Cancellation: Muriel Dombret Trunk Show

The Muriel Dombret (Clothes, Ottawa Ontario) trunk show scheduled for March 31 and April 1 in Toronto has been canceled; I'll post the new date when she sets it.

The closely-held hue

Tiffany blue–the colour of the box–was created solely for Tiffany by Pantone, and is not in their swatch books.

Turns out that even Tiffany can't get their blue uniformly right, as blogger Annie Elliott of Bossy Colour noted of the signage at the Philadelphia store: "This is teal. It is cheap. It is tacky. It has too much yellow in it. It is too dark."

I'm looking for the original robin's egg hue in clothing or accessories. If green, it would be a tender leaf, if pink, a glass of rosé, if yellow, the lemon longing for your squeeze. But this blue! A
sunny-morning spring sky.

A woman visiting friends' last week wore a robin's egg pashmina, longsleeved white tee, jeans, and light tan (Barbados trip). I admired the burst of lush colour in our bare, early spring. "It keeps the vacation going" she said.

Tiffany ar
e promoting the daylights out of it. You can wear 'their' hue as a turquoise and diamond pendant, $4,900. Too garish and jeune fille for me, but I find the enamel and silver scooter charm ($150) rather raffish.

(I dislike the brand-pandering,
lf-referential Tiffany items. They can do so much better. Or could.)

If I find a scarf or bag precisely this colour, I'll pounce. Oh, or driving loafers!

In the meantime, someone has supplied their approximation of shade (Pantone 1837, the year the company was founded) as a colour chip here.

My only doubt is caused by the fact that Pantone have decreed Turquoise as the Colour of the Year for 2010. A cousin of Turquoise, will the delicate robin's egg crack through overexposure?

50+ women at the Arty Boutique

Do you have an Arty Boutique in your city? They sell lines like Rundholz, Oska, Cynthia Ashby, Lilith, Crea Concept, Flax, Babette. (Shown, Crea Concept dress, Spring '10.)

This niche provides 50+ women more forgiving cuts, with detail supplied by asymmetry, layers, deliberate volume and exa
ggerated or tweaked silhouettes. Those with extra weight hope that we look 'interesting' rather than camouflaged. Other clients are our slender sisters who enjoy
the look and women seeking more-covered styles to meet cultural norms.

You won't find twin-set preppy or stop-traffic sultry. No denim, no cables, few bold patterns. You will find natural fabrics, longer skirts, wider-legged pants and lots of pockets–remember those?

I visit the shop occasionally, with mixed results. Sometimes it's disappointing: too much getup-y garb sold at high prices. But the simpler stock can work well for me.

On a sunny warm afternoon last week, Arty Boutique was swarmed with 50+ women, including three acquaintances, all buying busily. No wonder: We can get sizes, and are offered options to our dependable 'uniforms'. (Shown, Babette dress and jacket.)

"Lola", very round and petite, was headed to her Caribbean vacation home. A 20-something sales associate was hard-selling the wrong clothes. In a voluminous dress with a heavy appliqued design at the hem, Lola looked like an overstuffed armchair covered by a dropcloth.

Much better for Lola's figure and the island heat: a body-skimming linen Flax Surprise Dress worn over the Fundamental Pant, shown. Because the store carries the line in Petite, the proportion would be right. That associate will overdress any women willing to let her pile vest over dress over pants. The result: overwheming, ill-fitting eccentricity.

"Marion" has a model's tall, rangy figure and a discerning eye. She bought this coral Oska linen jacket in a fairly close fit.

Marion wore a below-knee-length black knit pencil skirt with a softly twisted hem (Lilith) and semi-sheer slate blue cardigan.

She believes that one piece of arty per ensemble is enough, and prefers the unembellished pieces. She gave me hope that arty could work for me.

Oska is the 'strict' side of arty, see more of the spring line here.

I found the ease of Oska's
fine cotton wide-leg pants, far left, perfect for working at a desk. Their linen-knit Hattie jacket, left, worn with Fiora linen pants would make a relaxed travel outfit. (Knit linen–a sublime textile.)

