Friday, January 30, 2009

UdeMan: Ian McShane

My favourite f--kin' bad boy!

His role as Al Swearingen in Deadwood made McShane an indelible presence, Shakespearean in tone, Machivellian in bearing.

Menace leavened with occasional flashes of humour and heart.


Except for his animated-film voice work, McShane is rarely sought for nice-guy roles, usually playing gangsters, detectives or conflicted characters.
Most recently, he's appeared on Broadway in the 40th anniversary of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, to rave reviews. (Seeing Ian McShane on stage is one of those Bucket List things for me.)

"The bad boy: always more fun. It's funny. When you're in your early 20s, you go ahead and do everything,... you're playing a 60-year-old in Russian plays, and you get criticized, and you say, 'What the hell, I'm an 18-year-old trying to be a 60-year-old Russian?'

But the bad boy, I had a knack for it from the start."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Notice anything new, dear?


My friend Iris accompanied her husband Doug on a business trip to Vancouver, where she fit in some solo shopping. Iris has deep pockets, but like anyone else, has her limits. She fell in love with a costly silk blouse, and while in that particular trance that can descend when traveling, bought it.

Returning to the hotel, she was overcome with guilt, so she sat in the ba
r, ordered a G&T, threw out the bag, pulled off the tags, and stuffed it in her purse. "Every woman in the place looked at me and knew exactly what I was doing, she said."

She was flying home solo that evening and figured she'd face the music back in Toronto. The next evening, during a catch-up call, Doug said, "There's one thing about this room, it must have been occupied by some oil sheiks before us." "Why?" Iris asked. "I found this receipt for a blouse by the bed", Doug said, "and it was for $700. Who else would spend that much on a blouse?"

Iris owned up when Doug returned, and of course he knew all along. But Iris claims many women either hide what they buy, discount the price they say they paid, or practice some other obfuscation.

Ever since I was once married to a man who plunged us into debt with his binge-spending, I don't do this, but I understand it, especially if one has buyer's remorse like Iris. Or if, like someone else I know, her partner is so miserly that she has to pad her grocery bills to buy basic undies.

And it's not just an device of some marriages; I have a friend who is quite critical when I tell her the price of something (and she asked me). So I sometimes say it was a gift, just to avoid censure. Another acquaintance says when her partner asks, "is that new?", unless it came from the store that very day, she says no.

We all know honesty and communication are cornerstones in a relationship; this usually that means openness about what, exactly, you're buying even when it's your discretionary money.


When we don't admit to spending, what's going on? Is honesty the best policy?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The bequest of quality

After this month's bleak job-loss statistics, I wondered about the relevance of some of my posts. I've decided to keep on writing about beautiful, well-made objects even though some of us (including me) can't afford them.

Fine craftspeople and a
rtists continue creating, despite the times. The same philosophy I endorse about personal style as one ages- that we don't need to look drab, run-down or dowdy- applies to spending.

People are waking up to the old notion that a thoughtful choice, anchored by the requirement for quality is far more prudent than buying an aspirational, over-priced brand. And if the times mean buying nothing, it's time to reach into the closet and hope what we've chosen is durable and pleasing for the duration.

A friend's father bought a English-made navy suit in his late 70s. "This will see me out", he told her. Though unnerved at this reference to death, she understood his values: buy the best you can afford and make it last. Dr. E. wore the suit for twelve years; his grandson wears it now.

Some of the most-desired vintage clothes, jewelry and objects were made during the Depression and recessions. Talent is not dictated by the economy.
People joke that the clothes they have now are the ones they'll have for life. If that were so, would you enjoy your wardrobe?

My m
other, married in the depths of the Depression, had thrift and caution as life-long companions. She made aprons from my old skirts. When the aprons wore out, she made potholders from the scraps. But she'd buy an emerald silk velvet evening cape, or a loden-cloth coat that lasted for decades.

When prosperity returned, she never reflexively bought just because she could; she craved beauty and insisted on quality.


