Thursday, February 25, 2010

Spring in your step

Is this not what we want: To be able to walk, even trot, stand for awhile, not think, "I wish I hadn't worn these shoes"?

I desire spring shoes that don't summon the dreaded phrase, "comfort shoe", but that I'll wear all day. Time to consider choices while the selection is good.

A heel
that handles a walk

"Guy" herringbone heels from
Accessoire Diffusion, €185. (No sales through web site; see shops on web site.)


Early spring: blueblooded boot

A boot will still serve, but not the clunky winter kind. Belstaff "Agnes" boots, with substantial heel and cushioned sole. $595 from Net-a-porter. Which I will pronounce not-afford-er.


Spring, definitely


One day, "l'hiver, c'est bien fini". These can only be spring shoes! Anyi Lu "Tulip" mid heel is $365 from Arthur Beren and other shoe retailers. Shown in lilac, (see the snakeskin heel and trim on buckle); also comes in a vibrant royal patent and black patent.

The Stuart W
eitzman "Reflex" sandal is going to make that first wearing of blouse, no sweater required, feel even more blissful.

Enough coverage to stay on my foot, bare enough to enjoy the pedicure. Also in black, $275 from Zappos.


Arche "Perina" nubuck sandals in amarante. Worth $350 because you can wash these (they wear wonderfully) and my feet purr. And look at this delectable colour.


Loafers, but not too tough


Cole Haan Air Penny driver
s have that rescue-me Nike Air technology and come in ethereal lemonade, $178 from Cole Haan. Also in flirty nailpolish-pink patent which is not "me" but
captivating on the right woman.



Ballerinas to dance in


Also from Cole Haan (the Maria Sharapova Collection) comes an intelligent ballet flat. I loved the rich blue metallic, the built-up sole and the Nike Air cushioning and support. Price, $138; also in both silver and gold metallics.


Walk like a woman

Joie's "Louie Lo
uie" borrows from boys' brogues but slips on. Slightly transgressive when worn with a dress, and immeasurably more style than sneakers when paired with pants. At Neiman Marcus, $198.

Shown in elephant grey (isn't this a marvelous shade?); also available in cognac.
International shipping (call Customer Service outside N. America).


Nothing against sneakers. Go sneak.

I do know Jack: I want my sneakers unadorned. Converse Jack Purcells, from J. Crew.

White. Navy. Black. $65.




Good for the sole

Tom's ar
e like espadrilles: easy, unpretentious and cool in a not-trying way. And may I add, blissfully unpointy, with arch and heel support.

With every pair you buy,
Tom's gives a pair to a child in need. Shown, the $54 Novia Classic. Tons of patterns and styles on their web site, even shoes for little feet and vegans.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Is that real?"

In a recent post about consumption and connoisseurship, I mentioned that I had been asked this by Kristin, a young colleague, about a ring I was wearing. I responded "No", which was not true. (Shown, ruby ring set in platinum from Shreve, $4,950.)

I felt disappointed with myself for fibbing, and asked "What's that about?"

On reflection, I had several reasons, not all valid:


1. I was uncomfortable with the question and wanted to end the conversation. I was taught to never ask that, and squirmed under her inquiry.

2. I have said "yes", and then had near-strangers say, "Let me see!" I don't like removing and proffering the item.


3. I was working at this organization on a one-year contract. I had heard Kristin's manager make disparaging remarks about other contractors' clothing or accessories: "We paid for that" and "So that's what she does with her fee". I wanted to avoid the judgments that I imagined she would apply.

Anyone who wishes to avoid such censure could wear antique or vintage pieces. No one can tell (not that it's her business anyway) if you dropped your paycheque on that Edwardian pearl pendant or if it was Aunt Emily's. (Shown, Edwardian pearl and diamond pendant from Shreve, $3,950.)

I found it odd that in that culture massive engagement rings were ardently admired, but a piece a woman might buy herself was subject to approbation. And no one asked if an engagement ring was real.

