Courting spring

Montréal digs into darks in the winter; you can ride the metro and see nothing lighter in the entire car than a kid's bright cap or a pair of camel boots.

Though the grip of -22C/-7F wind chill today, sometime next month women will declare, "Assez!" 

Just like the first bouquets of forced forsythia, we will have an early glimpse; it always begins with scarves. The baby-blanket-sized mufflers vanish and women tie on the colours of the new season.

Manipuri's red bicycle print is 85% wool/15% silk, so supplies coziness while still looking springy. A 125cm (49 inch) square, it is generous enough to wear as a shawl when the weather warms up. Price, £105 at Liberty.

A flowery but strong silk scarf, in navy lit by pink says winter is over without "rushing the season" (an enthusiasm that my mother believed was a cardinal sin). 100 cm (39 inch) Blue Tulip silk scarf by Joanna Alsop, $263 at Boticca.

Next comes the outerwear. You can't go from parka to raincoat here unless you are under twenty and impervious to hypothermia. The transitional coat, whether designer or mall markdown, says We Are Out of the Woods. 

Leather is popular because it still gives windproof protection. Lafayette148's butterscotch lambskin military jacket provides that "Whew, over!" lift; price, $998.

When your red leash matches your owner's jacket, so much the better!

A coloured quilted jacket, which I just added to my wardrobe, is another way to cheat March's bouncy temperatures. (Shown, cosy padded jacket from Boden, £99.) 

The jacket sightings parallel glimpses of the spring sweater: some women wear pastels, but many choose deeper—yet absolutely-spring—shades, like those of Boden's aquamarine cotton cricket jumper; price £120.

We will still be in boots, but now chosen for different conditions: some snow, but also rain and mud. Green Hunter wellies are very popular, but I like aubergine; price about $130 at Zappos.

Suddenly I realize, "Oh, there's this thing called...skirts." I went for weeks and weeks this winter seeing little but trousers.  For the first month, skirts will be worn with tights, as this woman does:

What says 'spring' more than Mary Kantzarou's cherry-blossom printed Palma pencil skirt ($1,190) skirt, which I will worship from afar?

But we need not spend that much; my across-the-street vintage store, La Founderie, showed an insouciant ensemble for about $70:

The beloved black remains, but away go the turtlenecks. Its temperament lightens, perhaps by way of texture, as in this Saturday lace dress by designer Vivienne Westwood, one of my absolute favourites.

Well, it will be too cold for that dress till May, but I just had to show it.

What are you looking forward to unpacking or adding for spring?

Cathy Horyn on women's needs, and a few spring things

Just read it, already, if you have not: Cathy Horyn on the reality of grown women's choices, in an article titled "Sign of the Times/Slave No More".

(Sidebar: See also the insightful posts by Déjà Pseu of Une femme d'un certain age and Janice Riggs of The Vivienne Files on aspects of this article.)

For me, Horyn's standout statement was, "By now, I suspect, most people know that the purpose of runway shows is entertainment, and to create a feeling of desire. They understand that the main interest of high-fashion companies is economic rather than aesthetic."

There is a political stance in Horyn's piece (which bravely nips the hand that feeds her); she is subtly pointing to what happens when we refuse to be a mindless consumer, told we never have enough or look right. Those messages contribute to making women passive, insecure, and broke.

Last week, I dropped by a luxury store to admire the spring Céline collection, and can't remember when I saw such understated quality hanging on a rack. (From Horyn: "Probably no one defines the modern sense of comfort with more authority than Phoebe Philo of Céline.") 

Even while I reeled at the price tag, I could see buying these clothes, because the beauty did not mitigate the comfort, and vice versa. 

Instead, though, I took a fitted, lightweight down jacket by the French brand Gertrude, that I was happy to find on sale. Its pungent coral will look like spring while it's still chilly in Montréal. 

The piece comes squished into its stuff sack, useful for travel.

I'll wear it with straight-leg jeans, an off- white v-neck.  


