Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Virtual Shopping: Her Way, My Way

My old journalism professor had two immutable rules:

1.) Do not use punctuation (!) to express what you should be able to say in words (. . .)

2.) Never assume anything, i.e. the "desert island theory."  Your reader doesn't necessarily know what you're talking about unless you offer some context.

I recently started ignoring number one because I !ove exclamation points, even when not necessarily necessary. Number two must always be respected, thus a brief explanation about today's post for those of you who haven't been introduced to the "virtual shopping" game.

Every week I choose from the current collections of a designer or designers from which Edith and I are allowed to "buy" one piece which we -- virtually, alas -- take back to our respective closets and mix with what we already own. Some weeks we choose different pieces, but somehow I think it's more fun for all of us if we see how a Frenchwoman and an American take the same item and work it her way.

In the future, I plan to add more players to see what happens.

We both really, really wanted the sumptuous georgette blouse from the Ungaro collection. Neither one of us wanted that diaper/skirt/shorts thing going on beneath.

Edith put hers with a black leather skirt; her red suede belt, which keeps turning up in her ensembles as you may have noticed; a pair of classic, though quite high pumps and opaque tights. 

"My" blouse, in a larger size. . . is paired with my black satin evening pants (part of my collection in crepe and satin from the fabulous Chinese boutique I've mentioned many times); an electric blue cummerbund; satin, moderately-high heels and blue topaz chandelier earrings.

Then we took the stunning navy jacket with the double-peplum detail from the Givenchy collection. We both would have walked away with the matching trousers, but the rules require one piece, and one piece only, that can be incorporated into our existing wardrobes. We were miserable on this one.

This is how we made up for our despair. . .

Edith put hers over a printed chiffon skirt she forgot she owned and admitted she's not sure she's ever worn, but swore she bought on sale for "literally nothing," belted as always and added red boots she claims she intends to buy this fall. (That's sort of breaking the rules, but if she will own them I guess we can bend them.)

I of course did not belt the jacket. I put it with my gray flannel pants; blue and black Chanel ballerinas; my orangey suede Chanel bag and large blue button earrings with double CCs. (The more I look at this combo, the more I like it.)

As always, all drawings by Edith.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lessons in Sharing. . .

I promised an interview. I think this is what might be graciously described as a "compromise" although it is an interview of sorts.

Back I went to Cristel to have her choose a few more pieces or ensembles from her menswear boutique that would look equally stylish -- if not more so -- on women. 

You can see her profile above (she said she would never let me take her picture, but allowed this glimpse) fondling a tweedy, plaid jacket with a cotton/silk blend long sleeve T-shirt beneath. She decided at that moment it will be incorporated into her fall wardrobe. 

In fact, she said everything she chose she plans on wearing at some point. 

Her favorites include: a charcoal gray pea coat; a hefty, nubby three-button pullover; a sleek gray V-neck cardigan ribbed in navy (verrrry French ready-to-wear femme for fall and winter as you know); a simple, chic navy classic jacket -- except it's in velvet -- over a crisp, traditional men's white shirt; a snappy argyle V-neck to add punch to gray, navy and just about anything else, jeans included and the beautiful Cristel with her new jacket.

As you are no doubt aware, menswear tends to be better made than women's wear often with richer materials and lower prices and if you're especially lucky the boys' wear departments, i.e. you're the right size, are a fantastic option for fashion finds.

Monday, September 28, 2009

TOP 10: French Foods I Don't Eat

You may be thinking: "It's a cultural thing, she's hasn't been raised eating offal and doesn't realize when prepared by a grand French chef how delicious it can be."

On the first point you may be right. On the second I beg to differ. Some of these foods make me retch and then when I think about where they've been before they reached my plate, I'm sorry, I just can't do it.

A third consideration is no doubt flitting through your cervelle at this moment, the one about good manners, etiquette and all that. In this respect when invited chez un ami, one learns to be clever and creative. If said friend owns a dog, I'm normally home-free. Cats are less reliable. At one dinner party I exchanged the gesiers in my salade de gesiers for the lettuce in my charming neighbor's salad; otherwise I try to find something into which I can insert the offending offal -- bread, a vegetable, anything --  and take it like a pill with a large gulp of wine. I never finish, but at least I never insult my hostess. 

