FASHION NOW: HAUTE COUTURE SPRING 2018

image_538613420344442Viktor & Rolf

image_53861322232845Charles Frederick Worth the Father of Haute Couture.  The first Couturier began in 1858.  The term Haute Couture was coined in 1908 meaning High Fashion and By Hand.

Let’s take a look at this season’s presentations always shown in the current season, Spring in January and Fall in July.  Always amazing, sometimes quirky, always trendsetting, always the laboratory of Fashion….here we go and not in any order of presentations.  There were over 30 houses that showed, lots of the names you know, Chanel, Dior, Valentino, Armani, Margiela, and many new names to watch.  As well as a couple of Fall 2018 ready-to-wear collections from the states, such as Proenza Schouler.

I’ll start with Chanel this time…as always Lagerfeld does not disappoint in his staging,  this time a garden theme and inspired by Mademoiselle herself from a classic Cecil Beaton portrait (dying to see the documentary on him…need to be vigilant in finding when and where it will show…let me know if you know, please!) image_538613176265413image_538613460216972Too magnificent for my words…just enjoy.  You can always view the shows on the designer’s websites or stream them on YouTube…what did we do before technology, don’t even remember.

image_538613199772245The inspiration.

image_538613449638286And 2018’s interpretation…glorious!

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image_53861319002956Lots of white and pastels, pale pink, in particular, which was shown in many of the Spring 2018 Shows in the Fall, in the Chanel Collection, along with appliqued flowers embellished with jeweled beading.

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image_53861310480742image_53861311509812image_538613087745137image_538613096309979The Dior collection was primarily black and white with a few nude tones and pale pastels here and there.  I thought the black and white pieces were exquisite, very wearable and timeless from the day pieces through the elegance of the evening gowns,  Total red carpet ready.  I also liked the simple one strap gold sandal with all! Another accessory seen in more than one collection…the mask, are we getting ready for another try at a Capote Black and White ball, how exciting!

image_538618217077619image_538622000282254image_538622009792344Valentino does feathers as hats, feathers were everywhere, and the collection had fabulous color combinations and exciting prints.

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image_538622746222262Giambattista Valli always the showman who does unbelievably beautiful gowns.

image_538621741956686Jean Paul Gaultier never disappoints, love this androgynous outfit.image_53862175004566I actually found this collection to be quite wearable for him!image_538624001591528image_538624014533993Armani Privé

image_538613069042253Maison Margiela….don’t quite know what this is but perhaps after I study it a bit more I will get its brilliance!  We shall see…….

image_538621983758828Valentino…I thought this was great fun my friend Virginia Heaven hated it!  Such is the debate over Haute Couture!

image_538613428881128Another Viktor & Rolf

So much more to include but I have shown you some of the highlights of what appealed to me…the good, the trends to watch in the upcoming Fall Collections and the strange….On to the major four markets for Fall 2018, can’t wait….let’s see what our little eyes will spy….image_53862493694967

 

 

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COLLECTIONS: AMBER

image_538528506180605Raw amber

I have always been a huge fan of Amber jewelry I guess it is in my DNA…unfortunatly I only have one piece from my Father’s mother, the only thing I have of her and I never met any of my grandparents, so naturally, I treasure it.  I’ll show it to you in the post.

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These three photos show you some versions of raw amber some polished a bit some just the raw stones.  Amber is fossilized tree resin and has been prized through the ages.  It is found primarily in the Baltic countries but is seen elsewhere in the world. You can find many sites on Google.  Today’s post is primarily on jewelry and one spectacular room and, of course, a couple of books for good measure!

image_538528781187146All three photos from Pinterest photo credit unknown.

My friend, Barbara Varro, collected her pieces in Poland and was kind enough to bring me several pieces throughout the years.  Here is her collection, I took the photos when I was visiting last summer in anticipation of this post.

image_538528734270966image_53852869420752image_538528705838352The necklaces in different pairings, I would wear them all together.

image_538528721822936Her amber ring collection on my finger……

image_538528468394693Some of my pieces almost always worn together, some from Barbara and others collected, over the 15 years of its existence, at Randolph Street Market

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Some of the pieces I collected (wish I had gotten more for myself, I did get more pieces as gifts) on my fantastic trip to Russia in 2002.  I promise I will do a post on the trip when I can find my photos.  The top piece is lightly polished raw amber, love it, the center piece is white amber and the bottom piece is polished and probably Victorian…got that one at an antique fair in Moscow (which, by the way, was amazing!) I usually wear these as a grouping.  A Nena’s Note…each morning in Moscow we would go to a different specialty shop, one of which was all amber….extraordinary.  Each day and this was early morning for shopping, say 8ish, we were greeted by trays of small shot glasses of ice-cold vodka…8 AM…I don’t drink vodka, I know, you are saying isn’t she of Russian heritage, and yes she is!  But I don’t drink vodka, certainly not neat and at 8 AM!  Well, guess what I had to shoot the offered nectar or I would be offending our hosts, I most certainly didn’t want to cause an International incident!  Still, don’t like vodka!

image_538528976697779My faceted collection, the top piece is my Grandmother’s piece, the middle is multi-colored from St. Petersburg and the bottom piece one of my Randolph Street Market finds. I usually wear them together.

