Master and beginner: Raf and Judy

Raf Simons

The day after I watched the engrossing documentary "Dior and I", which juxtaposes old footage of  Christian Dior with the house's most recent head, Raf Simons, I read that Simons was leaving his prestigious job.

Suzy Menkes wrote an empathic post here; if you read between the lines, she's implying Simons was burnt out, and that anyone would be, given the relentless pace of collections, PR duty, and leadership of one of the few remaining houses that does its couture work in on-site ateliers.

(The most intriguing part of the film is seeing les petits mains at work, and briefly entering their culture of mastery and fierce pride.)

At first I wondered, what does the resignation of an acclaimed designer have to do with the average woman, for whom a Dior label will only be attained via a lipstick?

Keira Knightly in Dior couture

Couture counts, we are told, because this heady vision trickles down to the designer's prêt-a-porter level and eventually to the mass market where most of us buy our everyday clothes.

I believe that it serves on a more subtle level, too: somewhere in the vast world of fashion, there is still a tiny world that hews to the principle of concordance with the body. While not all couturiers are thinking about how a woman will live in the clothes, Simons does not see women as walking billboards, but as active persons. ("Can she move in that shoe?" he asks a designer.) A highly-focused attention emanates from all hands; a change from white to black takes a meticulous jacket to an entirely different sensibility; the 3mm adjustment to a waistline is taken as seriously as a ten-page spread in Paris Match.

When I watched models walk in Simons' Dior couture, I realized how few ready-to-wear items sold in department stores acknowledge women's bodies. Too many feature dolman sleeves that drag the torso lower than an old bra. Tees called "relaxed" are just plain boxy. Jeggings cannot replace a well-cut pair of pants, but on rack after rack, lycra has triumphed over tailoring.

A number of women, frustrated with quality—especially of fabrics—have literally taken matters into their own hands.

My friend Judy recently took up sewing. (She's based in Houston and spends summers in Montreal; be sure to visit her blog about her favourite city.)

Her husband, proud and bemused, said, "I've known Judy for twenty-five years, and she has never been very interested in clothes—now she's making them!" Unable to find what she wanted to wear to a wedding, she set out to copy a well-worn, beloved blouse. She found two colours of the same handwoven silk, bought herself a machine, and hit it out of the park:

Judy's first piece
Then, Judy went to an exhibition of fashion photographer Horst's work and saw the elegant designs of the '40s and '50s. She decided to make this:

'40s-era blouse
The experienced sewers are probably way ahead of me by now, smiling. That vintage pattern is not beginner level, and Judy had fit issues. She recut to an elegant vest. (If you see "Dior and I" you will see the same process in the atelier: rethink, recut, repurpose.)

Blouse becomes vest
Unbreakable! Now she's bought this Vogue pattern and is finding the instructions sparse—but knowing her, she will prevail. 

Next up: Vogue vest
I find Judy as inspiring in her world as Simons is in his. The difference is, I'll get to see my friend in her creations when she's back next summer; I doubt I'll ever have lunch at the market with a woman in Dior couture!

Flaneur: The magazine, the life

Le Duc and I attended a reading with the 28-year-old co-founder of Flaneur, the Berlin-based magazine whose purpose is to select one street, somewhere in the world, to which it devotes an issue. The street is chosen not for its popularity or charm, but for an idiosyncratic contribution to the local vernacular.

A flâneur deliberately practices idle and appreciative strolling; the term is often associated with the work of social critic Walter Benjamin (1892-1940.) In previous centuries, the flâneur was at either end of the socio-economic scale: rich or poor enough neither be working or concerned with errands that require an efficient route. But modern flâneurs may be laid-back travelers, retirees, or persons who choose part-time employment. It's not really who you are, it's how you treat the unfolding aspects of the city.

The  flâneur is a city species; I suppose the country equivalent is the rambler.

Issue #3 features Rue Bernard, in Montréal, not far from where I live, and so, on a mild late-summer evening, we sat in the treasured independent bookstore Drawn and Quarterly on Rue Bernard, to hear Fabian Saul, the magazine's co-editor-in-chief, discuss how he and his colleagues choose the streets, and tell stories of the people he's met while assembling each issue.

