Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer On The Run

I can relate to the girl on the go in the amazing Elmer Batters photograph above. Over the last few months, I have been absolutely mad trying to prepare for a gallery exhibition while still venturing out on my almost daily hunts for all things beautiful and fabulous. I have been wearing many hats, both figuratively and literally.

My art making process and my vintage hunting and gathering process have many similarities. The art making process begins with a concept and then a pursuit resulting in an often frenetic gathering of images and materials. My eyes are trained like an aesthetic athlete to sort out the rubbish, to know when, where, what and why. When hunting for vintage pieces, I must be able to instantly size up whether I can see it being worn by a fantastically chic individual, and I must stress the word individual.

Below is a wonderful summer photo of Grace Kelly about to set sail, at least, in her imagination.

My art has taken me all over the world and given me a chance to peruse insane, labyrinthine flea markets where I have found countless treasures, some too genius to share, like in France, where I found my beloved original Paco Rabanne chain link bag, or in Holland, where I found a divine and perfectly cut leather jacket that I wore until the lining began to disintegrate into a long, black fringe that would trail behind me like a gothic pirate or an urchin in a Dickens novel. At my favorite flea market in Berlin, rusty dental tools share company with unbeatable Soviet movie posters and stacks of black and white photos of questionable characters in unsavory situations, often in uniform.

Below are a few gorgeous photos of the Austrian actress Romy Schneider.

I love this photo of Romy Schneider looking sexy and happy, caught in the paparazzi's flash.

I am the first to admit that I have never been the summery type. I am much more suited for drizzly days that cast silvery shadows on wet cobblestone streets, the type of weather that begs for velvet and greatcoats. Born in the wrong era, a constant refrain...

The summer does bring me a few sublime delights, such as the first bloom of my rare Oriental lilies. Their color, saturated and sublime, like fire roasted peaches in Champagne.

This summer, New York City is awash with superb art and fashion exhibitions. "Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a must-see for anyone interested in the history of fashion and the direct role art plays as an inspiration for a designer. My love of Elsa Schiaparelli's designs is well known, and this is a perfect and unprecedented opportunity to see into the grand dame of the surreal's wonderfully twisted mind. The exhibition runs through August 19th.

At the Whitney Museum, Yayoi Kusama wraps you in walls of "Infinity Nets" and dazzles with unbridled obsession, sometimes magical and sometimes frightening, but always genuine and inspiring. This exhibition runs through September 30th.

Below is a photo of a free spirited mother and child that reminds me of my earliest summer memories.

Summers in California were dry and smelled of wildflowers. Color abounded on the summer frocks girls would wear with wild hair and beachy tans and on children's faces with the designs of flowers and clowns painted on flushed cheeks by hippie chicks with braids and macrame bags.

I have an affinity for the psychedelic. I love bold patterns that have a hallucinatory kaleidoscopic effect. I am happy to see girls today embracing wild psychedelic maxi-dresses this summer. It looks so fresh and easy, but still dressed up. I love the pairing of wild patterns and ethnic jewelry topped off with the perfect floppy hat.

Summer in the city is all about garden parties held under lantern strung trees. These festive settings are the perfect occasion for dressing up. I prefer an exotic look, maybe wispy chiffon in the deepest emerald green paired with an armful of 1960s jeweled bangles, wild and gorgeous clamper bracelets with glittering, snarling animal faces, or Chinese silk pajamas worn with a coolie's hat and golden Moroccan slippers, what could be more chic?

Below is a beautiful 1920s photo of the Brooklyn born and bred vaudevillian actress Lilyan Tashman, fully embracing the Chinoiserie glamour I adore, perhaps she even graced a garden party right here in Brooklyn.

Keeping cool as temperatures rise is priority number one and everyone knows that the best way may just be a proper cocktail. This summer, we are spicing up the mix and then throwing it on ice in a concoction that we have created in honor of the best of summer fashion that we call "The Psychedelic Sizzler".

Cocktail Of The Week: "The Psychedelic Sizzler"

serves four


4oz silver tequila
3oz pulpless orange juice
4tsp sugar
1c fresh raspberries, rinsed
1tsp sriracha
3oz chilled champagne
shaved ice


in a blender, blend tequila, sugar and raspberries until smooth.
pour mixture through a fine sieve into a glass bowl
in a cocktail shaker, combine orange juice and sriracha, shake well
add champagne to orange juice and sriracha mixture
in four champagne flutes, divide champagne/orange/sriracha blend equally between glasses
to each flute, add shaved ice to about 3/4" below rim of glass
spoon raspberry tequila mixture over shaved ice equally between the glasses


In closing, we have one of my favorite Japanese jazz bands - Soil & "Pimp" Sessions - with their classic song "Summer Goddess".

