Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Young adults' recession response

After a dinner party with two couples, also parents of young-twenties children, I re-read an article from the NYT: "Home Economics: What the Great Recession has really done to family life" by Judith Warner, here.

My parents, married in 1931, had little nostalgia for the Depression.
Though they passed their Dirty Thirties lessons on (save for a rainy day, don't buy on credit, help those worse off), they were delighted when Dad was paid in cash again, rather than with chickens and potatoes.

Today, when families say they're closer now that they've replaced ringside seats with board games, I think, Good for them. But
I wonder whether their young adult children will desire their families' scaled-back lives, once they are in the workforce.

Many of my sons' contemporaries have chosen the professions–especially law and engineering–not for love of the field, but for future financial gain. These kids seem to be thinking, If job security is a thing of the past, better get into a highly-paid profession.

I don't see many twenty-somethings aspiring to a reduced lifestyle. They want what they enjoyed growing up in prosperity, whether they spent their summers at the cottage or worked for decent pay at a seasonal job.

To paraphrase Sophie Tucker, they may be thinking, I've been a rich kid and I've been a poor kid; believe me, honey, rich is better.

Many middle-class young adults, raised on easy credit and immediate fulfillment of consumer desires, were value-programmed way before the 2008 recession hit. 


A few are saving turtles in Costa Rica or studying Anglo-Saxon poetry; altruists, artists and intellectuals endure. But among friends' children, I see fewer choosing to follow bliss and more prepping for the LSAT.

This recession, with the pain and loss that Warner describes, will create a cohort determined to get back to where they once belonged, whether it's the local half-pipe or Aspen.


I hope that, as they plot their financial future, they examine their values closely, rather than endorsing those of my maxed-out generation.

Perhaps they can hit the sweet spot many of us missed: a life of prosperity
and responsibility.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gift ideas: Big heart, little cost

Many people tell me they could give the perfect gift if they had a lavish budget.  Dispirited by financial challenges, some resort to a Starbucks gift card.

I literally don't buy that. There are ways to celebrate with a personal touch, for less than the price of a venti caramel machiatto. Each gift below takes some effort, but I haven't suggested anything that takes huge talent, loads of time or costly materials. 

Some may already be old favourites of yours, and I'd appreciate more suggestions.

1. A poem or short prose selection

Melanie presented a friend with Mary Oliver's poem "The Journey", written on a card on which she had also photocopied an image of her recently-sold cottage; the friend said it was her most treasured gift.

Buy a piece of heavy card stock, even cardboard or posterboard can work. If you need to trim it, take it to a print shop and ask to use their paper cutter.

Your "calligraphy" does not have to be ornate, just legible and done in your hand (or that of someone willing to help you); computer-printed text is soulless. You can also decorate the piece with collage, stamped or drawn designs.
Handwritten copy of a poem



2. Peppermint foot scrub

 Everyone gets those rough winter feet. This recipe can be used as an exfoliating scrub or mixed with water as a soak. Pack in a recycled jar, or look for antique-style canning jars at Goodwill.
Peppermint foot scrub

Mix together:
1 1/2 cups fine sea salt
1/3 cup olive oil
3 drops peppermint essential oil (or a few drops of your favourite scent)

 3.  An exquisite natural object
Dried roses
The raven feather hung on a branch; the pebble oiled and sealed to keep its sea-shine; the leaf waxed and framed. (Goodwill always has frames).  A vase (again, thrifts are stuffed with them) holding a lavish tangle of dried seed pods and bittersweet. Nature has treasures on offer daily.

A dried rose bouquet from your garden makes a romantic gift; Simple Gifts Farm has an excellent tutorial here.
Peanut butter and choco
4. Buckeyes

Buckeye candies are not without cost, but the ingredients are not high-end. They take only fifteen minutes to make and are addictively unctuous. Here's the recipe, courtesy of AllRecipes.com.

A great gift to whip up if you're in a hurry, but if you have time, buy little paper candy cups.


5. Bird house
Folk art bird house

Okay, this is a kid's project, but with the right attitude, it's folk art. And who is not a bird lover? It costs but pennies for the glue, paint (use any leftover neutral) and fishing line– and you can corral some kids into collecting twigs. 

