Thursday, September 29, 2011

Men who don't dance and the women who love them

A friend, here under the protection of the name "Moira", sent an e-mail recently, describing a party at which her sixtyish husband, whom I'll call "Jack" danced.

This was a remarkable event; in their long marriage he neither danced nor expressed any desire to do so. But for some reason, at this party, he shed his inhibitions and shook his groove thang. He had a terrific time, though the future is still unclear.

If you love to dance and if your partner does not, you spend a life dancing with your girlfriends, their brothers or just yourself. I can relate: Le Duc will dance at a party or wedding, but the term "go dancing" is as attractive to him as "skin endangered Himalayan snow leopards".

I asked him why so many men do not like to dance. His answer was immediate: "They fear losing their dignity and looking incompetent."

Some persons have an innate musicality that they enjoy expressing through movement, and others do not. Just like athletic skill, movement is a talent; everyone has some, but great dancers have an easy grace. Men do not seem to realize they don't have to be great, we just wanna dance.

Alcohol played a part in Jack's deliverance unto the beat. A few belts does loosen up a wallflower, but is not essential. What the male needs is the required mental shift, the moment where he decides, Hey, this might be fun.

Jack, a dear and deep uber-WASP, seemed to think dancing is not quite manly. I reminded Moira that, in many cultures and religious traditions, males dance with pride and virility. But once frat days are over, this is not the case for WASP guys. You find a few men who cannot wait for the music to start, but the majority head for the patio, hoping someone else, anyone else, will ask their partners to dance.

Le Duc had his own deliverance at a salsa club. He watched men of all ages and abilities deeply enjoying themselves. He noticed a young buck of twenty-two come into the club with a backpack, set it carefully at the edge of the floor, seize a partner and execute a joyful mambo with that At Last! look on his face. He caught the endorphin-lit bliss of a rotund, suave 60-year-old in a guyabera.

And lo, Le Duc said, "I want to take salsa lessons." 

When men (or women, but I don't know any) refuse to dance, they miss out on a joyful, community-building, sensual, playful and stress-reducing activity.

Let's encourage boys and young men to dance! Square dances, raves, drum circles, ballroom competitions, jumping around the kitchen to Odd Future: whatever works. We can stress the athletic element, if they prefer that. But if boys don't move rhythmically, men don't dance.

We won't scare them with codified rituals and formality unless they seek that level of refinement. But let's not let them sit this one out. 

Life is to short not to dance through it, even if you're a guy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Petite pearls

Photo: AmericanPearl.com
I'm a 9mm (and up) pearl lover, and if there is one pearl sin I see consistently it is those damn debutante babyteeth on grown women. ("Debutante" means "beginner" in French.)

But.

Some women are petite, some want other elements of a piece to shine, and some feel that a leap to mega-millimeter size is just too much.

When Christine bought this 2mm pearl-sprinkled garland, I agreed instantly that it was perfect. Yes, there is a place for petite pearls. 
Petite pearl garland
Size is no sin in human or oyster; it's what you do with it. The pearl trick is, go decidedly, delicately small. Small is an excellent choice in three applications:

1. Used as multi-strand necklaces.

Grey torsade

Ross Simons sell a seven-strand 4.0-4.5mm grey pearl torsade with a silver hook clasp; price, $95 for 16, 18 or 20 inches. With a shirt and pair of jeans you have a striking pearl accessory for likely less than the price of your pants.

Gump's pretty pastels, to twist or knot at whim. Seventy-two inches of 5-5.5mm freshwater pearls; price, $500. (Gump's pearls are pricey, but there are sales, and the quality is high.)

Gump's pastel mix

2. Used in a piece of delicacy and discreet charm.

There is no lovelier example than BeladoraII's freshwater pearl and diamond lariat, with tiny pearls threading through a white gold and diamond circle. Price $495–and I could not imagine a more rafinée accent for a neck.


BeladoraII pearl and diamond lariat


deserttalisman ivory and pearl necklace

Hello, modern-jewelry lovers! A fossilized ivory shard hanging on a 'chain' of bronze seed and button pearls is fine, yet earthy. The price is $227 from etsy seller deserttalismans.


3. When small pearls suit you.

Petite, slim, fine-boned women can carry delicate pearls (but can also stun in a substantial strand of Tahitians). One of my summer visitors was such a woman, and it is she I thought of when I found the piece below.