Le Duc thought I was being condescending by withholding the information, but my actions were solely self-serving. I wanted to fly under the radar.

I have changed. I now say, with a smile, "Real". I have a different vantage point at going on 62.

I also no longer remove my jewelry for inspection. I enjoyed the support I received for this recently. "Becky", her manager "April" and I were taking a Starbucks break.
Becky: Oh, I like your pearls, can I see them?

Me: No, I don't want to take them off just now.

Becky: But I want to play with them!

April (to Becky): What are you, a
cat?


For real

14k gold, diamond and sapphire pin, ca. 1940, 1 1/4 inches square, from Aaron Faber, $1,950.


Antique yellow gold and oval shaped moss agate bracelet, ca. 1880 from Firestone and Parson; price on request.



Vintage Cartier diamond-pattern 18k gold articulated bracelet, $3,499 from Dover Jewelry.




Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Outclassed

Last Saturday I tried a new yoga class described as "All levels".

I was apprehensive when I saw the other attendees, gym whippets carrying 0-2% body fat. The teacher arrived, spoke a brief phrase and I could just tell: yoga martinet.

For the next hour, time stood still. I shot bullets of sweat in a 30-foot radius, trying to haul my ample, 61 year old body through an extremely active practice. The teacher came to my mat at the end to ask "How are you?" and I managed to say, Fine. I wanted to say, Please say goodbye to my family for me.

(If you wonder why I didn't leave, walking out of a yoga class is tantamount to disrobing and retching simultaneously. I did pray to pass out.)


I thought longingly of my usual teacher, Sheila, who encourages middle-aged bodies toward strength and flexibility. There's considerable challenge, but no competition or judgment.

I limped out of Saturday's class filled with recrimination for not being able to do it. It's ironic that the winter Olympics (Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger) were playing in the club's lobby; I lack the drive and discipline any one of these athletes has in her baby toe.

When asked to perform over my physical capabilities and I can't keep up, I'm disappointed, sometimes frustrated, but not ashamed. I'm not in the right class.

I hope more teachers (of any physical discipline) make space for women like me in their classes: no longer able to push as hard, but as interested as ever in staying active.

Those are the ones I'll return to for years.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tall order: Streep as Julia

I consumed "Julie and Julia" like a small box of Teuscher truffles– greedily, quickly. But the costumes stayed with me. Not Amy Adams' generic young-professional attire, but Streep's '40s and '50s WASP wear.

For I am a Ju
lia, tall, big-boned, enthusiastically cusineacious. How did the filmmakers present the average-height (5'6") Streep as Child, a towering 6'2"?

The sets were slightly shrunken, benches and counters altered to make her loom. She wore heels the real Julia would have avoided like curdled cream.


Camera angles did their magic, but the costume designers, led by the incomparable Ann Roth, have earned a Costumer Designers Guild nomination for best period costumes (deservedly shared with Catherine Leterrier for "Coco Before Chanel").
A lot of shots cut off Streep's feet so you couldn't see the boosters, or hid them behind props.

Streep wore hidden platforms in her shoes to help her loom above Stanley Tucci. But even more than this stagecraft, I reveled in the formality-within-ease of her clothes. Not one interlock gave its life for Julia's wardrobe.

We were back in the world of woven-fabric blouses, frosted with fine lace. Pants were wool; sweaters, cashmere, pearls permanently in place.

Julia's clothes fit her, despite a large frame. At one point she mentions that she can't shop for dresses with the other expat wives in Paris, because nothing is made in her size. I thought, it's no different today. Her sister must have sent boxes from Peck & Peck.

Not everything evoked a wave of longing. Stiff hats nestled into little pincurled coifs, like those worn by Linda Emond playing haute-bourgeoise Simca Beck, did not call to me.

There is not a false note in the costumes. The Americans in Paris look different that the Parisiens. Streep as Julia evokes my friends and family's attire in the late '50s to mid-'60s, before psychedelic prints and bellbottoms.