One of my friends made this more arty by wrapping coloured thread around sections of some of the twigs.

Big spenders can throw in a bag of bird seed. Directions right here.


6. Pomander ball

I enjoy making and giving this old-fashioned gift that makes a house smell wonderful without the worry of candles. You can use orange (the thick-skinned varieties), lemon, lime or even a small grapefruit; the scent lasts for years. Start two weeks ahead, to let the ball dry fully in a sunny, airy spot before you give it. 

Pomander
Buy your cloves at a bulk store, and use a skewer or awl to make the holes first. Directions here.

You can make a few while you watch TV, kids enjoy helping, and unlike the Buckeyes, you won't eat them.

There, these beat a corporate gift card all the way! And no one will be giving the exact same thing, either, unless I've unleashed some Buckeye and birdhouse mania.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"B" snuggly: Winter resources

Winter essential
In chilly Canada, winter hosiery means high-denier, well-made tights, and those are pricey. I'm talking Donna Karan, never mind Wolford–at least $20 a pair. I have walked through the toe in a day.

By March, I've stuffed a drawerful–and what do you do with one-legged pantyhose? (Would that be a pantyho?)

I've found a frugal cheat: Under pants or a calf-length skirt, I wear knee-high opaque socks and capri-length silk long underwear. Easily replace the sock; the capris are warmer than tights and far more durable.

Secret weapon
Silk pointelle longjohn capris ($33, free shipping now) from LL Bean are available in misses' and women's sizes in black, ivory and mocha.

If you travel, the capris and marching scoopneck top are indispensable anywhere that doesn't provide reliable heating, and in a pinch, they make good pjs. Throw into a lingerie bag to launder.

Fuchsia sheepskin slips
A fond mention too, for Bean's Wicked Good Moccasins, a family essential. This year they come in more colours, including Fuchsia, shown, and my favourite, Vintage Red. Price, $50.


Winter boots are another problem: what's warm, doesn't look like you've hopped off your snowmobile and are not so expensive that you'll be paying for them in July?

Short shearling wedge
I'm crushing on these these genuine shearling-lined, camel suede boots with funky wedge heels and discreet traction soles. With jeans or a skirt, cool but toasty.

You are never going to believe who make them, Eddie Bauer! Price, $169 with free shipping. (Okay, you gotta spray 'em, but they're worth the effort.)
Biker boot in cordovan


For those in more temperate locales or for indoor wear here, Bauer also sell a surprisingly sleek pair of distressed leather biker boots in cordovan, a hard to find colour, with nickel hardware and a sculpted but not too-tight toe. Well-priced at $199 and also available in a rich grey and classic tan.
Blundstone winter model
I'm devoted to the nerdy, endearing Blundstone for casual wear. There's a new winter model (#560) this year with Thinsulate interior, sheepskin insole and slip-resistant sole. The specially-treated leather is impervious to slush (just wipe off).

In Blunnies, I stride by many a woman picking her way over icy sidewalks in stilletto boots– but I admit she looks sexier from the knee down. Price, $190 from the Australian Boot Company and other sellers.


And don't forget the last–and most stylish–B: Bompard offer four more days of that 20% off sale! (There will be a sale the first week in January, but last year everything I wanted was sold out.) Shown, reversible 100% cashmere scarf in new camel and flame orange, €114.






Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Duchesse breaks bad

I was given a marijuana-laced cookie last summer as a ribald birthday gift. Stuck it in the freezer, forgot about it till recently.

In the spirit of experimentation, I decided to eat it when Le Duc and I settled in to watch "Breaking Bad" on DVD.

Perhaps it was Walter White's adventures on the dark side that instigated my desire to do something slightly transgressive. (Our house has hosted its share of pot-smokers, but I don't smoke anything, and my last experience eating it went back four decades.) 


Cute little SkorBa
r cookie, what harm could it do? I nibbled half (best be on the safe side) and settled in to watch Walt battle disease and deceit.

In less than an hour, the walls glowed, the sound boomed and swooped–and we were watching on a laptop. Uh oh.

