Monday, November 30, 2009

American Beauty at F.I.T.

I visited recently the "American Beauty" costume exhibition up currently at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology at 7th Avenue and 27th Street. This show explores innovative clothing construction in American fashion, and argues that the work of American designers goes beyond the casual, functional clothes that are typically thought of as "American," like denim jeans and sportswear pieces. It's up through April 10, 2010; admission is free.

I was drawn to a section of the show that focused on ornamentation. I'm like a magpie; show me something sparkly and I can't take my eyes off it. This red dress by Adrian which Joan Crawford wore in the 1937 movie The Bride Wore Red was on display; it's completely covered in bugle beads.

Also on display were some "mermaid" dresses from the Sixties by Norman Norell, the great American designer who hailed from Indiana, as did those other leaders of American fashion, Halston and Bill Blass. One dress was red and one was salmon; I couldn't take photos of those dresses, but found these photos of similar Norell mermaid dresses on the website of Decades, the renowned store in L.A. which sells vintage couture. Visit the Decades blog here and see what treasures can be yours.

Norell's mermaid dresses, in different styles and designs, were covered in hand-stitched sequins which were sewn on twice so they would lie flat and not catch on one another. Sleek and chic to show off a trim American figure, the mermaids' clean lines almost evoke the simplicity of a scuba-diving suit.

The opulent fabric on a simple silhouette is glamorous and nonchalant at the same time. It's sexy too, as the sequins glimmer and shine with the body's movements. A turtle neck shape or a tee shirt shape layered with sequins in a delicious, rich, saturated color is elegant and luxe – not complicated or tricky or fussy. Just zip it up and you're dressed. No need for any jewelry; the dress itself is like one big jewel. "I simply take the most straightforward approach . . . without any extra, fancy trimmings. I don't like over-designed anything," said Norman Norell in 1952. That to me truly is American Beauty.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me

I don't normally do this on the blog, but today, November 29th, is my birthday! I say it because I wanted to post the image above, sent to me via email by my great friend from high school, Nannette. An orchid on top of a cupcake. Nannette is a faithful blog reader, and knows that cupcakes plus flowers are a favorite of mine:
from May 22

from Jan. 19

from Dec. 6, 2008

Thanks Nannette, that picture made me smile. Nannette and I were great friends in high school, and went to...wait for it...the senior prom together! Nannette in high school: cool, creative, pretty, brave. I was lucky we were friends. She said yes to the prom when I asked her and we had a blast. When she mailed the image above, she also remembered the orchid wrist corsage I got her for the prom. I have to say, that orchid wrist corsage was good. We're going back in time here like thirty-five years. To cupcakes and flowers I add old friends to life's great joys.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

We are off for Thanksgiving in Connecticut. "Over the river and through the woods" on MetroNorth. But on Sunday at our great church Judson Memorial on Washington Square South, I brought some flowers for the tables of the Thanksgiving meal.
I started with a pile of things.

On Saturday I went to the Union Square Farmer's Market, and at the Durr's truck, I got bunches of eucalyptus, some kind of purple berries, and little yellow and orange peppers. At the Farmer's Market, you just show up and see what they have. At the deli on Fifth Avenue I got a dozen white roses. All together, $31.

On Sunday at church I put one of each into a cylindrical glass vase. My friend artist Prinny Alavi scattered around the vases some leaves which she had painted and pine cones touched with gold.

It's meant to look natural, as if things just blew in.

Putting three of four different things together is a pretty fail-safe way to arrange flowers. I like things to be loose with plenty of air and space around them. It's nature, with a little artful turn.

Here's hoping you have a beautiful and relaxing Thanksgiving weekend – very best wishes to you and yours.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Soho Science

TD and I toddled down to Soho for a party last week in a beautiful, big loft on Prince Street. The loft was decorated by Thom Filicia of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy fame, and featured oversized lighting (pictured above), artwork and accessories to fill the sprawling space. There were great floor-to-ceiling French doors (see below), which ran along the front of the apartment, facing the Prada store across the street. Tres chic.

