Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Naked Heads


today we have an article in the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/31/nyregion/31experience.html

Mr. Blumenthal wrote about even more of my eccentricities..........

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

R.I.P. Mrs. Albrizio


When I started in the millinery business in New York City, my friend, Andrew, sent me to Albrizio Millinery to block my hats.   This was entre into one of the most important hat housesin the city.  They make hats for the Metropolitan Opera, for theatre, for top designers in the business.  The name Albrizio is known in the church lady circles, in the rap world, in fashion because they have their own label, as well as allowing those of us who design hats, to use their facilities. 
 At the studio, Marie Albrizio reigned supreme, Goddess of the hatblocks, queen of the feathers, and bulwark to the hat industry in NYC.  Marie and her sister, Ann Albrizio, had started the hat business in the post-war garment industry.  Ann started teaching at FIT and molded future hatters (Kokin, Patricia Underwood, Eric Javits, to name a few) of America with her strict verbose manner.  Between the two of them, they kept the industry afloat through the lean years in the 1960's and 1970's, when hairspray was more important than the hat.
Marie was my point person, since her sister, the legendary Mrs. Albrizio, had retired.  At Albrizio's, Marie let me block one hat or a dozen, sewing my straw braid, and coping with my questions on a weekly basis.  Although Patricia Underwood might have an order in for hundreds of pieces, and Kokin might have the finisher busy for days, Marie always managed to slide one of my hats into the process, and helped me learn the business.
Andrew was close to the sisters, so I was invited for dinner at home.  Marie's grandson, David , was taking over for Marie, who was at home attending to Ann, house-bound, but still receiving guests.  To say the least, the factory/studio and family were one, and the atmosphere was warm, and more encouraging to small designers than any environment in New York City.  The garment center used to be like that: a small business, kept in the family, that embraced newcomers and lent a helping hand to their education by opening the door.
This is what Ann Albrizio leaves behind.....generations of milliners, hat-makers, lovers of hats.  Students who shine in the current fashion world, and those to come, ever thoughtful of Mrs. Albrizio, and all that she gave us.
Last night, March 23rd, Mrs. Albrizio left us.  May that door stay open, and may we all celebrate her life, her work, and her contribution to American fashion.  

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring into Hats


In the Northeast, we're really trying to get into Spring.  the easy dresses are coming out, orders are coming in for Ascot.  Mothers of the Bride are getting nervous about what they may be wearing on their heads.  Easter and Passover are just around the corner.
But it snowed one morning this week, and it's still chilly and than some outside.  Of course I can remember Easter Sunday as it snowed on my new suit and hat, but that was long ago, and not normal.
As a perky measure, getting your Spring hats out of their boxes is a good way to convince yourself that the weather is changing, and brighter colors are on the verge of happening.  Dust off those flowers, get your strappy sandals ready, and prep your transitional wardrobe so you can mix things in , just to add a note of cheerful expectancy to the day.
At Ellen Christine, we follow the Victorian's philosophy: use a darker straw as an in-between hat, and you'll feel lighter in your step and almost frivolous in you mood.  If it's not quite time for those Panamas yet, use a feather trim or a flower on one of your felts, and bear witness to the changing of seasons.  
Work your way into the high season by thinking ahead to what new hat you'd like to add to your wardrobe, and come into the shop and play.  We have to make new ones every week, so the panoply changes, as the temperature rises, albeit ever so slightly.
  Forge into Spring with a new hat, and your spirits will rise to the occasion!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dapper Flapper



Theme parties are the bane of my existence.  Any number of people come into Ellen Christine and ask for a "1920's" headpiece, or an Audrey Hepburn something.  Most contemporary body types wouldn't like themselves as flappers, and couldn't carry off the deer-caught-in-the-headlights innocence that Miss Hepburn projected. To show them a beaded headband, trimmed in a spray of feathers, that we just happen to have on hand is usually a frustrating experience for me as an artist, and my assistants as salespeople.  To wrap your head around a 1920's turban look, or a feathered accessory is difficult unless you're an actress, or an otherwise imagination-infused individual.  Probably a warm up exercise should happen before people go out shopping , into a world they know nothing about, and can't easily grasp without a personal shopper, or a costume consultant.
Flexing the imagination muscle is helpful, so here's my advice:
when you're invited to a party with a theme, or a wedding with a theme, please do some homework first.  Go to the library, a bookstore, or online for some basic description of what you're looking for.  Then look at current fashion and see if anything out there looks like the images you're expected to mimic.  In today's market, fashion reflects vintage mode, so it's usually easy to find a piece that isn't authentic or antique, but does lends itself to the era at hand.
Now you can go shopping.  Ask for help, once you have a vague idea of what you want.  Plan a budget, since beaded dresses can be expensive in any format......and every flapper worth their salt had a bead or two hanging around.  Cocktail dresses and cocktail hats are the norm for a 1950's look.  Sheaths work for a 1920's vignette.  Feathers work with both of these looks, so always consider accessories your ticket to happiness.  You may already own a dress or an outfit that could be perked up with a boa, or a headpiece, and the right jewelry, so check your closet, too.
Take heart, and be brave.  Use those drama muscles and make it happen, and the theme of the party will be how fabulous you look!


