Sunday, July 27, 2008

the Life of a Hat

So, from the pages of Vogue Italia, to the party circuit in New York City, a little hat can see many miles..........
The folded origami, pleated construction of our little black and white fan hat was purchased by Rosemary Ponzo, costume designer and girl about town as part of her ongoing Ellen Christine Collection .  Here she is wearing the little darling at a party for Isabel Toledo, actually before we had seen the issue of Italian Vogue in which it appears for the first time in the world.........
 Our Rosemary wears primarily white, black, red, and gold, with an occasional purple and/or magenta thrown in for balance.........the minute she enters the shop, her eye goes to the new and fantastical, whimsical and wonderful.  Whatever it may be, she'll weave it into her wardrobe, or go shopping for a little something that goes with the vision she has in her head of the outfit.  Not a shy flower, Ro......
From the artistic conceptualization and  creation, and the artistic interpretation in an editorial or campaign, to the real world wearing of the piece, a hat can add, enhance,  elucidate.  Some people see hats as hats........some see them as practical necessity.  I see them, and some of my wondrous clientele sees them, as necessities, but in another category: as an accessory that alters, compliments, completes a mood.  Our outfits, sometimes our costumes , help to define our style.  Style, you  what does a day to day existence have to do with style?  The art of dressing, not of dressing up.....the art of shopping...... and the art of knowing what is missing is something we all need to ponder from time to time.  The art is the message, to paraphrase McLuhan, and we all need to have fun with that.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Italian Vogue, The Black Issue

How it works:
It's Monday, the shop is closed, but I'm there to drop something off, pick something up, prep for the week, one is booked in, so I'm happy to be alone to get some things done.  Who comes sailing down the street but Patrick Mackie, Camilla Nickerson's assistant par excellence, waving a sheaf of papers in his hot little hands.....we need a meeting, Camilla has a project, can we talk now??????
Well, there's only a trio of top stylists who know they can call upon me day or night for any project they have in hand..........and yes, Camilla is someone we drop everything for.  The meeting is about an idea she has for a shoot, that's happening very shortly, in LA, with Steven Meisel as the photog. Patrick has his storyboard, in this case, a file of ideas and tearsheets, that lead us into a cohesive frame of other words, a direction.  Camilla has a very definite idea about what she wants in this story, and we bow before mind works really well with Patrick, so I get what he's saying, and showing to me.  A plot is hatched, colors are chosen, pieces are designed, and off we go.......
And lo,  a typical production meeting for a magazine story at Ellen Christine.  
This was for the Black Issue of Italian Vogue, a very Special Idea. When something happens like this, a whirlwind forms in the studio, and we frantically proceed towards a deadline, usually a very short time away.  There's never a year to prepare for something like this, but Camilla gives us lead time, and trusts in our sense of interpretation/design, for her ideas.
The pieces are made, picked up, and off they go.........they come back weeks later, and we have no idea if they were shot, if they worked, if they will be in the magazine.  In this world, there are no guarantees, you see.......
But Halloo and Hooray!  The July Issue is on the stands not a minute when we get congratulatory visits from other stylists and designers with whom we work, so we know we're in there.........the girls in the office get us our copies, and we get to see our handiwork immortalized on the exquisite pages of the Fashion Bible: Vogue Italia.
Thank you, Camilla.  Thank you, Patrick.  It's always fun.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


or mint julep, or mojito.........or just iced tea, under a tree, on a hammock, enjoying the lazy days of Summer......
not me........we're working, getting the world ready for Fashion Week as we wrap up our summer requests and prep for fall in the shop, the Fashion World is revving up for the momentous occasion when it shows the world it's stuff.  
Brides, Panama hats, repairs, all daily reminders that we are a millinery house......the magazine shoots keep us busy with requests for specialty pieces, soon to be seen on a glossy page near you, but the day to day problems of hatfolk everywhere is what keeps the store humming with nimble fingers.  
Johnny brought in his Montecristi that his girlfriend dropped into the lake.........reblock, please.
An architect customer from down South is coming to town for his annual ribbon replacement.  A bride to be needs a hat for her grandmother, who knows exactly what she wants, but can't come in for a  fitting.  We approved the color of the silk, and the flowers for a lovely Mother of the Bride's headpiece, and got Patrick's decision on his next straw hat, just a kick around (slightly respectable) little fedora.  British Elle called in their requests, UK Telegraph finalized their list for tomorrow, and Italian Vogue picked up for a reshoot.  
That was this morning.  Get the picture?
When civilians come in and ask "Who wears these?", with a look of incredulity upon their faces, I should give them a blow-by-blow of a day in the life..............instead I just say:  "...anybody with a head....", and leave it at that.
So, while you're in that hammock, wave your hat in the breeze, and raise a glass to those of us back at the ranch, hatting away.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mae Mae