Some of these things even My-Reason-For-Living-In-France won't touch.

Without further ado, the list. . .

TOP 10: French Foods I Don't Eat

1.) Boudin Noir

2.) Ris de Veau (The first time I came to France, long before living here, I ordered this in a restaurant thinking: "Hmmm, 'ris' -- must be rice of some sort, that looks safe. . .)

3.) Tripes de Caen

4.) Rognons

5.) Sanglier

6.) Lapin (Easter Bunny)

7.) Cervelle

8.) Andouille

9.) Tete de Veau

10.) Marrons Glacé -- in any form. (I can't stand the texture or the taste.)

(Now, I'm off to the big city to meet a friend for chocolat chaud chez Angelina. I never say no to chocolat chaud.)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Week Ahead or La Semaine Prochain

On The Calendar for Next Week:

Lundi: TOP 10: Foods I Never Eat In France

Mardi: Interview

Mercredi:  Virtual Shopping: Second Chapter, Second Version

Jeudi:  Babette + Out & About (Sort of iffy at the moment, but by Thursday all will work out.)

Vendredi: "Dear Cherie" 

Samedi: Deco Surprise (Hint: French twist on blackboards -- yes, like in school blackboards.)

Dimanche: Next Week's Line-Up

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Diner Chez Anne-Françoise

The odds are against it over 20-some years, but never -- not ever -- have we not had fun at a dinner party chez Anne-Françoise and Daniel. Last night, although we were only eight, normally we're minimum 12, the evening was not simply amusing, it was raucous. It reached all-time highs and lows on the un-politically correct front; flirting and serious detours into Madoff territory -- one of the guests was an investment banker -- we even touched on the G-20 rendezvous in Pittsburg.

At one point, yes I admit we did drink a lot of wine at table, Anne-Françoise got up from her place, came over to me and unbuttoned the top button of my jacket. "It's been driving me crazy ever since you walked through the door," she explained. 

All the men cheered including My-Reason-for-Living-in France who had gently suggested before we left the house to unbutton. So I undid another. Gosh, we do have rollicking good times out here in the country.

(I had a camisole on under the jacket, but I thought it looked chic buttoned to the neck with the collar turned-up into a winged effect. Guess not.)

Anne-Françoise is one of the reasons I decided to start a blog called "My French Friends' Houses" on which I have not written one word, but may one of these days. I really could fill a book.

Back to A-F, she always sets the most beautiful, creative tables -- her houses are to die-for, but that's for another time -- so I thought I would invite you to see last night's arrangement. She brought the handcrafted wooden toucans -- in the center of the table perched on branches intertwined with ivy from her garden -- from Brazil where she lived for several years. The damask tablecloth and napkins, from France, were embroidered in Brazil to her design.

(You may be looking at her table thinking she forgot water glasses, but she announced early on she thought no one would be interested in water. She was right. Only one person drank water, as well as wine of course.)

She keeps a "guest book" into which she writes the date, names of guests, menu and how the table was set, sometimes including a snap shot, so she never repeats the same evenings. 

Oh, yes dinner was delicious. The apple tart was made by her husband, a first to my knowledge, with apples from their garden. 

A demain for the weekly line-up. Have a happy weekend.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dear Cherie: Thinking About a Theme. . .

This is one of those "surprise!!" Fridays.

They're as much of a surprise to me as they are to you. I just collect, collect, collect whatever catches my fancy and then throw it all together. In the past I've explained this as a potpourri, stream-of-consciousness, whatever -- you get the picture, very abstract. (Speaking of art, do you have any idea how long it took me to write "surprise" like that?)

Now I'm thinking, I could hold these disjointed bits together in a sort of column format, i.e. lots of free advice -- my stock and trade (sorry, I tried to think of something clever, but this cliche is the only phrase that popped to mind) -- and you can take what you want; reject the rest. You probably do that anyway, I just don't want to think about it.