"Martha" had just bought a plastic bib necklace of large beads in Easter-egg colours. (I don't think plastics work well with arty, except for high end resins.) She was urged to buy thin-rainbow-striped arm warmers. Martha asked what I thought and I whispered, Young. Why hide behind false tact? If you're wearing trifocals, think long and hard about rainbow-striped anything. I caught the laser death glare from the associate, but am unrepentant.

Shopping in a parallel universe

If you enter the Arty Boutique in jeans and a crisp, classic shirt, your sense of proportion will be skewed. Your classic clothes will look nothing like what you're trying on, and when everything looks different, you can lose clarity.
Take off everything before trying that skirt. The classic and arty live better together in decor than they do on a body.

If these tweaked proportions please you, buy the standout piece and think about what you already own. Your simple white boat-neck tee will look fine with those bulged-leg pants, but your French-cuffed striped shirt will not. Your linen muffler, yes, your printed silk carré, no.

You don't have make your closet an arty party, but you will need enough compatible clothing and accessories to wear it coherently.

A quilted barn jacket– the same jacket you love with your jeans– will jar. Oska's Casual Summer Coat with large collar is in the right register.

I am not as negative about the shop as an image consultant who remarked, "The last thing arty clothes make a woman look like is an artist."

Arty Boutique can yield quiet, refined, versatile clothes that lend a particular individuality. The key is to avoid the self-consciously exaggerated and over-designed, and to select for simplicity and fit. (Shown, blouse and pants by Lilith.)

I bought the wide-legged pants and a calm, well-cut white shirt, then fled.

What's worth springing for?

What is worth going waaaay over your budget to buy? Obviously, something that provides such intense pleasure that you are skipping with delight when you wear it a year later.

But that's hindsight.

In the moment, how do you decide to spend a great deal, relative to your means? I'm not talking about a purchase that is more or less manageable– I mean the tippy-top of your price point, plus 50%, plus every give-self-a-gift justification you can wrangle.

Here are my criteria for clothes.

1. Doesn't date for (ideally) a decade

We know the cost-per-wear concept, but in
order to get that wear, search for something relatively undateable. Tweed hacking jacket trumps balloon skirt.

To get a piece with legs, you need not confine yourself to stodgy, obdurate sensibility. Your new sweater may not see 2020, but you want wear it out, not have it go out of style.
This studded suede vest by Maje, ($390 from Net-a-porter) is a perfect example of hard-to-date.

If you told me you'd had it since the '70s, I'd believe you, yet with a long-sleeved tee and jeans, it's of the moment.

Philosophy di Alberta Feretti merlot satin jersey dress hits all my criteria: flattering cut, graceful fabric, and a belt to add in evening. Will travel well, too. Price, $640 from Net-a-porter.

Here's a ringer, a Gaultier Paris-print kaftan. Some of the longest-wearing clothes are actually the wildest. Bonjour, inner Tabitha Getty? Auntie Mame? Or just a 50+ with a sense of humour. Price, $745 from Saks Fifth Avenue.

Shown at the top of the post, Derek Lam's jade seamed wool tunic ($1,190 from Saks Fifth Avenue) is another item on which I'd make a decade bet.

A '60s feel, but the shape (achieved though boning) and contrast seams add refinement. Look at the back detail!

2. Doesn't wear out its welcome

Though it sounds boring, I consider
durability once the price zooms way beyond my comfort zone.

No matter how much I think I'll wear those Italian velvet pants, the nap is going to wear off the seat in two seasons flat.
Though fashion writers insist on calling him 'directional' (I always wonder which direction), Rick Owens' metallic leather jacket makes the cut. Chic casual leather is good place to put big bucks; wear makes a piece personal. Price, $2,260 from Net-a-porter.

Do not remind me of my metallic brocade coat that cost as much as a small building and sprouted a forest of broken, stiff threads after one short season.

A swath of understated luxury, this Bottega Veneta wool-gabardine trench in aubergine is mostly sold out on Net-a-porter (price, $1,950). Apparently I'm not alone in thinking, investment piece.
Durability includes maintenance. Will it cause hand-wringing from cleaners? You know you're in trouble you hand over your white silk coat and hear "I can't promise...". Will you mind the continual cost for hand-pressing some blouses require?