I was also captivated by the costuming of Stanley Tucci as Paul Child, especially his bold turquoise ring. Not many straight men would dare this. But Child, a character in his own right, had served in China with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Maybe the ring was a souvenir of that posting.

At any rate, it served as symbol of his suave unconventionality and self-possession. I hope Tucci kept it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cocktails and their parties

Cocktail parties are a pleasure for me, for three reasons:
1. A closet
introvert, I can have a delightful time for several hours, then read a book, all in the same evening,
2. I like to wear semi-dressy clothes and bigger jewelry than I'd choose for a casual dinner, and
3. I just love eating in bite mode. As I age, multi-course dinners are an effort to finish and, if served late, interfere with sleep.

(Business cocktail parties are rarely fun, and not really parties. Many people seem to get into a "max the free drink" mode, which I find boorish.)

It's
also a fond memory. My parents, Bill and Ev, hosted regular cocktail parties. Our house had a bar, which my father called "the chapel" and my mother, "the cardroom".

Black and white harlequin-tiled floor
, white leather bar stools, grasscloth wallpaper, and mural of Clifton Webb in evening clothes, swinging from a lamp-post. Seltzer bottles and silver ice bucket, the alluring, forbidden jar of maraschino cherries. No wonder I feel quite at home in hotel lounges.

Many people think cocktail parties are a lot of work for just a few hours, or that you need staff, but
our friend Jim taught us his trick: make your cocktails in advance.

Use a classic recipe with fresh fruit juices (if called for); multiply a single recipe to get the quantity you need.
C'est tout!

Mix and store them in the liquor bottles or empty glass fruit-juice jars. Make three or four varieties, for example, in colder months we might offer Manhattans, Corpse Revivers (see recipe) and Cosmopolit
ans, and in the summer, Margaritas, Mojitos, Sangria– classics people know. Prep your garnishes in ramekins so they're at hand to pop into the drink, just like the pros.

If the cocktail uses soda or champagne, add that ingredient at the last minute.

We
also have wine, apértifs like Lillet and vermouth and plenty of flat and sparkling waters and fruit juices ready to serve. I'm always looking for fancy, interesting fruit juice blends.

You might also offer mocktails, though my guests prefer Perrier with a twist.
It's important to have a nice glass, with garnish for the Perrier; alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks should be equally fetching.

Any leftover pre-mixed cocktails keep forever in the freezer.
Cocktail nibblies are easy: make trays of smoked-salmon canapes, buy some cheese straws, put out bowls of nuts, cherry tomatoes and sliced saucisson. Or you can make tempting bites like these 101 appetizers you can make in 20 minutes or less, from the estimable Mark Bittman.

Of course there's the glassware and tiny napkins; I have several sets of my parents', and everyone says "Oh, these must be your mother's!" Who makes Pucci-print napkins these days?


After the guests left, my mother would change into a sweeping challis robe, take off her earrings and pop pot pies into the oven for a light supper. Her strategy works well to this day.



Corpse Reviver #2
Adapted from Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh

I
ngredients:
1 ounce g
in
1 o
unce Lillet
1 ounce fresh lemon juice

1 ounce Cointreau

1 drop absinthe or pastis


Procedure
:
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker; fill with ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Are you a guy or a girl?"

Lately, I've been meeting more transgendered (TG) or transsexual people in the workplace– three in the past year, in big-name corporations.

I attended a three-day business meeting recently and met a woman I'll call "Karine". Though she did not acknowledge her transition, a 6 foot 2 inch (190cm) woman with hands the size of table tennis paddles, shoulders like an open car door and a voice unusually baritone suggested I'd just met another.

Over the three days, I made my own transition:

1. Day one: I couldn't stop looking at her, which I noticed and tried to control. Karine was a beauty on a grand scale. How had she achieved that flawless skin, and had she always had full, feminine lips? I thought, If I made the transition to a man, could I do it successfully (in terms of physical presentation)?

2. Day two: I got over my fascination. Karine just became a person. A relaxed, warm, articulate person. As part of a group, we dug into the assigned work; any difference simply evaporated. Well, until she stood up, when I was still awed by her stature.