Et voila, the debut of a new feature. . .

Dear Cherie (that's me):

Q: Do you have any ideas for spending absolutely nothing while still saying to the world, "I'm looking very fall/winter 2009/2010 this year?"

A: I'm so glad you asked. I do indeed. A very big trend, well moderately big, is putting your XXL beads over your scarf. Please note sketch by Edith.

Q: All I see is hardware on everything: shoes, jackets, dresses, gloves. . . I don't know what to do, I don't really like it, but I want a little bit of the action. What do you suggest, Cherie?

A: I agree with you completely. A few nails and studs go a long way. I did see a pair of Repetto ballerinas with a zipper affair at the toe. They could be an option? The au courant detail might rip your very expensive Wolford tights when you cross your legs so be careful. Fashion can be terribly challenging sometimes.

Q: I've always loved gloves. I think they're so ladylike and chic. Do you have any ideas on the subject?

A: Of course I do. In fact I have two splendid suggestions. A pair of long, luxe red ones -- long because, in my opinion, there is nothing worse (OK, slight exaggeration) than seeing wrists peeking out between coat sleeve and glove hem. One of our missions in life is to always maintain unbroken lines when dressing.  Bonus point: Red is huge now. We'll be talking more about it in the very near future.

The other is a little find about which I am so excited I can hardly sit still as I type you about it: Silver leather gloves with a built in change purse from Maison Fabre. Talk about handy. . .

Q: What do you think about all the leopard, cheetah, etc. spots everywhere, on everything.

A: I was hoping someone would ask me this question. Personally I'm sick, sick, sick of them, but as one immersed in the fun-filled world of fashion I have certain obligations and I fear this is one of them. In my possession I have a scarf, a belt and a pair of ballerinas. I will dutifully wear them this season. 

However, pay attention now please, I do not recommend at this point in the trend for anyone to go out and spend large amounts of disposable income on something feline. Let me explain: A movement like this now moving into its third and fourth season -- you will remember we saw it in spring and summer -- will be embarrassingly over next spring. I'm just saying. . .

Q: Have you ever seen anything absolutely adorable a French child would wear that most likely children in other parts of the world over the age of four -- and no longer under the influence of their stylish mothers -- would never accept?

A: Why yes I have. Funny you should ask. The other day, walking by the French children's store, Jacadi, I saw the sweetest little felt cloche in the window and thought to myself: I'll bet that only goes up to size six, then I remembered I was in France and realized a petite fille would probably adore it.

Please send all your questions to "Dear Cherie" in the comments section of your choice -- but nothing too complicated, I beg of you -- and she'll get back to you every Friday. 

If not, that's fine too. Cherie is an only child and knows how to play by herself.

Merci par avance. Cx

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pictures, Polemics & Promises

A Thursday without Babette, well it just wouldn't be a Jeudi would it?  

If I can tamp down my shy factor, I might do more posts like this one; always, or almost always with Babette, but also with others. 

I'm starting slowly, with friends and acquaintances. As I pass them out and about I'll try to persuade them to stop and smile for a few seconds.

Today is a baby step in that direction with a picture of Babette in her boutique wearing a filmy gray American Vintage -- did you know the label is French, from Marseille(?) -- T-shirt which could be dressed up or down btw and another of Stephanie in a navy shift, note embroidery around the hem. Babette and Stephanie see me so often that when I walk through the door they take their places, smile, snap and back to work they go.

Finally I located Brigitte all blonde and tanned from a long vacation. She posed with her natural self-confidence under a tree in one of the town squares. 

Immediately after I negotiated and wheedled with my friend Françoise until she relented and let me take her picture. She kept saying: "Make it quick; make it quick, I hate this." Every time she said "faster" instead of pressing the photo button I snapped the off bump. 

