Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Oooooooooh, pretty -- fabric division

I just came across this 1930s vintage silk chiffon fabric on ebay, for sale by Firefly Vintage Clothing. I love it, it's just so, so, thirties, dammit! It's also very expensive -- $240 for 4 yards -- so it's not an appropriate purchase for a sewer of my basic skills. What I want is for one of you ladies with "mad skillz" to buy it and make it into a 20s or 30s style summer afternoon frock, preferably with a bertha collar or capelet so that this pansy-studded gorgeousness will flutter around you in the breeze. Then you'll have a dress to be worn, with fabulous hat, shoes and gloves, to any event where you want to knock the eye out of the competition. The wedding of an ex-beau, for instance. The new Mrs. Ex-beau will be fussing about seating and first dances with her wedding planner and you'll be standing in the shade, sipping champagne, surrounded by future beau, all of whom are admiring you in your lovely purple dress. *sigh*

The vintage patterns are from The Vintage Pattern Lending Library. And do check out this lot of vintage dresses at eBay -- that yellow and black chiffon print is just the kind of dreamy dress I had in mind.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Gold-plated Vintage at the Emmy Awards

I never watch award shows -- I need all my remaining braincells, thank you -- but I always pay attention to what's being worn to award shows. I used to watch the red-carpet arrivals, too, until E! eliminated any possible controversy (and therefore any possible interest) by hiring than homunculus Ryan Seacrest as its host. Anyway, on Monday I went straight to and the yahoo photos to see who wore what and, as usual, I was disappointed. Lots of strapless mermaid gowns, lots of boobs (Virginia Masden, I *heart* you, but WHAT WERE YOU THINKING???), lots of women parading their borrowed fall-collection gowns in the full sun of a 102 degree August day in southern California. Lots of fug-fodder for the Go Fug Yourself gals, which is a good thing.

I also watched E!'s Fashion Police special; another bore. The hosts liked dresses I thought were just passable, like Catherine Heigel's (tight, low-cut, gold, a snore) and they dissed anything I thought was interesting, like Sandra Oh's (draped, flowing, at least appropriate on a hot summer afternoon). No wonder all the actresses look like clones, they all want a pass from the so-called experts.

I was intrigued, however, by reports that Annette Benning wore a vintage Ceil Chapman dress. Ceil Chapman, who was simply a designer of better dresses working in New York from the late 1940s to the mid 1960s, has since become the most collectible name in vintage clothing. I spent an unmentionable amount of time surfing for a decent picture of Annette in her vintage treasure. Alas, the photos at left were the best I could do, and they reveal a dress that certainly isn't the best of Ceil Chapman, who became famous because of the intricate draping of her best pieces, like this one for sale now on e-bay. I have to give Annette 10 points for trying, though (and a couple of extra for keeping her bosom where it belongs).

Monday, August 28, 2006

Project Runway -- "Mommy Dearest"

You probably already know from the thousands of other PR posts that the Judges Did It Again in Episode 7, that is, they picked a winner that made most watchers go "wah???" The winner was Vincent, aka Vinsane, who proded an ill fitting black sheath adorned with large and unusual tan -- sweet mother of 70's tan -- lapels. The wags at Project Rungay (how do I love them? a LOT) pronounced the collar "pure Carol Brady," another wit posted a comment calling the dress "soooo Sister Batrille" (that's the Singing Nun for all you young things), but when I saw that dress, I thought "Adrian!" No, not Rocky's girlfriend, the MGM costume designer Gilbert Adrian, and not good Adrian, but still . . .

Adrian's "kite lapels" or "Crawford collar" to be exact. "Gowns by Adrian" describes the style as follows: "[T]he "Crawford collar" was Adrian's little inside joke. Here was the ferfect fashion innovation for society women who never need to use their hands, as they always have someone on retainer to light their cigarettes or pour their drinks" I don't think Vinsane got the joke.

(Speaking of the fabulous Adrian, check out the photos from an exhibition of his designs at Kent State University. There are also line drawings of each garment, so you can see how they were put together. I lust after the yellow silk dress believed to have been worn by Mommy Dearest Joan Crawford herself. )

The rest of Episode 7 was as cringeworthy as the winning design. The producers had the bright idea of bringing in the designers' moms and sisters to be the design inspiration and models for this challenge. They didn't share their brainstorm with the moms and sisters, who arrived in New York thinking they were getting a surpise visit to their loved ones as a treat. The women ranged in size from very slim to very large, and after the challenge was announced the expressions on their faces left me with the impression that the larger ladies weren't that enthused about marching down the runway in whatever size 4X schmatta the designers could create in one day.