My purpose in showing a breathtaking ring or elegant cashmere is not to urge "recession-beating personal spending"; I doubt that's as effective as some economists think.

It's to lift the spirits and celebrate the gifts of artists in our time, and before.
To remind us to choose with care, enjoy what we have, and perhaps leave to the next generation.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Gifts: Valentine's Day and beyond

Whether low-key or lavish, Valentine's Day is an occasion to tell someone that you cherish him or her. (An ad I saw last year said "Yes, it's a stupid, made-up, commercial holiday. But it's her favourite stupid, made-up commercial holiday."

Some give gifts; my husband and I exchange a card, or he might bake a heart-shaped cake. My Dad once gave my mother a box of Cuban cigars for Valentine's Day but she got him back on his birthday, March 31, with a set of china.


A friend asked for some ideas for her true love, Joe, on a budget of under $100 (not including shipping), in time for Feb. 14 delivery, but these could also be given for upcoming birthdays or other celebrations.


Soft touch
Sat
een down blanket from Garnet Hill, double size (was $188, now $88).

Ruggedly handsome
Dickie's Duck Blanket lined jacket, $51 from Dickie's.

Bright blooms for your yard
A bag of tiger lily mix seeds, $15, from van Bourgondien.

Siren song
Half the Perfect World, Madeleine Peyroux, $15
.


Brush with fame Frederic Fekkai travel brush, $55 from Bergdorf Goodman.


A classic
1958 Pontiac paperweight or desk t
rophy, $45 from Great Expectations Antiques.


Flutter-by
Green Congo Swallowtail (origin, Africa). Wingspan, 31/4 inches, $64 framed from Butterfly Utopia.

Biker guy
Ideal for in-town riding, Rapha Fixed Long-Sleeve Tee, $65,
f
rom La Bicicletta.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Retro/mod: The time is here

If you like tailored, minimalist styles, but are ready for making a statement with your jewelry (and honeybunch, after 50, it's time), here are some standout pieces from Arnold Lawrence.

The '50s and '60s are usually referred to as 'retro' and 'modern' but items of the finest craftsmanship are timeless, and a relatively good buy now, since they are not yet "antique". People deciding to sell family pieces in the current meltdown will be parting with some retro treasures, so build your eye and piggy bank now.

18k yellow gold '60s mod bracelet, $3, 500.


Blue e
namel and 14k gold cup ring with 'en tremblant' (moving) 5mm diamond (about a half-carat), $2, 250. A raffish cut above the me-too diamond, and a good buy. Lawrence does not give cutting grade or colour for diamond, but says it is fine. (More photos on the site). I'm captivated by this ring!


A classic ruby and sapphire bracelet set, 1950s, by Sophia D. $9, 500 for both. 75 French-cut stones per bracelet, set in platinum.


Not in my budget, but building your eye this way will help you separate the exquisite from the ordinary in retro pieces beginning to flow into the vintage jewelery market.

Friday, January 23, 2009

David Chilton on need, greed and habit

An article in the January 10, 2009 Toronto Globe and Mail's Business section, "Professional cheapskates give their 2 cents on coping during tough times", offered some good advice and reminders. I'm not linking it because that cheapjack rag will charge you $4 to download.

David Chilton, author of The Wealthy Barber, says,
"The single biggest mistak
e people make in financial planning is buying more stuff. Not convinced? Help a friend move- conspicuous consumption has overwhelmed us."

It's a rather chilling exercise to review what I bought over the last six months, and ask myself if I needed it. What about those patent flats I bought in Paris, that nestle unworn in their flannel bag? ("Don't you have about ten pairs of black shoes?" Le Duc asked when I bought them, but did I listen?)

If one has the means, there's more to life than strictly need; beautiful objects or sensory pleasures are on sale a
t every turn. There are times when beauty lifts the spirit, sustains us. No, I don't need a lush fuscia cyclamen, but I'll enjoy its bloom for weeks in this bleak winter.