For those who haven't met Brigitte, I've been stalking her for years, marveling at the way she dresses. She has a long black cotton skirt I've seen her wear winter and summer for as long as I can remember, but never in the same way. Last Sunday she was wearing a black shirt with a necklace dripping branches of bright crimson coral, repeating the color you'll notice with her Bensimon sneakers.  

Françoise is in one of her many turbans, red/orange fringe peeping out; omnipresent black sunglasses and another combo from her favorite designers Marithé + Françoise Girbaud.

For me, these two women represent what fascinates me most about the way Frenchwomen dress. One remixes staples she loves, playing with details to come up with something original.   Long ago the other found her signature look, maybe even a costume, I don't know, that expresses her personality. Watching both of them has given me enormous pleasure over the years.

On To Polemics

Guess what? I think, though fragile, I have a thread connecting the first part of the post with this segment. As you know I often can't connect the dots, but this seems to work. . .

Valerie Boyer, a deputy in the French government, pictured here, has proposed a law that would require advertisers and editorialists to be up-front about re-touched photos. Obviously this applies 95 percent of the time to flawless images of women which she believes is, if not lying to the public at least grossly misleading.

She wants a simple disclaimer written on an advertisement for a beauty product that promises we'll look like the barely recognizable face of Sharon Stone for example after we've used the anti-age cream for the prescribed number of days.

As I've mentioned, snack food and that can include yogurt and other otherwise healthy foods portrayed in ads as being consumed between meals, have a "warning" either on the bottom of the television screen or in magazines about the dangers of obesity (I'm paraphrasing) similar to the labels on cigarettes and alcohol.

I'll stay on top of the progress. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Virtual Shopping -- With A Twist

Let the games begin. . . 

You know the rules: I choose a designer's fall/winter collection then Edith and I select one item for day; another for evening which we could conceivably -- if this were not a virtual shopping game and we had unlimited funds at our disposal -- mix with separates we already own.

This week it might be more interesting than ever -- you be the judge. 

I must say, never in my life have I been in a position to not only invent a game, but change the rules at my merest whim. I'm certain this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

To vary the sport and heighten the competition, I thought it would be fun for us to choose exactly the same item, take it to our closets and see what each of us comes up with.  We chose the gorgeous embellished top from Chloe and a simple peacock blue bustier from Valentino. 

In her drawings Edith made the Chloe top a sort of cafe au lait color, maybe it exists in that hue too(?) If it were charcoal, as pictured, I would change from my large wool crepe pants to my large gray crepe trousers (or maybe my gray flannels). Edith said she would wear a winter white pleated skirt.

For evening, Edith bared her well-toned arms; added a polished cotton skirt; a big, red sash and lots of bangles. I preferred to cover my arms and donned my trusty go everywhere, go with everything can't live without tuxedo; a plum satin cummerbund and my amethyst chandelier earrings. I rather like the way we both kept the neck adornment-free; I think it looks fresh and feminine.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cross Dressing (Again)

Strictly speaking this IS an interview, although not the one I had planned for today.

(*If you're at all interested in an explanation, please slip down to the matching asterisk. If you don't care one whit, which I perfectly understand, save yourself some precious time and ignore the whole thing.)

As I was saying, the interview. . . 

It's with Cristel, a great friend who owns a stunning and stunningly hip men's store three boutiques down from Babette. The interior of Cristel's shop is gray and white with mammoth, plop-down-comfy leather chairs and old, crackly oil paintings on the walls and propped up on shelves. 

In my ceaseless quest to keep one and all entertained I asked her to choose five items from her boutique women could/would and do wear.

She chose only things she would wear because she often adds menswear to her mini-skirts, opaque tights and thigh-high boots. (If you saw Cristel -- which you never will since she won't let me photograph her -- you'd understand why her business is doing so well.)

Below is what she chose: Two wool/cashmere scarves; a big, charcoal gray, collared V-neck; a tissue paper thin cotton T-shirt, banded in a heavier cotton around the neck and backing the buttons (this one I want, it also comes in a pale, pale gray); a thick, nubby crew neck and above a classic pale blue shirt with a dandy pin-striped vest.