3. Gives if you need it

If you are over 50, require your splurge to accommodate a bit of weight gain (or loss, which I understand does happen to some women). A midriff-hugging delicate chiffon top may split its side seam and there's no room for alteration. Bye-bye.
Matthew Williamson's embellished black silk maxi, with triangular mirror and metallic bead detail (price, $1,595 from Net-a-porter) is a smart splurge: multi-seasonal, forgiving and conducive to shortening to cocktail length one day, if you wish.

Knits, especially wraps or sweaters which open, like cardi or jacket styles, provide some size flex. This Clements Ribeiro Breton-striped cashmere with bold ivory frogs would give a kick to simple pieces, and though memorable is also quite classic. Price, $1,375 from Net-a-porter.

Ethnic or ethnic-inspired pieces in easy shapes that showcase superior textiles are also smart splurges.

Shown, Japanese shirt from vintage indigo fabric by
Asiatica, $1,995 (or hunt for textiles and have one made).

Go with the flow. Etro's silk paisley caftan top does not require iron discipline to fit into over various summers. (Price, $590 from Net-a-porter).

I realize there's another philosophy which is, buy a very close fitting, expensive garment and it motivates you to keep slim. Consignment shops are full of examples.

4. Special, but not intimidating
A harder one to explain and control, this is an attitude issue.

Will you let yourself wear and enjoy the item, as if it's your favourite J. Crew t-shirt?
I've bought things so fabulous that they intimidated me. Sometimes I've gotten over it, but one silk blouse was so exquisite that I kept saving it, and ended up a bigger size before wearing it much.

The opposite: a navy cashmere-silk sweater dress by Gentry Portofino that I bought in 1983.
A monster splurge for me, yet the most timeless and enjoyable garment I've ever found.

What are your criteria for a splurge? Besides stealing your heart, of course!

Snobs: Part two

Part two of a two-part post.

Facing my Inner Snob

I attended a conference, packing as we all do: maximum changes stuffed in a carry-on, trusty basics extended via accessories. Tying an Hermès scarf over a simple v-neck, I thought, I'll bet no one here (employees of an unglamourous retail chain) will know what this is. Then I asked myself, Do you care? No.

Whew, just squeaked under the snob wire that time. But did I? Or was I guilty of the snob's shell game: They don't know, but still, I am 'better'? And if I meet someone who does, won't we enjoy our status semaphore?

The op
posite of snobbery is humility, and its shy cousin, modesty, traits Canadians revere. This makes us sensitive to snobbery, and prone to hiding our light lest we appear arrogant. While we have produced world-class snobs like Conrad Black, we much prefer discretion.

We have at least one self-confessed snob in the family, Le Duc's eccentric, beloved aunt. He and she will sit, brandy snifters before them, belting out the lyrics to Boris Vian's classic, "Je Suis Snob" (click for English translation).

Reverse snobs scare me more, because they are often anti-intellectual, so they stop thinking. (Just try to find a broadly-read reverse snob.)

The true snob courts those above. The reverse snob resents them, and can broaden his resentment to contempt for any achievement.
They are prone to Tall Poppy Syndrome, the criticism and punishment of the successful.

However, I have also heard snobs disparage those they consider beneath them. Ageism, sexism and racism occupy the same hermetically-sealed universe as snobbery, because they establish and maintain an arbitrary status differential. Any religion founded on a premise of election (we are saved, you are not) is tinged with snobbery. If you're unsure whether the organization you're thinking of joining is a snob lodge, ask yourself, Is their premise 'being a member is being better'?

The real cost of snobbery

For the material-object snob, the obvious cost is financial. The premise that consumption elevates is a marketer's dream. Once we agree, we're theirs, willing to buy what we can't afford, whether house or handbag. And of course as you climb, the accoutrement becomes ever more expensive. What a brilliant scam.

The deeper cost is to a person's humanity. When our life is dedicated to approval and status, we isolate ourselves on our narrow rung of a precarious ladder and, peering anxiously up to the next level, worry about slipping. Or we look with disdain on those below. Run by envy and fear, life shrinks; hyperselectivity whittles the range of experience to a narrow band.

