Hopp to it!

Le Duc sent me the link to a piece in the New York Times, introducing  Hopp shoes, with the note, "I think you will like this".

Like? My first thought was, "How fast can I get them?" My second was to convert the price ($250 US) into Canadian dollars, and add estimated duty; double ouch! Third was to rationalize that Hopp do not charge postage. If I bought them now, they would be well broken-in for autumn in Paris, and, well, and...

In Paris, I will cavort with the fashionable Huguette, she of the visit to the Boutique Where Nothing Fit Me. Huguette was recently prescribed a walking regime, as part of a cardiac health program. So, she bought a pair of Gelato suede ballerines, little shells that flopped like free pedi slippers. She loves them, saying, "I can walk in them! They are so comfortable."  I guess moving from Michel Perry three-inch heels to these is an improvement, but it's relative.

She will no doubt be appalled by the utilitarian, nerdy silhouette of the Hopp Essential Oxford, the sole style of the fledgling company:

But obviously someone wants them; after the NYT piece, the shows they are now so sold out that there is a waiting list for the ramped-up production.

I might spring for the Hopps but am also eyeing the Arche Ceonia, in pungent mustard, which would be fun to wear with my black-based travel palette. And you can wash Arche nubuck, which I've done for over 20 years, from sandals to boots.

A better ballerina

Huguette is a long way from accepting a serious walking oxford, but when I checked the SAS site (parent company to Hopp), I found a ballerina that has an arch, shock absorption, and a no-bite back.

The "Lacey" ballerina is a similar price, about $245. (These look like fabric but are textured leather.) She'll be visiting me this summer, so maybe we can at least look.

She also wants me to set up her FitBit Flex. I sent her the French manual, but she says, "zees things are 'ard for me", so I'll get her logged in.

Regardless of what shoes she'll bring, we will walk through Montréal together. She is proud when she cracks thirty minutes, and I hope to gently egg her beyond that—but we shall see, and I'll report. One step at a time!


Chasse-balcon in Mile End, and a five-year anniversary

We get an early start on summer festivities here, because after our long winters, Montréalers are starved for life in the streets. On such evenings, the air buzzes, the city lifts—because everyone is out.

On last Friday evening, the kickoff to the first of the spring-to-Labour Day long weekends, the delightful Chasse-Balcon drew us and scores of others to a street-corner in the Mile-End neighbourhood. An ensemble of musicians led by the warmly hospitable Catherine Planet gather to play traditional music in Montréal neighbourhoods, a different one every weekend from May into mid-June. Inspired by a similar event in Louisiana, and making use of Montréal's winding outdoor staircases, the musicians played reels and jigs for about an hour, and enjoined the crowd to serre les mains, two-step, sing along, and play spoons.

It's a particular interest of Planet's to build community though shared musical experiences, and you could definitely feel that happening among the convival crowd.

You could listen, dance... or kiss:

Montréalers—or those visiting by mid-June—can learn the location of the next several Chasse-Balcons through their Facebook page, which presents clues, treasure-hunt fashion, but does confirm guesses, so you'll end up in the right spot even if you don't know the city.

Then, we strolled along Avenue du Parc toward a tiny taquiera, where the warm evening showed what women are wearing once out of coats. This seemed to be a bachelorette party, with several young women in the wide-legged cropped pants that are showing up everywhere, and one, background, in the runner-up, the knife-pleated midi skirt.

I was charmed by this dress in the window of Éditions de Robes, one of the best of our local designers: bright, heavyweight lace, a spring bouquet to wear. Notice how the lace finishes at the sleeve and skirt, using the natural edge, not a hem:

I also admired her vintage-looking skirt printed with travel posters, worn with a pink tee. 

A golden evening draws flâneurs of all ages. This arrondissement, among others, has installed new street furniture, already in enthusiastic use, especially by elders, who appreciate a place to sit to catch up with friends.

We picked up a half-dozen sesame bagels straight out of the oven:

and walked home in air scented with just-blooming lilacs, to the apartment into which we moved exactly five years ago this weekend. An evening like this, full of music, lit by diverse, vibrant street life, and ready access to food from so many cultures, from the swank to the simple, reaffirms the decision.