I have had a difficult time trying to find earrings that don’t have silver mountings…I do have one pair again from RSM that is multicolor dropped stones and a pair of hoops that go with my amber but are faux! Here are a couple of earrings that I would love to have.

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Aren’t they stunning!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a necklace I would love as well, wouldn’t you…..image_538528577106783The three photos are from Pinterest photo credit unknown.

image_538528633270362A necklace from the talented hands of Margaret Buckman

Information from Margaret (who was one of my first profiles, go to my archives to learn all about this talented lady!) “This piece is natural shaped beads of Tibetan amber, inset with turquoise mosaics and coral pieces.  Each side of the bead has a Chinese coin silver zodiac character, the entire bead is inlaid with silver and inset with biwa pearls.”

image_538528485931445Made especially for me by Margaret Buckman several years ago, it includes many of my broken necklaces pieces along with some from the designer.  It is a huge statement piece and I wear it often usually with my embroidered jacket from my Moscow trip.  It is one of my most favorite necklaces.

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Now on to an amazing treasure, The Amber Room in Catherine’s Palace outside of St. Petersburg.  It was just being reconstructed when I was there.  The Room had been “lost” during World War II and there are many stories of what happened to it.  Most of the stories said the keepers of the Palace removed the pieces and hid them from capture from the invading Nazi’s.

image_538528762711932image_538528585061127image_538528594167856Isn’t it glorious….when I find my Russian trip photos I’ll show you it being restored. Photos from Pinterest photo credit unknown.

I have suggested two books for you, one non-fiction and one fiction, both exciting tales.  This is the book that got me into reading Steve Berry, one of my favorite authors.image_538528515077854image_538528524145195

 

 

 

PROFILE: NANCY PLUMMER AND FINE THREADS

imageNancy Plummer
I really love doing Profiles on my talented friends who I have met through teaching, you can check out several in the archives.  Today’s post is on Nancy Plummer, a very talented woman who truly enjoys, and is very good at it, sharing her passion for helping her clients look their best.  Her background is retail as well as teaching a perfect combination for her business.
Nancy and I have been friends since 2001 and although we don’t see each other as often as we would like we fall back into a common love of our industry and its strengths and challenges, usually over a glass or two of wine and a nibbly bit!  Nancy is a whiz at technology, over the years I have learned a lot from her.  Let’s learn a bit more about her, shall we…..
I asked Nancy how we met……
“I believe it was one of the many fashion events when I was teaching at AI and Program Chair at IADT. I do have communication from you on speaking at several of my events and at school since 2009. You did speak in November of 2010 – topic was NENA’S FIFTY YEARS OF FASHION. Remember that? You also was my guest speaker at one of my successful style events at the Center on Halsted. You were a guest speaker, and that was October of 2009. I was active as Program Chair from 2007-2010.
No, we met when I was at Neiman Marcus 2001-2003!”

WHEN WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOUR TALENT

It has to be when I was a member of the Swinging Needles 4-H Club in Huntsburg, Ohio. I received numerous awards for my sewing. I made aprons, potholders, sundresses, etc. My Mother, seamstress extraordinaire, was also the leader of the club.

WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU HAD “MADE IT”

February 11, 2009. My book, Your Personal Style was published and released by Fairchild publications. All the learnings I had received throughout my career was now written down for me to pass on to others. It’s not only educational but a beautiful keepsake. It has been used in over 30 colleges across the United States.

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HOW DID YOUR ORIGINAL PASSION BRING YOU TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW

I began my business, Fine Threads, sewing for professional women. These women believed in me and pushed me to continue their style journey. So, I went inside their closets and took them shopping. At the time, I didn’t know what it was called, but quickly learned it was image consulting. I was introduced to the organization The Association of Image Consultants International (AICI) where I honed my craft.

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WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN YOUR ALTERNATE CHOICE AS A CAREER….WAS THERE ONE

I would be a college professor. I really liked teaching others, and so I went back to college to get my Masters Degree in Training & Development. I wanted to not only teach others but to plan the curriculums and organize the training. I became a Program Chair for the Fashion Department at IADT (no longer in existence), yet still, teach and train plenty of individuals and groups.

imageNancy working with clients, here a classic trench, one of the Spring 2018 trends.

imageAppearing on Windy City Live

YOUR FAVORITE BOOK

I have 3 favorite books! 1) The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini 2) Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden and 3) The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

FAVORITE MOVIE

Pretty Woman

THEATER AND MUSIC 

Alvin Ailey Dancers, the plays Wicked and Hamilton, Music from The East Village Opera Company, Adele, Sam Smith, and John Legend

LOCAL RESTAURANT

Avec

HOBBIES

Reading, writing, Bikram Yoga, bike riding, walking along the Lakefront (or any body of water – ocean perhaps!), Sunday Church-Brunch-Movie, sewing (especially fabric stores), and live music concerts, and hearing great speakers on a variety of topics.