The designers weren't allowed to work with their own relatives; instead there was a very grade-school team line-up and the end result was that the prickly bad-tempered tattooed guy Jeffrey was paired with the whiny passive-aggressive plus-size Mom of his least favorite competitor, Angela. Neither Jeffrey nor Angela's Mom was shy about expressing his or her displeasure with the other. There was shouting, there were tears, there was one effin' ugly dress. In spite of the backstage drama and spectacularly poor customer relations, the judges still found Jeffrey's hot mess better than Michaels boring red tent, so that the by now thoroughly loathed Jeffrey got to stay and the beautiful Barbie Boy, Robert Best, got the boot. Farewell, fair Robert, may choirs of plastic dolls sing thee to thy rest, or at least as far as some jumping bar in West Hollywood.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Clothes on Film -- Lana Turner: Bad Acting, Great Clothes.

The woman explained herself quite well in the opening paragraph of her autobiography, LANA. I quote "One June evening in 1937, I sat in a Hollywood theatre, waiting for a preview of They Won't Forget. I played a Southern schoolgirl, Mary Clay, who would be raped and murdered. An innocent teacher would be blamed and lynched before he came to trial. I hadn't really understood the significance of the script, but I remember what I wore - a close-fitting sweater with patent-leather belt and a well-contoured skirt." --

Turner Classic Movies is doing its "Summer Under the Stars" specials this August. That's where the channel programs 24 hours featuring the work of one star. Lana Turner was featured on my birthday. She's not one of my favorite actresses by any means: by the time she made the movies that are shown most often, "Peyton Place," "Imitation of Life" and "Madame X," the mileage was really beginning to show and she had become as brittle as flint and about as expressive. But man, you had to give it up to the girl, she was always, always, beautifully, glamorously dressed, off screen and on.

Lana Turner was the Lindsay Lohan of her day. She was discovered and put into the studio system at age 15, she became an immediate sensation because of her impressive, if sweater-covered, rack, and she was wildly popular among men in their early 20s (although Lana's admirers were flying bombers over Germany instead of getting bombed in their parents' basements). Lana preferred partying to acting. At age 19, she eloped with Artie Shaw, one of the 20th Centuries most notorious serial husbands, just to piss off her boss, MGM's Louis B. Mayer. She was hospitalized for "exhaustion" (in Lana's case, aka a botched back-street abortion). And this was just the beginning of her career!

Unlike today's teen screen queens, however, Lana would never appear in public looking like a homeless person after a rough night. In fact, Lana's glamour actually helped her make a comeback after a scandal that would have ruined the career of Sarah Bernhardt, the killing of Johnny Stompanato, her sadistic gangster boyfriend by her daughter on Good Friday, 1958. The L.A. coroner's office bought Lana's story that her daughter was trying to protect her from Johnny during a fight between the lovers, and ruled the killing justifiable homicide, but rumors continued to circulate that Lana had done the deed and let her daughter take the rap.

To recover from the scandal, and earn some much needed cash, Lana agreed to forgo her usual fee to star in "Imitation of Life" for half the film's profits. As a publicity stunt, or perhaps as an effort to whitewash the sepulchre, Lana's wardrobe for that movie was the most expensive to date, $1.079 million dollars of Jean Louis gowns and Laykin et Cie jewels. The gowns and jewels were the perfect props for an actress who belonged to the "stop, pose, speak" school of acting.

"Imitation of Life" has been praised as a "brave" film about race issues, but I find it cringe-worthy to watch. Miss Lora, the white benefactress, is a little too good to be true; Annie, the African-American housekeeper, is not merely a jewel but a saint and way, way too devoted to Miss Lora for modern-viewing comfort; Lora's teenage daughter, whose crisis is falling for her mother's boyfriend, is a bore; and Annie's teenage daughter, who is trying to pass for white, is too damn sexy (although she does get to wear a show-stopping peach wiggle dress in one scene). This movie was made five years after "Brown v. Board of Education" and three years after the Montgomery bus boycotts, after all.

Oh well, the film's politics might be dated but the clothes are classic.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Project Runway -- Here's a big "Harry Winston up yours" to you!

