WEDNESDAY MUSINGS: WE CAN TURN BACK TIME

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I decided to watch the Billboard Awards Sunday evening, actually forgoing other programs that held more interest to me but I did what I tell my students to do “expose and educate yourself about things you that you don’t know too much about”…in this case current musical performers.  So there I was watching people perform and receive awards that I had really never heard about. yes, I know John Legend, Lorde, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus, Ed Sheeran, The Weekend, etc. but many I didn’t know nor will I be adding them to my playlist.  I can, in fact, tell you I would sit through the evening many times over just to see Celine Dion and most importantly the one, the only Cher!!!!  Amazing performance and look, I am all about not discussing age but seriously to look and sound like that at 71…no words!!!

Okay, you know I’m going to have a story to tell you about the first time I saw and heard Sonny and Cher…it was in the fall of 1964, no one had ever heard of them.  Let me start at the beginning of this story,  each summer, for many years, all the major stores in Chicago had College Boards. I was in charge of the department (at the beginning I was younger than most of the girls on the Board, they never knew that!) and I personally would interview the young ladies (we didn’t have any young men on the Boards) and would choose six to eight to work in our Debutante Sportswear Collections (now Contemporary Sportswear or whatever it is called today) on the Fifth Floor of Saks Fifth Avenue at the 669 North Michigan Avenue location.  I did a mix of schools, some local, some small, some large, an Ivy League or two, etc. and the young ladies worked as sales associates to assist their peers in selecting their college wardrobes. Often the colleges gave incoming students a list of what they needed to have as they began their college adventures much like going off to camp!  They wore very chic  (and pricey) “uniforms” to identify them from the other sales associates and to be easily spotted on the selling floor.  We set up a special boutique on the floor and pulled merchandise from all over the store, along with accessories, shoes, etc. (there was actually a lower price and younger shoe department on the floor as well).  Each store had its own group and many had much larger groups, such as Marshall Field’s and Carson Pirie Scott and Company, Chas A. Stevens, The Fair and on and on.

You are thinking, okay Nena has finally gone mad what in the world does this have to do with Sonny and Cher…well I’m getting to that…at the end of the summer, just before everyone was heading back to school The Chicago Tribune hosted a huge party, as I recall at the Sherman House (long gone), in a large banquet hall on the lower level of the Hotel.  Each store lined up and their Boards were introduced as they paraded into the hall in their uniforms.  Field’s had dozens of girls and in we came with our six or eight, I must say we always looked extremely fashion forward!  The Tribune always had entertainment, lovely refreshments and brief remarks to send everyone off to their various campuses. image

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When the entertainment was announced out came a unique looking couple, I can’t really say Hippies more like two waifs that had been living in a cabin in the woods.  Totally covered in fur, patterned shirts, and jeans.  The female with luxurious long black hair and gleaming eyes and the male almost elf-like in his manner.  The room was unprepared for them and became quite still. They approached the stage and began to sing I’ve Got You Babe, needless to say, the crowd erupted, it was magic.  50 some years later it still gives me a chill to think about it.   If I Could Turn Back Time……would I, I’ll let you be the judge of that!!!! With Cher still dazzling us who needs to!

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: RARE OBJECTS

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I had this book on my to be read list for a year,( it was published in 2016)  don’t quite know why I hadn’t read it nor why I decided to read it now, never mind, I did read it and here are my thoughts….

First, let me tell you about the plot… our protagonist, Maeve Fanning, a first generation Irish immigrant, is born and raised in Boston, in a poor Italian neighborhood by a single mother.  She takes secretarial courses and moves to New York City to “better” herself.  It is in 1931 and she becomes enamored with the wrong men and bootleg gin and ends up in a psychiatric hospital (you need to read the novel to find out why she is there) where she meets and befriends a strange young woman.  When she gets out she returns to Boston to start over.  She bluffs her way into a position at an upscale Antiques Shop by changing her name to May and dying her naturally red hair platinum blond (she is told by her former secretarial school teacher, who also runs a placement agency, that she won’t get a job not only because it is the Depression but also because she is Irish!)  The owner of the shop has her deliver an extremely important purchase made by a nouveau riche family to their home, upon her arrival she discovers the daughter, Diana Van der Laar, is the young woman she met at the hospital and the story goes from there, throwing “May” into a world of extreme money and the excess it can buy and the lifestyle she thinks she can live.  There are many twists and turns as we take the journey with her.

What is my take away from the novel…actually many things.  Obviously, no matter how much money one has it doesn’t give peace of mind, happiness, nor freedom.  But to May these are the out of reach goals she seeks and feels she will find by being “accepted” into Diana’s circle. May’s mother works in the alterations department at R. H. Stearns in Boston (it became a Federated Store and one that, like Marshall Field’s, lost its name and became Macy’s) and longs to become a salesclerk, that is a position she never gets.  Her work is exemplary (probably why she isn’t moved into a selling position) and she remakes many items for May to present herself properly at work and socially.  It is extremely important to her mother that she always be “correct” in looks and manners.  The book takes us to the world of antiques and how the owners of the shop educate May, (who, by the way, is not only smart but a very quick study and eager to learn about the items she works with as well as the culture the world has to offer) it takes us into the world of buying art and antiques as a way of making a name for oneself in society (the purchase that May delivers to the Van der Laar family is donated to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and put in pride of place in the hall of antiquities!) certainly nothing new there, but interesting to have it outlined in such a detailed and informative manner.  She learns that she doesn’t quite fit into the life she left behind when she left Boston for New York and in the end, most certainly not with the damaged Diana and her “friends” and family!

