Karl Lagerfeld has died and T, the fashion magazine of the New York Times has been published. What can that possibly have to do with my life, challenges, struggles? Everything. I joke that, “Clothing is my life.” Well, it’s really not a joke. My mother told me when I was a young teenager that I was going to be a clothes horse My clothes are my expression. Give me a moment in my life and I will tell you what I wore and why. For example, my final interview for the job that finally took me to pret a porter – a lavender tweed suit with a bomber style jacket, cream silk blouse and lavender snakeskin pumps. I was advised that if I wore those shoes, I’d never get that job. It was in mens accessories and I had two points to make: I was not a man and I was my own person. A picture exists – a young me in a Jonathan Logan floral in Georgetown during the Cherry Blossom Festival. People thought I was a model. Sometimes, clothing is a weapon. “A face to meet the faces you meet.”
I grew up with a grandmother who supported her children by sewing. She didn’t need a pattern. My mother needed a dress for a charity ball and had liked a dress in a movie with Ingrid Bergman. She took Grandma to the film, pointed out the dress and it was done.
I never knew my actual size until I was in 8th grade as Grandma made most of my clothes. The truth came out in what later became a pivotal moment for me. The sewing pattern companies used to come into the schools and do fashion shows. I was chosen by the company coordinator to model in the evening wear portion of the event. This is the equivalent of the bride in a designer show. She was stunned I didn’t know my size. I was stunned I was picked. And being considered ugly by my peers, she picked me for evening wear. It was a short lace dress with a turquoise empire top and an eyelet lace flounce. A style minus the flounce that has served me well over the years.
Fashion and clothes were just an important part of our lives. We lived with color, fabric, sewing. My grandmother’s idea of bliss was a good fabric store. I still seek one out periodically to get my fix. It’s the feel, the colors, the possibilities.
Fashion was such an integral part of life that I had no idea that it could be a career. I knew about designers, of course. But that was drawing, something best left to my mother. And besides, I was considered too smart for something so frivolous and seemingly transitory. I was asked by my university placement office what I wanted to do. My reply, “Wear Vogue clothes.” Well, I was told with a degree from Hopkins I could do anything and buy anything. I did eventually get to wear my Vogue clothes but not for years.
The Fashion of the Times used to come out twice a year. Starting in high school, it was my bible. I devoured it. I hoarded it. I practically took the ink off the page. I would look at it for EVERYTHING – clothes, colors, shoes, hair, makeup, accessories. Each category received a separate reading and evaluation. Then which looks were my favorites, which I thought would sell (not necessarily the same) and which were bombs. This took days. Then I saved them for reference materials; my own private fashion library. And I can say, I was very, very good at it. I had a manager years later who laughed because I would come up with designs similar to Ralph Lauren without his resources or library. Fashion infuses your pores.
I went back to school. I earned a fashion degree. My first job was at Bobbie Brooks. And so much for a fashion degree. I was hired because I was Libra and therefore perceived as balanced; I was the only candidate with her own personal stationery; and they thought my Hopkins degree in social sciences gave me a psychology background. And yes, “The Devil Wears Prada” is real. My Fashion of the Times obsession served me well. I have my own very specific sense of style. And it has been recognized. I have been blessed to attend pret a porter as a licensee. You cannot begin to imagine my absolute, utter rapture. I remember standing outside the designer tent the first time. It was a warm, blue morning. I was near tears as I thought of my grandmother and how proud she would have been of me, and how envious. And even in my lowly capacity, people noticed what I wore and commented weeks later when back in New York.
I have always been definite about what I liked and did not like. Chanel always resonated. I saw an ad recently with pale blue lace pants and had palpitations. I calmed down a bit when I realized I had nowhere to wear anything like that plus it might be a bit jeune fille for me. Isn’t it difficult when you see yourself in your mind’s eye one way but the mirror holds a different reality? And me being my tweaky little self bought a pale blue lace top at a thrift store last year. Important note: normally blue is not my color. Fashion is in the pores. Yellows, blues, greens belonged to my mother. I was pinks, lavenders, reds, black, grey. I liked Versace when Gianni was alive, all those wild exciting prints. St. Laurent, sometimes for a viewpoint; Ungaro for prints and color; Vollbracht for the art; Zoran for his elegant spareness, a little Valentino, tiny bit of Calvin Klein, Max Mara.
What I did not like: Vuitton, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Armani, Ralph Lauren. I detested Lauren and thought it wannabe and derivative. ( I did say I have/had definite views.) I interviewed once at Lauren and the manager told me I was a classic American beauty. NOT!! And #Metoo. I knew what was up with that gig. I worked for Izod-Lacoste which to me was like nails grating on a blackboard. In my last fashion gig, decades ago, I was told to copy The Gap! Seriously? Seriously. It contributed to the demise of my fashion career.
And a favorite memory from that fashion time, before I had the job that let me go to pret a porter. I was out of work as happens often in the garment industry. I had a temporary job through a connection, as basically a messenger and dogsbody for a prominent jewelry designer. I had to deliver some jewelry to Adolfo. Going up in the lift (and of course, at Adolfo, it was a lift and not an elevator) a gentleman said to me. “My dear, you are much too young to be dressed by Adolfo.”
I have noticed in the last year or so that I actually like the full page Ralph Lauren ads in the Sunday Styles. I have wondered whether this is due to age, new designer or both?
Sunday Styles (aka the women’s pages) are the first thing I read in the Sunday Times. One of the things that has really bothered me about my condition is my inability to wear what I want to wear. It’s how I express myself. I no longer go to work so for the most part those lovely dresses and suits just hang. They are like pearls that aren’t worn, houses that are not lived in. They have an air of desolation and creeping deterioration. I can no longer wear the right shoes either. My shoes destroy the line and with it some of the joy. We can’t even begin to understand the impact of the spectral leg, cane/rollator. What’s ironic is that I am finally thin enough to wear some of the looks I’ve wanted.
Life changes. It’s no longer Fashion of the Times but T. I receive my Sunday supplement on Saturday. In the past, that would have been my Saturday and Sunday. I just opened it during the week . I am still at the beginning. Surprise – I loved the Vuitton; I loved the Gucci; I detested the Max Mara? What’s going on? Is it age? Some of it. A new designer? Definitely. So, here’s the other issue – I love the Vuitton but it’s for the young Versace- Ungaro me. The things I like are too young for me. Well, maybe not the Gucci which appears Chanelesque. More troubling is why I still haven’t finishing devouring it. And if I remember correctly, I only tore one page out of the previous issue. What’s going on? If I have left fashion behind, does that mean as a senior citizen I am finally leaving my youth behind? I don’t think this is correct. Women much older than me, revel in fashion. Age ain’t what it used to be. Is it depression? I guess so. Isn’t it said, what happens when a tree falls in a forest when there’s no one there? Is the joy gone because no one will see me? Or, that I can no longer afford it? Disclaimer – I have only worn knock offs with the exception of two Emanuelle Khanhs and a Vollbracht. Hair and shoes no longer apply. Something to ponder as I go back to my magazine.