Jingle belles: Snowflakes, diamonds, more muffs

The Passage closes briefly after today's post, reopening Tuesday, January 4. I thank and appreciate each person who strolled through in 2010, and wish you a joyful, relaxed, delicious holiday.

First, more muffs!

As I was leaving a party last evening, a handsome man entered the vestibule, stepped aside to let me pass, and said, "Nice earmuffs!" Something is happening, head-wise: earmuffs are having a toasty moment.

Readers sent in such good ideas that I wanted to show them.

Park City by 180s
Mitten clap to blogger Rebecca Mielke of The Space Between My Peers, who reminds us about the behind-the-head style, beloved by skiers. 

180s.com offer many funky versions; I especially like this snowflake pattern called Park City, $35.

Snowflakes in crystal: William Sharp's Swarovski crystal and cashmere earmuffs in mid-brown (shown) or black; $198.26 (but free delivery worldwide now) from Asos. Model looks about twelve but never mind; these would look chic on her grandmother.

Earpops bandless earmuffs
Commenter Kristine wrote to introduce me to Earpops, a bandless version.

Super-easy to carry, and available in an enormous range of colours, including some crazy "fur" versions and leopard, which could change my whole outlook on winter!

Yeah, baby!

Price, $8 per pair, plus shipping. Check Earpop's site for size measurements and a tutorial showing how to put them on.

Cashmere hat sale

Fair Isle beanie
Superb choices for icy morning dog-walking, when hat head is not an issue.  

Pringle have a posh Fair Isle cashmere beanie on sale; price, £65 (reduced from £95.)

Their handsome hand-knit cabled style is also on sale; price, £70. Available in four shades including a rich berry and a hue they call camel, though it reminds me of heavy cream.

Let it snow... diamond snowflakes

"Oh the weather outside is frightful, diamond snowflakes, so delightful"– isn't that the song? I find them a chic way to 'holiday' your ensemble and a pleasure all winter. ( I'm wearing a pair in the photo.) Should the last-minute shopper need a gentle hint, forward this post and add that express shipping is a beautiful thing.

Though some big flakes fall from fabulous clouds (hello, Harry Winston), you could wear the selection below with jeans and a sweater or a skirt and your favourite top.

A tailored, discreet pair of flakes; seven small diamonds on each, set in 18k white gold. Price, $1,350 from Reinstein/Ross at Twist.
Twist snowflakes

Diamond snowflakes from Tiffany, classically graceful, set in platinum; price, $2,250.

Tiffany snowflakes

You must see this Tiffany pendant, an exquisite celebration of the snowflake's natural beauty. (Price, $45,000; may also be worn as a brooch.)

Tiffany pendant/brooch

Delicate snowflake dangles, set in white or yellow gold, from Heavenly Treasures; price, $795. Heavenly Treasure have a whole section of snowflake jewelry.  
Heavenly Treasure dangles

Today, I'm headed for the real thing: off to Montreal to look at a house, walk snowy streets where Christmas lights make diamonds in the snow and catch the train home with son Etienne.

However you define sparkle, I wish bright moments for you, and thank you for adding to mine.

Winter earrings: Victorian beauties

At the edge of the winter solstice, dark falls before it's quite evening, jewelry tones deepen, richer colour beckons. I bring out my antique or vintage earrings, along with the thickest sweaters. What looked heavy in summer now pleases.  

Browsing local fine jewelers, I'm once again led to the past, where stone quality and design endure, undiminished by a century's passage.

Pieces made in the Victorian (1840-1901) and Edwardian (1901-1915) periods are still fairly easy to find at auction or in antique jewelry shops; the workmanship is superior to most branded-jewelry lines today.

Garnet dangles
Faceted garnet earrings, ca. 1910, about 40mm long, for pierced ears. Price, $990 from Isadora's. Wear with a simple sweater and pants, no longer a 'uniform', but rather an elegant frame for these sparkling antiques.

Ca. 1880 rose gold and turquoise dangles with beautiful cabochons and large teardrop stones set in gold borders. Price, $975 from A. Brandt and Sons.