I'm not advocating settling for shoddy goods, denying ourselves the pleasures of possessions, or downplaying our talents or achievements. I am, though, hoping we'll pause, if we wander into Better-Than-Thou Land, to ask ourselves if we really want to live there.

Snobs: Part one

This is the first of a two-part post.

Driving with Anne, I suggested we stop at a simple neighbourhood place for lunch. "Oh, she said, I would never eat there, let's go to to that cute café in the Beach. I'm a such a snob!"

I became interested in this word.

Snob: the term, beyond its sparse dictionary definition, is explored here.

It's often used lightly, as Anne did. But I don't think she's a snob, just picky.

Faux snobs like Anne abound, trying when you just want a quick bite, but not the real deal. I would like women to reconsider, before merrily adopting the label, whether the shoe really fits. It is, in its accurate use, not an admirable quality.

For snobbery is not simply a matter of taste or discernment. To be a true snob, you will be concerned with status and your elevation. Snobs are invested in the social confirmation that differentiates them from the masses– or from a group which threatens them. (Stalin has been called the world's greatest snob.)

You can be a snob about anything: book snob, eco snob, school snob, religion snob, bike snob– or go whole-hog snob, which must be exhausting. Snob is a job– and when you think you're at the top of your game, someone hisses, parvenu.

Not necessarily snobs

The connoisseur, having honed his eye, can't stand substandard goods.
Snob friends might applaud his taste and hold out the golden apple of social approval. The connoisseur appreciates the quality of his Gieves and Hawkes suit, the snob is quite comforted by the firm's possession of all three main Royal Warrants.

The bon vivant loves the good life, revels in pleasure; she is only a snob if she thinks her talent for enjoyment confers superiority. The bon vivant likes the idea of meeting for a glass after work, the snob will be sure to meet at the right bar.

The proud person is just plain happy to be–and declare herself– whatever: Canadian, Parent of an Honour Student, gay, owner of a Shih Tzu– the list is endless, go ahead and Google it. The snob believes that membership confers superiority, and the more exclusive or restrictive the membership, the better.

"Bons": reverse snobs

The reverse snob eschews anything "too fine" "intellectual" or "snooty". Reverse snobs are common among adolescents, who usually grow out of it after trying the patience of their capitalist running-dog parents. (True snobs rarely change.) "Bons" behaviour includes the return of gifts they deem too nice, the deliberate choice of grotty restaurants, and acute embarrassment or boredom if dragged to highbrow cultural events.

Sharply critical of anyone for "forgetting their roots", the reverse snob's theme is a lusty rendition of this:

Snobs' secret longings

If you pull back the plush velvet curtain of snobbery, you often find insecurity.

Joanna dressed her children in exquisite clothes from a luxury boutique. She compensated for her destitute childhood– and said so. But Jo wasn't a snob: she didn't care whether others noticed or what they thought of her choice.

Dianne patronized the boutique because the label telegraphed her
social connection to the élite: "I just picked up the cutest sweater for Elodie at Bonpoint, where I saw Madame X buying the same one!" Name-dropping is the snob's oxygen.

Calling oneself a snob is a backhanded boast: I have arrived, or I have more (as in, for example, intellectual snobbery). It also pre-empts being chastised by others. Like calling yourself a ditz, the snob excuses the attribute by being the first to name it.

Snobbery reveals what one needs to feel welcome and safe in the world. The urge to establish superior status may be a coping mechanism developed over many thousands of years as a means for survival. That is, until the concept of revolution caught on.

We all reassure ourselves with some kind of security blanket. The snob's will be Scottish cashmere, but it's a blankie nonetheless.

How to treat a snob

First, most people who call themselves snobs aren't.
But a real snob might respond to being told that we love him just the way he is, before you even think of reformation. He has so much of his identity invested in his status. And your snob probably has other, more admirable qualities.

A snob might benefit from a little gently-rendered ribbing. If so, you could respond the way my brother did when a colleague offered to drive him home in his new Rolls Royce.

Dr X: Have you ever been in a Rolls before, Denny?
Bro: Well... not in front.

Tomorrow: Snobs: Part two

Des vieux amants

Today is our 24th wedding anniversary, an especially evocative one, for we are on the edge of an empty nest ("cette chambre sans berceau"), the last bird gathering twigs for his move.