Never mind that last week (May 16) we saw snow in the air, this is the north—and when the weather breaks, there is nothing as exhilarating as Montréal's massed joy.

Isaac, Karl and quality

Mizrahi coat from the show
Isaac Mizrahi was quoted in Rebecca Mead's recent New Yorker article about his retrospective, "Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly Life", which recently opened at NYC's The Jewish Museum:

"'They don't print fabrics like this anymore'", he said, looking at swatches of fabric he used early in his career".

"'... now everything is Xeroxed onto fabric. But I don't want this (the show) to be about the decline of quality—the steep decline of quality.'"

A fewer days later I was in The Bay, the Canadian department store owned by Lord & Taylor, and saw his new casual-wear line, IM NYC. (It's relegated to the lower-priced area of the women's department.)

I beetled right over, but soon wanted to turn Mr. M. over my knee. The quality was horrid: flimsy blouses cut in one flat piece, without set-in sleeves. The example below is poly-viscose, dry clean only: say no more.

IM NYC blouse

Across the corridor, I saw Karl Lagerfeld's name applied to an entry-level collection, and (I believe Karl left this world at least a decade ago, leaving a wax facsimile for appearances) he must be rolling in his grave. Huge, lumpy exposed zippers formed the back closing on tops; I tried to photograph those but was asked to stow my iPad. If I owned a department store, I'd ban such photos too!  

This cotton/nylon acrylic fringed sweater will look like it was fed through a leaf-blower after one season:

Karl Lagarfeld fringed cardi
Once, my issue was affording the quality I could find easily in American brands— Perry Ellis, Anne Klein, Evan Picone—and Donna Karan or Calvin Klein if I hit a sale.

The challenge in a department store today is finding quality, period, at "bridge" level. It can show up at Pink Tartan, MaxMara Weekend, and less consistently Vince, Tahari, Vince Camuto, Diane von Furstenberg, but they are inconsistent. Ralph Lauren's bridge line has slipped, using too many cardboardy fabrics, and the once covetable Anne Klein is probably beyond reviving.

Pink Tartan shirt

Pink Tartan's grosgrain trim fly-front shirt is nearly $225 (in US dollars, Canadian readers can easily do the dismal math), three times the price of the Mizrahi poly, and they too specify dry cleaning the white cotton-elastane blend. OK, I know how to ignore that, but why won't they direct you to wash in warm water, hold the bleach, and hang to dry?

I don't expect miracles at the lower end, but when a dress bumps $700, why is the hem overstitched in plastic thread?

A parallel reality is that my senior status has not come with an automatic price adjustment. Things seem weirdly expensive. Sometimes I bite the budget bullet and think, That's what it costs to have the fabric and construction I want.

But more often, when I notice, for instance, a tulip-print spring Stella McCartney scarf, at $420 (at Nordstrom) for modal, I wonder, What is this? The fabric (a second-generation rayon) is made from reconstituted cellulose, cheap and abundant.

Stella McCartney modal scarf

Despite Mizrahi's hopes, his show will spotlight the decline of quality, because it's his own damn fault. In the last decade he's produced shoddy goods under the IM NYC and Isaac Mizrahi Live! (on QVC) labels—and you may recall the failed Jones New York partnership, with clothes that looked so witty in the ads, so limp on the racks. If you don't want to pay for quality, you'll find better choices at Zara.

I plan to visit this show next weekend, and would like to ask him, What would it cost now for a bridge line made with your bygone-days' fabric and construction?

Plenty of quality-loving but price-conscious women are still knocking about, wise as ever, women who know tailoring and fabric and a good button from a sad hunk of plastic, and we're wondering what to do, after we've visited the museum to look at his once-great clothes.

Morganite: Big pinks

Friends ask me what is the top-seller at the gem dealers' company where I work part time. Easy: morganite. We cannot keep this pink stone in stock, and the bigger ones sell faster than modest sizes. A jeweler recently came in and chose this 16mm x13mm cushion-cut stone for a ring he's making for his wife:

I'm showing her big baby to display an example of one of the desired colours, cut and clarity. (Other morganite pink hues are  peach, salmon, or very pale pink, and more rarely, a light purplish pink). You get a lot of gem for the money with morganite, though prices are rising as a once almost-unknown stone of the beryl family steps into the spotlight.