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Vintage Bijoux Exoticism - Glamorous Girls & Costume Jewels

Back from scouring the world for treasures, quite like a Bohemian pirate with his (her) booty. There was, in fact, a pirate in the family tree. His name was Valentine and he succumbed to an untimely death in the New World. The treasures I have unearthed have an air of the exotic and are perfumed with mystery.

I have been collecting vintage jewelry for as long as I can remember. As a young goth girl, I gravitated towards Victorian and Edwardian pieces, as dark and spooky as possible. Mourning jewelry, hair lockets and anything with a spiderweb was suitably macabre. I would try to simulate the effect of a spiderweb by draping long strands of deep black faceted French jet beads across my chest, the sparkles simulating morning dew. 

One piece I cherish is a tremendous Whitby Jet cameo ring I inheirited from my Irish great-grandmother. It is a massive piece, almost too big to wear. You can see the depth of time in the cameo's wizened carved features and endless black abyss of the stone. It is one of those pieces of jewelry which dictate the type of outfit you would wear with it, generally a black velvet dress and a Victorian beaded capelet. 

Below is a very unusual Victorian necklace featuring lizards surrounding a mythical horse. In Victorian and Art Nouveau art and design, the salamander or lizard represents passionate love and a flaming heart. It was believed that these animals could survive fire. The horse at the center most likely represents strength.

                                                                                          available here

Below is a very exotic image of Greta Garbo wearing a superb headdress.

As far as I am concerned, when it comes to jewels, bigger is better. I love large, sculptural, very dramatic pieces that veer toward the surreal. 

I grew up in a very Bohemian atmosphere in California with yearly European forays. I tend to gravitate toward pieces that have a sense of history and seem to be from distant lands. I like to find pieces that were stylistically inspired by the cultures and artistic traditions of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. 

I have always been obsessed by pattern and balance and I think the pieces I collect and sell reflect this passion and are almost always richly detailed. 

Below is an amazing neck piece made by Accessocraft in the 1960s.

                                                                                                                                           available here

Below is a photograph of Brigitte Bardot looking every bit the Bohemian goddess in Vogue from 1970.

Every era in the history of costume jewelry has produced masterpieces. Lately, I have been collecting a great deal of pieces from the early 1960s to the beginning of the 1970s. I love the ethnic influence that was in vogue during this era. I feel like this particular time was a modern renaissance. The costume jewelry had a medieval or Renaissance revival influence crossed with Ottoman jewelry and the lyrical abandon of the surrealists. 

Below is a favorite photo of Kenneth Lane from his book "Faking It".

Kenneth Lane is someone who participated in this Bohemian Zeitgeist and brought costume jewelry to the ultimate level of high fashion. Lane's love of art history, travel and world cultures inspired wonderful pieces that are prized for their original, often bizarre designs, high quality and for their lasting brilliance. Here is a selection of Kenneth Lane's work that I absolutely adore.

Below is an Asian style coin collar necklace that is incredibly dramatic and sexy. 

                                                                                   available here

Below is one of my favorite Kenneth Lane brooches from the Mughal series of the early 1960s. 

The brooch pictured beneath is another fantastic paisley piece in the Mughal style.

                                                                                                                                           available here 

The bracelet below, according to the writings of Kenneth Lane, was one of the great style doyenne Diana Vreeland's personal favorites.  

Below is a beautiful coral colored carved resin moth necklace that was inspired by ancient Chinese symbolism. 

                                                                                   available here

In closing, here is a very beautiful photo of a young Yvette Mimieux wearing costume jewelry in a very fresh way.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Mysterious Life of a Deco Handbag - The Stork Club & The Velvet Hammer

The holidays have come and gone and it feels as if I have been around the world and back, a whirlwind of art and fashion.

For Christmas I received the most fantastic vintage handbag! It is a 1930s black velvet and wrought metal pagoda-shaped birdcage bag, a wonder of Art Deco ingenuity, absolutely genius! 