HOME

Unique Modern Furniture like West Elm and Anthropologie Home

WHO WOULD YOU HAVE AT YOUR FANTASY DINNER AND WHAT WOULD YOU SERVE

Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Denzel Washington, Sandra Bullock, Diane von Furstenberg, Zac Posen, Byron Lars, Sarah Jessica Parker, Oprah Winfrey, Idris Elba, Michael Jackson, and Madonna.

I would serve an Ethiopian, Mediterranean buffet from Chef Marcus Samuelsson

imageMarcus Samuelsson…. Nena’s note, I visited his restaurant Aquavit many years ago…must do Red Rooster in Harlem, New York on my next visit.  Photo from Pinterest credit unknown.

FAVORITE VACATION SPOT VISITED AND/OR ON LIST

Martha’s Vineyard and would love to visit Paris, France

FAVORITE NEW CHICAGO RESTAURANT

BLVD in the Fulton Market area of Chicago. I’m excited to check out the “old Hollywood glamour and glitz” and of course the food.

imageBLVD, I want to go too….really glam!  Photo from Pinterest credit not available.

FAVORITE CHICAGO STREET ART

Anything from Chicago artist Sam Kirk

imageSam Kirk and a portion of a mural.  Photo from Pinterest credit unknown.

HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED

Kind, creative, and a unique blessing to mankind!

A FAVORITE RECIPE

Arroz Con Pollo from my Mother. Ingredients include white rice, chicken, green olives, tomato sauce, celery, thyme, green peppers, salt, garlic, black pepper, vegetable oil, onion,  Add 2 cups of water. Bake at 350 until rice is cooked. Nena’s Note.…there are zillions of recipes online with photos…I went to the Williams Sonoma website for the recipe…..Arroz Con Pollo Williams Sonoma

 

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website: www.finethreadschicago.com,“Let us guide you in developing a style that’s uniquely your own.” 

Pinterest nancy-plummer3, Twitter @nplumm, Facebook @FineThreadsStyle

Your Personal Style 

BLOGS YOU FOLLOW

Man Repeller, Sartorialist, Advanced Style, Atelier Dore, A Cup of Jo, Cupcakes and Cashmere

ALL PHOTOS, UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED ARE COURTESY OF NANCY PLUMMER

FASHION FLASHBACK: LUCILE DUFF GORDON

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imageI have wanted to do a story on Lucile’s time in Chicago and have researched it for years, when I met Randy Bryan Bigham (see his Profile on nenasnotes on Monday, January 8, 2018) on Facebook I hit paydirt.  Randy is the reigning expert on all things Lucile and he has helped me find more information on Lucile Ltd. in Chicago.

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The story of Lucile Ltd. begins in London in 1890 and continued until the early 1920’s when she left the company (reluctantly!) She was the first to do many, many things that we now take for granted in the world of fashion…the first to release women from corsets (along with Poiret and others of the time) the first to create her own fragrance (note “French Novelties” in the advertisement above, that was how her fragrances were promoted!), exquisite lingerie and most interesting, to me, did the first “fashion parades” (fashion shows) using live mannequins.  She gave her garments provocative names and was a HUGE success in London, then New York and Paris.  If you GOOGLE Lucile Duff Gordon you will probably be taken to the Titanic site, she and her husband Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon sailed on the ill-fated crossing and were survivors of the sinking of the ship. Randy’s insight….”Yes it was awful but Lucile came through that bad spell and went on to become even greater. It has been said she was tainted by the scandal but I have not found that to be true. The press defended her and her publicity value only increased. So, while we may think of the Titanic today as the thing she’s most known for, that was absolutely NOT the case in her own day. She was hugely famous as a designer and public personality, and she continued to be celebrated well into the 1920s. It was a horrible tragedy to have witnessed, and the aftermath was very hurtful to her and her husband personally, but it was a blip on the screen of her life. At least that’s how I see it, and my research shows it was her fashions that kept her in the public eye and her amusing personality was also very entertaining. The Titanic was something to forget and the press seemed to feel that way too.”

imageLady Lucile Duff Gordon.