It's the just-another category that I want to expunge. One of my girlfriends saw me at a holiday party. She admired my new sweater and said, "Oh, I've seen that skirt before."
In fact, I wore it for the first time that evening. But I have several so similar, how could she tell?

I'm determined to consume more thoughtfully, to reduce not only expense and clutter, but also because I feel lighter and happier when I wake from the trance of more.



Thursday, January 22, 2009

Queen, times three

The New York Times featured a profile of Queen Latifah, "Her Highness Still Rules" recently. Though it's close to the standard puff piece, it does acknowledge The Queen's past mis-steps, strong will and canny business head.

Though I admire her talent, it's this photo that stayed with me, simple, almost severe, arresting.
The shot, by Robert Maxwell, highlights her impeccable bone structure and signature burnished skin.

If you've seen her Jenny Craig pitch, she's "a size healthier" and has lowered her blood pressure 20 points.

Left and below, shots of Latifah in full "thick girl" (her term) mode: sassy, elegant, beacon of esteem for women larger than the average.

In an era of weight-obsession with the stick figure, I enjoy seeing a voluptuous woman take her place on the stage.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Moissanite: Good diamond sim or flash in the pan?

In my post about CZs, I mentioned moissanite, and it deserves its own moment in the diamond-simulant sun.

Moissanite, a mineral, is nearly as hard as diamond (9.25 on the Mohs hardness scale, compared to diamond's 10). Its durability, compared to CZ, is one of the few real benefits of the material. La
b-grown by Charles & Colvard (C&C), who hold the US and international patents, it has been promoted as a stone in its own right, rather than simply a diamond substitute. When it was first marketed, there was a kerfuffle abut jewelers being fooled. This is no longer the case.

Does it look like diamond?

Yes, in smaller sizes, up to around 75 points (three-quarters of a carat). As the stone gets larger, moissanite's darkness (like a J-K diamond) and its particular light-dispersal qualities (known as "doubly-refractive") become evident, and in sizes about 1 ct. it looks hazy, yellowish or grayish. It's hard to generalize, because diamond cuts vary so widely, but a moissanite 's fire (known to gemologists as dispersion) looks 'chunkier', producing too much flash of colour, compared to the arpeggio play of beautifully-cut diamond.

Though I have seen several attractive pieces, I'm not drawn to their concur
rent flashiness and flatness.

Is it worth the price?
At around $500 per carat, moissanite is marketed as a desirable stone in its own right, but I'm not sold. Because the producer sells to retailers, you are unfortu
nately stuck with how they set it, though you can buy loose moissanite. Therefore, nearly all set stones I've seen have a generic look.

Here's an exception, a mokume-gane engagement and wedding ring set (shown with the man's band, above) from Diamond Peak Goldsmiths, of Fort Collins, Colorado, that shows what can be done by skilled designers.

Moissanite from C&C can be recut. One online jeweler says (on a discussion board, www.simstalk.com), "Because C&C cut their stones to maximize profit, they are shallow in crown and depth."


Good CZ looks better because it's whiter, and well-cut white sapphire (starting around $300 per carat) is striking, but not as lively. GGG (Gadolinium Gallium Garnet), is also praised by gemologists for it's diamond-like look, but too soft (6.5 on the Mohs scale) to wear in a ring.

My take:
Buy worry-free CZs for far less, enjoy the ease, and spend the difference elsewhere, or save for a conflict-free Canadian diamond. Retail diamond prices are forecast to decline by about 15% this year, but I predict more significant bargains in the vintage market.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Princess Dollars and the allure of incentives

There's this Stompin' Tom Connors song that goes, "We'll save a lot of money spendin' money we don't have."

I thought of it when I bought this absolutely necessary pair of Thierry Rabotin slingback heels on sale, for a party last weekend. I was given a $65
off coupon, good till January 30. I immediately beetled to the rest of the sale shoes, racks and racks of brands I like (Rabotin, Arche, Anyi Lu, Cole Haan) to see what else I could buy. That coupon was like a triple shot of espresso to my wallet.