Turquoise and rose gold

Silver and agate
The grace and romance of these Victorian silver and Scottish agates (white, moss and carnelian) earrings would make the simplest sweater sing. From A. Brandt and Sons; price, $790.

Seed pearl and 18k
Delicate seed pearl and 18k earrings with bead accents. About 1/2 inch in diameter, yet generously infused with character. From Beladora II; price, $333.75.

Silver acorns

Here's a nut to squirrel away for the winter! 1st Dibs seller Glorious Antique Jewelry offer well-modeled Edwardian silver acorns, with texture and contrast.

The leaf spreads 3/4 inch wide, the hanging length, 1 1/2 inches. Price, $1,200.

Luscious Victorian carved coral drops set in 18k gold, probably French, with slight wear that would not diminish my pleasure one bit. Price, £250 from Laurelle Antique Jewellery.

Coral and gold drops

Elegant sapphire and diamond buttons
If shopping for a special purchase, consider these regal beauties: Victorian sapphire and diamond earrings, ca. 1900. Total weight of the sapphires is 1.60cts, the European-cut diamonds, 1.02cts. Price, $4,085 from Isadora's.

Each piece delighted a woman a century ago, and is poised for a second life today. Victorian and Edwardian earrings mix happily with many modern bracelets and rings. 

The only thing is, they do fancy a cup of tea at least daily.

Picking a smashing new scent

I mentioned in a recent post that a lovely, unadorned woman I saw at a party commented that she would like to begin to wear scent. At sixty, she is at the door of a magical land.

You may be like her, or, like me, interested in a new scent, one that intrigues our most evocative sense, that of smell.

A few ideas about choosing a new scent:

1. Forget what the salesperson tells you; she is often taken by the latest thing or is paid to push a brand. A salesperson told Christine that "blondes should not wear Opium". Bof! Christine inhabits Opium magnificently; without her sensuous, smoky sillage, she is not quite "Christine" to me.

Don't be influenced by your past preferences, either. If you've never worn tuberose or despised patchouli since the '70s, suspend your certainty. 

Who you are may have changed, not only psychologically but olfactorily. You will perceive scent differently as you age. (This also happens when a woman is pregnant; hormone shifts affect the sense of smell.)

Some perfumes are girlish, others the domain of a worldly woman. A few cross generational divides. One trains up to certain scents, the demanding, odd, even troubling. (See the category, Mystery Tours.) 

2. Try the scent on your skin, going about your life. Cards are useless. The scent you smell in the store will be affected by the other fragrances at the counter–and often stores deploy room scent throughout the floor. Apply it liberally. 

Resist sniffing the first wet spritz, which is never the way you or others will encounter it, and that immediate alcohol-laden burst sways your opinion. Smell it first five minutes after application, then at around twenty minutes (this will reveal the heart, not just the top notes) and every half-hour. Notice how the scent develops and how long it lingers.

Be wary about thrusting your wrist at your shopping companion and asking, "Like it?" A girlfriend has a different nose. Most men will either love anything, as it reminds them of opportunity, or in a rush to get out of there, they'll say it's "nice".

Try the scent a few times; like meeting a new friend, the first encounter does not always tell the story. If you don't want to keep trekking back to the shop, order a decant from an online boutique like The Perfumed Court or Lucky Scent.

You may find that perfume, eau de parfum, cologne or eau de toilette read differently in the same fragrance. Perfume Posse has a good post here (scroll down to the topic) on which brands make superior versions of different strengths.

3. Be wary of the classics, estimable perfumes that have been around twenty years or more. The fragrance may be different in its current formulation. This article on The Essence of Perfume blog explains why, and names a number of affected scents: "The Perfumers Association Bans Popular Scents".

Some makers have also altered their formulas within the last few years to enhance profit margins, though getting them to admit this is like getting an actress to confess to cosmetic surgery. As Luca Turin says, "the accountants have had their way with the noses." I wore the intense, dark Magie Noire in the '80s; the new version (obviously made with cheaper juice) smells thin and nastily sharp.