3.
Day three: By the end of the meeting, everything began to blur, gender-wise. I began to see feminine aspects in some of the men. If we tweaked this and that, many women could look quite masculine.

I wondered, are the two labels–male and female– adequate? The more I looked, the more people seem to be on a continuum, the gender-assignment version of the Kinsey Scale. I thought of George Carlin once saying, "It took two people to make me, a male and a female. The male is just the part that shows."


The last frontier: No gender

Some people challenge what they consider the limiting concept of a binary classification, identifying as bi-gender or genderqueer. OK, I get it, but corporate life does not. They are just coming to terms with TG, let alone No-G.

At one office, we worked with an employee who was displeased by the requirement to identify as male or female, and would answer the direct inquiry, "Are you a guy or a girl?" with a surly "Yes" or "Why does it matter?"

Colleagues tried to accommodate, leading to odd exchanges like:
"You can give that FedEx delivery to the person in the blue shirt."
"You mean the guy over there?"
"Yes. I mean no. Uh, yes."

The person allowed colleagues to call him (I use 'him' because of the attire and
bathroom choice) "Dude", which I guess is gender-neutral, because my sons call me that.

Ultimately the HR department assigned Dude to the pile of employees they privately called "problem children", along with the conspiracy theorist who refused to provide his bank account information and a man who was in some sort of witness protection program. Career advancement is not in the cards if you make life miserable for the system.

For TGs, the way is being paved by employees like Karine. For now, bi-gendered people will have an easier time by presenting as one gender or another in the corporate world. Pick one, I don't care. The culture might shift faster than I think, though.

After the meeting wrapped, I hit the health club– you sit so long at these events– and lo, on the treadmill watching Oprah, saw Kimberly Reed, who had been male from birth through college, is now female, and has written and directed an acclaimed documentary about her experience, Prodigal Sons. I can't wait to see it.

I'm grateful that people can live as the person they deeply believe themselves to be.

I'd like to say to Karine, my interest carries no judgment. Sorry if I stare. And could you tell me where you got those fabulous burgundy boots?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Repurposing Valentine's Day

One of my favourite ads for Valentine's Day featured an enormous pair of diamond studs with the caption, "Yes, it's a stupid, made-up holiday, but it's the stupid, made-up holiday that's important to her."

Well, it's mostly important to people in a romantic relationship. But I have another plan for V-Day, bear with me.


Many men dislike the
obligation to explicitly express their feelings. Some women also say they'd rather acknowledge their ardour when they pleased, not on February 14. Flowers, chocolates, cards: lovers conform, sometimes grudgingly.

Nancy Friedm
an, writer of the excellent blog Fritinancy, has suggested rebranding Valentine's Day, releasing it from Cupidity. (Shown, the suggested graphic from design studio Under Consideration.)

Let's go one step further than rebranding, and repurpose February 14 as a
day to acknowledge the life force of love.

Valentine's Day would become a day to celebrate
anyone you love, in any way. You could play a little longer with your cat, take your elderly uncle to lunch, write a note of appreciation to the best boss you ever had, send a cheque to your favourite cause and thank them for their work. Bring a muffin to the guy at the newsstand who always saves you the last copy of your favourite magazine. Cook her favourite meal for your trying teenager.

You don't even need a personal relationship with your love object: play the music you enjoy (I love you, Tom Petty), read your favourite author, visit the art gallery. Or you could commune before the spirit, in prayer or meditation.

Whatever love means for us, on this day, we would simply reconnect with its power and presence.


This idea came to me because here in Canada, today's a holiday called Family Day, the third Monday in February. Family Day (F-Day?) is not always mashed up against V-Day, but this year it is, and I thought, it's the same thing, really, a day to be thankful for love.


Not everyone has a family where love abounds. But everyone needs love, and why not stop for a day to connect with love in all its forms, from the altruistic to sensual? Sure beats celebrating presidents, pilgrims or Queen Victoria.