The magazine uses stunning and costly effects, a throwback to the time when print was king. "We don't say 'This is Rue Bernard' he commented, "We say, 'This could be the street called Rue Bernard'—streets are always evolving." He used the verb "flaneuring", which may be his invention.

I am often on Rue Bernard, sharing the sidewalk with tourists checking out Montréal must-sees, members of the original ethnic groups who settled in the neighbourhood (Hasidic Jews, Greeks), musicians carrying instruments, daycare workers herding unsteady toddlers. There is always much to see in shop windows (virtually none of it mass-branded), and then time for exceptionally good espresso, chocolate babka or a buttery croissant. The flâneur is not a clipped-pace fitness walker.

Is there a street you love where you live? Maybe not the prettiest or glossiest, but one that draws you, time and again, to linger and bask in the essence of that particular place?

Flâneur fashion

If your street unfolds in layers, shifts with the seasons, hints at endless secrets and stories, you wear your sturdiest, friendliest shoes, because you cannot stop walking and observing. Your coat has pockets to hold gloves or a cap; looking a la mode is not your primary goal: you are there to see, not be seen.

Shoulder strap umbrella, Umbrella Heaven

 Cashmere cap, Eric Bompard

Cross-body nylon bag, Highway

Blundstone boots, (Blundstone, from Zappos)

"Torrentshell" city coat, Patagonia

Soignée knits by ça va de soie

In the Passage, I have a window-dressing dilemma.

I prefer to find interesting things not shown everywhere; the path to Nordstrom and Net-a-porter is well and ably lit. I'm proud to have been an early advocate of quality knitwear made for grown women (Brora, Bompard) but since the Passage's price point does not extend to the haute designers, I've been feeling a bit limited.

Till today. Today I can dress the windows with my favourite knitwear, and it's Canadian to (snow)boot: ça va de soi. (The idiom translates to "goes without saying" and puns on soie, silk.) Finally, they have an e-shop for Canadian customers and promise international shipping soon. (Sign up for their newsletter to receive an announcement.)

If Everlane had a love child with TSE, it would be this brand. You may recall my #1 shopping guideline is "WWJD?", "J" meaning Jane Birkin. Jane would wear everything here. The look is 'strict', discreet, ajustée (not flowy), the fabrics washable (cotton, wool, cashmere and a bit of viscose crêpe for summer). 

The boutiques do not have sales, and the only department store to carry the line presently is the in-store boutique at Ogilvy in Montréal. Nethertheless, women crave and collect these knits.

ça va de soie is not generously-sized; their L is about a US 12-14. My friend Maria, who says she is "a knockout 18", buys the merino wraps like one shown below.

Dilara merino

In every season, the collection offers some looser pieces—like the "Dilara" v-neck in a gentle cassonade shade—but that piece will still show curves rather than obscuring them.
Elega Egyptian cotton

The Egyptian cotton "Elega" tee, which I have in black, is $CAD 85, but the detail (the vee neck is deeper on one side than the other, and either can be worn as the front) and quality make it well worth the price. Mine is going strong after five years' wear, given black-fabric detergent and air-drying.

Milou cashmere
Milou is a cotton/cashmere blend; the fabric feels like a cloud lined in buttercream. Price, $CAD 195.

Dreama merino shawl

The superfine 160 merino Dreama shawl ($CAD 350) floats on the body, which made sense after I read that the knitting technology "incorporates air bubbles".  In the shop, I did not want to take it off.

Fabienne fine merino
The "Fabienne" merino coat in delicate pink and grey is the epitome of ça va de soi's European attitude. I see women in çvds, and vow to never order J. Crew again (but I do when there is a mighty sale, even with the horrid exchange rate.)

The company says, "A ça va de soi garment never fades, never breaks down. It's up to the task." My friend Louise took her cashmere sweater back to them; they repaired the moth damage perfectly and swiftly.

Pour moi, c'est idéal—and perhaps you will like it too.

Weight maintenance: Friends' methods

Over the last few months, I asked a number of women, How do you manage the tendency to inexorably regain weight which you worked so hard to drop? I didn't speak only to women who are thin or average; two are still in the overweight category according to the charts and completely content with that. I learned that what works for one does not work for another.