It is told in the first person narrative, which I think worked well and, to my mind’s eye, it is a coming of age story (although she is in her mid-twenties) filled with an almost Dickens flavor, poor girl strives to better herself, fails, meets wealth hopes to succeed, fails, finds love, fails, seeks friendship, is betrayed, and in the end is transformed into a more understanding, and most certainly, a more informed participant in the way of the world…in other words an independent woman.  I did enjoy the book and would suggest you read it for yourself.  I would love to hear your thoughts after you read it.  I enjoyed Kathleen Tessaro’s thoughtful and insightful look at a time quite different from today (or is it!!!)  I must, however, admit I preferred Ms. Tessaro’s The Perfume Collector. I have not read any of her other books but definitely will put them on my TBR pile, The Debutante looks particularly interesting.

http://www.kathleentessaro.com

 

 

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: BEYOND THE LABEL

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I have read so many how to “reinvent” yourself business books over the years, beginning with The Tipping Point, that was required reading for a meeting at Saks Fifth Avenue when it was published, that I thought I really don’t want to read yet another one…but when I read a review of Beyond the Label and made note of its author I became intrigued and put it on my to be read list.  Written by someone who had really come through the ranks of the fashion world from L’Oréal, The Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, and finally, as Global CEO of Chanel I thought this would be the book for me since I am in the process of reinventing myself through http://www.nenasnotes.com and it’s major learning curve.  I had actually put the book on the TBR list and didn’t think more about it when I received an email from a friend/business associate asking me if I would be interested in interviewing the author, Maureen Chiquet, at a program at the Union League Club in Chicago.  How could I say no?  Well, I didn’t….and I can’t wait to meet this dynamic, insanely talented person and hopefully ask her the questions you would want to have answered (I will do another post after the interview and, fingers crossed, have her answer my profile questionnaire, she would be amazing!)

Here are just a few of my initial observations from the book, which I found not only to be a business manual (silly sounding, I know) but also a memoir and the story of a change of one’s thought of career, as a literature major, to the broad world of fashion.  It has always been my feeling that our industry (fashion) requires a vast knowledge of the world around us with a heavy emphasis on The Arts.  Yes, one needs to have a sense of current affairs, information on the history of the industry (I am fanatical about that!) and, of course, a sound background in business (particularly business math) and most importantly what the consumer wants.  All of these principles are detailed in this well-written and engaging book.  Yes, it is a basis for how to advance your career (in any industry), how to network, (crucial to any career), how to think like your boss before you become one, how to become a listening executive, how to be mentored and therefore, how to mentor. How to know when to make the right move to the next step (probably the hardest learning point of all).  Whew, lots to cover.  Ms. Chiquet has accomplished all of this (and now has reinvented herself again as a savvy author and guide to how to reinvent yourself as well) and much much more with insight, humor, realism as well as telling us how to do all this while being female (the topics discussed have no gender!).  Sad that we still have to think that way, but it is true.  I firmly believe our gender is looked on as more equal in the fashion world…am I being naive, I don’t think so!

Our industry moves at the speed of light and one has to not only go with the trends but make them, she has done it all and I am thrilled that she has shared them with us whether a long time professional or an up and coming novice. She is a role model to everyone no matter gender or age for that matter.  Ms. Cliquet has inspired me to go with what I have always felt true, be true to yourself and the rest will follow.  She has lived this philosophy.  It is my pleasure to recommend this delightful book to you.  I will be recommending it to my students at Columbia College Chicago as assigned reading.

The Union League Club event is open to the public, I hope you can join me in welcoming Ms. Cliquet to Chicago and learn more from this fascinating woman…see below for ticket details….

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/authors-group-presents-maureen-chiquet-tickets-31830023457

The book will be available for purchase on site from The Book Stall, our independent bookseller http://www.thebookstall.com

 

FASHION: NOW!

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I have worked with the incredible Andrew Gn and his Fall 2017 Collection all week at a private club with individual appointments with his Chicago clientele.  It is the second time I have worked with Andrew and each time I marvel at the genius of his talent.  I wanted to share a few of the pieces that impressed me.  Stay tuned for Andrew to respond to my questionnaire in the near future…until then enjoy the beauty of his Fall Collection conceived and made in Paris.

imageThe cover of the lookbook sets the tone for the collection the inspiration for much of the collection is the art of the extraordinary Gustav Klimt.

imageGustav Klimt

imageThe inspiration

imageThe gown Vogue.com

imageAndrew’s interpretation and my photo of the gown.

imageA close up of the sequin scroll beading, my photo. a

imageA beaded detail on the front of a dress of bronze cloque

imageA bronze cloque sculptured sleeve vest with embellishment

imagePearl beaded detail on this jacket, always classic but with a 2017 twist

imageThe pearl detail my photo

imageThe front of a dress my photo

imageIsn’t this glorious….vogue.com

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Two close-up looks at the velvet appliqued flowers on the satin gowns both my photos

imageI love this montage of the black, white and gray pattern garments…silk, knit, woven, animal and abstract prints…..my photo

Just a very small sampling of this superb collection by a true creator!

You can find the Andrew Gn collection at the following stores and online…

http://www.matchesfashion.com

http://www.neopolitanonline.com   Winnetka, Illinois

http://www.bergdorfgoodman.com   New York, New York

http://www.harrods.com  London, England

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: PEACOCK & VINE

Remembrance

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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.

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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.

PROFILE: MICHAEL RAMION

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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.
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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!
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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!!!