You could give me diamond studs some other day.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

There will be gifts: Flowers

I'll be off line until Friday, and will respond to your comments then.

My f
riend Susan sent me a lush bouquet recently, to thank me for a favour. I noticed that she selected some of my my favourites (snapdragons, hydrangeas) to complement the palette of the house.

Giving flowers requires little thought, but giving flowers that delight takes "gift-thought" like hers.

People do have tastes in flowers, as individual as those for food. My friend Vicky once asked me, "What kind of flowers don't you like?" I responded immediately, "An all-yellow arrangement." I was grateful that she asked.

I made the mistake of giving a client a fragrant bouquet that caused respiratory distress the moment she opened the box.

Though people often bring flowers to the host of a dinner party, I prefer to send them ahead, or have delivered after as a thank-you. If you do bring them, choose blooms that can be easily arranged in a vase, like a bouquet of parrot tulips.

Taking the time to shop at a florist's sends you miles ahead of corner-store bucket arrangements. Five green Fuji mums are far more elegant than armful of spongy roses, bloomed-out asters and embalmed greens. Not that I have to tell you, but someone buys this stuff.

A relationship with a florist gets you the tulips that will unfurl over a week rather than those that last two days. Like a great hairdresser, she can make the most of the material at hand and rise to any occasion.

If you don't know what to choose, a florist, hearing "wears lots of turquoise, very informal, has a gold-and-white living room", can nail it.

You don't have to spend big. Your florist will suggest what's in season and can work wonders with a few perfect blossoms. A bud vase of spring's first anemones has more cachet than a bland box of stiff roses. And if you have a flower garden, what a resource! A bouquet of home-grown peonies is one of the most sensuous pleasures I can think of.

If you can't get to the shop, a call to discuss what's fresh will result in a better bouquet than clicking on an product icon. I have sometimes told florists, "I don't want that FTD look" and they know what I mean.

Think
beyond cut flowers. An orchid or pot of cyclamen lasts for many weeks, and can bloom again. If you shop flea markets or jumble sales, pick up some simple glass vases, stow till you need them, and make your own arrangement to present to a hostess.

Explore the language of flowers

The Victorians knew that flowers, singly or in an arrangement, carried a message.
You might enjoy 'encoding' the bouquet you present. Today, little more than the "I love you" of the red rose remains well-known; here are a few more petaled signals:

Anemone- Unfading love
Azalea- Take care of yourself for me; fragile passion

Begonia- Beware

Camellia- Admiration; perfection; good luck gift to a man

Carnation (red)- My heart aches for you; admiration
Carnation (solid color)- Yes

Carnation (striped)- No; refusal; sorry I can't be with you; wish I could be with you

Carnation (white)- Sweet and lovely; innocence; pure love; woman's good luck gift

Carnation (yellow)- Rejection; disdain

Chrysanthemum (red)- I love
you
Chrysanthemum (white)- Truth

Chrysanthemum (yellow)- Slighted love

Daffodil- Respect
Daisy- Innocence

Gardenia- You're lovely; secret love

Gladiolus- Love at first sight

Hyacinth (purple)- I'm sorry; please forgive me; sorrow

Lily (calla)- Beauty

Lily (day)- Coquetry

Lily (tiger)- Wealth; pride

Lily (white)- Virginity; purity; majesty; it's heavenly to be with you

Lily (yellow)- I'm walking on air; false and gay
Rose (red)- Love; I love you

Rose (white)- Eternal Love; innocence; heavenly; secrecy and silence
Rose (pink)- Perfect happiness; please believe me

Rose (yellow)- Friendship; jealousy; try to care

Rose (red and white)- Together; unity
Rose (single, full bloom)- I love you; I still love you


and you can find more here.

Flowers are one of the few gifts that engage all the senses. Yes, the gift is temporary (unless you give a succulent or a dried arrangement, which is a bit too practical), but it's such a graceful gesture.