Cathy Waterman 2mm pearl rope

This 2mm white freshwater pearl necklace is delicacy pearl-sonified; a petite woman will twist this around her long neck and look sublime. She might also layer it; the 22k toggle closure elevates the pearlettes from ordinary to elegant. Made by Cathy Waterman. Length, 32 inches; price, $988 from Twist.


Caveat: A strand too small is no strand at all.

If buying a classic round strand, size does count. So that you can judge for yourself, here is a series of photos from American Pearl. The first shows small, 5.5-6mm pearls.

5.5-6mm
See how girlish and lost those pearls look? And the model is young. I have ideas for remodeling a strand like this here.

Let's move up to 7.5mm-8mm. This is the minimum size for a woman who no longer wants "jeune fille" jewelry, regardless of her size or shape.
 
7.5-8mm

And now to the 9.5mm-10mm., my preferred size, but then, I am tall and large. They are admittedly more costly, but you can wear the right size forever; too-small is a false economy.
9.5-10mm

Every 2mm adds a doubling effect to the visual sense of size. You'll see more glow, more of the mysterious essence of the pearl with each 2mm jump; even a 1.5 mm increase will look much bigger.

Petite pearls flirt, big pearls seduce. In-between pearls are nostalgic souvenirs that beg for restyling, and will then delight you all over again.

Small pearls restyled to bracelet
One of my favourite ways to restyle a necklace: convert to a bracelet.

Shown, a bracelet from Kojima Company, of 7mm akoyas (often the size and type of the "wedding dress necklace"), styled with one blue 9mm pearl and a modern 'bean' clasp. Price, $270.

Why not retain the sentiment, wear the pearls and have a new piece, all for a modest investment?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Luxury and simplicity: Epicureus, Lucretius, Greenblatt

I devoured  Stephen Greenblatt's essay about the Roman poet Lucretius' (Titus Lucretius Carus) master work, "On the Nature of Things", published in the New Yorker's  August 8 issue.

The piece interweaves the transformational effect of the two thousand year old poem, its rediscovery by Poggio Bracciolini in 1417, Greenblatt's fraught family history and the significance of the poem for him.





Lucretius was influenced by the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341 BCE-270 BCE); his "celebration of pleasure" alarmed the Church, who fought back with invented rumours of his debauchery. (Down and dirty ain't nothin' new.) 

This is the man whom we invoke when we use the adjective epicurean, a synonym for bon vivant. The philosophy went deeper, which is why it alarmed clerics; it rejected mysticism and immortality. Epicureanism differs from hedonism, though, with its emphasis on a simple, nearly ascetic life.

"It is impossible to live pleasurably" wrote one of Epicurus' disciples, "without living prudently and honorably and justly, and also without living courageously and temperately and magnanimously, and without making friends, and without being philanthropic."

Greenblatt says, "This philosophy of pleasure, at once passionate, scientific and visionary, radiated from almost every line of Lucretius' poetry."

Ah, I thought, re-reading those lines several times, that's why a bowl of raspberrries with cream is such a joy after a long winter, why stacks of bags are no more satisfying than the right single satchel, why a donation to a good cause sounds a more resonant note than the tinkle of a trinket.

Stephen Greenblatt
(Photo by Stephanie Morris/Harvard News Office)
To read Greenblatt's essay online, you'll need a New Yorker subscription, but for free, there's this summary in Harvard Magazine.

You can, however, watch episodes of the award-winning CBC documentary television series, hosted by David Suzuki, "The Nature of Things", which takes its title from the poem, by visiting the program's site, here.

Project Gutenberg have issued a free e-copy of Lucretius' poem here. Lost for centuries, then rediscovered, the work was formative to the art-and-science absorbed Renaissance, and invited an entirely different way of relating to the universe and its material representation.

Once again, the philosophers provide edification and illumination–and even encouragement for an ice cream cone.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

When dreams derail

Stunned, worried, hopeful
I've occasionally mentioned my twin sons; Etienne lives in Montreal. Jules was set to leave this week for Royal Canadian Navy basic training, a dream he had pursued for well over a year, waiting to be offered the right position, one with scope and a future.

His dream ended several days ago, when a detailed physical revealed a rare heart disease, hypertropic cardiomyopathy, or HCM.

It is often the cause of the sudden collapse of seemingly healthy young men, typically during athletic activity. He had no symptoms and was always a healthy kid.
Resilient, determined, mournful

Despite the setback, there are bright spots: Jules has retained his job, can continue to board in a friend's  beautiful, peaceful house and is already pondering "Plan B". He's resilient and focused, and a normal (civilian) life is definitely possible.