Ed. Note: See that hedline? I wrote about boyfriend sweaters several months ago with the same title and got more random "visits" than I've ever had in one day. Thought I'd try it again to see what happens.

(* The original interview was to be with Dr. Sandrine Sebban, considered a genius with fillers, Botox, lasers, magic creams, etc. -- all the "light" interventions not involving sharp, knife-like instruments. However, writing that today would have involved transcribing three mini-tapes, which I was more than willing to do until I opened the drawer in the kitchen -- filled with bright, shiny sharp objects btw -- to take out my favorite little silver fork for my kiwi. Instead of stopping at a certain point when one opens a drawer, this one just kept coming out and the drawer plus all the above mentioned pointy utensils fell on me and the floor. 

I was not hurt, but annoyed would be an understatement because since the mishap we've been on the road looking for the runner thingies that keep drawers from falling onto the floor when you open them.  We did not find them. It seems they will have to be custom-made, sort of like haute couture, only different. So that's been my day; and that's the story.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

TOP 10: Reasons I Love My French Girlfriends

How many times have we heard it takes forever to construct deep, lasting friendships with Frenchwomen? Then, the theory goes, it takes years to be invited into their homes; into their inner circle and into their confidence.

Once again I've been lucky. It took considerably less than one year for my first two French friends and me to realize we were looking at long term engagement. They are among the best friends I have ever had anywhere. They're loyal, gracious and generous in every way. Truthfully, I don't know what I would do without them.

Sometimes Frenchwomen get a bad rap for their flirtatious ways, their wandering eye -- toward another woman's boyfriend or husband -- and all the things they do so reputedly well that we do less well, or not at all. 

I'm the first to admit my two best friends do many, many things better than I do, but we're not in competition. We laugh together, commiserate ensemble, share secrets and gossip. And we're always ready to pop open a bottle of Champagne whenever a circumstance -- good or bad -- calls for some bubbles. 

As you know by now as a species, for the most part, I admire Frenchwomen, but I thought I would share with you specifically why my two copines are so special.

TOP 10: Reasons I Love My Copines

1.) They know how to be reasonable.

2.) They know how to be extravagant.

3.) They're super/hyper well-organized. (Jealousy enters into my admiration here.)

4.) They don't workout. They walk, walk, walk; swim; bike, bike, bike and join the occasional dance or yoga class for FUN (operative word). They don't like the "work" part of workout.

5.) They know how to relativize problems. (It appears "relativize" is not a word, but I makeup words all the time and I think it works nicely.) 

My theory is they come from an old culture and thus realize there is only so much one human being can control in this life and a problem is a problem. That's the ying and yang of things. Nobody promised us a rose garden 12 months of the year.

6.) Once a friend, always a friend. They share their secrets from beauty creams, hair colorist and dermatologist to their heartaches, joys and depressions.

7.) They accept, forgive and move on. Unless someone hurts them out of pure cruelty, they somehow find an explanation on the route to forgiveness. I find it amazing.

8.) They don't waste time. They make time for what's important; forget what isn't. They are always there for a friend.

9.) I know I mention this all the time, but it's true and at the same time liberating. They are disciplined. They don't eat too much, drink too much, talk too much or too loudly. They have impeccably good manners on all occasions.

10.) They are fundamentally kind and quelle chance pour moi, my two best friends are hilarious. We've been known to cry from laughing -- even before the Champagne.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Week Ahead or La Semaine Prochain

On The Calendar for Next Week:

Lundi:  Top 10

Mardi:  Interview

Mercredi: Virtual Shopping, With A Twist

Jeudi: Babette (and others perhaps)

Vendredi: Surprise (!)

Samedi: Deco Finds -- Fab-u-lous

Dimanche: Next week's line-up

***I'm off to the brocante in the town next to ours where we do our shopping and Babette, has her boutique. Hope I find lots of interesting people and things for us.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Edible Art

In staying with our weekend deco theme, today I'm presenting you with two choices on how you might like to savor your fin de semaine cadeaux

You may use as objets d'art or smash and consume. 