Well-chosen flowers are unforgettable; I recall the heirloom roses on
our sons' birth, a glamorous orchid given by friends for my 60th birthday, the tangerine double hibiscus brought for our garden planter.

I'd enjoy hearing of some of your memorable flower gifts, and any ideas you have for gifts of this kind.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Old dogs don't wear watches

I'll be off line for until Friday, and will respond to comments then.

The Toronto Globe and Mail published an article by Wallace Immen for those of us 50:
"How Not to Look Like an Old Fogey on the Job" on December 18, 2009.

Preying on the fear and insecurity of the times, the piece counsels old dogs how to hang onto our relevance amid two generation's worth of heel-nippy pups at the office.

In a nutshell, so as not to tax your waning memory: Keep current in technology, don't try to use current slang
(which will not be hip by the time it issues from your snaggletoothed maw), lose the '70s hairstyle, don't slouch. Unless you want to be led to an ice floe, avoid use of any finger but your thumb on your BlackBerry.

But what galled most was the advice to not wear a wristwatch. An accompanying sidebar, "The Dos and Don'ts of Trying to Act Younger" warned,
"Wristwatches have become passé anachronisms for a generation that looks to their phone to tell them the time."

Dadgummit, what in tarnation? Just when I finally got the hang of them Roman numerals. A few days later, the New York Times featured a huge ad for a $150 J. Crew Timex military watch. Guess that's for the young buck to wear when his phone (do NOT call it a "cell phone") is recharging.

Canadia
n image consultant Catherine Bell was one of the experts consulted. She said, "Both women and men should realize that looser versions of what they see in fashion magazines will camouflage bodies that may no longer be in perfect tone."

Anyone know a good tent-maker? For those of you not in my part of the world, Bell's hom
e, Kingston Ontario, is a good gray university town whose other main industry is several large prisons. The local population hardly represent the beau monde.

Although some men and women muster Olympian discipline to stay bow-taut at 50+, do you think that the typical mature body needs to be camouflaged?

I am an older worker, and my age shows; at times I am irrevocably out of it. For a year, I thought it was "Charles" Barkley and called the duo "he". I thought Salvia was an island. I leave voice mail rather than texting, and insist that meetings begin on time.


You are also not to say "in my time", or flaunt your experience. So I'll keep mum about dating Iggy in our teens. But I'm confident that someone still does wanna be my dog.

Do you worry about fitting in with younger colleagues? Do you consciously try to act or look younger at work?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Renata switches to short

One of Scott Schuman's (The Sartorialist) favourite subjects, Italian stylist and journalist Renata Molho, 59, has cut her hair. Renata is widely admired for her elegant/careless look, a sort of Mediterranean Jane Birkin.

Above, Renata in her long mane, the classic mature Italian woman's flag, ca. 2006.


Another shot, in Feb. 2007: long hair, big glasses, flat boot.

In a p
hoto published this month on The Sartorlalist, she's had a cut. Looks like a wavy bob, uncoloured. And similar coat (or is it the same?) to '07's; she doesn't feel the need to change her cocoa-over-cream combo.

It's interesting to see how a different hairstyle changes nearly the same attire.


What is your impression of her in the long hair, and then with the short?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bright-Sided: Ehrenreich vs. the happy face

Barbara Ehrenreich's intelligence and journalism awards did not spare her a harrowing encounter with breast cancer, now successfully treated.

Terrified, bewildered, even more acerbic than usual, she entered a world of teddy bears, pink ribbons and sugary poems taped to examining room
walls. When she expressed confusion and anger on patients' discussion boards, she was scolded for her "negativity" and advised to "work on your attitude"."Cheerfulness is required, dissent is a form of treason", she noted of these web groups.

Wron
g move with Barbara. She decided to take on "the scientific argument for cheer". "Smile or Die: The Bright Side of Cancer" is the first chapter of her recent book, "Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America".

Her world view could be summed up as "In God we trust, all others, bring data". She holds (in her words) a "rusty PhD." in cellular biology but has never lost her scientist's eye for rigor. Combine this with a near-perfect BS detector, and you have a woman not susceptible to hype or snake oil.

