Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve in Greenwich Village

University Floral Design on University Place.

Last night on Christmas Eve TD and I trundled over to University Place to have a holiday drink with my long-time friend Abigail and her family. I met Abby the third month I lived in New York in 1983 and we have been great friends since. Now she's married and has three beautiful children – such a delight to see on Christmas Eve. Then TD and I headed over to Grace Church, built in 1846 on Broadway, for their service called A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (our church Judson Memorial held a festive Christmas service this past Sunday). We had been to this Christmas service at Grace once before and I have wanted to return.

At the very beginning, the choir, led by children, proceed into the church, each holding a candle. The few children's voices peal out, delicate and clear like a bell. Bingo. Tears in the eyes. It's so beautiful. So simple. Really transporting.
The choir proceeding in:

The service included many wonderful carols and readings. The Reverend J. Donald Waring gave the sermon. He spoke about Christmas being "a thin place" where heaven meets earth. I knew what he was talking about – those unique places where or moments when you are beyond the realities of the world and experiencing something special that is removed from the grind of everyday life.

The lights in the church dimmed and the congregation knelt to sing "Silent Night." We each had received a candle at the front door, and now they were lit, neighbor to neighbor. There were no instruments, just the rising voices and candle light in the darkened church. We were in a thin place.

It reminded me of Christmas Eves in my childhood. This was when we lived in the little Cape Cod house on Morris Circle in New Hartford. We always invited for dinner my grandparents, my father's parents, and my aunt Betty who lived with them; she passed away two years ago. Towards the end of the evening, the lights in the living room were turned off and we sang around the colorful Christmas tree. After "Silent Night" Betty always said, "That one is my favorite."

A few more carols, and the choir proceeded out.

It really was a beautiful thing.

I am wishing you many thin places, wherever you may find them.

We usually celebrate a jolly Christmas Eve in Montclair with my brother Eric's family but this year there was a change of plans – right now we are packing for Mexico! My brother Thom has invited the family to join him in Puerto Vallarta to celebrate his birthday. We are very excited to say the least. Feliz Navidad and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Cheer

Christmas balloons at Saint Anthony of Padua Church on Sullivan Street in Soho.

I've been taking some pictures around and about. I'm very fond of this handpainted reindeer and the pastel colors on his festive wreath from Mexico which I got at ABC Carpets. He had big antlers which broke off but I still love him.

At Christmas I like green and white and pale colors. On the front hall table – evergreens, sea shell ornaments and a cyclamen, day...

and night, with Bell.

I love rusty metal ornaments – and hang them around the house.

These ornaments topped with silk flowers on the mantel are from Bergdorf Goodman.

On the dining table are ornaments which Bell has knocked off the tree.

Over the weekend it snowed a lot and Washington Square Park was covered.

The houses of Waverly Place that face the park are very Henry James, no?

The Washington Square Arch at the base of Fifth Avenue now frames a festive Christmas tree.

I'm hoping that your holidays are jolly and warm in every way.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Single Man

Colin Firth and Julianne Moore
Our friend Philip saw a preview screening of A Single Man, the first movie directed by Tom Ford of Gucci design fame, and suggested we see it pronto so we hoofed up to the Chelsea cineplex the day after it opened. The movie is based on the book by Christopher Isherwood, the gay English writer who settled in California and wrote, among other things, Goodbye to Berlin, which became the basis of the Broadway musical Cabaret.

I won't tell a lot about the plot except to say the main character is a gay man. The Chelsea cineplex was showing the movie every hour on the hour, and when we went the theater was completely packed with gay men, not an empty seat in the house. Well if you can't do that in Chelsea, where can you?

I would describe it as art film; quiet, slow, beautiful, not a lot of talking, then a lot of talking. When it started it reminded me of a Fellini movie. Though the movie is filmed in color it almost seems like it's in black and white. In it I spotted Richard Buckley, a journalist and Tom Ford's partner, whom I knew back in the day. Colin Firth is George, the single man, and though you may have seen him in Bridget Jones's Diary and Pride and Prejudice, it's though you see him here for the first time. He gives a deeply nuanced performance which yesterday received a Golden Globe nomination.

As befits Tom Ford, the style in this movie is really fantastic. Set in 1963, almost everything, including the clothes and the interiors, is cast in neutrals – greys, browns, white, black. Colin Firth has had a Tom Ford makeover - thin body, handsome haircut, big black glasses, beautiful sharp suits, white French cuff shirts with elegant cuff links. Though George is a college English professor presumably living on a professor's salary, he lives in a gorgeously designed mid-century modern house and drives a swanky Mercedes. President Kennedy is heard on the radio so we are in the same time frame here as Mad Men – and the dashing main character in the grey flannel suit. It's interesting how that moment in history is now at the forefront of popular culture and style.

The amazing Julianne Moore plays Charley, George's English friend.