A little background: Last Saturday my friend Ann (English) and I were invited to an exhibition of an acquaintance. The artist is of the cerebral, esoteric, philosophical, metaphysical genre -- (are you with me?) and unfortunately she likes to explain her work at length. Basically, it's about tricking the eye into seeing colors that aren't there, but really are, but if you don't know how to look at the canvas you don't see them and so on. One thing I can tell you, the human eye cannot detect anything it recognizes beyond vertical lines, rectangles and the frames.

After this intellectually trying experience Ann and I decided we needed something more down to earth, something we could both understand and appreciate without explanations. It was too early for wine so we headed toward the next best thing.

By what can only be explained as a miracle of fate, the exhibition was in the same town as the Colas chocolate factory. Off we went. . .

Here's the best part: The Colas family keeps a large urn of hot chocolate brewing throughout the day with a sign next to a stack of cups that says, "help yourself." Nowhere on the sign did it say how many times. Ann, unkindly I thought, said she thought I consumed the equivalent of two kilos of calories. Also, next to the cash register, a bowl full of a variety of chocolate is there for the testing.

We both bought lots of chocolate. I, to take home to my Reason-for-Living-in France and because I was feeling guilty about what I had consumed sur place; Ann bought the "tubes of paint" for an artist friend.

(I asked permission to photograph the chocolate -- yes, everything you see is chocolate -- and was told I could if I didn't touch anything. It was difficult enough holding a cup of hot chocolate and a camera so it was simply a question of finding an angle.)

The weather is glorious here, I hope it is where you are. Have a lovely weekend.

Tomorrow I'll tell you what's on the calendar for next week.


Friday, September 18, 2009

The Genius of Madeleine Vionnet

Today I planned on perusing my "This and That, Hot News Tidbits" dossier to pull together one of those scattered posts of disjointed, though "riveting" (ahem) bulletins about all the important information on the fashion front.

While madly flipping through my file I found a page I ripped out of a recent magazine announcing the exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratif of 130 Madeleine Vionnet designs from 1912 to 1939, against a backdrop created by Andrée Putman.*

Certainly this brilliant woman --  "the queen of the bias cut" the "first architect of fashion design" -- deserves more than a passing comment. 

Here then is a tribute to the often overlooked, but never forgotten designer who, like Coco Chanel, wanted to liberate women not only from their corsets, but also from the constraints of a suffocating life.

Vionnet, who died in 1975 at the age of 99, is considered one of the greatest couturières of the 2oth century. 

Long before laws were established for the health and comfort of employees, Vionnet, ever considerate of those who turned her art into reality, provided chairs in her ateliers where before seamstresses were obliged to sit on back-breaking stools. She established a nursery, employed an in-house doctor and dentist and offered paid vacations. Her social advances were as avant garde as her body-caressing, lusciously draped flowing gowns.

A few quotes from those who understand her contributions to the art of high fashion:

Tom Ford: "Vionnet is, with Chanel and Yves Saint-Laurent, one of the three greatest couturiers of the last century. Her cut inspired generations of couturiers."

John Galliano: "Among all the couturiers from the 20th century, it is Vionnet who inspires me the most."

Jean-Paul Gaultier: "Madeleine Vionnet is the symbol of the apogee of haute couture."

Hubert de Givenchy: Madame Vionnet innovated in a fantastic way. I have always admired the perfection of her work and her grand creativity."

Karl Lagerfeld: "Everyone, whether the wish or not, is influenced by Vionnet."

Stella McCartney: "With Chanel and Yves Saint-Laurent, Vionned is the couturier I admire the most."

Zac Posen:  "Madeleine Vionnet created looks that are modern and timeless, even a dress from 1930 gives one the impression it was just created."

Yohji Yamamoto: "Vionnet was the laboratory of the 'cut'. I am in search of her shadow."

Issey Miyake: "I have always considered Vionnet as the greatest, the sole. When I create my models, Vionnet is my principal inspiration."

(*Until January 31, 2010.)
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