If someone believes that

- Positive attitude cures serious disease
- "The Secret" by Rhonda Byrne, with its promise of manifesting what one believes, describes an immutable law
- God wants you to be rich (and will do so after you make donations to an organization), or
- If you work harder and display an upbeat attitude, career success is a sure thing
, then
Ehrenriech wants her to reconsider.


And if you
don't believe it, she has written cogent rebuttals that provide support for your skepticism.

She acknowledges that there is a valid, important place for positivity: likable people get further in the workplace than sourpusses, all of us need support during illness and losses, hope and faith are essential to getting through life. Happy people make more enjoyable colleagues, neighbours, spouses.

But she thinks the promises and patter of unceasing optimism is a shuck, and even more significantly, that adopting a passively positive attitude makes us dumb. We lose our ability to think critically, to ask "Why?", to dig deeper for root cause, to examine claims for evidence.


"Bright-Sided" is unsettling and rabid in some sections. Ehrenreich's conclusions do not always square with mine, but I'm grateful she raises her clarion, contrarian voice.

Here's a six-minute clip in which she comments on her cancer experience and on the "look on the bright side" message often dispensed during job loss:

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

One leaves the nest

This past weekend, one of our 22 1/2 year old twin sons left home to begin his independent life in Montreal. And with his departure, the first rearrangement of our family: we're no longer under the same roof.

Some of you know the bittersweet moment.

He spent the last three days in a whirlwind of packing punctuated by parties.
Then the ride's here, a quick round of hugs, and off.

The boy-to-man cave of his room is as layered as an archaeological dig: snowboard stickers on the desk, wallpaper sprayed with coke stains from a rambunctious sleepover. Little-kid papier-maché animals perched aside dusty karate belts.


We'll redecorate; soon it won't look like a kid's room. But in the present echoey emptiness, I recalled the murmur of bedtime stories, "bonne nuit, bonne nuit and a bumble bee" and a last kiss as the light was turned off. Thumps of bed forts, blare of Green Day, chirp of his phone. See his four
year old feet sticking out from his duvet, nails painted black thanks to an indulgent sitter.

I miss him–though don't want him to miss
us and cope by eating carrot cake in the middle of the day. I love that he took all his books and bookshelves with him.

Off he goes into the world, his world, as suffused with excitement as the photo I have of his first solo trip up the stairs, at just over one year. Two days ago he and his boxes went down those stairs, with the same enthusiasm.

The first thing he and his mates did in his new town is treat themselves to a late night dinner at Au Pied de Cochon, "PDC" to them.

Bonne chance, Etienne!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Buying jewelry, part two: What is 'overpriced'?

What is 'overpriced'?

'Overpriced' means that, given all components of value, the item is too costly.

'Overpriced' is a subjective judgment, and a call you must make unless money is no object. But even if you're a billionaire, getting an appraisal for considerably less than what you paid for your necklace, which happened to Oprah at Bulgari, takes the charm off your purchase.

Is the Skyscraper ring by Harry Winston, shown above, overpriced at more than $350,000, or just the price of poker in certain leagues?

Costl
y jewelry is not necessarily overpriced

You may be stunned by the price of rare opals or a conch pearl, but just because the price is higher than you expect, don't assume it's overpriced. Shown, rare natural 4-carat conch pearl, $3,582 from Pearl Paradise. (Not overpriced in my opinion.)

Some novice buyers compare everything to diamonds, a baseless comparison. Only compare diamonds to diamonds.
(Some maintain that all diamonds, because of the diamond cartel's maintenance of artificial scarcity, are overpriced. But that's not going to stop women who love the gem from buying it, so again, know the value factors including price of different cuts.)

Another newbie mistake is setting a budget, then simply buying a piece that corresponds, regardless of value.


Less expensive pieces can be more overpriced
than higher-priced jewelry.

I've seen mass-produced glass beads strung on tiger tail– not even knotted–selling for three-digit sums at craft shows, incredibly overpriced.