Below, Anna Sheffield's Bea ring with a 5mmx7mm morganite and diamonds, $3, 200 at Twist. At this price you'll get a sophisticated, hand-wrought ring.
If you think that's pretty pricey, consider that the yellow diamond version of the same ring is over $19, 000.


You can wave a big morganite around for less than the price of a fancy-shmantzy handbag by keeping a lookout for sales and checking out the larger retailers. For example, Ross Simons offer this 10mm (3.20ct) morganite cocktail ring dressed up with .38ct of diamonds in a halo setting for about $1, 493.  A lot of splash for the cash.
By subbing in silver and white zircon for gold and diamonds, you can bring the price of a rock down to $305, with a ring like Gemporia's. I find the design pleasing though the pink looks less saturated. (Generally the deeper peachy-pinks are more costly than paler hues, but I like the delicacy of those, too. Just avoid any tinge of brown colour or a dull stone.) Some retailers use photo enhancement that boosts colour, so be sure anything you order has a full-refund return policy.

Like some blondes I am certainly not naming here, many morganites get a little help to flaunt that head-turning shade. They are irradiated, and the colour will stay stable. While gem collectors usually choose only natural (unheated or otherwise colour-enhanced stones), the treatment of morganite, as long as it is disclosed, is considered acceptable for jewelry.

Morganite is frequently chosen for engagement rings, by young couples buying a first piece of 'real' jewelry, and it is an iffy choice for that purpose, because there is a downside. Its hardness rating on the Mohs scale is 7.5 to 8, therefore, of medium durabilty (diamond is 10 on the scale) and the material also cleaves easily.

And here's a little gem geekery: some sellers call morganite "pink emerald". A noted authority, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) disallow the term, preferring "morganite" or "pink beryl". However, the term is used by those who find it more marketable.

Most people don't realize that the Mohs scale is logarithmic, so morganites (and aquamarines) are eight times softer than diamond. After several years of constant wear in a ring setting, the stone will show visible wear. (Repolishing is not an automatic fix, because some of the cuts, such as the popular checkerboard, do not repolish easily. )

A number of jewelers will not set a morganite as an ER, or at very least make their concern crystal clear. (Sidebar: even diamond, given years of wear in settings that expose the edges, like the classic prong, will eventually chip at the girdle, and need repair and repolishing.) "Oh", one young women said on a forum, "I work in an office and my (morganite) ring doesn't get worn hard." Stones will scratch from particles in dust, and even basic tasks expose a stone to wear and tear.

Some jewelers will assure a client that morganite is perfectly durable for jewelry, without adding, but it depends on the piece and how you'll wear it. That's why, if splashing out on an everyday ring, and pining for pink, I'd choose a pink sapphire, and save the morganite for a cocktail ring or sexy pendant. 

Go ahead and fall for their allure; just take some care wearing, and store so they're not abraded by other jewelry.

I'm smitten by a pair of 7mm morganite studs set in rose gold; price, $341 on overstock. com. If they are indeed this pungent pink, a good buy.

When I first looked at a case full of morganite, I thought it was ultra girly-girl. Then a woman well past fifty came in with her jeweler and chose a pair of pear-cut morganites, and I saw them entirely differently; they literally grew up before my eyes. If you prefer dangles, generous (12mm x 8mm) pear-cuts set in 14k rose gold provides that elegance; price, $910.

If peachy pink is one of your feel-good colours, shopping soonish for morganite makes sense, because this is a relatively scarce gemstone. Here is a price guide for loose stones; you'll see how the price climbs as the colour is more saturated and of course, as size increases. 

 And if you're already there, lucky you! You could send me a selfie!


Time for a "Change"

Women who depend on bras for support realize that when the garment feels unnoticeable on one's body, it has likely lost its effectiveness. I got the message from a three-way mirror, and put replacement somewhere in my Errand Brain—months ago.