That is an entirely different story and one that has been told.  The new bit of information, to me, that Randy thought would interest me was two other passengers on board are part of my fashion history (many degrees of separation!)  From Randy… “You may be aware of this already but Leila Saks Meyer, the daughter of Andrew Saks, one of the founders of Saks, was on board the Titanic with her husband, Edgar Meyer. In fact, Lucile talked with the couple in the lounge on the fateful night the ship hit the iceberg. Leila Meyer survived in Molly Brown’s lifeboat, but Edgar was drowned with so many others in that terrible disaster.”

imageA page from Lucile’s memoir Discretions and Indiscretions.

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Sensing there was a market in the Midwest, especially Chicago, she sought a site where her clients lived, Lake Shore Drive, in a mansion that was directly across the street from the Potter Palmer Mansion which put her in contact with Bertha Honore Palmer and the rest of Chicago society.  In addition, she did a collection for the Sears Roebuck catalog to bring her vision to the “masses”!

imageThe doorman at the entrance of Lucile Ltd. in Chicago, the townhouse of Colonel Franklin McVeagh at 1400 Lake Shore Drive.

imageimage The Rose Room in the Chicago Salon. The images above graciously shared by Randy Bryan Bigham.imageFrom Pinterest photo credit University of Michigan.  Designers such as Bill Blass. who did the Lincoln Mark VII cars from 1979 to 1983, continued this tradition.  Again Lucile was one of the first!  Chalmers, like the Maxwell, is now owned by Chrysler

She came to Chicago in 1914 and in 1916 hired an unknown young man to work for her (he later traveled with her to New York, served in World War l returned to work for Lucile in Paris and other Parisian designers and then….Hollywood!)  That young man was Howard Greer who worked at Paramount Studios and also has his own couture and ready-to-wear collections into the 1950’s.  He was placed at Paramount Studios by a woman we all know, Edith Head! Again a story unto itself. Find out more about his time with Lucile Ltd. in his autobiography, Designing Male.  His description of the interior of the Salon… “Its paneled walls and inlaid floors remained as he (McVeagh) had left them.  Thick purple rugs lay on the showroom floors.  Curtains of gray satin draped the windows.  Gray taffeta upholstered the divans and chairs.  Glittering chandeliers hung like stalactites from the ceilings.  Until now I had known only the culture of and refinement of bird’s-eye maple and hand-painted china propped upon a plate rail and I spent most of my time ogling all this dazzling splendor from the vintage point of a doorway.  The people, too, were in no way reminiscent of my friends at home.  Mannequins, like haughty duchessses out of a Graustark novel, emerged from the little stage that was framed and clouded with gray chiffon curtains.  the saleswomen and their assistants wore rustling gray taffeta bouffants, and were patronizing and superior.”

imageHoward Greer around the time of his tenure with Lucile Ltd.imageA photograph and sketch from a film in the late 1920’s looks like a Lucile garment. Both images from Pinterest photo credit unknown.

The images below were graciously given to me by Jessica Pushor, Costume Collections Manager, Chicago History Museum 

imageimageimage This dress was donated by Mrs. Irene Castle Enzinger in 1953; it was created for her by Lucile when she appeared in Irving Berlin’s Watch Your Step, circa 1914.

imageimageDress, wedding-style, of off-white satin. Bodice trimmed with pleated self-fabric, white organdy, Chantilly lace, and sprays of satin flowers. Square neckline; elbow sleeves. Light blue satin sash at natural waist. Full-length skirt of white organdy trimmed with Valenciennes lace insertion and edge stiffened with whale bone. White satin overskirt lined with light blue satin. Petticoat of Pussy Willow silk (stamped on selvage “Genuine pussy willow”) with crepe chiffon ruffle.Worn by Katherine Keith at her marriage to David Adler on June 1, 1916.

imageimageDress wedding-style, of white silk satin. Bodice has low, square, lace-trimmed neckline in front. White satin flowers attached at proper left front corner of collar. Long fitted sleeves. Back satin buckle closure. Slim-fitting skirt; floor-length. Train of white satin with silk-thread embroidery of floral bouquet at base. Worn by Ginevra King for her marriage to William H. Mitchell on September 4, 1918.

imageimageCoat of black satin embroidered with multicolored chinoiserie pattern and ribbons. Wide sable collar. Fingertip-length sleeves with sable trim. Falls below the knee. Black and blue velvet lining. Worn by Margaret Harwood Stevens.  Lucile was known for its use of exotic motifs and silhouettes. This coat from the Paris branch reflects the taste for chinoiserie in French fashions around 1923.