I cast my mind back and realized I was stratospherically high. When I informed Le Duc, he said, "Really? You'll be OK in a little while, but right now you just need to distract yourself. I'll go downstairs and download some of those Anthony Bourdain shows you like." ("No Reservations", how ironic.)

I lay there, waiting– he did not. Not. Not. Return. Oh my God, I thought, he's gone out and I'm stuck here in this state
! My paranoia spun dire scenarios while the walls hulaed. Where is he, where is he...what's in this cookie, maybe it's laced with something else?

I couldn't read, couldn't walk to the bathroom and kept reciting my address, just in case. (I didn't know what case, but it seemed wise.)

The hours seemed to drag. Whom should I call when I can't even speak
?

In fact, six minutes had elapsed.


The cookie wore off gradually while an ecstatic Bourdain lay merry waste to mounds of Brittany's glorious seafood, lacy crepes, buttery pastries. 

Unlike this chef who eats anything and never gets sick, the cookie and dinner ended up in the toilet.

Breaking bad, not so good. I've returned to my drug of choice, Lindt Fleur de Sel chocolate bars.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cashmere truths and consequences

Cashmere sale alert: Eric Bompard have a selection of styles for men and women at 20% off, till November 28. (I recommend Bompard cashmere for the quality, style and colours, as well as quick mail-order service.)

Cashmere is a deep topic for me, a woman living in a region (Southwestern Ontario) with general climactic ugliness at least half the year.

When I rise and put on a cashmere, I can face icy winds, clammy offices or sleet-hammered streets secure in its protection.

Shreddy, shapeless cashmere is an affront to a northern person's equanimity.

Read this terrific piece on cashmere quality, written by SimplyCashmere with an understandable bias toward Scottish product. Finally, a solid technical explanation of why a top-quality cashmere is still a luxury purchase, and why so much cashmere disappoints.

Nonpareil cookie
Pills are the bane of cashmere; the effect irks anyone who's dropped serious coin only to end up looking like she's wearing a nonpareil.

I'm reluctant to identify low-pill brands, because some makers change their quality season to season, or use different types of yarn in various models. When a sweater pills, wash and dry it, then remove the little balls gently, by hand. (A shaver weakens the strand.)

High-quality cashmere can last decades, if the moths don't attack. Below, special pieces offered by innovative makers.

With one exception, prices are high, but as SimplyCashmere's cri de coeur reminds us, one fine sweater is worth a stack of shreddies.


Bompard tweedy cardi
Eric Bompard's tweedy cardigan in pepper brown and feather gray, a Chanel look, but in a lush, substantial 6-ply knit; price, €368.

Belinda Robertson jacket







If you're a hard to fit size, or long for something unique, visit Belinda Robertson's site and select Black Label, her bespoke service.

From the regular (White Label) collection, this chic Jacket with Patch Pockets, price, £290.

Ballantyne are famous for quality and for intarsia styles, as well as classics. If you are a dog lover, you will warm to this Westberk style, available by mail from Berk Cashmere.

The price, a significant £693.40 (exclusive of VAT) reflects the technical demands of the technique; the Ballantyne intarsias are prized by aficionados.
Ballantyne Westie intarsia








Cashmere and feathers!
The Italian house Marlowe does not sell online; they have boutiques in Toronto, Chicago and San Francisco. Like their nearly-homonymous countrymen Malo, their pieces are treasures– so I wanted to show this cashmere and feather sweater for inspiration.

No idea how to clean it, but there must be a way... perhaps I'll have to stop by the local shop to ask.



J. Crew double funnelneck
Why are J. Crew among this chi-chi crowd? Because they offer some superb designs for the price (though the quality varies). Their Elette cashmere cardigan features a double-funnel neck collar that folds up or down; price, $225.

Even if you are in a warmer climate, you may find as the years pass that cashmere makes sense. Your body temps fluctuate, and air conditioning can bother you more than it used to.

No more hot flashes– and I don't miss those– but I'll  welcome the "warm flash"– the soft cuddle of cashmere any time. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

J'ai passé une soirée difficile

Last week, I had the pleasure and minor terror of attending a surprise birthday party in the company of a group of people I'd never met, except for Birthday Boy, Serge, and his copine, Annie, our hostess.