My stylish, globetrotting friend Christine just bought two pairs of killer shoes (well, technically a shoe and a boot) whose material is red velvet! The heel of both is low, combining mad chic with walkability: she hit the Horyn sweet spot.

But they are not made for puddle-jumping, so I will be in purpley-blue Bogs "Harper" rain boots, a weather-friendly  version of what Horyn calls "an almost boyish uniform of slim-cut trousers, pullovers and flat shoes." 

For a little zhuzh, maybe those eccentric South Sea pearls, or a triple rope of greys with a vintage clasp and a big ring or two.

Christine thinks pearls are boring; actually I think she said "Pearls bore the tits off me", but we were having cocktails and besides, she's entitled to her opinion!

On with my coat and out the door!

I am taking a short trip and will be offline for this week; the next post is February 25.

No fuss: bag packed, coat on, cab hailed.

A good coat is indispensable, and so is a break!

All photos by Scott Schuman, retrieved from The Sartorialist.

A Valentine: When love comes later in life

Jude has fallen in love and she's in such a state! Her smile is 50% wider and slightly lopsided, which gives her an off-kilter charm that is completely unaffected.

Everything, from her voice to her movements to her laugh, is lighter, looser. She is an entirely responsible person, but you have the sense that she and her love could just jump into a Thunderbird and roar off, having everything they need in the front seat.

I had kind of forgotten this state, what another friend calls the Bumping Into Furniture Stage. 

In early adulthood, that stage is ubiquitous—your cohort are continually climbing into hot-air balloons, casting off the sandbags. Perhaps because the phenomenon was prevalent, like a murmuration of sparrows, we lost sight of its wonder.

The came midlife, when our busy-ness obscured noting the moment's giddy effervescence. If you had children, the teenage years meant watching over easily-broken and uncertain hearts. Falling in love was not quite as fun to witness when it involved a 15-year-old who wondered if he could live without a sullen girl whose ferret peed on your best jacket.

Now, I am 65 and friends long on their own are falling in love—not everyone, not predictably, and often as surprising to them as to me. Lucinda called, her voice breaking with emotion, to say, "I never thought this would happen again."

This post-50 falling in love is more complicated. Children weigh in, sometimes very assertively: He's not that funny. Oh no, he's got a stupid beard. Habits are more ingrained. You don't just throw your stuff in a box and move in anymore.

If hope is "the thing with feathers/that perches in the soul", the most magnificent plumage belongs to rekindled hope, the reconnection with possibility, anticipation, discovery.

"I'm not afraid", Lucinda said, "because I have loved before and know what that involves. I just have to trust myself."

I also find friends' reactions different from thirty or forty years ago. There's still the same vetting: Is this a good person for her? But there's more acknowledgment of the ups and downs in any union, less insistence on its being perfect.

Those who have stayed in love for years watch those falling in love again, and a bit of that spangly, 120-proof joy rubs off.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.

High fashion's groovy return

The sixties have come round again, and you know the old joke: If you can remember them, you weren't there.

I beg to differ: I clearly remember, with great fondness, a deep purple  crocheted vest, a magnificent, embroidered Afghan dress, a swirling, tiered silk skirt that equaled Joni Mitchell's.

After a childhood and adolescence in school uniforms and "classics", what freedom to leave for university in 1966! 

I arrived with a trunk of coordinated skirts and sweaters, but by the following spring skipped across campus in bell-bottoms and a Mexican blouse. "My, you are keeping your clothes in good shape", Mom said, inspecting the largely unworn Villager gear when I came home in May. 

By the early '70s, I went to work; hello skirt suits and budget-stretching neutrals. Slowly, the painted silks and gypsy blouses decamped for a party elsewhere.

But '60s style is back, and not just in 420-friendly Colorado. I predict the increasing decriminalization of marijuana will affect fashion even in less progressive jurisdictions, bringing a renaissance in lush fabrics, bold patterns and easy cuts.