Miss West, a demoiselle in the film and theatre, made hay during the early years of the West village heydays, buddies with Texas Guinan, and drag stars of the era.  She got herself in trouble with the law, and censorship when she wrote a few plays about gay boys, drag stars, and men in general, totally from her winning point of view.  In trouble, I say, and tossed into the clink in the West Village......dragged into court, (note the pun) and much publicized because of the moral issues at hand.  What a gal!  Mae West could have  promoted an igloo in a Florida retirement community.......
Boy could she belt it out, too...Mae West ruled the boards of Broadway, and set fire to the film canisters in Hollywood, all the while making more and more money doing what she did best:  making waves.
LindaAnn Loschiavo has written a play about the infamous time of Mae West's life in NYC, during the Prohibition Era in NYC, calling it : "Courting Mae West".  Linda is one of our wonderful customers/clients, and wears hats incessantly, by the way.  As an historian, and a raconteuse, she can't be beat......she can tie a storyline together better than Walter Winchell ever could.  
We're looking forward to the play, which closes Tuesday evening, July 22, after a run at the Algonquin Theatre.  Join us, and we'll go out for sidecars afterwards!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

From Charlot to Chanel

The prestigious firm of John Locke marched over to the firm of the Bowler boys in the mid-1800's to have one of their new designs manufactured. Thus the Bowler, or Derby, was born.....created for a landowner, rooted in English country life, it soon became an urban icon.  Worn well into the 20th Century, first by immigrant roustabouts on familiar grounds, then by upstart politicians, and so into the well bred atmosphere of the upper classes.  The Bowler was a tad bit more relaxed than the ubiquitous tophat, long popular as an evening item for gentlemen, and as a daytime proclamation of their class, worth, or economic level.
Somehow, it became world famous on the head of Charlie Chaplin, and 1920's slapstick comedians like Laurel and Hardy, and later, on Lou Costello, of Abbott and Costello.  Always a prop, yet tied into their personnae as much as an old shoe, the Bowler made it's way into popular culture and its history.  
In the 1960's it was seen on the heads of John Steed, in The Avengers, then later on Odd Job, of James Bond fame, Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and in Clockwork Orange.  We all know these references, and we can easily recognize the Bowler because of them.  The current Chanel ad campaigns have brought the bowler into the forefront of fashion once again, on the heads of Coco wannabees.......or any fashionable dame with the right face for the shape of this particular hat.  Thank you, Mr. Lagerfeld, and to the beauteous Keira Knightley for helping to advance the Cause of the more chink in the armor, eh, what?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Deep Heat

In other words, we have to start working on the fur hats, since it's 96 degrees outside in NYC.  Just because..........
The stylists have calmed down a tiny, weensy bit, and the brides are evening out, so we have 5 minutes to start on the fur hat designs for this Fall season coming up.  Always the ever popular silver fox, reminiscent of the Dr. Zhivago we all knew and loved......and the hat made famous by the diplomats of the universe: persian lamb, done in a collapsible headwarmer, preferably with ear flaps. Very sexy, the ear flaps.  This year, we're going to reprise our fur beret, in a black calfskin, which we used for some of the hats we did for 3.1 Phillip Lim.....and in faux astrakhan, a.k.a. persian lamb, for the unfurs out there.  
The politics of using real fur is something I leave outside, on a hot day.  I was a hippie, and I love animals, and I'm a vegetarian, so fer the love of mike, leave me alone with the fur already.  Some of my customers love the stuff, and it works!  There's N-O-T-H-I-N-G that keeps me warmer in the blustery winds of deep winter.  Sam, my miniature pinscher, loves mink, and Annabelle, my toy poodle, loves anything fuzzy and warm......persian, fox, mink..........the glam in her comes out as soon as it gets cold outside.  
So the pelts are coming out............even though we're in the throes of bridal tulle, silk flowers, panama straw and Mothers-of-the-Brides, we gotta, gotta........
Think cool thoughts for my little fingers, guys..........

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Oh, Monsieur!

Now, to M. LaCroix and the Couture collection, 2008.  Deeply historical in his reference always, Christian LaCroix tortures the mind into thinking......about layers, colors, textures.  Without ever losing his place, geographical inspiration, or line, M. LaCroix pulls together a Grand Bal Masque of feminine diversion.  Too whimsical, too degage, too encrusted????? it used to say on the front of the LoneStar Bar in NYC: too much is never enough.  Lace, taffeta, jet, brocade......all romantically entwined for modern Marie Antoinettes to aspire to, if not snap up today.  His contemplation of relevance, contrast, and juxtaposition creates moods of Ladies who live only in portrait galleries nowadays.  But fear not, brave and virtuous mamselles out there:  a piece of any of the collection will show up in many different shapes and forms.  Diluted, but there, to be used in myriad photoshoots.....inspiring operatic moments in all of us.
Give me headpieces, give me lace, give me more.............
Merci, Monsieur LaCroix.  I'm off to make up some fantastic collages to be worn, for sure, on the head.