Just a little minute. I don't need another pair of shoes, and I'd blast through over $200 even at the sale-plus-coupon price.

The coupon was bait for Princess Dollars; you know, when you get a $400 jacket for $80, like the brilliant shopper Deja Pseu, and then figure you have "earned" $320 Princess Dollars to spend on something else, not that Pseu was pseuduced by this incentive.

And if you have that mental $320 (theoretical) savings, and then they add a sweetener... whoosh, spending frenzy!

What Princess Dollar bait works best on you? Buy One, Get One Free? Private Sale? Coupon with minimum purchase? (I am totally hooked on Scratch n' Save because I once got 80% off.)

As we begin to refuse to carry so much debt, marketers have to find more alluring and novel enticements.

My favourite is a local prepared food store who offered free manicures and martinis on Friday evenings, if you spent $30.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Will I miss you when you're gone?

Last December, a friend told me Talbot's would be closing all of its stores. Turned out to be a rumour, but I worried.

When a pair of dependable work pants suddenly shows a shiny seat, where can I get a quick replacement?
I ordered three pairs of pants online, but none fit. That's a familiar gripe: no standard cut, unlike like the revered Banana Republic Jackson-fit pants. I returned to merely tolerating Talbots. Close, for all I care.

A recent article in the New York Times reported Saks had a 20% drop in business over the holiday season, and noted desperately, "and this is when consumers
had to buy somebody something." More closings, of both independent retailers and chains, are forecast for early 2009.

I began to think,
"What stores in my city could I not live without?"

1. Alexia vo
n Beck and Clothes, by Muriel Dombret
Two small, independent designers who make practically every item they sell. (Clothes is in Ot
tawa, but with trunk shows here).

2. Ron White Shoes
I like to try on shoes and not bother with mailing back what doesn't work, and they carry the brands I wear.

Two. That's it.

Otherwise, I can get things online or while traveling. Trekking to a store is less appealing with every passing year. I'd rather pay postage to return a jacket from an online vendor than fight traffic, pay for parking, and return home exhausted.

Occasionally a spin through a high-end department store rekindles the avid joy of my teen years, but mostly it's an endurance contest. Better to try a dress at home with decent lighting, your own accessories, and no sales pressure.

What stores in your town would you absolutely miss, if they closed?


Photo: Popsy Johnstone wearing an Alexia von Beck coat, retrieved from The National Post; photo by Peter J. Thompson

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dressing to please your true love

When Deja Pseu posted this photo on her wonderful blog, Une femme d'un certain age, I asked LeDuc his impression. He replied with a string of one-word impressions: "Getup-y. Eccentric." He paused to study the photo further. "Neat. Bohemian. Sexy? God, no. Looks like a very stylish nun."

Then he said, warmly, "Not like
you."

Occasionally, I've bought someting that's received compliments from my stylish girlfriends, but left him cold. After a few wears, it hung forlorn in the closet. These items were inevitably from the intellectual Japanese-y end of the style continuum, or had that Eileen Fisher too-comfortably-cut look. (Le Duc derides Eileen Fisher. If I bought a piece I'd have to cut the tags out.)

Now, your sweetheart might adore you in EF, or Comme. Great! Every shoe finds its mate, as they say, and what one "should" wear is not my mission. I dress for my guy, because it is one more way of delighting him.

I never converted him to rigourous, oddly-cut clothes. He still teases me about a cavernous black Japanese coat I wore when we met, roughly the proportions of a storage shed. He has, over 20-some years, shaped my taste toward the more body-conscious. Always a bit modest, I ventured toward more décollete once I m
arried the man I wanted looking there.

Many years ago, after I returned from one of those outlet-mall trolls with my mother, he suggested that I buy better clothes instead of the trunkload of barely-bridge "bargains" we'd scored. I knew in my heart he was right, as long as he would not fade when I revealed the cost of an upgrade.