Walking by the lingerie boutique Change on last Sunday afternoon, a 40% off sign beckoned, and in I went, remembering that my friend Susan especially likes the brand. Those of you who wear Change know their sizing is proprietary, and nothing like any other brand. A conventional C becomes an F in their system— is this vanity sizing run amok? I have a friend who's an F and there is no way, in the usual universe, I am too.

The fitter put me in a bra so tight that I looked like a trussed chicken in a yellow straitjacket and pronounced it perfect. ("Perfect" is the millennial's sales buzzword now.) "How does that feel?" she asked. I could not speak.

Change "Dita"
She grudgingly permitted one band size larger, and, now able to communicate my approval, I re-upped, in all senses of the word. Later, on the subway, I sat across from a woman who, though not big-busted, was at past 4 p.m. on the intimates clock, and I thought, Buy a new bra! I remembered a now-defunct company's ads stenciled on New York sidewalks: "From here, it looks like you could use new underwear."

I got to thinking about how buying lingerie is a purchase that's so easy to put off. If it's only you you're pleasing, you might decide to wait for a sale, and then forget about it. If anyone else admires you en déshabillé, that person is probably more attentive to your charms than the function. But one day you see yourself in a top and think, "There's something funny about the cut of this"—but, it's the underpinning.

I did a little checking after I brought the Dita home, and found women hold opposing opinions about Change bras; I'll see how this one holds up. I also reordered my usual black and nude Olgas, because thanks to my online customer order history, I saw just over a year had passed since my last purchase.  

A few friends are lingerie collectors who delight in building a raffish assortment, but I won't drop $400 on a wisp of La Perla. Occasional indulgence with French lace happens, but my everyday are in the Change category, there to do ten hours' work while looking pleasantly pretty.

I said the other day to Le Duc, "There is a point when 'broken in' passes into 'shabby'." (I was reminding him to replace a decrepit pair of shoes, another thing that can feel so comfy, but be shot.)

I've heard that as our bodies change, getting re-fitted is important; some online sites recommend every six months. It will be an improvement for me to simply keep abreast of the state of my lingerie's elastic.

As built-in reminder to turn that new lingerie leaf, I've chosen May Day, an apt occasion to keep up the front, and go forth uplifted. 

A brush with His Purple Highness

On Boxing Day, ca. 2002, in the early evening, I was walking though Toronto's Bay St. subway station. The hordes of bargain-shoppers had dispersed, the station was eerily deserted. Coming toward me, down a tiled corridor, was one boy. As we drew closer, I realized the boy was actually a diminuitive adult, and, seconds later, that it was Prince. (At that time, he had a Canadian wife, and a house in Toronto.)

I'm a lifelong Prince fan; one of my sons remembers receiving the Emancipation triple album from me when he was 9, parental advisory sticker be damned. He wore a conservative, elegant ensemble: impeccably tailored tweed jacket, soft brown trousers, cognac boots with a high Cuban heel. No tie, not a hint of purple rock n' roll. But, indubitably and sinuously Prince.

No stranger to tailoring
He gave me the look Le Duc and I have occasionally received from other celebrities: I Know You've Seen, and I Thank You for Not Bothering Me. So I passed without acknowledgement, but inside, I was shrieking, foaming crazy with delight, lightly in shock, wanting the forty-second encounter to never end.  When he had just passed me, a woman appeared, and I clutched her elbow, saying, "PRINCE! Look, there's Prince!" She said, "Prince who?"

I never saw him perform live; either the tickets sold out before I could snag one (as for Montréal's flash concert last winter) or the price was prohibitive. But, a Prince show was top of my Dream List and I figured next time, spare no expense.

I met my longtime friend Christine in Toronto last week, coincidentally at the very spot where I'd seen him; she too adored Prince. dBar, where moody mauve lighting felt especially apt, featured a Purple Rain cocktail, but we stuck with our favourites, a martini and a rusty nail, and spent an hour recalling our favourite songs and his irreplaceable persona. Christine had just returned from Italy, and had tucked a gift for me into her bag: a chic ring of leather with Florentine gold accents. 