Monday, July 14, 2008

John Galliano, you slay me!

We work, and slave, to keep the heads of the world happy and covered.  We stitch, and block, and brush, and bead.......relentlessly, it seems.  For years, decades even, the world of Haute Couture has ignored the hat.  They have left their customer bereft, and lacking.  But no longer.  Our little world has been beseiged by fabulousness.......Mr. Stephen Jones has long been working with John Galliano on collection pieces for the house of Dior.  In the past several seasons, his breathtaking work has put some of the most expressive hats out there once again to be considered for the possibility of wearing.  And I say that with a catch in my throat, knowing that the hat wearing public generally claims the calmer shapes and styles as their own, leaving the outrageous to others for an occasional wear.  What others, you may ask? We have a few of those others on board at Ellen Christine, so I imagine Dior must have legions clamouring for those hats that Mr. Jones is cranking out willy-nilly.
Ah, the joy of seeing a new collection.  Now, it's the cloche front that's being attacked.  Molded leather, superb in pattern and construction, as only Haute Couture can be.  A simple hat, the cloche, and one that we do every season, in a new configuration every year.  It's a hat that many heads understand.  I personally cannot wear a cloche, but those of you with doe eyes, interesting features, great hair can sport a cloche with abandon and know that you look devastating.  It's a hat that lends an illusion of youth, if the youth is a bit faded.  It's a hat that provides security, warmth, and emotional support.  Yes, all that, in one little piece of felt.
Stephen Jones is making my life difficult, but it's a sublime pain, given to striving for the next level, the next bend in the wire, so to speak.
Heads of the world, perk up!  Long live the cloche!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Brides, bridal, bridezillas

When people come in and ask if the  bridezilla is a reality, or a put-on for television, I have to admit that they're out there in full force.  Service providers to the wedding industry, and those of us who try to make everyone happy for that day of all days, can tell stories around a campfire for hours about the brides we get to meet. No, not every bride goes over the Falls , but it happens a lot, so it has become the norm rather than the exception.  My personal theory is that most of the  girls getting married have never thrown a big party, and so they're lost in the world of flowers, catering, reception halls, et al, so even without throwing in the relatives and the bridesmaids,  they're just not schooled in this field and so get a bit lost.  Not to worry.  the wedding planner exists, and they should always be consulted.  Delegation is a good thing, and should never be brushed aside.  
Having said that, why not start practicing by throwing a big whoopdedo shindig just for the experience, once a year, until everything goes as planned, and your perfect wedding is within reach? Parties should be well planned, and smooth running, so that the hostess, aka Miss Bride, can enjoy herself.  It's more fun when it's a production, but beach parties can be fun, too.
Take advantage of the summer time, and throw a party.  And don't be bridezilla!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Monday, July 7, 2008

Lace and Lovelies

Ever popular lace for brides and bridemaids is making it's way back into the columnar, simplicity minded bridal market.  With lingerie inspired dresses the norm, lace trim is now de rigeur, and so it sneaks into our commonality.  Lace, long the hushed subject of ladies' boudoir conversation, is now seen in every component of costume, fashion, and accessory.  It usually takes two years after the fact for any trend to hit the bridal market, ever the safe, measured and predictable in the garment industry.  So in two years, the lace gown may make it's way back into the pages of every bridal magazine, ousting the simple empire silk gown from it's pedestal.  In the meantime, lace pops into the frame on a mask, on a veil, in a film, and stylists are craving it for their editorials.  
Grace Kelly has long been the inspiration for generations of elegant brides.  Yes, lace.  Spanish mantillas are rising in popularity once again, along with the flirtatious fan.  Yes, lace.  Marc Jacobs included a cape in the runway collection, black, but yes, lace.

Lacroix has been the master I look to for lace use and originality always prevails in his application.  Although it is always based upon fokloric tradition, lace has been seen in every context from virginal to dominatrix.  No longer under all, but now, out in the open.  

