Sunday, December 25, 2011

Hayley in November

One of the delightful things that happened to Ellen Christine in November was the appearance of Hayley Griffiths. She covers stories for a news service, and came to our loft to do a piece on our work. Taking pictures of the showroom, and of the workspace, Hayley was fascinated by the overview she achieved that day. In her blog, she includes pictures of our work-in-progress, and covers the interview side with alacrity.
Questions aside, the interesting thing for me is that every interview we do seems to amaze the interviewer. Maybe I'm just too lost in my world o' hats here, but it seems to me that people know so very little about the process. It's really isn't like going to a supermarket and picking up the ingredients for a pie. Hat making is an intense and often thwarting business . Often, the materials you've just used in your collection are dicontinued, so all the designs must be changed. Even buyers don't really know what we go through as milliners/hatters. Striving for perfection, and often needing to allow the customer to go only half way can be frustrating to say the least. The customer may be a lovely lady from Minsk, or a store who wants to carry your hats, but hasn't a clue as to how to market them. Ah,the joys of a design life. And lifestyle.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.
But more on that another day.

Peachy Deegan, our own Hedda Hopper

Peachy Deegan has a brilliant column online that covers things high and low all over Manhattan. She loves things made in America, and spotlights new restaurants, and the most excellent of choices for your shopping pleasure. All in Manhattan, sourcing for the coolest shoes, the nicest dentist, the most chic, the most hip. Peachy tells us which restaurants are hot, new, or just plain good. In her column, she can cover beauty as delightfully as the latest fundraiser she has just attended.
Be there or be square, basically, since "Whom You Know" lays out the facts of life for those coming to New York, or those of us who live here.
Peachy began working with Ellen Christine on a sultry summer's day, when she happened upon us when we were in Chelsea, in the retail space. That summer, Peachy wore an Ellen Christine hat to the Veuve Clicquot Manhattan Polo Classic, a yearly event on Governor's Island. The girl can wear a hat! Nowadays you may see her in one of her feathered fascinators, which have become part of her public persona . In November, published an update of our story, slanting it towards the "Made in America" point of view. Patriotic, Peachy appreciates a good thing when she sees it, but loves a good thing when it's provenance is local/USA, and never hesitates to cover that fact. It's an honor to be part of the "Movers and Shakers" roster, along with such luminaries as Liz Smith and New York City's Mayor Mike Bloomberg. And it's more than fabulous being the "Official Milliner" of WhomYouKnow. Along with lots of superb purveyors of excellence, our hats have received a warm and friendly welcome chez Peachy.
For Hedda Hopper fans, Peachy may be a throwback, a new and exciting insertion into the world of the web. Hats go great with poise and character, and Peachy is just that personified. As a point of exclamation on a might slip of a girl, her hats are becoming seen around some of the finest establishments in town. Look for her, and look for to be in the know, and on top of the brightest and most beautiful here in town.
Thank you, Whom You Know, for giving us such great coverage,and for looking so resplendant in your plumage!

Photo courtesy of :

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Present 2012: Roberto Alagna

It’s Christmas 2012, it’s NYC, and our Christmas present this year is Roberto Alagna! Faust is once again at The Metropolitan Opera, and Robertino is here for two glorious performances: last night, and next Wednesday, the 28th of December. With his whirlwind press tour for the newest CD “Pasion”, behind him, and a jam-packed (until 2016) schedule ahead, this beloved tenor will have a brief respite from life for a sojourn of one month in New York City. Not that we take care of him here: he’s suffering from a sore throat, and today was in the emergency room for an ankle damage. It must have been that cartwheel in Act I last night!

Last night, Roberto demonstrated his consummate professionalism as he regaled a cheerful Christmas audience in spite of a sore throat, and as we have just learned, an ankle injury. Dancing, and playing the flirt in the part of the young Faust, Roberto demonstrates his acrobatic abilities as well as his winning ways.

This new production, by Des McAnuff places the opera in WWI-WWI-II era, with brilliant costumes by Paul Tazewewll. The excitement in the house is palpable: Roberto is in the house. The Met Opera shop is 4 deep at the counters, as Roberto’s CD “Pasion” flies off the shelves. And Carmen is playing on the big screen, in honor no doubt, of his presence.

Stepping into Faust’s shoes once again (Mr. Alagna was here in 2005 in the previous production, complete with top hat and cane) as a dandy, he brings to the Met stage his buoyant personality, and emotive portrayal of a man gone mad with self-doubt and guilt.

Like a 1920’s melodrama serial, this production begins with a black and white palette. The visage of Faust covers the enormous scrim of the Met stage, and like the Veil of Turin, speaks volumes before one single note of music is played. Robert Brill, set designer, Peter Munford, lighting, and Sean Nieuwenhuis, in charge of video design, collaborated on mood, before all else. The black and white overtones are dissipated in the opening scene as the lugubrious metal framework of the set is awash in fog. Lost souls wander aimlessly across the laboratory setting. Two definitive spiral staircases mark the boundaries between life and death. The elder Faust, in homburg and greatcoat (Wait! Could that be Roberto????) tells us by stance, posture, pose, of his exhaustion. One single red rose brings a spark of hope to the monochrome. Faust, aged, stooped is soon joined onstage by Mephistopheles. Sung by the fantabulous Rene Pape, our favorite devil, Meph is a cartoon icon of a bad boy. From this point onward, the costumes of Mephistopheles and Faust, the Younger, will mirror each other – the dichotomy of the psyche defined in the language of costume.