Women go kind of crazy at craft shows, and they see us coming.


Naming names


If you're mad for the brand or a specific piece, you will not agree, and lord knows the stuff sells: David Yurman, Pomellato, a lot of current Tiffany, Cartier, Mikimoto, Bulgari and Van Cleef & Arpels production pieces.

Are those VC&A Alhambra clovers, a dozen or so mother of pearl stations on gold chain, worth over $10,000? Not only do I say overpriced, do I want something so ubiquitously knocked off?

Judith Ripka, Roberto Coin, Gucci.

In short, many of the "fine jewelry" brands like those you'll find at Saks are overpriced.
I'm not saying these aren't pretty baubles, and if you're not dipping into your savings, you may not care. If you're value-conscious, check your local artisans and vintage dealers before shopping the big names.

For prestigious
luxury brands, the quality is very high but you are still paying a hefty 'brand tax'. For example, Verdura, whew, stunning, but worth it?

I'd have to wear some for awhile, and after you resuscitate me from the thrill, would probably decide yes even though part of me knows I'm paying a huge premium for the name.
Starting price for the Maltese cross cuff is around $12,000, and the one shown isn't a starter, honeybunch.

There are other jewelers not named here, both
famous and lesser-known, whose prices do not remotely correspond to materials and workmanship. Perhaps they think highly of their reputations or are confident of our gullibility.

What jewelry brands or designers do you think are overpriced? And who is not?

Signed pieces

Signed pieces by renowned designers will command a premium, and there is a resale argument for them. On the other hand, not all pieces created by the same house are equally valuable. A look at vintage jewelry sites like Beladora, 1st Dibs or Ruby Lane will be instructive; some designers hold their value more than others.

Just like other fine artists, there are unknown jewelers who make beautiful things.
Anyone can sign their work, so "signed piece" alone should not be a selling point.

The brand premium

When you see full page ads, look out. You are paying for them.

A friend recently visited Mikimoto's Hong Kong boutique to buy a pair of pearl studs for his daughter's graduation. He admired their exquisite Akoyas, then visited a well-regarded Hong Kong jeweler without an internationally-known name, from whom he bought pearls of the same quality for over one-third less.

Finding good value

Build your eye by haunting the best vintage jewelery shops and museums; consult books. (Shown, "7000 Years of Jewelry: An International History and Illustrated Survey from the Collections of the British Museum", by Hugh Tait.)

Look for specials and sales. Jewelry is often an impulse purchase. The items I look at ruefully in my jewel box fit this (hefty) bill. Barney's after lunch with wine, oops.

But with some patience you can find good buys. Pearl Paradise, for example, offer monthly specials. This 35 inch 8-9mm, pink to peach AA+ freshwater pearl necklace is currently a $306 special, and I'd say, given their 90-day money back guarantee, an excellent buy if you long to be in the pink.

It is unwise to pay an inflated price for a generic design. Inversely, if the design quality is high, the price will reflect it.

Negotiating price in a shop is an art. I sometimes ask (if speaking with someone I don't know), "Does the boutique have a sale at a given time of the year?" This lets the vendor know that I am price-conscious and willing to wait. She might offer a discount or at very least say, "We always have a sale in August."

When your heart and bankbook are at odds

Because jewelry is usually a luxury item, the price receives more scrutiny than clothing. (Especially from men, I cannot help adding.)

Think of a dress that enchanted you. You probably didn't factor in the cost of materials and production when you looked at the price. You thought instead of how you feel in it, and how often you'll wear it: whether it complements or extends the rest of your wardrobe and fits your lifestyle.

The same "cost per wear" principle applies to jewelry.

A piece might be well-priced and still an unwise purchase if you don't wear it. And the major reason women do not wear their fine jewelry is "What if I lose this?" Get a safety clasp and enjoy!

Linda passed up the lemon quartz honker and is still hunting for her big ring. The more
she looks, the more she's learned. Her choice will be not only a wise purchase, but an enduring delight.