Always a textile aficionado, I'd rather score a swath of gorgeous cut-velvet than an ounce of Orange Creamsicle—but if the air of change carries creamy suedes and fantastic prints, bring it on. (Shown, devoré cut velvet scarf from The Getty Store; price, $105.)

Would I indulge in the legal pot? Perhaps for medical reasons, but not for pleasure: it put me to sleep in the '60s and made me paranoid the one time I indulged in the intervening 40 years. Your flight log may vary.

I welcome the reappearance of opulent textiles, far more for their sheer beauty than for nostalgic memories, though such pieces take some sleuthing to find. (Let the splotchy tie-dyes and shoddy patchworks stay in the patchouli-soaked past.)  

Though head-to-toe retro doesn't appeal, a bit of unconventional fabric on a mature woman looks phenomenal.

J. Crew moonglow paisley silk tee, price, $118

Ketana Palazzo silk trousers (limited sizes); East UK; sale price, £50

Microcosmos Italian cotton kimono; price, £146 at Wolf & Badger

Slate blue beaded neck detail velvet dress; Poetry UK; price £189

Silk Khasia top, Anthropologie; price, $198

Boden canvas shopper ; price, £19

The '60s weren't all paisleys! Check the selection of '60's inspired graphic prints (Marimekko, Celia Birtwell, Ossie Clark) on these totes—and they're machine washable.

Whether I support the encroaching high times or not, I am firmly in favour of the philosophy expressed so long ago in Simon and Garfunkle's "The 59th Street Bridge Song":
"Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin' groovy."

Cashmere: Replacements and enticements

I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. The elbows of my black cashmere v-neck, bought ca. 2005, are nearly worn through. I'd order another from Land's End, but they discontinued their "deep v" model years ago.

I'll coax it though maybe another winter by patching the elbows with pink washable ultrasuede from Etsy seller 3crafties.

Don't you feel a pang when your trusty basic wears out? And a well-made cashmere piece means considerable expense. February sales to the rescue!

I will replace the black with navy, for the slightest whiff of change. But really, a sweater even I will have trouble remembering is new is about as exciting as ordering a case of dental floss.

The front-runner is Brora's classic v-neck: right neckline, slightly shaped body (a boxy v-neck can look rather masculine) and yarn that doesn't pill. Black and navy are not usually on sale, but this year, they are. It's still a pretty penny, but (confession, not my first of this model) I'm hooked on the quality. 

Tish Jett of A femme d'Un certain age sagely observes that sales are the time to check off your list of replacements, but also to update your wardrobe with a captivating, unusual item.
One such treat might be a luxurious corseted knit jacket by Eric Bompard (reduced by 30%; sale price €483). I'm showing the white so we can admire the assortment of ribs, cables and ripples. I would certainly dribble tea on that pristine swath, so feel relieved that it comes in in back and navy, too.
A two-tone pink dotted cardi, (50% off; sale price €165) would court spring sweetly:


If you are a UK size 8 or 10 and feel adventurous, Brora have reduced the price on an audacious Michael Van Der Ham intarsia cardi from £485 to £289.  

The sales need not involve a huge outlay. A chic accessory tarts up neutrals: I love the colours in Brora's camouflage wrist warmers. (Regular price £45; sale price £29).

Another relatively affordable treat: a pair of cashmere gloves, on sale at both Brora and Bompard. They fit over rings, are easily packed and make a fine gift, especially in a piquant colour like Butterfly Blue. (Price for Eric Bompard's, €31 plus shipping.) 

If snow covers the ground while you're reading this, there is ample time left to enjoy your delicious discount, especially in colours that whisper encouragement to a spring still many weeks away.

*Note: Prices do not include shipping or applicable duties and taxes.

Pearls: Remarkable colours and marvelous mixes

Detail,  Winterson necklace
Nearly all pearls made into jewelry today—certainly a strand—will be cultured, no shame in that. (For a peek at natural pearl pieces, see this page at Pearl Paradise.)