The rear of the stage is set with a screen that projects the faces of Marguerite, and at times, hope via a floral bower, or despair, as marked by the grey passage of time itself. As the young Faust emerges from the mists of time, the scene shifts onstage to a WWI pastiche: soldiers crowd everywhere, mingling with the bevy of fashionably dressed “camp followers”. Brian Mulligan, baritone par excellence, plays Valentin to the hilt, delivering a “Avant de quitter ses lieux” to a bravo’d, heavy applause. I did say a very enthusiastic crowd.

Mephistopheles uses chicanery, sorcery and cheap thrills to wheedle the wills of men, and bend them to his vision. Where Faust is flirtatious, Roberto gives us all the vigor such a cad could carry. Where Faust is touched by the raw innocence of his “conquest”, Marguerite, Roberto gives a seductive, moving, perfect “ Salut, Demeure chaste et pure”. He carries the entire house with him on a perfect note, heart -stopping and ethereal.

Our Marguerite, Malin Bystrom gives her Jewel Box song with a delighted, girlish enthusiasm. This is Ms. Bystrom’s Met debut, and she has moments that sparkle, like the tiara she gleefully models in the mirror, and yet falls into the arms of Roberto with trepidation.

A pink glow falls on the set, and changes us from severe “chaste et pure” to the warmth of a burgeoning love affair. Roberto does his thing: seduction in progress, by a master of the genre.

Although the Met here announces that “Mr. Alagna is not feeling very well, but he will attempt to finish his performance”, Roberto dives into the swordfight that kills Valentin with brio.

The danse macabre that may indeed translate into Walpurgis (we were missing the usual feminine demonic hovering ballerinas) proceeds the final denouement of Marguerite. The fires of Hell are now poison apple green , and her “pure radiant angels” is a relief from the demonic activity and the loss of Faust’s soul. Marguerite climbs the stairway to heaven, and our once- again aged Faust succumbs.

Throughout this well-directed, very smooth pacing, Rene Pape lords over the world weary reality that is Gounod’s Faust with aplomb. He is witty, slimey/suave and superlative in his white leisure suit. Both he and Roberto man it up in suit after resplendent suit, complete with spats and bon vivant boutonierres. The adept millinery department of the Costume Shop at the Met give us hat after hat, all phenomenons of height and drama, very WWI. The chorus is covered in perfect period ensembles that run the gamut in inspiration from “ Alice Blue Gown” to Irving Berlin.

Well done, and a Merry Christmas indeed!

Faust runs through January 19th

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Travelling Hat

David Widjaja is a friend of mine. He came into my life as a stylist, and he has given Ellen Christine such grand exposure in magazines that are seen all across the country. Literally. For example, this one, CS (chicago) and Angeleno (Los Angeles) are both under the publishing wing of Modern Luxury. There are also issues in Atlanta,Dallas, Miami, Wash.D.C. and New Yodk city, to name a few of the covers. For their 2011 Holiday Wish List, published in November, we bagged the cover of the Chicago issue. Thank you, David!
David is all about color. He makes me work in brights, primary tones,and things outside of my normal comfort realm. This is good. With his eye for luxurious fabrics and exotic sets, David works magic with our hats. Also seen in the pages of internationally acclaimed mags, he styles luxe far and wide, and he loves hats.
When a stylist has a natural affinity for an accessory, they approach their composition from a different point of view. Sometimes it's the photographer who requests our pieces for editorial shoots, and then the stylist works with them to co-create a look. But with David, it's always his idea. I know when I get that phone call that I have to do something in silk. Like a turban. Or colorful like the little "Flying Saucers" we did for this cover. He drapes his models over staircases, wraps them around chairs, poses them on balconies, swimming pools, and keeps that hat on their heads at all costs.
Thank you, David, for your years of bright looks, and demanding ways. May we continue to work together for many ,many years. Here's to the next cover!
P.S. Not all publications that our hats appear in find their way to my doorstep. The editor of this particular magazine sent us two copies, one of CS, and one of Angeleno, in a magnanimous gesture. We thank him. Believe it or not, most times it's one of our friends, colleagues or clients who do the Ellen Christine spotting!

Hats Across the Miles of Internet

Been a long time. Since all the s/s (Spring/Summer to novices) has been there and done that, we're now onto the new S/S 2012. Normally, wayyy before Christmas, designers have done with their new collections for the next year. Resort happens somewhere in there as well, and Fall? Fall is a state of mind until it's time to design the new F/W (did you get it yet?:Fall/Winter), for next year. Yes, it's all pretty confusing, but then again, it's just another cycle. It's why bikinis are in shop windows in January. And Vogue is showing "pre-Spring" in December.
Our seasons are not the same as real seasons. Then again, our entire point of view is skewed towards one reality: design. Design factors into every sense of what material to use; what "theme" pervades; where the muse comes from. To be a designer, or an artist, usually means that everyday bits and pieces get taken care of by someone else. The moment you live in is all important, and the current project is the major focus.
Focus is compartimental in design. Like Bill Clinton, a designer puts it all into proportion: open one door, close another one. It's almost like living in a big house, with each room done in a different color. The pattern of your moment changes with the light and shadows of each room, and you change focus, according to the immediate environment.
If none of this makes sense, feel free to ask about art, or design to the next person you meet. Hopefully, they will have a different take on it all. For one, I tend to get wrapped up in many projects at once, but always looking backwards and forwards. Backwards, because a hat I designed many moons ago shows up on the pages of Vogue months after the shoot has happened. Forwards because vision is perceptive: it carries you forward into the next project with no help from you.
With this blog, I shall attempt to catch you up to now. We have had many wonderful ,breathtaking projects this year,and I hope to finish the recap before it's ended in a few weeks!
Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Above, see The Olsen Twins in two of our hats in the Vogue special issue for December: Best Dressed. It's always a thrill and an honor.