Updated information from Randy Bryan Bigham…
“It’s important to know the coat post-dates Lady Duff Gordon’s association with the label. She left the year before the coat was made. Since a few of her designs were used in the house’s first collection after her departure (spring 1923), it’s possible the print or fabric was her choice, but the overall design may not have been. There had been disagreements about the aesthetic direction of the Lucile houses for several seasons, and she was decidedly on the outs with the company by that time, so all her ideas were not being adhered to, and sadly she was very much disrespected by the new director by 1922, when she was sacked as chief designer.”
You knew there would have to be a book (I gave you Randy’s superb monograph on Lucile in his profile….be sure to order it, it is a MUST have for any fashion library!)  And the author I am now presenting to you references Randy and his book along with other publications she researched.
Here is a novel by Karen Harper that I think you might enjoy, I did. What wouldn’t I like about a story set in Edwardian times (a bit before and a bit after) a historical novel, you know I love them, and not only about a designer I have always admired but her sister Elinor Glyn, the notorious author (at least at the time…her scandalous novel, Three Weeks, has been re-released, it was the Fifty Shades of Grey of it’s time).  It is a romance to be sure, the Sutherland sister’s love lives read like a romance novel but all based on fact and not always happy or successful. I was particularly taken by the affair between Elinor and Lord George Nathaniel Curzon, fascinating and tragic…. Of course, the book discusses the sinking of the Titanic but does not make it the defining moment of Lucile’s life. The book gives us glimpses of the people of the time from the Royals and the American women who married into English society (they had the money, the husbands had the titles…think Downton Abbey!) Hollywood stars, Broadway (Lucile designed for the Ziefeld Follies), and all the names of the time…The Duke of Windsor, Lillie Langtry, Elsie de Wolfe, Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Clara Bow (supposedly Elinor gave her the title The IT Girl!) and on and on.  But it so much more than that it is the story of two independant women, way ahead of their time, knowing what they wanted to do with their lives and doing it their way. They were definitely The It Girls of their generation!  A good read.
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 A surprise…….
imageThis stunning sketch is from Rosemary Fanti from her Facebook page and she has given me permission to use it….the copy reads:  “Thank you, dear Nena Ivon, for piquing my interest with your fascinating blog on early 20th Century fashion designer #LucileDuffGordon.  Here’s my take on a thoroughly-modern-Lucile dressing gown design.”  Rosemary is one of Chicago’s treasures and an amazingly unique talent.  Do you think I can have her do a sketch of me…now that could be a very interesting post!

PROFILE: RANDY BRYAN BIGHAM

imageRandy Bryan Bigham with his book, Lucile-Her Life by Design

I am extremely excited to share a profile on a very special individual I met on Facebook, Randy Bryan Bigham.  I became totally intrigued by his scholarship and dedication to Lucile Duff Gordon, a designer I have long admired and whose story is a unique and fascinating part of fashion history.  I asked Randy for some advice on Lucile’s venture in Chicago (you will read more about that in this week’s Friday Fashion Flashback) and we became “off Facebook friends” via correspondance (he follows nenasnotes much to my delight) and I asked him if he would be one of my “profiles” and he said yes!  His answers to my questions along with his biography and photos are very personal and I am thrilled to be able to introduce you to such a humble scholar.  I know you will feel you have found a new friend just like I have!

Randy Bryan Bigham is an independent fashion history scholar whose research has been featured in a number of books, including Lucile Ltd (2009) by Valerie D. Mendes and Amy de la Haye; Hollywood Before Glamour (2013) by Michelle Tolini Finamore; and  London Society Fashion (2015) by Cassie Davies-Strodder, Jenny Lister and Lou Taylor.

The author of Lucile – Her Life by Design (2012), the first full-scale biography of Edwardian couturiere and Titanic survivor Lady Duff Gordon, Randy has contributed to TV documentaries for the BBC, the Sundance Channel and the National Geographic Channel. His journalism has appeared in Women’s Wear Daily, the Sunday Times Magazine and The Lady. He’s also the author of Finding Dorothy, a biography of silent screen star Dorothy Gibson (2012), and of Life’s Décor, a biography of Helen Churchill Candee that was included in the 2008 reissue of Candee’s 1924 travelogue Angkor the Magnificent.

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Randy was a consultant for the 2016 exhibition Lucile – Fashion. Titanic. Scandal at the Guelph Civic Museum in Canada, and coming up in 2018 his own private collection of Lucile garments and memorabilia will be spotlighted in an exhibition at the Titanic Museums in the USA.

imageRandy (on the right) with Edwardian era and Titanic historian Hugh Brewster who worked together on the 2016 Canadian exhibition Lucile: Fashion. Titanic. Scandal.

Since 2015, with friend and research colleague Inger Sheil, he’s been an admin for the Facebook group, Fashion Designers, 1800-1950.

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With Inger Sheil, a friend and colleague of 15 years, Randy is an admin for the Facebook group, Fashion Designers 1800-1950. This 1919 cover of Les Modes features an evening gown by Paris couturier Jenny (Jeanne Sacerdote), whom Randy has researched.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB

Do you mean my first job as a writer? Or do you mean my very first job? If you mean the latter, it was mowing lawns at about age 13! It was for an old lady, a Mrs. McClain, whom I used to ply with questions about her memory of the fashions of her youth. She was born in 1902, and could recall the dresses of the Edwardian era, which I was already fascinated by. Mrs. McClain said she remembered lawn parties where the women’s gowns trailed the grass, and I just loved that visual. Talking to her was fun. The long hours of hard work, mowing her huge front yard — not so much!