Everyone but me was French, and since you and I are avid observers of French style, a short report on the 50-something female guests: straight to skinny jeans tucked into boots, jewelry featuring huge–and I mean chestnut-sizedrings (not necessarily precious stones), loose, uncoiffed hair, both curly and straight. Definite dark eyeliner, top and bottom, a contrast to natural-looking faces and lips.

Phillip Lim Silk crepe top
Just winding up my Express Checkout experiment, I wore black pants and that black leather tee with pearl ropes, but this Philip Lim embroidered top would have fit right in, as it would for so many holiday parties. Price, $425 from Barney's.


Digby &Iona's cocktail ring, with a big silver "stone"  set in brass shows that slouchy attitude; price, $130 from Catbird.
Silver "stone"

Bakelite ring with diamond
Mark Davis' Esther ring, of vintage sand, aqua and rose Bakelite with a diamond accent also has du chien. Price, $1,700 from Twist.

If I were buying one new piece of jewelry, it would be a big cocktail ring. Plenty of well-priced pieces around, and they look so pretty as you wave your hand.

Pavé sapphire star
Matthew Campbell's Sapphire Star: blue sapphires set in lavender resin. If you think, Oh I couldn't, try one on. It changes everything you wear; price, $440 from Bergdorf Goodman.


Alexander Wang boots
I'm hoping a fab pair of tall boots in my size might go on sale after Christmas. (Shown, Alexander Wang Sigrid boots, $895 from Saks Fifth Avenue.)

Studying the crowd of a dozen or so, I asked myself if the women looked different from a random roundup of any dozen in that neighbourhood. Yes: more long hair on women past 50, a trend gaining speed everywhere. Many heads with artful high and lowlights, discreet colour, but no natural grey. Admittedly, a small sample.

If anyone cares, the men wore jeans, one with a white shirt and black velvet jacket with a print pochette, the others with cashmere sweaters.

Serge a 60 ans!
Birthday Boy, a friend for over 25 years, responded gracefully to the surprise, a bit shy to be the centre of attention. 

My terror? Nothing to do with the convivial guests. I realized that if we do move to Montreal, my French will not be up to readily connecting with a French-speaking crowd for at least six months. (Le Duc pointed out that everyone there spoke English too. But the chatter around the table was in rapid French, and I'd like to participate.) 

Without ease in language, how can I make new friends or even enjoy a gathering? I'll have to get serious about ramping up my fluency.

Je suis adorable!

I could dance, though, and play with Annie's new Tibetan terrier, Fanny. I'd never met this breed before; she captured each of our hearts (and a slice of cake.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Post Express Checkout: The unanticipated pleasures of a spare wardrobe

Too damn stuffed
For four weeks ending last Sunday, I wore twelve items, not counting coats or accessories. Now back to my usual wardrobe, I was definitely affected by the experiment. 

What I learned was expressed by commenter Demi-pointe:
 
"Perhaps the clothing cleanse is similar to the tip of slowing down one's eating during a meal to wait to allow your stomach to realize you are full. Just slow down the buying.  

Stop the force feeding of one item on top of another...
Space in the closet, space in the stomach = space in the brain. It doesn't all have to be filled to the brim."

Yet another pair 
I don't consider myself an ardent shopper. My Achilles Heel was the back-up item. But who doesn't know where to get another pair of black pants? (I had thirteen pairs, two unworn.)

Deja Pseu joined the experiment, with her customary verve. She and I are united in our wish for an edited closet, leavened by a few "hero pieces".

But for me, the experiment was also about freedom from the need to cosset oneself by buying, from the reflexive siren call of a sale. It is the wish for, as Demi-pointe suggests, a quiet and spacious place beyond a closet.


At 62, time races by, space slows its rush. The jumble of a large wardrobe is a distraction: what to buy next, and when?

"Getting and spending",  Wordsworth wrote, "we lay waste our powers." Did he begrudge himself a new Homburg? 

I'll find out what lures me back to acquisition, but for now I'm enjoying the tender state of refusal. Maybe I'll fall prey to the hobgoblin of fear, fear of looking like a frump, with out of date shoes and lumpy coat.