When to buy? If you get a delicious frisson to your toes, the panpipe trill of brooks and bluebirds, say, or the beckoning of tambourines and woodsmoke– any kind of deep, primal pleasure signal–it's time to buy the bottle. It will hurt; you do get what you pay for in the perfume universe.

The list: Travels in a scented land

I'm not a fragrance wonk; I find some descriptions as obscure as those of certain wine writers. I'm approaching scent via a travel analogy.

There is, deliberately, no description of ingredients or characteristics; make your choice more heartfelt (and fun) by experimenting freed from hype and other people's noses. A fragrance can evoke magnolias in a Roman garden for you and remind another of the vinyl booth at the diner. 

If you must know the ingredients or what others think, check the descriptions and reviews on scent boards and blogs like Basenotes or Perfume Shrine. The disparity of opinion regarding the same scent proves how radically body chemistry and taste can differ.

I could list dozens in each category; here's a start:

Day Trips
Graceful, well-made scents, subtle but not insipid; pleasing to wear; a jaunt

Lovely, Sarah Jessica Parker
Antonia's Flowers, Antonia's Flowers
White Jasmine and Mint, Jo Malone
Premier Figuier, L'Artisan Parfumeur 
Fleur de Bois, Miller Harris
Paris, Yves St Laurent

Beloved classics or new scents with presence and staying power; an excursion

24 Faubourg, Hermes
La Haie Fleurie by L'Artisan Parfumeur
Thé pour un eté, L'Artisan Parfumeur
Infusion d'Iris, Prada
Un Jardin sur la Nil, Hermes
Quartz, Molyneux
Beige, Chanel

Lost Weekends
Unabashedly sexy in either a ballgown or corset way; hang out the Do Not Disturb sign

Fracas, Robert Piguet
Tabac Blonde, Caron
Bandit, Robert Piguet
Le Parfum de Thérèse, Frederic Malle (I am so crazy for this, I can't find words)
Rose 31, Le Labo
Agent Provocateur, Agent Provocateur

Mystery Tours
Exotic, rare, even odd scents; not necessarily "pretty" but memorable– an off-road trek
Safran Troublant, L'Artisan Parfumeur
Like This, Etat Libre d'Orange
Amoreuse, Parfums DelRae
Nostalgia, Santa Maria Novella
Le Labo Oud 27, Le Labo
L'Autre, Diptyque

 I welcome your additions, scented goddesses!

Goodbyes at Christmastime

A dear friend, Susan, sent an e-mail to say that, just as she's prepping her annual Christmas party, she's learned that an uncle is in his last hours, and she should go to his side.

Though her words may suggest devotion, this is not entirely the case: "I have something of regret for an obligation not met", she wrote about the last five years, when he was in a nursing home.

She said,  
"I think he loved us kids although he was more interested in drinking when he came to visit. This was an embarrassment to my father."
"Charlie molested every woman he could get his hands on. He would shake hands with his right hand and reach for the breast with the other. Few women objected out loud. 'That's just Uncle Charlie' they would say. My ex nearly broke his arm once after I told him that Charlie did this and I didn't like it."

My reply included a reminiscence of my father's brother, Jerome, a blunt, blustery hard drinker whose visits to us were rare but fraught. My father, the brother who made good, both loved him and felt an obligation. Finally, after a week-long stay that damaged her house and nerves, my mother blacklisted Jerome, so Dad saw him only on visits to Chicago.

I responded to my friend, saying the truism that we ought to grieve every family member to the same extent is as false as the one that says that women ought to tolerate being groped.

Many families have an Uncle Charlie, a relative tolerated rather than welcomed, eventually pushed to the edges of the clan. 

I thought, hearing my friend swing between consternation and caring, you reap what you sow. If we hope to be remembered with an abiding place in the heart, we shape that possibility in the present. "Set me as a seal upon thine heart...", the poetic Song of Solomon entreats, "for love is strong as death."