As to my first proper writing job, it was for the small daily paper in my hometown. I had worked freelance, writing for big papers, doing art and book reviews, but no editor would hire me on staff until the tiny newspaper in Ennis, Texas took me on. That started my evolution as a writer, learning to pare down sentences, to edit, to get the best quotes, to tell the story so simply that readers are — hopefully — moved. The human interest feature story always mattered to me. I was a horrible news reporter. I must have driven my first editor mad! Hard news and politics weren’t for me. I still hate all that, and I’m sure I’d die of boredom if I had to write about it!

BRIEFLY DESCRIBE YOUR CURRENT OCCUPATION

I write freelance – locally and nationally, and I work as a consultant on various projects, some having nothing to do with fashion history. One thing that’s come along fairly recently is my working as a consultant for Paper Studio Press, which publishes beautiful paper doll books. I’ve worked on three titles so far, all of them on fashions of the 1910s, my favorite era. And I just did an interesting section on the history of the fashion show for a Bloomsbury textbook that will be out in 2018. Really, I just have fun. I don’t make a lot of money, but you don’t need a lot to be happy. Some of the research and writing I do is for free. Helping other writers out with material for magazine articles, assisting curators with info on garments for exhibitions, etc., are some of the things I do. Not so interesting to some but it amuses me.

WHEN DID YOU DISCOVER YOUR TALENT

I’m not sure that it’s talent. I think it is more luck than anything, and a lot of determination. If you love something you just have to do it. There isn’t much of a choice. It’s in you or it’s not. You’re led to do what you do through passion and tenacity. But going back to talent: I knew I could write reasonably well, and I had that gift in elementary school. Teachers noticed it and asked me to read my stories to the class. I can’t recall now what the stories were about, and how I had the nerve to get up in front of the class, I don’t know. I’m in my 40s now, and should be past being shy, but I’m petrified of speaking in public, and can only do it impromptu. I cannot prepare for it. I would be too nervous.

WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU HAD “MADE IT” EXPLAIN

I don’t think I have made it yet! I’m just a fashion history nut who’s been lucky to find ways to express my love for the subject. I have contributed to important projects – books on the Titanic, which started my interest in some of the famous women aboard, books on fashion history, exhibitions. But all those projects just sort of happened. The accomplishment I’m most proud of is writing Lucile’s biography. That’s been such a driving force for me, and the research has opened doors. I’m very grateful to the people who saw my work as important and helped me along the way. There were a few naysayers but you can’t listen to people like that.

HOW DID YOUR ORIGINAL PASSION BRING YOU TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW

My original passion was Lucile. When I first found out about her I was intrigued but didn’t think I would find very much. I was really surprised she was so celebrated and influential and, to tell you the truth, a little shocked she was not better remembered. Back in the late ‘80s, when I first went to school at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York, almost no one was interested in her. People would ask “Who?” And it used to irritate me. I felt I had to justify myself all the time. Now it seems everybody is an expert on Lucile! (Nena’s note…no one does it as well as Randy, without question!)

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Randy was first drawn to the work of Lucile, seen here with a model in her New York studio in 1916, when he was a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology in the mid-1980s.

The library at FIT has the scrapbooks and photo albums kept by the staff of the New York branch of Lucile Ltd, so I became fascinated and immediately thought I should do a book. That was just a dream then. I had to earn a living, so I couldn’t devote a lot of time to it, and that’s why it stretched on until 2009 when I finished the final draft. Publishers were interested along the way, including a university press that wanted to cut it down and to not use very many color images. As you can imagine, I wasn’t thrilled with offers like that, so I finally published it myself five years ago. I was excited and am still happy to see how it’s been taken up and cited in various major studies on the history of dress. There’s so much drivel about how one can’t hope to have a success with a self-published title, and while that might be true in most cases, if you’ve got a special subject, the right people will be drawn to it. And I probably have made as much money from it as have authors who’ve gone the traditional route.

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  1. Lucile, among her achievements, is responsible for launching the first modern fashion parades, using a stage, music, lights and all the accoutrement of show.

WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN YOUR ALTERNATE CHOICE AS A CAREER….WAS THERE ONE

I don’t think I could have done anything else well. I went to FIT to be a designer and I was hopeless. You should have seen me trying to draft a pattern. I don’t have a natural perseverance with anything but writing and editing. Nothing else seems worth it. If I had the talent, I would have loved being a designer. I have the creativity, I think, just not the technical skill.