I'm the early riser; I came downstairs to find a note on my laptop: "Just press play".

For you, as well, Jacques Brel's "Chanson des vieux amants" (with English subtitles).

Pearls for the first spring days

In spring, the pearl love bursts forth. Here's a new crop for you: various price points and pleasing design, just in time for the first day of spring.

Kojima Company are a source for Kamokas, a Tahitian pearl from Ahe, French Polynesia, and offer this ravishing strand knotted on aqua silk. The pearls range in color from steel grey, to peacock and aubergine and measure 9.2–9.7mm. Price, $925.

(Restyle your tried and true strand by restringing on coloured silk. I cannot resist: why knot?

Pink pearls are the essence of tender spring, and this pair of studs, set in brushed sterling bezels, remind me of pussy willows. $78 from etsy seller moiraklime.

Gump's pearls are always dreamy; some are very fine, and therefore costly. These luminous white 8.5mm freshwater pearls, contrasted against the pop of 10mm turquoise beads, are a relatively affordable $675. Smashing from spring through summer.

We could wear our nice, simple pearl studs, but these Gabrielle Sanchez white freshwater pearls are far more fanciful. Set in 18K yellow gold and inlaid with citrine, oro verdi, amethyst and rhodolite, about 1 3/4 inches long; price, $968 from Twist.

Spring suggests light pieces. This yellow gold arrow pendant with rose diamonds and pearl by Annina Vogel has timeless presence. Price, £1,630; from Kabiri.

Pearls on the wing: an art noveau butterfly brooch from Beladora, $1,150. Measures about one by one and a quarter inches, just right for a lapel, at the neck of a sweater, or pinned on a beret. Red enamel wings, pearl wingtips and body, ruby cabuchon eyes– one fabulous flutter-by.

Pearls are June's birth stone, but it's hardly rushing the season to wear them now. When is spring ever too early?

UdeMan on St. Pat's: Liam O'Maonlai

Happy St. Patrick's Day! A song for you from one of my favourite (and most Ireland's most handsome) musicians.

Liam O'Maonlai of
The Hothouse Flowers singing a traditional song, "Sadhbh Ni Bhruinneallaigh" in Gaelic. (Harmony vocals, Kathleen MacInnes; fiddle, Allan Henderson; guitar, Steve Cooney; harp, Allan MacDonald; bodhran, Jim Sutherland.) The song is about an fisherman who presents his case to a woman he hopes to court.

The entire family celebrates.
I always hit a pub with one of my GFs, where we introduce ourselves as the O'Malley sisters. The O'Malley sisters may be invented, but they always get a seat!

A few spring things

Do you ever feel driven by the season's change, as if some tiny brain-switch deploys and says, You. must. shop.?

In this country, on the first day the sun warms our hunched chests, we long to change our entire wardrobes. Or at least get a new skirt.

But we had a record mild winter here in Toronto. Maybe I can blame the catalogs, in which the colts of J. Crew and matrons of Orvis alike cavort on terraces and Vespas. Or is it the store mannikins, whose pants morphed from stolid brown to brightest white overnight?
(Shown, waterflower Delphinia gown, $650 from J. Crew Collection.)

The inevitable late March snowshower hits just when you've sent your winter gear to the cleaner.
But one or two things to herald the end of winter can't be so wrong, can it?

Suede Cascade jacket, $895, J. Crew Collection.
Soft pearly-grey; light, supple layer.

Cashmere will make sense here for months, and Eric Bompard have just released their spring line, in shades that avoid limp pastels yet sing of spring.

The liquid
silk (charmeuse) tee in green, €70, could be worn under a cashmere cardi (the "re-gaugued cardigan") in bellflower purple, €210 (less VAT for those in non-European countries).

If you want to say 'spring' but need to stay cozy, I'd buy their cashmere spotted stole, which will also extend a light dress on a cool summer evening, €165.

But sometimes you want an item that's deeply spring. This Sonia by Sonia Rykeil cotton sweater dress is that little charmer: blush with blue stripes! Some of you wee slips of things might wear it; I'll just adore it from afar. From Net-a-porter, price: $270.