We are grateful that HCM was found; it is not usually investigated in routine physicals. It is genetically inherited, but no one knew of any familial history. His brother will be tested.

Jules will learn how to live with his wonky heart; we hold our breaths and do what we can as he regains his equanimity and spirit.

I can't wait to see him this weekend, to hug him and applaud his determination. His heart may not be healthy enough for the military, but it is more than perfect to me.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Safe or Smokin': Jackets for fall

Elizabeth & James man-tailored jacket from Saks
We know the Safe Jacket, wardrobe stalwart, work staple, dependable travel companion. I once deplaned from a business meeting to find the overhead bin stuffed with four identical black man-tailored jackets. I found mine by the label. That's when I decided to forsake conventional blazers.

I'm shopping for a jacket, and am not a woman who can pull off Ines de la Fressange's trick of buying a blazer two sizes too small to make it "cuter". I'd estimate the percentage of Passage readers who can do so is lower than my milk-fat choice.

So let's look at some jackets that avoid the safe, man-clone look. Some price points are high, but we will consider them so that we can apply the three guidelines that signal a smokin' jacket, whatever our budget.


1. Look for an element of surprise.

Don't you tire of the sea of collar-and-lapel cuts on offer? I would like to avoid that convention altogether. 



Isaac Mizrahi wool bow jacket, $2,277 from Saks. The front is strict; then she turns.


KaufmanFranco leather and knit
KaufmanFranco's jacket, with a knit body and leather sleeves smokes superlatively! The merino/baby alpaca is going to feel fantastic. But all that style and sass comes at a price: $1,695 at Neiman Marcus.
Carven blazer

When I found this, I swooned, sighed, murmured "Frrrrench". Carven have  gentled classic tailoring while keeping the impeccable line, all in soft taupe. The pocketed wool flannel blazer is $800 at net-a-porter.



 2. Find a lush colour

Colour adds life and richness to the classic blazer body; the art is finding a shade so unexpected that you can use it like a neutral.

Boden offer a velvet blazer, one of my all-time beloved items, in a range of patterns and colours, including leopard and tiger but not a very subtle leopard or tiger. I'd look like a plush toy. 

My favourite is the vibrant mallard. (I have avoided Boden for years because of their exorbitant shipping rates and iffy quality, but a friend says they have improved.) Price, £75.
Boden velvet blazer
J. Crew velvet schoolboy

J. Crew's velvet schoolboy blazer comes in tantalizing colours, including this dark blossom, and the moody olive moss; price, $168.



3. Catch a weave

A knit jacket fills the need for polish, with the bonus of comfort and packability. Maybe, I thought, after unbuttoning endless stretch wool fabrics, I need a knit.


Rachel Comey knit
Rachel Comey Fair-Isle knit jacket, $380. Defined shoulders and a belt elevate this from being just-a-sweater, and the pattern will work with any neutral.


Boden's Barcelona jacket, shown here in fig melange, has the sophistication to skip from jeans to workday. Price, £89.


Goat Langley Knitted Jacket in petrol shows the detail I would expect when investing €465. Worn with soft pants or a skirt, this smokes in a most rafinée manner. Also available in rose; at Stylebop.com.


So far, I'm still looking, but swaying toward soft, no collar or lapel unless it's one of those intense velvets.  You can't have smokin' without some heat!







Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Glenn and Meryl play uncommon women

As usual, I like to check out all the stars in Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival, even though I no longer live there.

Why, I figure, post photos of young starlets? You can find daily photos of these beauties here.

I'm more interested in someone close to my age, pun intended. Glenn Close is in town to premiere the drama "Albert Nobbs", in which she plays a woman who masquerades as a butler amid the social constraints of 19th century Dublin.

Here is Close in role; her strong bones and actor's skill make her quite convincing until...no, let's wait for the film. Rumour mill rumble is that Close wants an Oscar but the film is not strong enough.




Another acclaimed shape-shifter, Meryl Streep, chose London to premiere her new Margaret Thatcher biopic, "The Iron Lady" as a charity event for Women for Women International. The film will be released in January 2012, in time for Oscar season.

Photos courtesy of Movieweb.com
Now here is a power dresser.  Check this teaser, in which Tory advisors meddle with a young Margaret's image and provoke what will be, I predict, the immortal line: "Pearls, however, are absolutely non-negotiable."