YOUR FAVORITE BOOK, MOVIE, LIST THE FOLLOWING,IN ORDER OF PREFERENCE…THEATER (LEGIT, MUSICALS), BALLET, OPERA, SYMPHONY, TYPE OF MUSIC YOU LIKE TO LISTEN TO, LOCAL RESTAURANT

I read mostly fashion history and biographies. I don’t care for fiction, although I quite enjoyed E.M. Forster a few years back, but that’s mainly because I’ve seen the films that have been made of them. One of the dress history writers I enjoy most is Caroline Evans, whose book The Mechanical Smile I was honored to contribute research to. She was one of the first scholars to embrace my work and to make me feel what I had done mattered. I also love to read Christopher Breward. His books are all excellent. He is excellent. So is Alistair O’Neill.

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Randy with fashion historian Marlis Schweitzer, author of When Broadway was the Runway and other titles featuring her own research on Lucile.

As to theatre, I don’t have modern favorites as far as plays. I so love researching early 20th century musical theater. While learning about the Ziegfeld Follies, when I was working on Lucile (she designed for the Follies in the 1910s and early ‘20s), I got hooked. And I’m crazy for silent film history, particularly the costumes of the early female stars. I’ve written an article on Theda Bara’s influence on fashion in the ‘teens for a scholarly journal, and I hope it sees the light of day. And you know the first paper doll book I helped with for Paper Studio Press was on Theda.

Regarding modern film, I like some foreign titles, particularly French and Italian. I’m crazy for Anna Magnani! And, believe it or not, I like a few horror flicks. I know that doesn’t fit much into the rest of my personality but I can’t help it. I’m a fan of The Blair Witch Project and of the first Friday the 13th, if you can imagine that. I’ve even become friends with Adrienne King, the star of that first film, and the only really good one in the series, if you ask me. I interviewed her a couple years ago. She’s a dear, sweet person, so real and supportive.

imageAlthough Randy loves romantic period films, he’s a fan of the horror classic Friday the 13th, and has become friends with its star, Adrienne King, with whom he’s seen here in Dallas in 2016.

As for TV shows, I watch CNN, “The Golden Girls” reruns and I haven’t missed a season of “Survivor.” And, you’ll probably laugh at this, but I like the “Finding Bigfoot” series on Animal Planet. I’m not really a believer but I like the mystery of it.

imageRandy loves history but isn’t above enjoying pop culture reality shows like CBS’s “Survivor” and The Animal Planet’s “Finding Bigfoot.” This card, signed by the cast, was sent him by a friend, Linda Plochocki, for Christmas last year.

I don’t have a favorite restaurant but I do love Italian food. I’m not hard to please in that area, and my expanding waistline is proof of it.

HOBBIES….

I love taking country drives and snapping photos of nature. I’m not a gifted photographer but I like being out and about on a beautiful day and recording what I see.

imageA pastime for Randy is taking photos along the country roads in and near his hometown of Ennis, the Official Bluebonnet City of Texas.

I used to enjoy hiking but my injury has so far prevented my resuming that. Someday, I hope to get back to it. I lost my right leg from the knee down back in 2013 due to an infection that came on suddenly. It was a huge adjustment. To say it changed my life is an understatement. It just about did me in, but I think if you keep focused on what matters, you can come through anything. It has taken the four years since I lost my leg to have a firm philosophy about it. The bottom line for me now, when it comes to being disabled, is it doesn’t matter. And I don’t feel disabled. I am still me. I haven’t changed in the essentials. But I don’t walk as fast, and I can’t run anymore. I used to love to run. That’s the only thing I get emotional about. I hate that I will probably never run again. But in general I’m still happy with life; whatever good it has in store for me, I welcome it. The bad stuff nobody wants, of course, and you just learn to work around it.Randy lost his right leg at the knee in 2013, after surviving a serious infection. The setback only strengthened him, he says, and made him more determined to enjoy life.

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This shot of Randy was taken in a field of bluebonnets near Ennis during the town’s Bluebonnet Trails Festival.

HOME….MODERN, TRADITIONAL, ANTIQUES (WHAT ERA) ECLECTIC DESCRIBE

I love anything Elsie de Wolfe would have approved of. I adore Louis Seize antiques, mirrors, chintz, old wicker, green and white stripes. I’m a huge Elsie fan.  I think with certain tweaks that take into account changes in modern life, her ideas are still in good taste.

imageElsie de Wolfe’s early 1900s interiors featured design elements Randy appreciates.

WHO WOULD YOU HAVE AT YOUR FANTASY DINNER AND WHAT WOULD YOU SERVE

I would invite Zandra Rhodes, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington (I love old jazz), Cecil Beaton, the cast from Finding Bigfoot and Bigfoot! And I would add you to the list because we could compare notes afterwards! I’m not a gourmet so I have no idea what I’d serve but I’d hire someone to do it all up perfectly.