Lafayette 148 make clothes you can wear to work without feeling hermetically sealed-in or bored. They are one of the few labels that know we don't want separate wardrobes for work and the rest of life, and deliver consistently.

This Jubilant Jacquard wing-collar jacket is also available in Petite, and would spring-ify any neutral bottom, $495 from their web site.

Another piece that I liked by Lafayette 148 is this denim pencil skirt with the wink of ruffle at the hem. A denim skirt is useful, but so many look like you're headed for the nearest campground. This is denim with a spritz of perfume. Also comes in white, $178.

Talbot's pretty link-stitch sweater, a washable cotton-rayon blend, caught my eye for the sweep of its yoke and neckline perfect for jewelry or a scarf.

Spring hues of porcelain blue (shown) or meadow green; also in bone, brown, vermilion. $69.50; also in Women's sizes.
Sizing runs a touch tight.

Are you captivated by spring yet? What are you looking for?

Paris Fashion Week embraces 'strict'

The New York Times published the shots below from Fashion Week in Paris with the headline "Minimalism, and Plenty of It". Yes, camels and taupe everywhere for Fall '10, but also the all-black will not show up in these thumbnails.

re's a real-life woman attending the Balenciaga show, in a discreet black suit that I'd love to wear into the ground. (Photo courtesy Maison Chaplin).

Seems 'strict' has moved from the margins as women require more of their clothes than a trophy brand or one-season trend.
Below, a trio of the best from show favourites.

1. Chloé, wool blouse and skirt edged in leather, a triu
mph of subtlety, a "lesson in chic understatement".

2. Stella McCartney taupe wool coat with notched detail.

3. Sonia Rykiel taupe coat; look at the bellowed pockets. Nice to see this house back in top form.

Where can a woman on a budget find such quiet beauty?

Strict wears its heart on a very precisely set sleeve, so the price point tends to float up till it edges out of sight like a helium balloon that slipped from your hand. While some reject anything but the best (and have achieved that handful-of-exquisite-clothes satori), many of us mix it up, choosing where to spend.

Several ready-to-wear designers have stepped up to the new minimal. None are low-priced– you can't, as the saying goes, get there from here.

MaxMara: Dependably well-made, with many minimal pieces in the MaxMara, Weekend and (for size 10US and up) Marina Rinaldi lines. Hardly 'budget', but a lower price point than Chloé. Shown, wool/silk stretch wool jacket $1,240 from Saks.

Joining her compatriots, Vivienne Westwood turns in some strict surprises in her Anglomania label.

A draped jersey dress in the kind of off-colour that's an emblem of high price points, a rose-brown, $460, from Net-a-porter.

And my heart beat faster for this Anglomania Propaganda jacket, $1,145 at Net-a-porter.

Local designers like the beloved Judy Cornish and Joyce Gunhouse of Comrags have always championed minimal, refined styles.

Comrags do not, I admit, work in the gossamer cashmere and liquid charmeuse of Celine, but still turn out chic clothes priced in the hundreds rather than thousands. Shown, suit from the Spring '10 collection.

Lida Baday is renowned Canadian designer, sold internationally, with a grasp on the minimalist approach, and superb execution. This asymmetric satin black jersey dress, $750, is from the spring offerings sold at Holt Renfrew. (My only issue with her is that her sizes stop at a narrowish US10.)

Look around your nearest city for local designers who understand this aesthetic and have the advanced skills to execute. They are often just below the radar, advertising minimally or not at all.

More than merely soft

Bold Strict is disciplined ease. This contradiction defines it and separates it from, for example, Eileen Fisher's flowy, rectangular cuts.

Talbot's jacket shown (available in May) is softly tailored, but does not channel the essence of the current minimalism. And I'll admire it on the woman who passes me on the street. It's pretty, wearable– and what the workplace likes.

Strict isn't everyone's style; some women take a damn-the-torpedoes stance toward decoration or prefer more pops of colour.

However, some of the most ecstatic reviews for what's being shown in Paris this week are for the quietest designs since Calvin Klein held a pencil and made minimalist magic. (I could barely afford them, but they were always perfect.)

Aren't we all just wanting to breathe more easily in our clothes?