I wasn't going to blog about PR any more because everybody in the fashion blogosphere is already blogging about PR, and in a more timely manner. (In case you missed any of the thousands of recaps and comments on the internet, PR airs its original episodes on Wednesday). However, when my favorite food blogger, the very charming and diet-destroying Amateur Gourmet interrupts his usual program to post an agonized statement about the outcome of Episode 6, I have to concede that the PR thing is bigger than I am, resistance is futile, and I might as well comment about it here because the damn TWOP threads are moving like the speed of light and I'll never catch up enough to comment there.

For you kind people who come here to read about vintage clothing and not TV, I can guarantee you this -- I will NEVER write about American Idol.

Anyway, here's the deal. The Episode 6 challenge was a trick challenge, that is, the designers had to make clothing out of something weird. The were bused to New Jersey, thrown into a recycling center, and told that they had to make their next garments out of the recycled material. So the designers hauled buckets of refuse back to Parsons and they set to work making dresses out of mylar, paper, plastic sheeting, newspaper and one old copy of Martha Stewart's "Living."

In spite of the odd and uncooperative materials, the outfits they produced were exactly what you'd expect from each of them. Jeffrey, the Tattoo Guy, made a complex and funky dress. Michael from A.T.L. made a dress for a fashion intellectual. Laura made something for the Ladies Who Lunch (oh, best comment evah about Laura, here). Perky Angela made a weird granola granny streetwalker suit of armor. Fraulein Uli made something, uh, Uli. Robert "Mr. Barbie" finally loosened up enough to make a dress Barbie would wear (keep it up, Robert!) and Vincent, well, Vincent made something insane.

The initial unexpected underdog was Kayne, Pageant Guy. He initially made a gown with a huge, stiff, bottle-cap studded paper skirt. The garment looked like it had a bad case of frog acne. The lovely, soft-spoken, so-sweet-she'd-cry-for-a-cheat Alison also had a false start, but she tossed out her original design an made the intricate origami number pictured above. Her dress wasn't anything anyone would wear (excluding paper fetishists), but neither was anything else -- they were made out of trash, for pete's sake.

And Princess Alison was auf'd for the most horrible sin a person can commit in fashion-land; her dress, in the judges' opinion, made her model look fat.

If Alexandra, Alison's model, looks fat, or zaftig as Tim Gunn said, then I must look like the Goodyear blimp. Just slip my moorings and fly me over the Superbowl, m'kay?

The prevailing opinion of most posting PR fans is that Alison was auf'd because she didn't bring teh drama. In fact, the remaining designers are the bitchy, the camp, and the crazy (except Uli, who'd better put on her bitch game face before she loses drama points too). So we viewers will be getting plenty of drama, but good design? Maybe not so much.

Speaking of drama, in this episode Laura, she of the unfortunate clavicle, was revealed to be the uniformly disliked bitch of the season. At the end of the program, she was shown chewing out Vincent for somehow evading aufing yet again. Vincent fired back, telling her to "stick some Harry Winston's up her nose," which has to be the weirdest "up yours" I've ever heard.

Summary: Michael won, Jeffrey should have won. Alison was auf'd, Vincent should have been auf'd. Ah well, controversy brings in viewers, doesn't it?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Captain Sav-a-ho -- Project Runway Episode 6

The challenge this week was to modernize the look of a fashion icon. The icons (or in this case, "icons") in question were Jacqueline Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, Katherine Hepburn, Pam Grier, Diana Ross, Marilyn Monroe, Twiggy and Cher. I had some philosophical problems with this challenge. For example, the designers were warned not to design anything retro. Well, poo, I says to myself, what's wrong with retro -- especially when some of the icons' signature looks, like Jackie Kennedy's neat structured suits and Twiggy's babydoll dresses and shifts, are all over the runways this season? Audrey-like little black dresses never go out of style. Another problem was that at least two of the designers had no clue who their icons were and what they wore. Bradley, incredibly, knew nothing about Cher, and Allison knew knew nothing about Farrah Fawcett, although I wouldn't call either of those women fashion icons. If this challenge had been described as modernizing the look of a gay icon I think some of the designers would have been more successful. (What? No Elizabeth Taylor?)

Michael Knight (who, when he defended Angela, said "I'm not trying to play Captain Save-a-ho", a phrase that I'm sure just entered the general vernacular), was the clear winner of the challenge. He knew who his icon, Pam Grier, was, and he made a beautifully constructed and fitting eye-catching pink outfit. And he did it all with minimum drama, even though he scrapped his first design mid-project. I do believe Michael's going to to win this season.