Outrageously gorgeous earrings
Or my head will be turned by a pretty bauble. 

Fortunately my taste often outstrips my budget. 

But let's drool over Marie-Helene Taillac's gemmy "Elizabeth Taylor" earrings, of amethyst, green and pink tourmaline set in 22k gold. Price $3,380 from Twist.

Oh yes.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Express Checkout" Challenge: Week 4 and end in sight!

Four days to go, through Sunday–almost out of the woods. On Monday, I'll joyfully tear into my stack of sweaters

Cheat!
I cheated once, for an unanticipated meeting with a new corporate client. I was not going in a sweater. But the black jersey skirt and cami under the jacket are on the list, so there. (Deep violet boiled-wool jacket. by Clothes by Muriel Dombret).

Two parties, not with the same guests, were handily solved by the black leather tee and pants or skirt, no need to try this-and-that.



Rosewood vee, big shawl
Shown, today's merino v-neck (ça va de soie, a terrific Canadian brand) with olive, brown and rust wool Indian shawl (gift from my GF Marla), so large it hides the sweater that's about to have an extended vacation.

I sewed copper sequins to several feet on both ends of the shawl; the twinkle pleases given such restricted choice.

Observations

1. Opening a Visa bill with a $0 balance, sweet! I always paid my balance each month, but haven't seen a blank page in years. I'd quit all discretionary shopping, an unanticipated outcome.

2. When my friend Lynne needs formal business drag, she calls a pal and borrows a suit for the day, then returns it dry-cleaned. She avoids buying what she rarely needs. I, on the other hand, will buy for what-if-I-am-invited to-a-Nobel-awards-ceremony.

Lisa's dress
3. I deeply admired the Prada dress Lisa of Privilege recently chose. I can't fit into any Prada clothes, never mind the price tag– and realized that buying multiple pairs of pants (and skirts, when I can find them long enough) was simply sublimation of dress wish.
Feathers!

If I could get it together to have a dress made, I'd pass up countless consolation items. In Barney's, I think, I can't have that dress, but what about a pair of shoes?

I love the detail on this Alice+Olivia LBD, the Marigay rosette feather dress. (Price, $495 from Netaporter.) Could a dressmaker create something this witty, or would I look like Big Bird in a dive bar?


Chain-striped wool dress
This Chloe merino dress! Anthracite wool with horizontal gold chain inserts, and those chains are knit into the dress, not applied over the fabric.

It won't fit my Child-like body– that's as in Julia, not little kid: a large is size 10! (Price, $1,700; from Netaporter.)

4. I could easily pick twelve more items and re-up, but instead, will pare my closets. Getting down to Six Items is not gonna happen. One spill and you're going nowhere for awhile.


The unexpected benefit

On Sunday, I donated to a friend's favourite cause, Médecins Sans Frontières, as we agreed in lieu of Christmas shopping.


Giving feels more grounded and quietly satisfying when it is not driven by embarrassment or guilt about how much I've spent on myself. 


I'd enjoy your comments, whether you've been experimenting or watching.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pearl-sonalities

Commenter spacegeek wondered why I didn't steer my friend R. toward the  unusual pearls from Kojima Company

Because, I replied, those pearls are not "her". Pearls have distinct personalities; the right variety simply sings on you. A consideration of pearl-sonalities helps you to assess the pearls you have or choose a new strand.

Grace: South Sea round
R. wants Grace Kelly pearls, luminous round whites that echo her "lady" style. 

And grace is what you get in this slightly graduated strand of white South Seas, 10.2mm to 12.4mm. An 18-inch strand is $3,600 from Pearl Paradise.




Angelina: Huge metallic flameball
These stupendous baroques are Angelina Jolie pearls, glamorous and capable of  traipsing the world in a suit or sarong. They flash silver, biscuit and white, with intense lustre and metallic orient for days. From Kojima Company; price, $1,890 for a 37-inch strand of 13mm-14mm pearls. 

Julia: Bronze semi-baroque

This bronze freshwater strand from Gump's? So Julia Roberts. The 10mm-11mm shape is semi-baroque (round but bumply), the colour a soft bronze. The ball clasp is matte gold and diamond, très raffinée. Price, $1,500 for an 18-inch necklace. 