Charlie's past behaviour notwithstanding, Susan put aside her baking to sit with him. He is family, and she is capable of such kindness and compassion.

Earmuffs: A heated defense

If you have curly, wavy or carefully-coiffed hair, a conventional winter hat is the enemy: you will suffer hat head. 

Taking off your hat is like unveiling a homely monument, every flaw displayed. Women in restaurants, hands tugging at their hair, inevitably resign themselves  to a disheveled mess.

So, I wear earmuffs. I walked into an upscale boutique last week and was told by the saleswoman, "My, I haven't seen a grown woman in earmuffs in a long time."

At moments like this one must summon self-esteem of steel.

Minkie muffs
It might have helped to flaunt mink earmuffs, like these from Carolyn Furs, with the hard-to-find mink band; price, $85.

I was wearing the sportier sheepskin variety in black. 

You can order them (join me, I need help here) from Shepherd's Flock, a Vermont maker; you'll find lofty choices in both sheep-naturals and colours like navy, pink and wine from $13 to $30.

Shepherd's Flock sheepskin muffs
What else is light but warm? (Lightness is essential, but so is space, to prevent compressing hair.) Cashmere beats anything else.
Bompard cashmere beret
Deep enough to sit atop the 'do: Eric Bompard's beret, knit in various stitches, €58.

Golightly cashmere beret

Golightly Cashmere's beret–in two circumferences–is $105. (Note: Any Golightly hat, though produced to order, can be returned.)

Cashmere headband
A headband is another strategy; Golightly's 6-ply cashmere also comes in regular and large sizes. Depending on your hair, you might abide hairline squish in exchange for its sweet hug.

I can think of–and reject–other ideas; a folded silk scarf is too easily damaged and slips off in wind. 

Going hatless, the choice of teens? No fun once you've suffered frostbitten lobes.

So earmuffs it is. 

Foxy fox muffs
If any earmuff might change the saleswoman's perception, a pair of ruby fox ones with a velvet flower, by Cassin (price, $395) from Bergdorf Goodman ought to do it. 

The earmuffs of a queen, let alone a grown woman.

Grown-up glamour

Grown-up glamour
Did you see this Sartorialist shot taken in Paris? Who is she, what does she evoke?

Commenters admired her red lips, black ensemble, gold jewelry. Several said, "I hope I look like that when I get old." Well, "old" is relative, but she is a mature woman; I find her glamorous.

I'd like to be more glamourous at 65 than I was at 35, though perhaps not this fully.  

If we wish to gaze into our cameras when old–tongue in chic, mesdames– with a little half-smile, we might start now.  

Confidence with big jewelery begins before fifty but blooms with that milestone. Start buying real, grown-up pieces slowly, surely– or scout for high-quality vintage costume. 
Vintage costume brooch

Shown, retro flower brooch, Carol Tannenbaum; price, $750.

Buy the striking, then wear it all day long. Her brooch would look as stunning on a blazer lapel as in her décollétage.

Makeup: Her assertive lips and eyes decry the "older women should wear soft makeup" dictum, which I always thought carried a subtext: just go and sit in the corner, dearie. One needs that strength when wearing all black.

Hair: Long and loose on this siren, but whatever the length, neither wash-and-wear practical nor strenuously blown-out, its character erased.  The blowout is the Botox of hair.

And speaking of Botox, a commenter on The Sartorialist said "How refreshing to see a mature woman without Botox".  More surprisingly, Schuman's subject shows her neck, a reveal that puts many 50+ women straight into shock.

I'm going to show my neck when I feel like it– and I do.

Her clothes: Even if we don't muster such drama daily, we can consider the occasional foray. Just like cooking, if you want to pull out the stops sometimes, you need a repertoire, from low-key to vavoom.

That's a skirt, which may not be evident at first because it isn't mid-thigh. At the age of maturity, anything higher than grazing the top of the knee is inelegant no matter how divine your legs. See the velvet detail?
Beaded demin twill

Try a luxurious touch for day, see how that feels. Shown, Lafayette 148 denim twill beaded high-waist skirt with gunmetal and jet stones; price, $296.