Though separated by time and class, each characters assumed unflagging control of image as type of armor. 

Their looks are not strictly historic. On the local streets, I sometimes see women who choose the masculine look (not just a menswear piece, the entire ensemble and grooming), and more often, I see an every-cell-in-place Thatcher lineage. 

In the blogworld, we talk about the pieces that make us feel invincible, our "power" or "hero" pieces. We share some slight affinity with these two women, whether we admire them or not. We have learned to temper that rigour with  ease; perhaps we have less at stake.

I'm eager to see both films. With Close, I'll await the scene where her identity is revealed, to see the feminine meld with the masculine. When I watch Streep as Thatcher, I'll want to muss her hair and grab a metal detector to try to find her heart.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shopping with hot chicks

I was visited over the summer by a stream of women friends. Each wanted to do what any red-blooded female visiting a new city wants: shop.

And each, to a head-turning degree, is beautiful, in ways ranging from serene propriety to va-voom. But what united them beyond their loveliness and shopping stamina is that each (save one) mentioned that she had some flaw that is best hidden. 

So in 30C weather we had the resolutely covered upper arm, the long pants hiding "chubby knees". I sat in a café with a Stephanie, a Viennese woman who would not unbutton her high-necked black blouse because "my collarbones are not my best feature", while sweat dripped off her forehead.

One visitor called this her "vanity", which everyone possesses. And how about cutting ourselves some slack?

Do we really think some nameless person is going to say to his partner after work, "Do you know what I saw today? A woman with some padding on the inside of her knee!"

Well, to hell with that, especially when it's so hot the air ripples off the pavement. Besides, I like a little unstudied defiance, some tumble in a woman's rumble. I'm thinking of my friend Vicky's friend M., whom I last saw in a tight knit sheath that showed age 50+ bumps and rolls, eschewing a layer of nonbreathable binding but wearing a gumball strand of multicoloured Tahitian pearls, wafting perfume, eight shades of blonde-grey-whatever hair falling in a soft wave over one eye.

She is far more alluring to me than a perfectly coiffed and shapewear-packaged sister. 

Doing my part to promote such imperfection, I trudged through the stickiness in a sleeveless dress or tank top, focused not on the heat, but on the warmth of these interesting, convivial companions.
Christine's new pearls
What did they buy? Each sought treasure not found at home and knew what was perfect for her.
Rubi's tote

"Rubiatonta" found a chic black Bree tote bag; Christine chose an ethereal silver and grey pearl necklace (worn, above, with her Eric Bompard embroidered blouse) and retro-inspired silver flower brooch at Argent Tonic.

One of Jan's skirts

Jan got two sexy secretary skirts at Muse that show off her movie-star legs; Stephanie went back to Austria with more black: a long jersey skirt by Marie St. Pierre. Kari fell hard for this pair of caramel Fluevog equestrienne boots.

Kari's Fluevog boots

Local shopping–a welcome change from chain outlets–expands the eye and provides a delightful souvenir. And for me, an opportunity to indulge in a favourite activity: helping women find useful, beautiful things.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Two divas in one day

Diva #1
On a perfect August day, I basked in the presence of two divas.

The first was a longtime friend, Dorothy, who sent me an e-mail after finding some letters I'd written over 20 years ago. We had not been in touch for years; the exigencies of family and business, plus distance between my former city and hers had deep-stored a fond friendship.

Dorth is a "diva" not because of any imperious star behaviour, but because of her accomplishments, which include three books and numerous publications, and an acclaimed consulting practice, all accomplished while rearing two vibrant children. 

There we sat, surveying one another on a terrasse, 30 years since we last had that luxury. We looked older (neither of us has undertaken injections, etc.), but as we talked—a flood of stories, memories and gossip—she looked more radiant by the minute. I saw once again the 20-something firebrand who kick-started her monster Honda bike and flew past any barrier that prevented her from fully living.

Diva #2
The second diva of the day was one in the literal sense, a "celebrated female singer": Brazilian soprano Luisa Kurtz Dos Santos, for the opera "Rigoletto" was performed that evening below our window, staged on the final night of Montreal's Italian Festival. 

Lightening flashed to the west, the orchestra swelled and a crowd of all ages was engrossed by the tale of 15th century honour, deception and revenge. 