I wasn't on board with the judges' other two favorite designs, Kayne's Goth gown for Marilyn, because it made his model's butt look lumpy, and Angela's LBD for Audrey Hepburn, because it was made by Angela. Audrey would never have worn anything that exposed half her chest, anyway. I thought Uli's flamboyant purple gown for Diana Ross was better than either of those. Michael Kors was spot on when he called Vincent's Twiggy dress "more Brady bunch than Twiggy." Oh, welcome back, Mr. Kors! The other outfits were okay, even Robert Best's boring beige Jackie suit, or, like Jeffrey's Madonna costume, insane. Po' Bradley, who has been suffering a crisis of confidence, was auf'd for his tin-man Cher costume. I liked Bradley, but he clearly had no killer gene, which is essential for a reality show contestant.

Show-wise, PR has a real problem -- most of the best stuff winds up in the bonus videos at Ah well, the more for the extended version DVD.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Mo' pretty!

I love unusual -- okay, loud -- color combinations, like red and pink, red and purple, red, pink and purple. My yard is full of pots planted with purple easter-egg alyssum, tomato-red geraniums and orange african daisies, all surrounded by red and coral mini rose bushes and purple butterfly bushes. So when I saw the dress at left, a balloon dress, no less, in a red and pinky-purple floral print, I had yet another "ooooooh, pretty" moment. I confess, I live for those.

This dress is for sale at, which has quite a collection of balloon, bubble, and tulip dresses for sale at the moment. At the other end of the silhouette spectrum, it also has this wiggle dress, with *swoon* a modified petal bodice, in a super fantastic orange/magenta/turquoise print. Oh, I lust for that fabric! I (The dress itself, alas, is too expensive and too small for me.) The hot-pink gown with the fabulous Watteau train also caught my eye. I'm firmly convinced that the world would be a better place if more women wore dresses with Watteau trains (and voted for progressive Democrats). does a fabulous job of displaying the dresses on sale. The photos, which are many and large, look like they were taken by a professional photographer, or at least in a studio environment with professional equipment. They, and the web-site maintenance, must cost the webmistress a mint and it appears that she prices her items accordingly, which is not to say that the garments aren't spectacular themselves. No matter; I'm just browsing, and the browsing is good.

Almost as good as solitaire

An unsolicited e-mail from Jon made it through my spam filter the other day, and actually, I'm glad it did. Jon politely asked me if I, as someone "very active in the fashion bloggersphere" would look at his new site, and give him my opinion (and later a plug). So I went on over there and got sucked in -- dayum, putting together outfits is almost as much fun as kittenwars or The Dick Cheney Quail Hunt. But be warned! The site plays music, so be sure to turn off your speakers if you're planning to put together a wardrobe while you're on the clock. Here it is, Jon's plug and your time waster:

Friday, August 04, 2006

They don't bubble the way they used to.

Vogue has made it official: The Bubble is a Fall Trend. Indeed, bubble skirts can be found from Nieman-Marcus to Walmart. I've been intrigued by relative novelty of these drapey items, so I've tried on a few -- and rapidly removed them. All I could do was stare, and not in a good way, when a middle-aged woman waltzed into My Favorite Muffin at 10:00 a.m. wearing a shiney silver bubble rendered in some crinkley material (I think it was this one, in fact). So bubbles may be a current trend, but as far as I'm concerned, they don't quite work.

However, I still like the idea of bubbles, balloons, and their kinder, gentler sister, the tulip skirt, in theory and in vintage. Look at these beautiful examples from the past; the pattern from Fuzzy Lizzy Vintage (click on photo for link), the cinnamon tulip dress formerly for sale by emmapeelpants (can you stand it?) on ebay. Here's another gorgeous example, once again, already sold, that'll give you an idea of what a dress made from this pattern might look like.

The vintage balloon/bubble/tulip dresses work, I think, because they're for evening, when fanciful dress is expected, and because the designers Committed to The Bubble (but not in an '80's way) and went with lots of volume. The current crop of full gathered skirts look rather deflated and tomboyish in comparison, whereas a proper bubble dress just has to be full-tilt girly. Dresses with the bubble silhouette also work better than skirts because they solve the nagging question "what the hell do I wear with this?" With a dress, the wearer just has to Commit to the Bubble, put on a great pair of shoes, and go.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Oooooooooh, pretty -- and it can be yours!