He likes discreet, fine clothes (Jil Sander), arresting colour (Hermes) and impeccable tailoring (Max Mara). He's never chosen something for me that I don't like, though occasionally forgets my voluptitude and buys me some
thing like a clingy Donna Karan cashmere dress that no amount of Spanx will solve. My only stubborn point of difference is that I'll wear heels only on state occasions.

He say
s his ideal women is Fanny Ardent (and strangely enough, people tell him he reminds them of her current partner, Gerard Depardieu.)

While I would like to say I dress to please
myself, I dress to please him, even if I'm not seeing him that day. That's amore!

For whom do you dress? Does that style also please you?

Friday, January 16, 2009

I am sorry but I must cancel lunch today

I was to have lunch recently with my friend M., one of the three friends who lost their jobs in the first days of '09. The morning of the day of our appointment, she e-mailed to say she was "not going to be downtown long enough" to fill the morning before lunch, was "not very good company" and "did not want to inflict herself on me".

The header on the e-mail was "Snow day". The weather was cold, with light snow, but hardly an impediment to travel, and no storm was forecast.


This is hardly an isolated incident with her. A glance at my calendar shows that she cancels almost one-third of our dates, usually the day of the event.
But the fact is, she is presently devastated by her job loss. The catalog of excuses and lack of consideration are symptoms of her distress. It's probably not the time to expect anyone to behave graciously.

The
frequency of her cancellations is another matter. That's something I'll discuss with her when she's feeling better. Some people are casual about canceling social dates, or are unconcerned when others do so. I'm neither. I'm understanding about the occasional illness, double-booking or work crisis, but if it becomes a habit, call someone else.

Yes, Duchesse shows her stern side. Style is not just a matter of the cut of your clothes, it's also about the fabric of your relationships. If we want our friends to "be there" for us, I would like them to make an effort to show up for their dates with me.


Updates on the other two friends:

J. (the salesperson) got a lawyer and received better deal; her initial severance was two months and the new offer is seven; she accepted. J. says she can make that money last a year. She's considering a career change, and has applied at several artisanal bakeries.
C. (the banker) is busy activating her network.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Winter blues and paler hues

It's so easy to wear darks all winter, to bury myself in a cloud cover of blacks and grays. But when I saw this picture on The Sartorialist web site, I realized what a lift lights can be in winter. The glammy Parisienne garnered plenty of compliments, and she made me rethink what's wintry.

She's in Paris: no snowbanks, no -18C (as it is here today) with -35C windchill, and she's probably wearing fi
ne leather boots or even street shoes. Still, she made me think, is it necessary to dress in only sombre tones in winter?

Though her head-to-toe pale palette screams "I don't worry about dry cleaning bills" and I do, I'm still inspired to hunt for a few accessories to break up the gloom.

House of Ireland palest gray cashmere scarf, $64.

Gotta get out of the black coat. How about this Marc by Marc Jacobs pink short wool jacket, far left below, $550 from Net-a-porter?
For less obvious cloning, I liked this Blumarine shawl collar puffer jacket, near left, which escapes the suburban carpool look by virtue of great details, $799 on sale at Saks online.

In Canada, fur is practical. Really, this lavender mink stroller would be so useful to me. I'm swooning over all the colours offered (black, blue iris and this luminous pale lavender).

Think how it would
light up a frozen Friday night. Purrr, only $3, 900 from La Fayette Furs, which I could about swing by saving on cleaning a white jacket.

Yo
u'd be crazy to wear pale wool pants in our heavy winter weather.

But these heavy cotton city cords are $19.99 on sale at J. Crew, in saffron or ivory. The inevitable salt stains and splatters launder out. At this price, a couple of pairs are not going to hurt even if they last only for the season.




Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Lost and found

I just lost a favourite scarf, an orange wool rectangle with Tintin and Milou embroidered on one end (we are a reverent Tintin family). Unless it turns up at my friend Alice's, whom I visited a few weeks ago, but who is traveling now, it is mysteriously gone.

When I lose a beloved, familiar object, there's a sequence: the initial sinking, the reminiscence, the futile hope that it might still turn up, the eventual wistful letting go.