Even when I'm in my black-pants-and-sweater, she reminds me to slip on an interesting bracelet, like Aurelie Bidermann's cuff of vintage lace dipped in 18k gold.

Don't save the prettiest piece for a party.

Cuff: Vintage lace dipped in gold

Want to bet she's wearing perfume?

"Mmmm", a brown wren said to me at a recent party, "all the women here smell so good, maybe I'll start wearing perfume." Fragrance changes one's entire aura.

Recommended: Coup de Foudre, by Parfums DelRae, an intoxicating but refined rose.

Youth may be, as they say, may be wasted on the young, but sophistication can be inhabited by the mature woman (or man) like no one else.

Memories of Christmas and a marriage's end

I pass many months without thinking of my former spouse and the union that ended thirty years ago, a few days before Christmas. Christmas reminds me of W. not only because of that event, but because he was a "Christmas nut", the kind of person who couldn't resist Christmas-themed shops and decorated even the inside of closets.

A charming, highly social man, he would organize carol-sings as soon as December came and hosted an annual screening of "A Christmas Carol", with flaming pudding for dessert. His Christmas Eve Scavenger Hunts were legend, requiring rally-driver timing and the cooperation of streetcar drivers, shopkeepers and firehalls.

He drew the line at attire, but this week I saw a man in a Christmas sweater, featuring reindeer, a Christmas tree and presents and thought, I wonder if he'd wear that?

W. believed in big spending on gifts, and given our means, incurred a blizzard of bills that took months to pay. (We had no children together, for which I'm only grateful.)

Binge Christmas gifting signaled a deeper issue, an attempt to fill a lack. Gifts cannot substitute for love, mend a breach or close a chasm of longing. In fact, over-the-top gifts scream, Here, take this and leave me alone. Or in his case, I feel guilty.

When we parted, I gave years of luxurious presents to friends: an antique silk kimono to Jean, a Scottish cashmere sweater coat to Grace, a bracelet to Missi. In a kind of reverse "Gift of the Magi", I sold jewelry to replace the furniture he took.

In court one spring day, I noticed he was not wearing the Cartier watch that was my last gift to him, either.  

I still love to choose and give gifts, but as a result of those years, no longer confuse a thing with genuine devotion, with the dailiness, patience and perseverance that build a strong marriage. 

Marked by the marriage, if a present I receive (whether on Christmas or another occasion) entails major financial distress, I can't enjoy what I'm given. 

The breakup itself had moments of light within the sadness. Alone and miserable on Christmas day, I tried to coax our cat (now my cat) out of a tree. Hearing my calls, the neighbours came over, one with a garden hose, figuring if Mr. C. were doused, he'd descend. 

When he brandished the hose, I broke down in tears and revealed my new solitude. I spent Christmas through New Years being warmly received in their homes or with someone perched on my sofa with a mug of tea, barely alone for an hour till it was time to go back to work.

Thirty years later, I think of W. without rancour, and with appreciation for what I learned. That is a gift in itself.

There will be gifts: Timeless treasures

Some gifts are deliberately chosen to be "the latest thing" (e.g., the new bet-on-the-answer Trivial Pursuit), and others are reliable classics, the default you count on when you just don't want to think about giving (I recommend Frugal Scholar's post on "standard gifts").

But other gifts are created and given for longevity. These are the gifts I would choose for a special occasion: a decade birthday, anniversary, or any time when you want to make a gesture with a flourish.

A timeless treasure occupies the intersection of beauty and utility, free of irony, firm of quality, discreetly special: the gift for the elder, the esteemed, the longtime friend, the cherished partner. Or it says to the new love, I'm glad I found you.

Look for gifts outside fashion, but not too utilitarian. Ideas below, at varying price points, but "timeless" means very good to fine quality, even for a tin of tea.

