised me with this luminous wool shawl of red and bronze. 

Christine and another teacher friend accompanied a group of teenaged volunteers to help build a school in Kenya, working though intense heat, then enjoying the respite of a safari. 

The cheerful handmade ceramic rhino she brought back now holds my perfume samples.

Beth and Jonathan returned to Mexico City to indulge in art, architecture and warmth. (You can read Beth's review of the newly-opened Jumex art museum on her blog The Cassandra Pages, here.)

When Beth visited a craft market, she thought these glowing, opalescent glass earrings spoke of me. Si, si! 
Each gift was a surprise and such fun to open! Unwrapping it, the brand-worshiping world receded, the hand of a far-away artisan touched mine. Like a handwritten letter, there is an old-time air to the travel gift, an element of romance. 

We can shop a site like Novica, and that's a boon to both buyer and seller, but when a friend pauses before beauty in a distant place and thinks of you: priceless.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Guilty pleasures

... the phrase that makes me feel naughty even before I have even indulged! 

In order to infuse guilt with pleasure, we have to buy into a "should": a social, religious, cultural or personally-held value that tells us what's right, best, expected. To have no guilty pleasures is to exist outside constraints and norms, lolling in a pure-id bubblebath: "Of two evils, I always pick the one I've never tried before", as Mae West said.

But adherence to certain conventions guarantees the frisson of such pleasure. And, when I do indulge, it's such delicious fun, even more than April Fool's jokes!

When so bad is so good

Tucking into what Dr. Phil calls "a party in your mouth", that orgy of empty but addictive calories: that's probably the #1 guilty pleasure of health-conscious women. 

I could provide a long list of my food contenders, but (after much consideration) present my Top Three, which I can even enjoy together:

Chocolate is not a guilty pleasure ever since my family doctor told me it was good for me in reasonable quantities. (Nothing like an authority figure to strip the guilt from a guilty pleasure.)

So, the third item on the list: movie popcorn, popped in palm oil, slathered in butter, liberally salted. And $7 for a small tub, which would feed an entire family in some parts of the world for a week. 

Man oh man!

This is embarrassing to admit, but I can watch the opening scene of "Magic Mike"— with Matthew McConaughey taunting the house full of women—on a loop.

Don't you already have one of those?

I own enough sweaters, so ordering yet another cashmere v-neck is definitely guilt-inducing, especially in a non-practical colour like Mojito Green, which reminds me of Mojitos, a happy substitute for that Margarita. (Actually Mojtos are not even close to that colour, but what do the French know about Cuban cocktails?)

Endangered guilty pleasure

There is about nothing as enjoyable to me as the bumper car ride, a vanishing amusement like those playground merry-go-rounds that you hung from, your skull skimming the pavement. The sparking wires, the careening acceleration, the sheer joy of delivering a neck-snapping t-bone to a shrieking ten-year-old who was asking for it!

They aren't making any more of these, so, if you like occasionally displacing your aggression into harmlessly wild fun, find the nearest bumper car ride and set yourself free while you still can.

I have asked friends to contribute; some replies were "the cigarette I no longer smoke, except...", "soap operas", and "bacon double cheeseburgers".  

What are yours? I will completely understand if you wish to provide your comment anonymously.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Strong women in white shirts

White shirts are the perennial "must have" item on many a stylist's list. Though I've long thought they do not suit me, I'm taken with a series of portraits of striking women in theirs, featured in The Gentlewoman and The New York Times' T Magazine. 

They remind me, as the stores fill with brights and prints, that while tempted, I end up not wearing brights much. The soothing calm of the shirt draws attention to the woman, not her clothes—and what women!

The English singer Alison Moyet, retrieved from The Gentlewoman:

Also from The Gentlewoman, the great model Pat Cleveland:

In the Times' T Magazine, designer Phoebe Philo in one of her current designs for Céline:

English film director Clio Barnard in a white shirt, black trousers and a beautiful silver-link necklace (which looks like Georg Jensen to me), in The Gentlewoman:

David Lewinski shot the ever-sassy Elaine Stritch for another NYT profile, in her trademark white shirt (actually ecru) and black tights. What legs at nearly 89! 

Stritch, who has openly discussed her struggles with drinking, was abstinent for years and has returned to a moderate level of consumption because, as she says, "I’m not going to have three drinks, I’m not going to have four. I’m going to have two, and that’s it, folks. I just want to enjoy life and relax a little bit and go out with the rich ladies in Birmingham (the Detroit suburb where she now lives) and enjoy them. And you can’t enjoy them sober."