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Hollywood or Bust

Glory days of films.....picture this:  every single star, starlet, hopefull, extra, and tourist wearing a hat on the back lot of  a movie. Stars had major hats designed for their particular image, and character, but even the extras sported fanciful concoctions, given the wardrobe mistress, and the scene.
Eve Arden, in "Cover Girl", starring Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth, wore some of the most desirable 1940's dolls hats on screen, outside of "The Women"...from feather to flower, her color combos were on the money, and pitched for glorious technospectocolorific brilliance.  Headpieces abounded, since it all took place in a Brooklyn nightclub/bistro, and the chorus girls had to wear something , after all. 
Silly hats were frequent in the War years, since folks needed cheering up on any front possible.  Humor, wit, and design wisdom compounded to create an eras worth of unbounding joy in the hat world.....more seen in the WWII era than had been around since the Gilded Age.  Hats became accessories not just to the outfit, but to the hairdo, and to the face.......stars created their characters based on silly hats.........Myrna Loy in "The Thin Man" series of the 1930's had established the talisman of the hat for actesses, well and good.
Hats are not the same as headpieces, our modern society, anything beyond the norm can be viewed as a headpiece.......not so, ceiling watchers, not so.........a headpiece is something for a specific occasion, such as: wedding, costume accessory, performance piece.  An out of the box hat can be just as normal to the wearer, if she is used to things a bit odd, different, or eccentric.
so, the next time you see me walking the dogs, with a strange group of fruits, flowers, or feathers perched atop my head, think of it as a mere hat, and enjoy the moment.  In fact, try one on for size the next time you're in my shop.  think silly, think fun, but think's a good thing.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

by a Waterfall

New York's East River has 4 waterfalls.......until October, as of now, and all man-made.  We got ourselves a art installation, fer sure.
Along the lower straits of the Brooklyn Bay, around Governor's Island, a glorious sight is gushing by daylight, and lit romantically at night, for all to gaze at, and ponder.  Commentary by any artist on the urban landscape is a welcome insight into our daily routine.  The things we take for granted suddenly become marvellous and wondrous, taken in a different context.  The East River, used by the children of Five Points as a watering hole in the Nineteenth Century, and seen in souvenir postcards as a thriving dockside waterway, is once again claiming it's due.  Home to the Statue of Liberty, and now to cruiseships docking in Red Hook, the East River may now be the backdrop for a new kind of souvenir postcard:  wedding photographs, with the Waterfalls of New York as a backdrop.  Married abord the Ferry system of New York, tossing the bouquet to the waters  below, forever poised in front of our waterfalls.  What a vision!
Can't you just see the veil blow in the windwept spray of the waters?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Hat of the week

Hat Tales

West Village

Starry Nights

Stars, as an image in cartoon history, represent the moment when you're knocked unconscious.  Stars on a flag represent the elements of that nation, as the stars in the celestial heavens stand individually, but as one body of reflection.
Stars, on hats, as cut-outs on rodeo outfits, represent the wackiness of fashion.  We use everything as image, and adapt, shape, applique, trim.........stars were brought back to the foreftont by Yves. St. Laurent, on shoes, jewelry.  We put them on cocktail hats, not as an applique, but as wired shapes, airy, light, not heavy Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley references, but alluding to the shooting stars of our youth.  The starry night sky, in paintings, in song lyrics, creates a moment of peace, causing us to pause a quick second and reflect.
For the Fourth of July, go see the fireworks, look up at the starry night sky, and revel in a moment of shared glory with the firmament.
Happy Fourth of July, everybody!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Picture Hat

throughout the centuries, there have been names given to hats like: portrait hat, picture hat.......the message is frames the face, and looks great in the Gainsborough portrait you're having done next week.  The idea is to highlight the features, and make a pretty girl even prettier by focusing on her features.  The eye  of the beholder goes directly to the face of the subject, and the captured expression speaks the volumes of emotion , as interpreted by the audience regarding the smooth brow, the lively eyes, the simple smile.
These hats had a heyday in the World War II era, when hats reigned as the supreme accessory. Circular, oval, even heart shaped, the brims were worn on the back of the head with a pompadour hairdo filling in the foreground.  Diana Durbin, an ingenue in the film industry, had her own line of hats, that framed the face and were a young girl's translation of Mommy Glamourous.
Still popular in the 1980's, but worn down over one side of the face, the picture hat became popularized by the fashions of the then Princess Diana, new to the royalty scene, and probably advised in her hats by the powers that were.  
The ladies that still request hats for weddings, and formal wear, that remember the hat heaven in the 1980's hearken back to that style. In my hands, they become a bit 1930's-ish, and don't retain their stiff finish.  But they're out there, those hats, in the thrift stores and attics, waiting for grandchildren to discover them.
With the Couture collection of Chanel taking the obvious title and making it into the obvious possible interpretation, modern art meets the millinery trade, and the sublime is achieved.  Couture can do no wrong in the fashion world: the last bastion of hand work, embellishments, broderies, holds down the fort for the metier of fashion.  Millinery is an accessory, planned, well thought out, designed, then fabricated to add a filip.
Mr. Lagerfeld, filip away!