Thursday, March 19, 2009


We take celebrities to heart in New York City.  They are our World Bank, our 6 Degrees of Separation from fame and glory, our Muses.  On any given day in a Starbucks, a Barnes and Noble, or just walking around the corner, you may run into Harrison Ford, Sarah Jessica Parker, or Liam Neeson.  There may be a fleet of trailers lining your street, as another scene from a film or a television series is being shot. Your favorite celeb might be out for a walk, or on his way to buy a hat.
These beloved and admired folk come to New York to appear in a Broadway show, to put in a cameo at a Charity event, or they might move here because of the anonimity afforded living amidst these madding crowds.  We cherish our actors.  They are a part of our city, even if they live a bit upstate.
Natasha Richardson and her gorgeoous husband came to live here.  Although I never had the privilege of working with either of them, I did have my Liam moment.  As I was trudging through Soho one afternoon I had to bypass some of those aforementioned movie trailers.  I bypassed smack into Mr. Neeson.  End of contact story, but nevermind...there's always a little flutter when you run into one of your heroes (literally).  When he and Miss Richardson married, the best of two worlds joined and provided us, their fanbase, with the delight of having them on home turf.
And because it's closer to home, we feel the loss that much more.  God bless the family, and Miss Richardson, Godspeed.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rusalka at The Met


    The magic of the Met happens, and you're not aware of being transported in an out of body experience, but suddenly, the lights come up and you're back.
In the current production of Rusalka, with Renee Fleming reprising her role as the nebulous water nymph, the magic begins at the first rise of that glorious golden curtain.  The set is lit with gloworms and fireflies on the lake......the trees bend their branches to embrace the night sky, and the audience.  A true fairy tale, complete with dryads, water creatures, a bonafide witch, a Prince, of course, and a castle, all revolving around a wishful little lake-dwelling sylph.  Renee Fleming emerges from a tree at lake's edge and sings to the glory of the full moon, pouring out her heart and her heart-felt desires, as delicately and lyrically as a breath on the evening breeze.
Although, as an audience, we know what's coming next in this Czech version of The Little Mermaid, still we are carried by the gracefulness of Miss Fleming, and the fairy dust in the very air.  Her movements are as diaphanous as her gowns, and lend themselves to the poetry of Dvorak's music.  
When all of the elements come together, and a brilliant, sparkling production emerges, the rest of the world disappears.  Truly.  
Treat yourself to the opera  at the Met, whether it be this production, or another.  Walking through those doors, in that majestic theatre, is an experience meant to be savored, and enjoyed.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Yes, We Can Restore That Hat!


What to do when the dog has ran off into the lake with your favorite Montecristi panama hat? How do you deal with a rain-soaked felt Borsalino? After you pull your favorite hat out of that mud puddle, what do you do now?
We get hundreds of calls and emails about restoration, re-sizing, reblocking, and simple R&R for hats, and some of the stories are not to be believed.  Your husband won't give up that ratty misshapen thing on his head that makes him feel like Jimmy Stewart?  Sneak it out of the house, let us give it a brush and steam, change the ribbon, and he'll probably just think he looks extra handsome........you'll know, but he won't..........
When your daughter wants your Mom's old Easter hat......bring it to me, and we'll resize, and even re-design it to fit her style......
Many are the feathers we've had to steam, re-dye, reposition.........
As much thought and technique goes into restoration in the truest sense as into designing a collection .  The re-furbishing is simple sometimes, and sometimes not,but it's always worth a question, and look-see, and an attempt.  There's nothing like a favorite hat to perk up your mindset......unless it's a new hat.
Get yourself a good brush, and don't use it on the dog. Get a light colored one, and a dark one, for different shades of felt and straw.  When you brush a hat, just as when you brush a garment, you're removing topical dirt that will end up lodged in a crevice, creating muck and ultimately damage.  Start early in the life of the hat, and keep it up.... your hat wardrobe deserves it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Housewives Need Hats, Too


Once in a while something comes along on TV that gets me hooked.  I'll admit it: The Real Housewives of New York City has dug it's talons into me.  I follow the series, I Facebook, I read their blogs.  Maybe because it's New York, and I'm here, too...who knows? My friends aren't like this.......their egos aren't this fragile, their apartments so perfect, their pools so blue.  We are a bit of an alternative group, my friends and I....we dress accordingly to our own whimsical, eccentric poetry of the moment. We don't hang at the Hamptons.......who'd want to? Our husbands don't have lucrative businesses that support our projects.  Well, most of them don't.  
When you get completely immersed in the fashion scene in New York, there are divas everywhere, but would you choose them as your friends?  Just say hello, and carry on. Not necessary to take them into the bosom of your family.
So, the girls are sensitive creatures, easily offended. I had a friend like that.....everything I said was interpreted in a completely subjective manner.  Ouch.  The Housewives do their confronting on camera, since it's a TV show, and make up somewhere along the way.  What happens in between is up to the audience to make up.  Reality TV is only 24/7 if there's a camera in the house.  So,  petty tiffs, and quite a few attitude flinging sessions take flight every week.  What a story line!
Since I've never watched reality TV, I'm not so familiar with the concept, but I read on the blogs that people who watch these shows are intensely involved.  Everything from behavior, to nail polish is criticised, sliced and diced......is the public so perfect?  Am I missing something?  What to me is a non-plussed romp through someone's day to day, seems to be a case study for lab students everywhere.
So I watch, and theorize about America, and wonder yet again what train all these people have taken.