The article about Philo mentioned the concept of invisibility, but as a desirable outcome. Isabelle Huppert, who modeled a chalk-white Céline sweater, said: "You are not visible with Phoebe's clothes, it's not too obvious. It's a way of not being seen." 

This is a different perspective from that of women who object to "being invisible", especially as they age, so choose the vivid or eye-catching. 

I'm of the Huppert school myself, and at the same time can exhale in rapture over a citron coat paired with a red skirt printed with lemons and peonies! 

There is room to enjoy both attitudes in spring sunlight. I will try the shirt; my avoidance may be one of those ingrained prejudices that turn out to be no longer valid—but just might get my head turned by a fresia-pink scarf.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Pearl reno: Mother-in-law double strand

I passed a warm, delightful evening with a visiting reader, Dr. VO, who relayed a question from a friend in Seattle: what to do with her mother-in-law's double strand of classic white pearls, which she now owns.

Since Dr. V. didn't recall the pearl size or necklace length, I was hampered, but said there were three key considerations for anyone's jewelery reno:

1. The condition of the material
Just like a house, a reno project is wise only if the basic material isn't trashed. if the pearls have degraded to the luster of a peeled potato, it's too late.

2. Your taste
If, no matter what you do to them, you would never wear that gem or size, or cut, forget a reno. At the same time don't be shortsighted; even a small tweak can totally change a piece.

2. Your budget
Some renos can be done for $25, others involve thousands. It's worth spending to get it right, and, just like a house, to spend for design as well as materials. Your budget will go farther if you collect ideas of what you like before you begin, via sketches, photos or a Pinterest board.

Over glasses of burgundy, I outlined three ideas that depend on those criteria, following the house-reno analogy.

Option #1: "Wallpaper and paint"

Often, with sentimental gifts, the new owner wants to maintain the integrity of the piece while turning it into something she would wear; a zhuzh at reasonable cost is terrific fun!

Have a jeweler restring (and clean, if needed) the pearls, possibly shortening the two strands to the right length for you. At around 20 to 22 inches, doubles can look staid (depending on your figure); taking off a few inches makes the piece more current and flattering. 

Add a new decorative double-strand clasp that complements the retro mood of the piece.

Dr. VO said the pearls were from a German jeweler;  I found a flower-motif coral glass and sterling silver clasp from Germany on sale from A Grain of Sand, for only $18.50.

The movie-star vibe of a blue two-strand vintage clasp, $23 from beadtopiavintage, makes me want to buy pearls like Ms. Seattle's just so I can wear it.

An all-metal style would work too, but keep it  decorative; the idea is to wear the clasp to the side, so it's seen.

Etsy is a terrific source for clasps and other findings; all Ms Seattle has to do is search "double clasp" in the jewelry findings section.

The vintage silver clasp fits one, two or three strand necklaces; an example of a simpler clasp that still has enough detail; from Etsy seller TheParisCarousel, $17.

To change the clasp (sticking to the price point I've shown) and restring would cost around $50-$80.

 Option #2: "Knocking down walls"

Unless she has jewelry-making skills, here is where she calls in a pro.

She could combine the two strands to make one long rope, if the pearls are at least 7mm. (If smaller, a rope will look rather jeune fille but could be worn layered. She could also add one of the cool clasps to the rope.

If the pearls are graduated, Ms. Seattle's rope will be of mixed sizes, so she would add some new, bigger pearls of complimentary colour, because matching isn't gonna happen. (But she could mix whites, creams and biscuit, for example; she does not have to add intense colour.)

I suggested she contact Sarah Canizzaro at Kojima Company, because Sarah has a great eye, a vast array of unique pearls and a team of talented jewelers.

Budget will vary depending on number and type of pearls added; the $250ish range is achievable.

Bauble bracelet: R. Wolchock
Option #3: "Repurposing the space"

Like the nook under the stairs that becomes an office, she could make several different pieces from the pearls, such as a multi-strand bracelet and a single-strand necklace. 

The bracelet could be classic but informal, like the bauble-charm bracelet at left, or ethnic-cool, like the memory-wire piece with brass beads below.  

Wrap bracelet: Minouc, Etsy
I'm willing to guess there are Seattle artisans who can make such pieces; check the local bead stores or craft associations and only talk to artisans whose other work makes your pulse rise.

For a single strand necklace, I have posted ideas here.

There are way pricier renos such as adding a stunning custom-made clasp, or the addition of gem or gold spacer beads—diamond rondelles, anyone? But who wants to over-improve and end up with a huge bill? So I'm not going there in this post.

I'm hoping that Ms. Seattle's project will be like a successful house reno: she'll get something she can live in every day, with joy and a satisfying return on the investment.

What do you think?