She is in a relatively short scene but she's one of those actresses who you absolutely cannot take your eyes off of. She too has been nominated for a Golden Globe. TD used to run into Julianne Moore regularly in the bakery on Jane Street; unfortunately, I never had the pleasure. In this movie, the makeup on her eyes is intricate and complex, and her red hair is set in great swoops which swirl around her head, defying gravity. Her fanciful artifice contrasts with her somewhat heartbreaking situation.

Practically the only color in the movie is found in Charley's house. It's entry hall is filled with orange trees and exotic orchids, and her boudoir features romantic print fabrics and soft textures.

The whole movie really is an eyeful. I've been talking about this a lot on the blog recently, but you really see a simplicity here which is an inspiration, the elegance of a well-tailored suit with a white shirt and beautiful cuff links and a solid tie that matches the suit – a style first adopted by Cary Grant. When we got home from the movie, I picked up a magazine and saw an ad for a Tom Ford fragrance, picturing the man himself in a grey suit, grey tie, white shirt and silver cuff links.

It's a Tom Ford world, we just live in it.

Watch the trailer of A Single Man:

I came across an interview on The Daily of Tina Brown talking to Tom Ford. Miss Bell enjoyed it too.

Here is Tina Brown's interview with Tom Ford – it's good:

Tom Ford: "If you can visualize it, you can do it."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Beautiful Thing to the Rescue

This ornament from my youth is decorated with my childhood nickname.

Honestly, I was not feeling in the holiday spirit. The job search has been tough since my work ended at the ad agency after Labor Day. Anyone need an advertising copywriter?! There have been some starts and stops, but in this economy the media business in New York is sort of a disaster and the job search has not been easy or pleasant. But it was time to get our Christmas tree.

We have been getting our Christmas tree for twenty-one years from Billy Romp who arrives every year at Thanksgiving-time from Vermont to sell trees at the the corner of Eighth Avenue and Jane Street. When TD and I first moved in together we lived on the top floor of this building at 35 Jane:

There are window seats in the windows, and one year we looked down and saw a red pick-up truck below and this:

Piles of fresh Christmas trees lining Eighth Avenue like a city forest. That was in 1988, and we've been going to Billy Romp ever since, even after we moved off of Jane Street. On Friday we walked over. It was freezing cold out. We found Billy there, and helping him out was Evan. Evan was the boy who lived upstairs with his parents when we lived at 76 Jane. We attended the celebratory baby shower and remember the day he was born. When the house was sold on Jane Street, Evan and his mother moved to the upper west side. It was great to see him again. He said he's now eighteen, and applying to colleges. Gulp.

We picked out a nice tree and caught up with Billy Romp. Here he is now:

A couple of years ago he published a children's book called Christmas on Jane Street, and I have to say Billy Romp is great at getting the publicity! Just yesterday there was a big article about him and his ex-wife in The New York Times.
Billy trimmed the bottom of our tree and placed it on a cart. We said good-bye until next year and Evan carted the tree home with me to 15th Street.

We carried it up two flights and Evan put the tree in the tree stand. It took a couple attempts to get the tree straight. I really enjoyed catching up with Evan.

When TD got home we put lights on the tree. (We're kind of obsessed with the lights. TD likes them pushed into the tree and I pull them out so you can see them better.)

We got out the boxes of ornaments. We have two large boxes that are kept under the bed. I love our ornaments – there are antiques and things we've made and paper ornaments TD cut out. I stick everything on the tree including small Christmas cards and pine cones and decorations off of presents.

A work in progress.

When it was done I felt better. This tree is really pretty. With a tall slender shape, it fits into our space and reaches up to the ceiling. The colorful lights and all of the ornaments which hold sentimental value make me happy. At night the tree delights my eye. Now I have to chill out. These next three weeks in the business world will be quiet so there probably will not be much happening in the job market. I want to enjoy the holidays and appreciate the moment and be grateful for a life of beautiful things.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Symposium on American Fashion

After I visited the "American Beauty" exhibition at F.I.T, I was invited to attend the accompanying symposium on American Style, which was intriguing. Though I did not attend the entire two-day symposium, which included many noteworthy speakers and talks, I did catch Caroline Rennolds Milbank (above) who spoke about the origin of the American Look, and Kohle Yohannan (below) who talked about two important designers, Valentina (below left) and Claire McCardell (below right).

American fashion occupies an interesting spot in the world of style. In most cases American fashion can't really compare to the fantastic confections and complicated creations which come out of Paris and the French couture. On the other hand, the simplicity, the clean lines, the comfort, the ease and usefulness, the speed of American fashion means that it expresses a modernity all it's own. "Chic is nothing, but it's the right nothing," goes the line. That to me is American style.

Caroline Milbank is certainly a name that I recognize; she has written several books on fashion including Couture and New York Fashion. She explained in her talk that after the American Revolution when the United States was still a newborn country, its people desired a new fashion which was simple and lacked ostentation – the opposite of European royal court dress.

Later of course American style did incorporate opulence. But a simplicity always remained at its core. In the twentieth century Claire McCardle came up with the wonderful American invention of sportswear separates – jackets, shirts, skirts, pants meant to mixed and matched. She created clothes that were for a vigorous, strong, American body. Her designs from the 40s allowed for freedom and movement but were also beautiful and timeless like this draped gown wrapped with a sturdy belt.