Lots of neat features were built into the apartment including an amazing home theater and an LCD tv screen within the back of the bathroom door. The coolest aspect of the apartment was invisible though; that was the technology that had been incorporated into it by Savant, the home automation company. For example, next to the bed was a small monitor which featured a photograph of the bedroom on a "touch" screen like that of an iPhone. So, by touching the picture of the lamp, the lights dimmed; by touching the picture of the blinds, the blinds went down. It was possible to control the music, the tv, the lighting, everything from the little touch screen next to the bed. You could control other rooms by swiping through room photos, and it also runs on an iPhone so you can prepare your house before you get home; it will do everything for you but mix you a drink.
It was very James Bond, very George Jetson.
I loved the lighting and audio aspect of the system. Add some candles, and voila, we're going back in time, conveniently. Wouldn't it be fun to put technology like that into a nineteenth century house overlooking the Hudson River, mixing the best of the old with the best of the new.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I've Been Tagged

My glamorous blog friend in Hollywood, Lisa Borgnes Giramonti, recently nominated mine as one of her favorite blogs and I'm flattered because she has great taste! See for yourself at her blog A Bloomsbury Life. When you are nominated, the rule is to tell ten things about yourself, and nominate your favorite blogs. Since my blog is about beautiful things, I thought I would list some of my favorites:

Flowers, everywhere and always. (West 12th Street)

Flea market finds.

The work of the mad genius designer John Galliano, whose muse is "the impoverished heiress on the run." (Spring 2010 collection, photo from

Running/exercise/yoga/the gym. (the sun deck of the Chelsea Piers on the Hudson River)

The power of New York City

and the bucolic peace of upstate New York, where I am from.
(a summer concert in Herkimer)

The work of Belgian designer Dries Van Noten - quirky and completely cool.
(Spring 2010 collection, photo from

The paintings of John Singer Sargent. Here we have the Sitwell family, including little Edith in red.

Paris, eternally medieval.

The pleasures of a good book

and, one more, making a beautiful thing

where there wasn't a beautiful thing.
That was fun, thanks Lisa!

Now, I nominate (drum roll, please) some beautiful blogs:
The Aesthete's Lament
What I Saw Today
The Errant Aesthete
A Continuous Lean
Fine and Dandy Shop
Pigtown Design
Mr. Peacock
Easy & Elegant Life

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A 30th to Remember

The other night our friend Brian Healy celebrated his 30th birthday at Marie's Crisis, the legendary theater sing-along piano bar in the West Village on Grove Street. I've known Brian since he was six; Ted remembers when he was born. The Healys are close friends and former neighbors, along with the Gabels, from Jane Street; we all traveled together, our little Jane Street coterie, a year ago to Amsterdam to visit Ton Mutsaer, the sister of our great Jane Street friend Gerard Mutsaer.

Marie's Crisis is a fantastic, ancient, New York institution which Ted and I used to frequent more regularly. Off of Grove Street, a few steps down lead into a ground floor bar, which is dark with low ceilings. Patrons sit on high stools and stand around the hard working piano player, singing out popular show tunes. The long bar is along the back wall which is lined with a huge, fading, dingy mirror. Strings of artificial autumn leaves interspersed with rust-colored lights circled the room where the walls met the low ceiling. Colorful traffic lights from the street outside twinkled through the sidewalk-level windows.

Marie's Crisis had never closed for a private event but Brian promised a big turnout, and they all came. Brian is an enthusiastic, ebullient, much-loved New Yorker and has a million friends. We found sitting at the piano the Healys and the Gabels and our great friends Tom Meehan, who wrote the Broadway musicals Annie, The Producers and Hairspray, and his wife Carolyn. There were lots of good looking young guys there; this fall they're wearing closely cropped beards and tweed jackets. It was fun to catch up with Brian's friends and relatives.

Some of his friends are professional theater and opera singers, and one at a time they came forward to sing a solo. Solos were also offered by the talented waitstaff at Marie's; it was like a Broadway show that went on and on.
A cake was lit

and a wish was made.

Brian's father Don offered everyone a drink on the house.
Here are the handsome Healys.

I'm not a big Broadway singer (Ted is) but after a couple Heinekens, what the hell.
At 11:00 the extremely talented piano player was replaced by another extremely talented piano player. His name was Danny Daly and he played everything by memory, with no sheet music.