Culturing enables the cultivation of a vast range of natural coloured pearls, from oranges to tart pinks to silver and blue-greys. 

Time, then, to stroll the Passage and admire these luscious colours, mixed into one piece. 
We're looking for fascinating hues, in a size that suits grown women—pearls we can wear walking the dog or to a bistro, though we'll ogle some fabulous pieces too, to build our eye.

Have you finished your allongé? Let's set off!

The elegant London jewelers Winterson offer a lavish long rope (120cm or 47 inches) of multicoloured 8-9.5mm ovals. The colours include white, apricot, pink and lavender, which will glow on both warm and cool skin tones. Price, £550.

Winterson 47-inch rope

Oh, promise me a rose garden! That is, an 11-13.5mm "Rose Garden" necklace (17.75 inches long) of semi-baroque CFWPs in dark and light lavender, peach, and pink. Somebody please turn on the fan. Price, $801 at Kojima Company.

Kojima Company "Rose Garden" necklace

Luxe, multicoloured Tahitian rounds are a definite splurge. These are AAA grade 11-14mm pearls, with smooth surfaces, high luster and the tantalizing Tahitian palette: shimmery peacock, cherry, greys and blue-greys. Price, $6,900 at Pearl Paradise

This is a quieter palette than the much-photographed Nancy Pelosi necklace; if you prefer more contrast, a Tin Cup version in her colourway is here and offered in both 16 and 18-inch lengths. Well-priced, too, especially now that PP have a 14% off sale till the end of February!

Lush Tahitian rounds from Pearl Paradise

A hip, casual mix: Beth Orduna's multi-pearl cluster ring set in brass; price, $748 at Twist Online.
Beth Orduna ring

A head-turning mixed-pink Pearlescence charm necklace; the voluptuous 13-14.7mm Kasumi-type pearls, pinned to silver chain, will dance. Again, all natural colours, 52cm (about 20.5 inches), which could also be shortened. Price, £150.

Pearlesence charm necklace

Singular splendours

Black/white pearl earrings: an uncommon and elegant signature of icons from the Duchess of Windsor to Oprah, and I have also seen them on far more casual dressers. 

You could readily have a a pair made, minus the diamonds, from either black and white Tahitians or freshwaters. (If freshwaters, the black pearl will be dyed.) 

Grande dames will simply order these Russell Trusso 12mm Tahitian white and dark blue-green "Day and Night" earrings set with 1.20cts of diamonds. Price, $6,250 at Gump's.

Russell Trusso studs

Beladora have the last word in mismatched magnificence, South Sea yellow and gold flower earrings. The pearls are a whopping 15mm each, lit by 7.50cts of diamonds, set in 18k yellow and 18k blackened gold. Price, $14,550. Wouldn't you feel like Rita Hayworth in them? And I even have the red hair.

Beladora South Sea and diamond earrings
Back on the ground after jewel stratosphere, but still very special: colour-change freshwater baroque studs offered by Pearls of Joy. The 10-12mm pearls shift colour depending on the light, and show strong luster and intense orient. Price, $65.

Pearls of Joy colour-change freshwater studs
If you prefer a drop style, see the metallic colours here. And note that Pearls of Joy also have a 14% off Valentine's Day sale on now (but I don't know when it ends).

Spring reno?

It might also be time for jewelry box cleaning. A little-worn strand of whites could become a knockout rope by adding other colours; they need not match in size, but should harmonize.

Here's an example: Kojima Company's 23-inch Long Pearl Medley necklace, which includes a big Japanese Kasumi, a Tahitian, and South Seas hanging out with lustrous 4-7mm South Sea keshis; price, $720. Scatter the coloured pearls among your whites or add them in a section, as shown here.

Kojima "Pearl Medley" necklace

You wouldn't have to choose South Seas or Tahitians, either; there's a world of freshwaters in intense or soft colours. Hiding in your drawer might be the start of your one-of-a-kind stunner. 

Imagine that with your spring sweater!