Halston, another great innovator in American fashion, further whittled away superfluous elements in the 70s and edited fashion down to pure luxury, like cashmere sweater sets and silk, halter columnar gowns which elongated the body like this one on Marisa Berenson.

You can see threads of Claire McCardle and Halston in contemporary American designers like Michael Kors and Isaac Mizrahi. As for the place that the United States holds in the history of fashion, I thought Caroline Milbank made an insightful comment at the end of her talk about the impact of American style when she said, "It's hard to look at something simple or plain and understand how radical it was at the time."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Get Handsome!

Helping men "Get Handsome" was the recent Pop-up Flea organized by the clever boys at the cool menswear website A Continuous Lean. The pop-up store was located in a space on Mulberry Street in Nolita.

Lots of great vendors who make well-designed and crafted goods were selected and invited to sell their wares. It attracted a stylish crowd, natch.

Down a flight of stairs led to more clothes, shoes, and accessories.

Rogues Gallery was there from Portland, Maine. They make hand-printed t-shirts featuring nineteenth century motifs. I've seen their work before at John Derian.

At the pop-up store you could pick the colors of your t-shirt and ink, and the motif you wanted, and it was printed right then for you. Loved that.

In another room were antiques and collectibles.

The charming J.P. Williams, a graphic designer raised in Alabama and educated at Yale, was selling vintage staplers.

I bought one for my desk. It reminds me of the stapler my great-aunt Zibby had on her desk at 611.

Near the front door were the brothers Bray, Chris and Kirk of Billykirk, the handmade leather goods crafters. My friend Richard Haines at the blog What I Saw Today recently told me about the Bray brothers, who are developing a large and devoted following. The brothers grew up in Minnesota and now make their popular Billykirk leather goods in Jersey City.
Here is Kirk on the right with assistant Madlen.

At the Pop-up Flea, they were making custom double-wrap buckled leather bracelets with a threaded slit. You could choose the colors of the leather, thread and buckle. I chose a dark brown leather with a forest green thread and pewter buckle. Then Madlen made it while I watched.

TD got it for me for my birthday.

Don't you love it when that happens?

Seriously, the Pop-up Flea was great fun and I'm looking forward to the next one. After all, the world can always be more handsome.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ziff's Dazzlers

I was delighted the other night to attend a private viewing of the Tamsen Z jewelry collection designed by Ann Ziff. The event was held at the Alexander Gallery on Madison Avenue at 74th Street, across the avenue from the Whitney Museum of American Art.
I was quite taken with the Alexander Gallery, located on the second floor, which specializes in American and European paintings and antiques.

Salmon color walls, offices with fireplaces, art and antiques everywhere – what a swell place to work.

The view from the party down to Madison Avenue.

In a central gallery, the lady of the hour was showing, and selling, her work to her friends. Ann Ziff started collecting precious beads and stringing them on to necklaces. Her artistry and expertise grew, and now she designs all kinds of precious and semiprecious jewelry. The displays were quite dazzling.

A giant ring featured a glassy green pariaba tourmaline that was cut in an abstract, modern shape and surrounded with diamonds. There was a breathtaking bracelet of white, yellow and brown diamonds on gold filigree so thin it almost seemed like fabric. This is a bracelet of pink sapphires with yellow and white diamonds.

I even like it out of focus: a sparkling confection of riches.

Thin, dangling earrings were made out of sliced meteorite. A dramatic necklace combined opals with Pre-Colombian gold. This necklace of boulder opals is timeless and classic but at the same time the color combination is unusual and exciting.

The designer is not constrained by traditional notions of jewelry. When I ask Ann Ziff about her design style, she says, ""Off the wall' is a little too strong, but I like the unexpected. I'll combine any stone with any stone as long as it looks good." In Spring 2010, she will be opening her own store on Madison Avenue, in the former Bulgari boutique, to be eponymously called Tamsen Z; Tamsen is Ann's first name. I ask her how she feels about opening a jewelry boutique in a troubled economy, and she replies, "My husband was in publishing and he always said that during a bad economy is the best time to advertise." Ziff's late husband, William B. Ziff, Jr., who passed away in 2006, famously built his family's publishing company, Ziff-Davis, into a hugely successful business based on niche publications like Car and Driver, Popular Photography, and PC magazine. The Ziff family sold the publishing group in 1994.

Her husband had encouraged Ann to begin collecting precious gems of her own. Now, she works continually on her designs, traveling with her gems between her homes on Fifth Avenue, in Aspen and Florida. Ann Ziff is her own best advertising. At her party she wears earrings of her design made of three descending discs of emerald, ruby and sapphire pave. They're set off by her dark hair, which is combed back and cut at the chin. Her emerald green silk blouse has a wide collar which frames the face and leads up to her green eyes. Not a lot of makeup. It's simple, refined, beautiful style; modern but romantic too: a Sargent portrait.