Brian himself stepped forward and delivered a rousing rendition of Judy Garland's "Chicago" which brought down the house. By then everyone – man, woman and child – was belting out the show tunes. There were a lot of Judy and Liza numbers; those gals really did have the best songs – "Cabaret," "Over the Rainbow," "Maybe this Time," "The Man That Got Away," etc., etc. I was positively winded.

It was getting late, into the wee hours, and we were hoping we could outlast Tom and Carolyn, who were happily ensconced behind glittering martinis. But at last we had to fold, and bid them adieu. I was reminded of the story that Elaine Stritch told in her one woman show, At Liberty, about when she stayed up all night singing and drinking with Judy Garland. Finally, Judy Garland had to call it quits and she remarked, "Elaine, I never thought I'd say this, but 'Good night!'"

Many happy returns of the day to Brian Healy. It was a great birthday in New York. We'll see you for 30 more.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My Container Garden on November 17th

is making me happy. You may recall that last summer I made a container garden in front of the apartment building by dragging some containers off the roof and filling them with flowers and ivy. This summer, and now fall, it went berserk.

I know impatiens is a "common" flower but I'm a big fan. If you water it once a week, it's pretty happy and will grow like crazy. The pink plant below started as a single one inch seedling out of a plastic packet.

I'm training this ivy to grow up the stair railing. Ivy will last the winter and get bigger every year.

When I lock up the blue Schwinn here at the fence I feel like I'm in the middle of a garden.

I'm growing ivy over this railing as well.

There was absolutely nothing here when we started but with some neglected containers and some inexpensive plants, a vacant spot can become a joy to the eye. Pastel-color impatiens plus ivy is a sure-fire combination for a low-maintenance country-style garden in the city.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dandies At Large

My friends Matt and Enrique over at Fine and recently put up an online catalogue of their new offerings and I think it's great. Fine and Dandy sells accessories – ties, scarves, cuff links, hats, etc. for guys with style. Matt grew up in a small town upstate and came to New York City to make a life in art and fashion; I can relate! Enrique hails from Canada. Together they opened their online shop about a year ago, and this is their first look book, which was photographed by Patrick Roxas:

Everyone needs a black derby hat!

Newsboy cap, a tartan scarf and a solid grey tie; all easy to add to a wardrobe for a handsome update.

A bow tie and a pocket square with a double-breasted jacket is a great way to dress up jeans.

I said to Matt, I wish everyone dressed like this. Well, The New York Times did a story yesterday on how nineteenth century designs are becoming popular in men's fashion so maybe we'll see more of an elegant style. Congrats to Matt and Enrique for doing their part. Be sure to go to their website to see the complete catalogue and do some holiday shopping.

Thinking about dandies got me going through some images of my favorites.
Here we have the Italian composer Giacomo Puccini circa a black derby hat! And a fantastic coat.

This is a painting from the home of French interior decorator Jacques Grange. I like the sitter's combination of white shirt, brown jacket, and light grey trousers.

Here we have Major General John Liddell painted by George Duncan Beechey. His white vest and pants create one long elegant line.

The lines of this uniform flatter the body and lead the eye from head to toe. And I love this room – with its floral wallpaper and soft furnishings.

Here is the painter John Singer Sargent in his studio. You already know that he is one of my very favorite painters. I like his long coat and his long pants – they almost look like boot-cut jeans.

Sargent drew this sketch of Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Yeats grew up in Sligo, Ireland, which is where my great grandfather Dan O'Donnell was from. The poet sports a big floppy bow tie.

Here is Yeats later, in 1932, photographed by Edward Steichen in a silky bow tie and tailored overcoat.

Bringing the dandy into the modern age is Cary Grant, he of the fluid grey suit, the white shirt with a proper cuff showing, and the polished brogue shoe. It kind of looks effortless but you know it isn't.

In putting these pictures together, I see a common thread. There is a sophistication but there also is a relaxed, comfortable feeling of ease. Attention is paid to details, but the result is not highly structured or overwrought. This is a languid, graceful style; there is a sense of natural refinement which comes from within. It's an easy elegance.