Pretty pretty 1950s cocktail dress for sale on ebay by Shrimpton Couture. A must for any vintage loving girly-girl.

Audrey Hepburn's favorite color was pink, y'know.

Project Runway -- surprise!

Okay, the big news in last night's episode of PR wasn't the disqualification of Keith -- most viewers had him pegged as the bad guy from the beginning -- but the triumph of Angela "Happy Hands at Home" Keslar. Angela won the Macy's I.N.C. challenge, which means that her design is now on sale at (click picture for link) and "selected stores" (which doesn't mean my local Macy's). Assuming that Angela gets immunity as well as fame from winning this challenge, that also means she'll be around for at least another two episodes, much to the dismay of the gang at TWOP.

Among the posters, Angela is disliked for her artsy-craftsy ballon-skirt with rosettes aesthetic. (That's a picture of her bubble-skirted creation for last week's challenge below.) I don't like Angela because she wears newsboy caps -- on an angle, no less -- and because she is, heaven help me, perky. Check out Bravo's bonus video of her dancing on the sewing table. I can't deal with perky; for example, I could never be a co-host on a morning show because within the first fifteen minutes of the first show I'd be driven to throttle the co-hosting standard issue morning show perky bitch with my coffee cup. If Angela had danced on the table by me, I'd have stabbed her with her own damn scissors.

Ahem: Angela's win was, I suspect, in great part due to the skill and good taste of her teammates, Laura and Michael. They restrained Angela's impulse to sew rosettes on every surface of the garment, but why they all thought it appropriate to stick rosettes under the collar so that it can't lie flat is beyond me.

I was disappointed in Robert "Mr. Barbie" Best's outfit -- his doll designs are so flamboyant, but his human designs are rather blah. I'm beginning to like Jeffrey "The Tattooed Man" Sebelia because he's more skilled than he looks. The previews for Episode 5, however, show Jeffrey having an enormous hissy fit and fighting with Laura, so my affection for him may be short-lived.

Next week the contestants are making updated outfits for fashion icons such as Jaqueline Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and Audrey Hepburn. That's not a challenge that really gets this vintage-lover too excited -- update the divine Audrey? Why? She's already perfect! Oh, well, carry on.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me! delivered this fabulous book to my door yesterday (click on photo for link). It's a gift from a friend who obviously knows my weaknesses -- clothes and movies. The book's a real treat, indeed it is!

Adrian was the head designer at MGM from 1929 to 1941. These were the depression years, when Hollywood, in its infinite wisdom and sensitivity to the Zeitgeist mostly made movies about rich people and bad girls. Those two groups aren't mutually exclusive, but in an era when people who could afford it changed clothes four times a day and always, always, dressed for dinner, they both needed lots of gowns.

Among the stars Adrian dressed were Garbo, Joan Crawford, Katherine Hepburn and Norma Shearer (that's her on the cover). He put Harlow in white satin for Dinner at 8." One dress he designed for Crawford, the "Letty Lynton" dress (at left), was knocked off and 500,000 copies were sold. He invented the women's power suit; the broad shouldered, slim-hipped suit that became the uniform of American women in the 1940s, and that Giorgio Armani revived in the '80s. The man could design!

Adrian was also the master of one of my favorite silly old Hollywood conventions -- the mid-movie fashion show, usually set in at a couturier's, when all the action stops for five to ten minutes while elegant ladies in fantastic outfits parade across the screen. Prior to the proliferation of fashion magazines and Project Runway, I suppose the movie fashion shows were a real treat for all the women in the audience who were neither rich nor bad.

Adrian's most famous fashion show occurs in the 1939 movie "The Women." It's a technicolor insert in a black-and-white movie. Howard Gutner, the author of "Gowns by Adrian," argues that the fashion show is an effective plot device it occurs just before The Wife and the Other Woman confront each other in the dressing rooms of the couturier. Eeeeeh, I think the story would have moved along just fine without the fashion show, but dang, it's fun.

"Gowns by Adrian" is more than just a coffee-table book of movie stills. It's a history of the design-side of a major Hollywood studio, and includes a lot of information about the skills and techniques involved in putting a film wardrobe together during the Golden Age. So, whether you like films, or like clothes, or like both, this is a great book to have.