FAVORITE VACATION SPOT VISITED AND/OR ON YOUR GO TO LIST

I fell in love with Versailles when I first visited the Palace and Petit Trianon in 1997. I’ve gone back twice, and would love to go again. It really is a spiritual experience for me, having researched Marie Antoinette and Rose Bertin.

imageOne of Randy’s favorite places in the world is Versailles, where this picture of him at age 28 was taken in 1997.

That reminds me: I do have a favorite book! Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell. It’s stellar. Get it. You’ll love it.

imageOne of Randy’s favorite books on fashion history is Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell’s Fashion Victims

FAVORITE WORK OF ART

I really appreciate Corot’s landscapes, especially Souvenir de Mortefontaine. I know it’s one of his most famous, so it may be expected that I would like it, but I never tire of it. It warms the soul. And that’s what great art is supposed to do. I have a copy framed on the wall by my bed. It’s been there for over 20 years.

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HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED

Just as someone who loved history and who got a kick out of sharing it with others. I hope I’ve had a hand in shedding light on the work of great designers in history like Lucile who are in fact artists deserving of admiration and respect for the beauty they gave the world in their time. That’s what we try to celebrate in the Facebook group, Fashion Designers, 1800-1950.

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A FAVORITE RECIPE

I’m not a cook. I do make a mean pimento cheese but that’s probably too simple to brag about. I eat salads when I can, and that certainly saves on calories, but I’m not going to lie — on busy days it’s a McDonald’s cheeseburger! And believe me, if I could eat pasta every day and not gain weight, I’d do it. A family friend who’s an incredible cook, and is surrounded by other gourmets, shared a recipe recently and he gave me permission to include it here. Kevin Graves is his name and he collaborated with his friend Robin Dailey to come up with this delicious recipe. Kevin calls the dish Palm Beach Chicken because that’s where they were when they conceived it. It is garlic infused sautéed chicken breasts served on a bed of cooked asparagus with a creamy sauce and topped with green onion and chopped fresh tomato.

imagePalm Peach Chicken, a recipe by Kevin Graves and Robin Dailey, is delicious and beautiful.

Palm Beach Chicken with Asparagus and Tomatoes

2 lbs. Aldi Boneless Chicken Strips
3 Tbsp. Minced Garlic
1 stick Butter
4 Tbsp. Avocado Oil
6 Green Onions Chopped (divided)
1 medium vine-ripened Tomato, chopped, drained
6 oz. Whipped Cream Cheese room temp
1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
1 Tsp. natural tenderizer with no MSG
1 Tsp. Smoked Paprika
2 Tsp. Garlic Powder
1 Tsp. Onion powder
1 Tsp. Dried Cilantro
1 Tsp. Dried Parsley
¾ Cup fresh Shredded Parmesan (divided)
½ Cup Grated Parmesan and Romano
Dash of Lemon Pepper
1 Tbsp. Powdered Chicken Bouillon
Tsp. Corn Starch

Directions:
Melt butter in pan on ned-low, add avocado oil, 5 chopped green onions, sprinkle tenderizer into mixture, add chicken. After it’s been sautéing and has been turned a few times add garlic, garlic powder, onion powder, lemon pepper, paprika and dried seasonings. Add a few more shakes of tenderizer, keep turning, then let simmer on low.

Asparagus:
Rinse, snap, rub 2 lbs of asparagus with avocado oil and a few dashes of garlic powder and salt and steam in the microwave for 3.5 minutes.

Tomato: Chop, drain, add 1 chopped green onion and a dash of salt, pepper and garlic powder, sit to the side in small colander

Take a long oval tray and spread vertical to the length of the oval tray (imagine the tray is horizontal so lay asparagus spears in opposite direction and place chicken pieces in the middle.

Keep the chicken drippings simmering on low, add the heavy whipping cream and cream cheese, 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan and cornstarch and whisk. Pour a few ladles over the chicken and put the rest in a pourable cup. Keep it warm or it will break and separate.  After adding the sauce sprinkle the tomato mixture and top with remaining shredded Parmesan and serve.

ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF RANDY BRYAN BIGHAM

Some links Randy has shared with us….

Lucile – Her Life by Design by Randy Bryan Bigham, currently only available via lulu.com, can be ordered here:
“Ontario Today” CBC Radio interview with Randy Bryan Bigham by Rita Celli
 
“Beautiful and damned” by Randy Bryan Bigham in The Lady
 
“A beautiful, devilishly gorgeous career” by Randy Bigham for Urbanette
 
“The Pioneering Fashions of Lady Duff Gordon.” An interview with Randy Bryan Bigham by James Blake Wiener for Fair Observer
 
“Lucy Duff Gordon.” Entry by Randy Bryan Bigham and Leslie Midkiff DeBauche in Columbia University’s Women Film Pioneers Project.
 
PastFashion, Randy Bryan Bigham’s fashion history blog.
 
“Pop Culture Tonight ” Radio interview with Randy Bryan Bigham by Patrick Phillips