Her present will always remind me of Prince, of his dance-till-you-drop music, and the evening we spent celebrating his gifts to us, with sadness and affection. 

We feel (slightly) bad about our muffin tops

... or what my delightful friend Lou, a francophone, calls her "top muffin".

"Feel bad" is of course borrowed from Nora Ephron, who grieved her crêpey neck, and "feel bad" is an overstatement, but past 50, even thin women can discover that unsettling spread, and not one prays for it. 

Upright, I have a midriff, seated, it stretches wider than a beauty queen's smile. The region just above my waist has acquired a second, pillowy life.

For those of you thinking, Just buy some shapewear: we both hate ugly elasticated nylon. I'd prefer an actual Scarlett O'Hara boned and laced corset to Spanx sausage casing. Lou won't consider underwear like Spanx' Shape My Day camisole because she spends a great deal of time in the tropics.

Trousers are muffin magnets unless well-cut and high-waisted (what used to be the natural waist height till the advent of low-rise jeans.) I buy NYDJ and Talbot's jeans and will pay nearly anything for trousers with a fluid leg and that body-accurate waist. Lou reminds me that skirts always reach the natural waist, and adds, Size up—we try to fit into a size that flatters our vanity, but not our body.

As for tops, sweaters and shirts need some mid-torso ease to accommodate the body shift when you're seated, but a 'big shirt' looks as if the muffin's in its paper bag.  Tip: when shopping, try on anything to see how it performs sitting down, and forego thin or clingy fabrics. Our dream shirt has a shaped yet forgiving fit provided by darts, ruching, or a peplum.

From autumn through spring, Lou and I wear Eric Bompard sweaters; I like the classic v-neck cardigan, which I wear as shown, buttoned like a top; Lou wears the v-neck sweater. Their extra-fine cashmere, though, is dicey—dreamy, but less forgiving.

In warmer weather, I often wear an LL Bean sailor shirt. The stripes, which women are typically told to shun because of their widening effect, work like a patterned swimsuit: they give the eye somewhere to go besides wondering if that's blueberry or bran under there.
Besides the classic navy/white, they offer many colours (shown, azure and grey), sometimes on sale for $20, with free shipping. I've bought French brands (St. James, Amor Lux), but keep reordering Bean's, at least one-third the price. The mid-weight cotton knit washes and holds up well, too.

What else works? Jackets—as any portly man knows—are deft disguises. I wear them as outerwear; Lou wears indoor ones, and just bought this washable Betty Barclay cotton/nylon/viscose ecru to for a spring trip to Australia.

A definitely curvy 5'4", Lou chooses pieces like this Madewell/daryl k mixed-print dress, which she wears over capris or leggings. Blouse-length tunics hit her at the widest point of her hips, which she doesn't like, so she wears a dress (or, what is sold as a dress to those who wear them short) that ends mid-thigh instead.

She also wears vests, zipped over a long-sleeve t-shirt or blouse, and looks for feminine versions like Eddie Bauer's StormDown print:

She is eyeing Belgian designer Sara Pacini's crochet linen poncho, which she will try in the Montréal boutique. "Could go either way, dressed up or down", she says, and sees it worn over her fine white tee, which these days is not being worn on its own.

Dresses could be a post unto themselves, so in short: raised waist, shift, or a-line, rather than fitted at the midriff, unless the dress has a good shot of stretch. Prime example: Lafayette 148's linen jersey pleated dress.  Some readers will be more concerned about arms, but a dress that covers everything is not much fun.

And then there's the simple, pragmatic tactic of Muffin Acceptance. Why hate any body part, especially in one's grownup years? That doesn't mean you're going to see either of us in cropped tees or low-slung trousers. But minimal camouflage is all we're willing to muster, and then meet for a café au lait.

It's spring! We don't want to feel bad about anything, let alone that midsection brioche

PS. Speaking of spring, I want to be sure to alert you to Kojima Company and Pacific Pearl's spring sale, 20% off all items on either site with the magic word SUPEARLATIVE (use in the discount code box at checkout) until April 27!