I have been a fan of A. S. Byatt for many years, I believe the first book I read was one that contained Angels & Insects and then Possession. Both extremely thought provoking, and in some instances disturbing, but brilliantly written none the less.  When I read that she had written a book on William Morris and Mariano Fortuny I was intrigued.  I guess I thought it was going to be a fictionalized account of their lives (you know those are my favorite books!), I was wrong.  It is an interesting, engaging account of these two artists in different countries and in different times.  Actually, a review in The Guardian felt as a novel it would have been a better telling of their stories.  I don’t know that I agree with that.  I did learn a lot about William Morris (someone I have admired but not really done any research on) and continued to learn more about Fortuny, who has long been a favorite of mine. Both, of course, are known for their creative textiles, inventions and the new art each inspired.  It is a slim volume but has so much information, I need to reread it to get every drop of knowledge it gives the reader. The book is heavily illustrated and contains an extensive “further reading” list.

imageWilliam Morris and Mariano Fortuny

William Morris lived in England just outside London and his house inspired his fascinating floral and geometric patterns.

imageA William Morris floral vine and trellis pattern.  Done during Victorian times at the beginning of the Arts and Crafts movement.

A fact I was not aware of was his wife, Jane, had a long love affair with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who was obsessed with her and used her in many of his famous paintings.

imageI love the flow of the leaves, he was fascinated by flora and also by the River Thames, and always lived near it.  The leaves, to me, look like waves.  He, like, Fortuny made his own dyes for his fabrics and, of course, mixed his own paints.

imageI found this on Pinterest (along with most of the images I am using in this post) and I must say I would love to have a remnant of this or a piece of the paper.  It is stunningly beautiful!

Fortuny was a Spanish aristocrat and eventually moved to Venice.  I think most people think of him as making the famous “Delphos” gown using a yet to be duplicated pleating technique and having the gown flow against the body ending in a “puddle” at the feet of the wearer.  These gowns are highly collectible and are often found on exhibition (The Art Institute of Chicago had an exhibition of Fortuny gowns several years ago…it was brilliant to see these treasures up close and personal!)  In addition to these glorious pieces, Fortuny did incredible prints, sometimes doing layers of pattern over pattern, ingenious as well as beautiful, to say the very least. He is the only designer mentioned by Marcel Proust in Remembrance of Things Past.

imageA “Delphos” gown.  They were made to roll into themselves and not be hung.  This from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Collection.

imageTina Chow, a major collector of Fortuny as well as many Haute Couture designers, wearing one of Fortuny’s wraps with his hand painted motif.  You can see more of the details of the embossed velvet pieces.  When he was criticized for copying old vestments, he took out patents and issued disclaimers.  All beautifully discussed, in great detail, in the book.


The pomegranate was prominent in both artists work, not necessarily in its color but rather in its shape and meaning.

imageFortuny alongside some of his fabrics.

imageEven the labels were hand painted.  Here you can see the intricacy of the pleating.

Byatt captures the essence of each of her subject, although they were born a generation apart she weaves their story together perfectly using Venice, its color, light, romance as the catalyst.  One can only wonder what this story would have been as a novel!  I thoroughly enjoyed the book and as I mentioned, I will need to reread it…it is written by a brilliant writer who draws you into the world she has totally researched and has examined and “paints” the story of these two geniuses, I think as they would want to be painted!

imageA.J. Byatt photo by Fabrizo Giraldi from the book.



Michael in an early comp.

imageMichael today!!!

In my Model Monday Profiles, I have been featuring my “girls” with the exception of Marcellas Reynolds (go to the archives of nenasnotes for his profile)…I also worked with many fabulous “guys” who were professional, extremely nice, looked fantastic in the clothes, and were drop dead gorgeous!!!!  And best of all, no egos were apparent which made them even more attractive.  I started using the male models as “props” in many of my shows wearing a piece or two and always in black tie for the glamourous finales.  If a designer did both women’s and men’s garments they usually didn’t show them in the same show (this is still the case with many of the designers although they are getting more integrated).  When I first started using the gentlemen I would do a fitting (all men’s clothing had to be tailored, at least the hem of the trousers, we didn’t do major alterations, it is the model’s job to “fit” the clothes not only in size but in attitude), and I had to pull for each model since they were different shirt sizes, inseams, etc.  Once I got to know them, just like the ladies, I would just pull and we would baste the hems.  It always worked well.  I had my “stable” of male models just like my females.  I knew who wore what looks best and how they would project to the audience.  I must admit that whenever I had male models in the shows the audience, mostly women, would go wild.  It was like I was doing a show with the Chippendales!  We did many, many all male shows for visiting designers and from stock both in and out of the Store.  The comradery between both sexes was wonderful and we all had great times.