Antique kilt pin
Kilt pin, ca. 1880s, in silver set with "cairngorms", or high-cut stones. (Stone is not identified.) Two inches in diameter. Price, $550 from 1st Dibs seller Tudor Rose Antiques

Handcarved vase
A teakwood circle vase (with glass insert) holds tall blooms. Handcarved in Thailand, from the Museum Shop of the Art Institute of Chicago. 14 3/4 inches high. Price, $70.

Decorative bamboo boxes
Temple stacking boxes of stitched, woven and painted bamboo leaves, sold as a set of three. Everyone can use a beautiful box; you could give the set or delight three friends. 

Price, $85 for the set from the Museum Shop of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Russian coin pendant
Imperial Russian 5-kopeck coin (bronze) dated 1770 with monogram of Catherine the Great. Mounted in a frame with bale, a handsome piece to wear on a cord or chain. Price, $125 from Busacca Gallery.

Japanese paper-covered canister
Kyoto Landmark washi green tea canister, to give filled with a fine tea. Price, $7 from Yuuki Cha, who also sell a selection of organic and natural Japanese teas.

Berry purple cashmere shrug
Shown on a young model... but an Eric Bompard cashmere shrug could be worn with verve by a 75 year old grandmother or her 50 year old daughter– and it's bound to be an accessory she doesn't have. Price, €138.

Retro Piccard watch

The gift of a watch is a symbol of time. Why not make it a breathtaking watch, a singularly chic ca. 1940 Lucien Piccard pink and green gold manual-wind? From 1st Dibs seller Wanna Buy a Watch? Price $2,400.

Vintage Mexican silver money clip
Even a jeans and tee guy can pull off a rakish money clip. He doesn't even have to know that Fortino Moda was a master silversmith in the '50s and '60s, he'll just enjoy the whimsy of the little critter dancing on his bills.

Price, $125 from Ruby Lane seller Little Mexican Silver Shop.

Art nouveau locket

 Beladora 2's  exquisite art noveau vine locket, with a swallow perched on a branch of ivory, hangs on an 18-inch 12k yellow gold chain.

So romantic and charming that I predict she will open the box and burst into tears of joy. I would! Price, $695.

Vintage Italian desk set
You have a friend who loves Italy? A vintage Italian desk set, with its perpetual calendar and pen holder, set on a slab of rich red marble, celebrates that passion.

Price, $58 from etsy seller bluebellbazaar; far more evocative than a bottle of wine.
St Laurent ponyskin belt
A piece of stellar vintage is timeless. If you know the waist size and have the love, this YSL ponyskin belt is a knockout. Fits a size 4 to 6; price, $475 from 1st Dibs seller Jennifer Kobrin.

A standard gift– the bottle of wine, box of chocolates, nice pen–is nothing to sneeze at, but to see a someone's eyes light up, search for the antique, ethnic, handmade or one of a kind: the gift that gives pleasure for years.

Regrets, I've worn a few

I spent a good hour engrossed by the comments for the New York Times e-article, "What You Wouldn't Do If You Could Do it Again", which asked readers to contribute their response to the question, If you could undo one bad choice and get the money back, what would it be?

Shoulda, woulda, coulda
Over a month later, responses are still rolling in steadily. There are themes: loans to friends, selling Apple stock, too-costly houses, youthful excess. 

But what surprised and moved me were the posts that had no evident financial repercussions, like "I would have kissed her."

And if someone longs for a child, it is not about the money.

My response is that I would not have bought heaps of wildly expensive designer clothes in my single-girl thirties. I don't necessarily wish I'd invested the money; travel, art, philanthropy or even a piano would have given me more joy and edification than a Gaultier suit. What a dumb, well-dressed Dora!

Mr. Right said all wrong
Those clothes didn't make me any happier or more successful than say, bridge lines, or beam Mr. Right onto my path. Le Duc in fact came along (25 years ago this month) when I was wearing a voluminous Rei Kawakubo coat that he told me he hated pretty early on.

Not only did he introduce true love, he ended my over-the-top spending not by requesting me to forsake Ferragamo and Gaultier, but by creating other priorities.

What about you?