A strand as effervescent as Julia's smile.





Rachel: Blue Akoya round
Blue Akoyas are marvelous pearls. I almost didn't show these because the silvery-blue colour shifts with the light, so is tricky to photograph. 

The kind of woman who wears an emerald-cut diamond might choose this 9mm-10mm 18-inch necklace from Gump's. The Rachel Weisz of pearls: classy, subtly sexy, assured. Price, $2,500.


Tilda: Sea of Cortez semi-baroque
A certain woman not only breaks the mold, she sculpted it. Her pearl: eccentric, rare, mysterious.

The Tilda Swinton pearl: Sea of Cortez from the Gulf of California, unclassifiable by casual onlookers, just like Swinton. 

This strand of 39 8.8mm-10.5mm pearls is from Carolyn Ehret, who sells on eBay (surprise!) to a devoted clientele. Overtones of pink, green, teal, aqua, bronze and more. BIN price, $3,500.

Audrey: Natural pearl
Natural or wild pearls, formed without implants, are rare and prized. Sarah Canizzaro of Kojima Company has created a necklace of entirely wild pearls–white, peach, pink and steel blue–collected over years. Handmade 22k bead spacers; 14k hook clasp.

The pearls are small (3mm-5mm) but their beauty and singularity create presence. Price, $965. This is the pearl-sonality of a natural, uncontrived beauty: Audrey Tautou.

Pearl-sonality is the interplay of the pearl variety, the design of the piece and the glow it radiates on you.

Though I've shown some pricier pearls here, many freshwater strands with similar allure need not cost more than ah, some of the boots a few of you have been buying.

Though I admire boots too, when they're in the back of the closet, you'll still be wearing your pearls!











Tuesday, November 9, 2010

True-blue essentials

J. Crew pea coat
 Some pieces are true-blue friends: useful, simple, uncontrived. If you leave one on the overhead rack of a train, you have to replace it.

The item is not fashion-y; when you purchase it, you may not feel like it's "something new"– but you will reach for it again and again. 

It's the secret workhorse of a wardrobe, and gives outstanding value. You might have scorned it a decade or two ago. But now, you see a friend's and think, "I could use that". 
(Above, J. Crew Ever pea coat, $225)

Below, six more nominations, with an emphasis on cold weather items.

Pendleton cotton shirt
Pendleton No-Iron pintuck cotton shirt: A shirttail hem with side slits, hard to find. Just enough room to glide, but not one of those dropcloth smocks. 

Three-quarter sleeves to show off your bracelet. In sapphire or white, $78.



Bean velveteen jean
Velveteen pants: Classic 5-pocket straight leg jean. The jeans have stretch, not bulk, and come in this uncommon Purple Night and a rich Chocolate as well as navy, black and taupe. Washable. Just dressy enough to be 'more than a jean', and only $50 from LL Bean. In petite, regular and tall sizes up to 20.

Cashmere ribbed shawl bolero: indispensable is not always cheap, but why mess with low-end cashmere? Here's a worthy investment, graceful yet functional. Six-ply cashmere in Raven (shown), Charcoal or Cocoa. From Brora, £289.
Brora bolero

Talbots down vest
Women's down vest: Warms like holding a puppy. Wear when visiting a friend's drafty farmhouse, rooting around an unheated market or just writing at your desk. Version #1 is by Talbots, with a smart extended collar; available in interesting colours like olive and blush, $89.


Version #2, a sportier snap-front, is $34.50 from Land's End; many colours. Both companies make the vest in regular, petite and womens sizes, and both are machine washable.

Land's End down vest

Eric Bompard cashmere gloves
Cashmere gloves: Squash into a coat pocket. Fit over those big rings. Warm enough for all but the mightiest storms. Hand wash or machine-wash in lingerie bag. 31 colours, one size; €44 from Eric Bompard.



Gold earrings make your essentials sing.
Halleh 18k studs
Plate looks fine for awhile, but solid gold (or silver, if you prefer) lasts forever. Don't pass by the pair you can wear with anything.

Shown, Halleh 18k stud earrings, about 1cm/.5 inches wide, $595 from Net-a-porter.


What are yours?