When I asked Michael Ramion to answer my model’s questionnaire he did so without hesitation….here are his words and some super photos from his portfolio.

“I started my modeling career in late 1979, and I actually stumbled into it by accident. I was a hair stylist at that time, doing quite well at it and enjoying the lifestyle that the styling biz offered…a crazy bunch in that business and at that time it was a really diverse crowd to work with.  I was at a party in Indiana and a beautiful woman and her husband approached me and asked if I would be interested in doing a photo ”test” with them…didn’t have the slightest idea what they were talking about, but they gave me their card and we traded info and I thought nothing would come of it but three weeks later Curtis Kulp did indeed call me and set up the test shoot! His wife was Debbie Gephardt, and she was with a new agency called Susanne Johnson that specialized in runway shows…again nothing I knew a thing about, but this whole situation was foreign to a small town boy from Indiana! We shot the pictures, and Debbie took me into the agency to meet with her agents…they signed me on the spot without seeing any pictures and my first booking was a bridal show for Carson Pirie Scott and Co. and that’s where I met the majority of the models I would end up working with for the next several years…Gayle, Tina, Elaine, Shelley and Shauna, Diane, Val…it goes on and on.
As far as a favorite Saks show I don’t think I could pick one to be honest…you always had the guys dressed to the 9’s and I always appreciated your taste in clothes, so it was always a sure thing when we got hired that we were going to look great! I remember having to go to the Saks store and audition for you and being extremely nervous because the agency placed such high expectations on working for Saks…obviously it ended up being one of the best working relationships I ever had in my career and it was always a joy to do those shows! (Nena’s note ditto, Michael!!!)
My favorite designer in those days was Armani, without a doubt…just that classic Italian style was right down my alley and the fit was right for me…he was ahead of the game when it came to making clothes for the more ”athletic” type body and I was always a bigger type than the regular 40R type that was prevalent in those days. To this day I have a box with at least 20 pairs of Armani dress slacks that I keep because they were so beautifully made and the fabric is still amazing…couldn’t bring myself to let them go!
As far as behind the scenes stuff goes I can’t pin any particular moment down…the crew that you always hired were people that became great friends to me and to this day I stay in touch with some of them…it was always a good time doing those shows and working with those people made ”work” way more fun than anything resembling what I was used to doing for a living!
I’ve done a variety of things over the years and actually have stayed in the modeling/commercial acting biz off and on all these years…and a few years back I actually took off from that business and decided to ”drop out” and went to school and acquired my Class A CDL license to drive 18 wheelers, and after that I drove fuel tankers in Pennsylvania for a bit then worked in the oil fields of North Dakota during the big oil/natural gas rush that was happening up there. The oil business was just about the most chaotic world you could work in because there was so much money to be made and basically not enough drivers willing to work the hours that they demanded from you, and basically there was no such thing as holidays or a normal schedule…my actual work schedule was 12 hours a day, 30 days on and a week off, but that was a joke because I usually worked at least 14/18 hours a day in Montana and ND delivering fuel to frack sites and oil rigs, and it was very physical work and I didn’t mind that at all, to be honest! That oil boom obviously fell apart and pretty much everyone lost their jobs or moved on after the money dried up…we got spoiled because of the amount of hours we worked added up to some big paycheck,s to say the least. That lifestyle in ND was basically all work, very little sleep and that’s about all we did…there was no free time and it was an extremely dangerous environment to be in…driving 5000 gallons of fuel that burns, on mostly roads that were made just to get you into wherever they could drill or frack for natural gas…crazy business!
imageOn a motorcycle instead of a rig!!!!
I actually was home on my break when my agent called to see if I was in town because he had a client that wanted to use me in a commercial that was shooting while I was home…no audition, the client saw my stuff online and hired me from that…ended up that I basically did that job and a few other things came up and I was right back in the business…shot new headshots, did a bunch of updated pictures for a new composite and got right back in the game…it’s obviously a much smaller window of opportunity for guys my age but there’s still work for my age bracket out there…boomers still have disposable income and advertising knows it!
imageI, must once again, state that my models don’t age….I want what they are having!!!!
As far as learning anything from this career goes…I always approached it like it was any other job I had, and there were plenty of those over the span of my life…be on time time, be professional in your approach, have the necessities the job called for, be prepared as best you could be and just be kind and courteous to people no matter their station in life…I never considered myself to be special in any way, I considered myself lucky to have been fortunate to work in a business that paid us well for doing what we got to do, and for that I’m always going to be grateful…for what I thought would be a nice way to make some extra money I’m still at it 37 years later!”
Nena’s note…I would hire Michael in a split second…next time I do a “reunion” fashion show, I can guarantee that I will include both my male and female models…the “older” generation (what does that even mean!!!!) is definitely the news of the day!  Yay!!!