Each, though, had an upper limit, and at that point called in the troops. Each has favourite methods; some use more than one, but they tend to fall into four groups:

1. Zen Hens
These women practice Mindful Eating, so that preparing and eating food becomes a pleasurable but thoughtful act. Instead of trashing a bag of pretzels while watching TV, Donna sits in an armchair with a view of her birdfeeders, peels an orange, savours the burst of citrus oil released by its peel, and slowly eats each section.

Nancy prepares meals that please the eye and plates them on her best dishes; extra points because she lives alone. They also analyze what mental states drive them to overeat or binge and are extra vigilant when stressed and tired.

2. Data Divas
I'm one, still logging meals and activity (on MyFitnessPal). Otherwise, I develop dietary amnesia and consume far more calories than needed—and if you're not finishing those fries, I will. We are fussbudgets who also thrill to FitBits, kitchen scales and calorie and nutritional information on packaged goods.

Connie has kept off her remarkable loss. She's eating a couple hundred calories a day more on maintenance but still pre-plans meals, logs, and consistently walks and visits the gym. She says, "I know I would slowly (or maybe even quickly) revert to my old habits without the logging part of it."

DDs are maniacs about empty calories and can tell you the tally for anything you are eating, even if you don't want to know.

3. Rewarders
Rewards, (and sometimes sanctions) provide motivation and accountability. After earning gold stars or goodies at Weight Watchers, several women say they continue with their own variants.

Louise has a weekly manicure at a salon only if she is at or below her goal weight. Munira has a hefty fine system set up with her sister in law; I am talking the price of a good pair of shoes for every two-pound gain—ouch! Weigh-ins are done together to avoid "misreading". Once, when they were both well under the limit, they sat down and killed a large three-cheese pizza.

4. Rules Rockers
These women (and one man) follow strict rules such as "Only eat during a given 10-hour period", "Juice-fast on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays", or eat calibrated ratios of carbs, fats and proteins. They often follow diets named after physicians. Some Rockers leaven the rigour with free days when their old friends Ben & Jerry show up—for breakfast.

Within each group, there are variations. Some are assiduous exercisers, others depend on everyday activity like dog-walking. Some regard carbs as Kryponite, others can't abide life without pasta. The one commonality is that they know that without continual maintenance methods, pounds creep back sure someone trips on Dancing with the Stars.

Another commonality is that not one is willing to suffer from hunger; at mealtime, that growling stomach is okay, but they won't spend the day desperate and shaky. Most eat late-afternoon or mid-morning snacks (sometimes both), such as a piece of cheese and an apple or ten (yes, they count) raw almonds.

Not one of the seven women and one man in my small sample eats packaged meals, though one occasionally drinks an Atkins shake when her office's group lunch is absolutely off limits. 

Over my last thirty-five years, I've gained and lost what they call "suitcase weight", twenty to thirty pounds, at least three times. When I began the last project, in mid-2013, I thought, Not only do I have to lose it, I have to keep it off, because this time it was high blood pressure that initiated the loss.

I do not agree with that slogan "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels", which I have seen attributed to Kate Moss, but which I first heard at Weight Watchers in the '80s, when the model was a tyke. First, I do not regard thinness as the Grail, and second, Moss or whoever has not tasted my son Jules' homemade ice cream.

But my nice low bp reading supplies more than enough motivation, and I'm just the kind of person who is quietly pleased when my FitBit brrrups when I've done my steps.

Fall window-shopping, Boulevard St-Laurent

I often walk south on Boulevard Saint-Laurent, from Saint-Viateur to Mount Royal, on a stretch studded many of the city's most alluring boutiques.

Merchants have turned their windows into seasonal siren calls, many showing the black/grey palette so beloved from now through spring. The photos aren't great—you'll see some glare—but I wanted to show the particular pleasure of a well-dressed window, versus a well-dressed person... the kind of display that makes you say, "Oh! Let's go in."

Some windows show nothing but black, grey and white, as if that really is the choice.