When I opened the latch on the handbag and tilted the top open, it revealed a snow white silk interior, a tufted and mysterious box as luxurious and foreign as the glovebox of a Rolls Royce Phantom. 

When I reached my excited and curious hand inside of the bag, I felt something resting on the bottom. I felt around and pulled out a business card. As crisp and white as the silk lining, this business card was printed elegantly with a refined font in stark black ink. The text simply read "Sherman Billingsley - Private Rooms - Stork Club". Below is a photograph of Stork Club owner Sherman Billingsley sitting at his favorite table at the Stork Club.

The Stork Club and El Morocco were the hot spots in New York City for celebrities, politicians, the literati and notorious gangsters from the 1930s to the early 1960s.

When I looked at this business card, my mind began racing. What were the historical implications of this card being in this bag? What was its provenance? Who originally owned this bag? Were they a celebrity, a grand dame of cafe society? What sort of life did this handbag lead from then until now? What scenes was this refined bag witness to? Surely it was carried on the gloved wrist of a lady out to enjoy a fine dinner with a dashingly handsome gentleman. It would have been casually placed next to a crystal flute of champagne just in reach to be taken to powder one's nose. 

Below is a photo by famed photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt of the glamorous ladies within the Stork Club's powder room.

Was the owner of this handbag a showgirl seduced by a B-level film star or an heiress slumming with her Latin dance instructor? Was the bag gently placed on the bedside table or thrown on the floor in the midst of passion, a silent witness to all manner of debauchery? 

Was this handbag carried by the striking actress Yvonne Printemps, star of the Folies Bergère? She is photographed below by the great photographer Horst in 1934 for Vanity Fair in a fantastic ensemble as worn by her character in the Broadway production of the Noël Coward play "Conversation Piece".

Could my bag have been in the possession of Millicent Rogers, the Standard Oil heiress, fashion icon and great champion of Native American art? When this handbag was new, she was married to an American stockbroker. She is photographed below in 1938 also by Horst. 

Could the charming and talented Frances Langford, radio star, singer and actress have carried this handbag to a celebratory cast party held at the Stork Club, setting the bag down only to break into a rapturous rendition of her signature song "In the Mood for Love"?

Below is a wonderful image taken of Langford by the photographer C.S. Bull in 1936. What an absolutely gorgeous dress!

Wouldn't it be fun if the handbag belonged to the adorable Chilli Williams, better known as "The Polka-Dot Girl" of World War II, famous as the pinup girl in a polka-dot bikini? She is photographed below in the 1940s, not in a polka-dot bikini, but with a magnificent headdress.

Perhaps the bag was worn on the arm of the great actress Bebe Daniels, who made an amazing 230 films. Under contract to Warner Brothers, she certainly would have dined alongside other up-and-comers and contract players at the Stork Club. Here she is in the 1930s photographed also donning an amazing feathered headdress, but with the ultimate dinner date, a live cheetah!

Wouldn't it be brilliant if Bette Davis herself had owned this handbag? She was also under contract at Warner Brothers at the same time and favored very dramatic clothing for nights out on the town. This bag would have been the perfect finishing touch for this amazingly chic outfit she wears in the photograph below. 

Speaking of cheetah, the gorgeous model Babs Beckwith would have looked divine with this handbag, perfect for carrying just the right shade of blood red lipstick.

This bag would have been absolutely perfect carried by the great Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong. I can see her strolling the back streets swinging this Chinoiserie bag by her side in Josef von Sternberg's "Shanghai Express". 

I would like to imagine that the original owner of my beloved handbag had been the actress Myrna Loy, co-star of the great "Thin Man" films, where she played the beautiful, stylish and often hilarious Nora Charles. Myrna Loy had a kindness of spirit that radiated out of her face, making her one of the Silver Screen's most beautiful stars. Below are two photos of Loy, one with a very inventive hairstyle and the other with her looking amazing, a perfect portrait.

In closing, in honor of the great dinner clubs of yesteryear and the glamour of their patrons, we have a take on the classic chocolaty cocktail, "The Velvet Hammer".

Cocktail of the Week: "The Velvet Hammer" 

serves two

1 oz Crème de Cacao 
1 oz Tia Maria Coffee Liqueur
2 oz Vodka
4 oz Cream

2 chilled martini glasses

combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker
shake with ice and strain into martini glasses
serve and enjoy