Rigoletto's bravura aria, a tour de force for tenors, is the Duke's cynical La donna è mobile (Woman is fickle). I looked for the translation:
This woman is flighty
Like a feather in the wind,
She changes in voice—and in thought.

But my friend had not changed "in voice and thought"; she had only become more forthright, funny and searching. "You remember everything I ever said to you!" she exclaimed. But that is because her observations and adventures, thirty years ago, were remarkable.

Our reunion was initiated by those old letters; in those days people wrote,  their friends sometimes saved the letters. Would old e-mails have reunited us? I doubt it. I'm grateful Dorothy made the 2-hour trip to spend the afternoon, and won't let the years separate us so again.

Have you rediscovered an old friend? What was it like?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

La rentrée in the Passage

Each August, when I don't blog, I consider September: what inspires, provokes, interests me? In the first year or so, a flurry of opinions (for I'm never short) kept posts about dresses or earrings flowing.

Going on four years later, I'm not so avid about things. My life has changed, from flat-out work to relatively retired, from owning a big house to living in a smaller condo. I buy much less, don't read loot blogs and am reluctant to post my own possessions. 

I am interested in value, in hearing about the things you've chosen, and showing some suggestions, so that what we buy serves us well and long. The word  'trend" makes me faintly suspicious. For fall, a quiet navy cashmere jacket appeals more than a wild fur chubby.

In August, I read Cathy Horyn's NY Times piece on "The Five Things You Need for Fall".  I hoped to be edified but emerged vexed; her list is "what fashion editors are ordering". I could get behind a few selections (black turtleneck, python boots), but unable to pre-order at Balenciaga (or just order, for that matter), I was hoping for ideas for smaller budgets and bigger figures.

To give Horyn praise where it's due, I am mad for this pick, the Philip Lim leather-sleeved top. Oh yeah, sold out everywhere.

I'll post twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday, in order to devote time to other projects, with a focus on "the Three P's":
- Products: an emphasis on quality and value for clothes, accessories and jewelry;
- Pearls: these, the only gem made from a living creature, continue to delight;
- Perspectives: our behaviour, singly and jointly, issues and quandries. On my short list: solitude, friendship, the challenge of becoming an elder and the life-long duality of frugality and pleasure.

The blog is addressed to women over 50, by one of 63 interested in celebrating age, rather than worrying about not looking it. Its patron saints are Molly Ivins and June Callwood, for their humanity and intelligence.

Callwood once said, in a fashion feature, "I can't buy cheap clothes; as I get older, I expect to get poorer." That's classic Callwood, pointing out the social realities while modeling a chic suit. 


A peek in the Passage's fall windows

Here are a few value-worthy picks for the rentrée; what are yours?

In August, absent from a screen most of the time, I was able to read for hours. I especially enjoyed Sarah Mazza's "Violette Nozière", a crime memoir and social history of 1930s Paris. Apt, then, to present a decidedly deco accessory, Eric Bompard's 1930's headband. I suspect it might not suit me when I try it on in Paris next month, but for those of you whom it would, I'd grab one. Hand-washable, cozy and insouciant. Price, €39.

Horyn digs YSL's metal choker, but if you'd like a slightly less bold chain for less than $1,600 (and I would not want their billboard of a two-inch logo'd clasp, either), how about Alex Bittar's silver and crystal link necklace, $195 at Twist?


Danier make this... thing. Is it a scarf? Stole? Vest? They call their supple swath the Awi suede scarf vest. Over a simple v-neck, the piece makes an arresting accessory at any age, but is especially great on a grown woman. Part of Danier's new collaboration with designers Greta Constantine; if you want one, act fast.


Python: Very big for fall and, like a glass of chablis, always a grace note. You could invest thousands, but here's a way to flash it for less: BCBGMaxAzria's python box clutch is a discreet fake, more durable than the sensitive snake–and on sale at Zappo's for $82. Size is a handy 8 in. x 5 in., with a removable shoulder chain, and the black/camel colourway goes with everything.
If you are willing to put a little more skin in the game, Carlos Falchi's python clutch is real, and the bag is lined in suede. Price, $545 at Bloomingdale's.

  

And the pearls: Dana Kellin blue-green 8mm pearl earrings set with crystals offer shimmery allure for $242. (I will not recommend soulless fake pearls, when genuine ones are available so reasonably.) These are a luxury for some, a bagatelle for others. So be it; they are worth the price. 

That's the Passage for you; welcome back!