About five years ago Le Duc gave me a beautiful turquoise ring on Christmas. The next day I wore it to a yoga class at my health club, removed it along with my watch, and left both in the studio when class ended. I never saw them again. My distress was deepened by knowing that somebody must have picked them up, and ignored my pleading signs (with offer of reward) for their return.

Belette mentioned the sick feeling she had losing a diamond bracelet she loved. I had immediate empathy: I've felt that specific nausea, a depth of regret that I judge as superficial- it's only a thing, after all- but cannot shake.

Scarves, gloves and umbrellas are loss-prone, but I have also lost jewelry, books, bags, and the odd article of clothing. The moment of acceptance, that it is utterly gone, varies from minutes to months.
Replacing the article does not circumvent mourning.

Some stow objects in a safety-deposit box or pack them away, chanting "what if, what if". But it might as well be gone already, as one is held hostage to the fear of loss. You know you have, but cannot enjoy, the possession. In Anne Tyler's "The Accidental Tourist", Macon Leary advises the traveler to "journey with nothing he could not bear to lose".

Caution is fine, but being fearful is chokes off life, sentences us to the sure and safe.

I've had marvelous moments of found: going to the Lost & Found at the same health club and having my faith redeemed. Someone kept my ring and watch, but another person (I assume) turned in an antique lizard brooch that fell off my sweater.

A cabb
ie drove 25 miles to return a sport coat my nephew left in his cab. I wouldn't dream of "finder's keepers", knowing how deeply I have appreciated these acts of kindness.

I wish I would find my scarf.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I Like Mamie

As inaugural fever revs up in the US, I thought of the first inauguration I remember, that of Dwight Eisenhower in 1953. The First Lady's ballgown, as usual, captured the public's attention, but Mamie Doud Eisenhower inspired more than look-alike dresses.
The gown's colour, "Mamie Pink" entered the psyche as one of the defining hues of the American 1950s.

At age five, I remember nothing of the actual event, but for decades we lived with the shade that captivated my mother. Dad was a Stevenson man all the way, but he bowed to Mom's taste in decor. She was renovating the house, so we got a Mamie Pink-tiled bathroom with matching fixtures. Another bathroom was done in a discreet gray that Dad called "Adlai Gray", and the third in an equally-'50s seafoam that went nameless.

That gown, by Nettie Rosenstein of New York, of silk finished with over 2,000 rhinestones, would look beautiful worn today.

Mrs. Eisenhower adored pretty dresses, was game for striking accessories, and had a rather daring eye. Look at this hat she wore to the swearing-in ceremony!


She did have one unfortunate style signature,
very short bangs. To this day, I tell mostly uncomprehending hairdressers "don't make me look like Mamie Eisenhower". Apparently she had advice about her 'do, but just ignored it, and kept that style for sixty years.

Mamie aged very graciously; I think she looked best in her senior years, when she often wore tur
bans and bold jewelry.

I may make it a mission, when I am 70, to bring back the turban; think of the earrings you can wear!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Garance Doré on how to look like a French woman


Those whose hobby is parsing French womens' style, and can read some French, will enjoy Garance Dore's January 10, 2009 post.

She responded to a request from an American reader's request to help her "look French", and asked her many readers to add their instructions.
About 75% replied in French, with a few English entries.

You'll see some echos of familiar responses, and a lot of business about
stripes.

A comment I especially liked, from Félie:

"La femme française, c’est l’audace de bon ton.
La désinvolture.
La confiance en soi : elle sait ce qui va la mettre en valeur, et c’est là son plus grand atout.
Une grâce particulière qui tient à ce mélange entre classicisme et baroque, entre sobriété et sophistication, entre négligé et recherche.
La femme française n’est jamais TROP.

N’est-ce pas aussi ce qui caractérise l’esprit français, ce sens de la mesure ? Cette manière d’assimiler subtilement les influences pour créer un tout harmonieux, impeccablement dosé, qui est envié partout dans le monde?
"