A classic grey banker's coat, shown in unapologetic strict mode, without a "pop of colour" in the whole place:

 Less sober, but also chic, a large-scale grey and cream houndstooth coat:

Black/grey/white fine wool scarf, white baskets, black narrow trousers:

Is this what they mean by "transitional object"? An art gallery-plus-boutique, La Castiglione, shows a sleeveless mod-patterned shift with a dash of red at the side seams.

Though shops that sell neutrals rarely display anything brighter than a small red handbag, those who love colour are not left in the cold. I mentally divide the St.-Laurent boutiques into "black" and "colour".

A thick wool knit sweater coat by Ivko, from Katrin Leblond:

 At the same shop, wild flowered leggings between fuchsia and red tops:

 A deep purple dress with camel suede shoulder bag at Unicorn:

At Ruse, a chrome yellow vintage sweater atop a bubble skirt—and saucy red boots!

Several of the shops skew a bit young, but just the same, we ought to peek in, because a sensational bead-and-feather necklace like this has no age range:

Time to stop for coffee before we do the other side! If you have a leather jacket, as does this man, it's still just warm enough to enjoy a bite and a book outside.

Chef Bob's tips for receiving serious-cook friends

We have friends who come over, enjoy Le Duc's exuberant, expert cooking, and then say, "We'd love to have you over, but how could we possibly cook for you?"

A few weeks back, it happened yet again, uttered by a well-meaning fellow who later said, in the same conversation, "I consider myself a pretty good cook." This is what the Brits call dropping a brick; that excuse fell flatter than a fork-pricked soufflé.

Le Duc replied affably, "Then take me out." And that's what happened; we enjoyed a leisurely, delicious bistro lunch with him and his conjointe.

But not everyone can or wishes to reciprocate with a restaurant outing, and the experience is different from convivial dining at someone's home.
Our friend Bob is an acclaimed chef. When people trot out the how-could-I-ever-cook-for-you gambit, Bob says, "Hey, I eat at MacDonald's!" Though it's been years since he took his kids for Happy Meals, he wants to put prospective hosts at ease. Chefs love to be cooked for!

When I confessed that every time I knew he was coming over, I about fainted with apprehension, Bob told me how the occasional cook can receive a chef (amateur or pro) without turning into Julia Child overnight.

1. Serve a generous platter of hors d'oeuvres, no-cook fare like olives and nuts, slices of cured sausage or cold cuts, crudités-and-dip.

Have the nibblies ready to serve as soon as the coats are off; guests will immediately enter an aura of hospitality. (Bob: "A good restaurant will immediately welcome you with something—fresh bread and olive oil, a little paté, or an amuse guele. It sets the mood.")

If willing to do basic prep, Mark Bittman's 101 Simple Appetizers in 20 Minutes or Less is brilliant. (The host could keep those coming, renaming them "tapas" and there's dinner.)

2. For a first course, serve takeout soup or doctor one from a can, and be sure to garnish. If he can make toast, he can make real croutons, grate cheese, or chop a few scallions. As Bob says, "People eat with their eyes."

3. For the main course, serve straight-ahead comfort food.

Bob says occasional cooks over-research menu ideas and think that they can impress by making something "interesting" when a classic spaghetti supper would be so much better. The principle: familiar dishes made with quality ingredients. One difference between dedicated cooks and reluctant ones is that the latter buy things like those nasty pitted black olives packed in turgid water.

Given basic skills, it's hard to blow stewed dishes, like Rachel Ray's Sirloin Beef Burgundy, which features labour-saving moves (no peeling pesky pearl onions—this recipe uses frozen) and contains the ingredient many males will gnaw through concrete for, bacon—but can be made without it. Or they could also make pizza at home; the smell alone makes Le Duc weep with joy.

I'm linking to Rachel Ray recipes because she creates flavourful dishes with easy-to-find ingredients. No one should attempt Ottolenghi entrées if he rarely ties on an apron.

Bonnie, whose expert-cook partner was out for the evening, served me an ambrosial plate of fresh figs with curls of Parmesan; she had chosen perfectly ripe figs and Parmesan so flavourful that a small shard satisfied. We then ate a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket and a green salad—so good.

4. Let the serious-cook friend relax. And lighten up yourself!

From Bob: "If your sauce separates, do. not. apologize. I don't care; I'm there to be with you. And don't hand me the whisk and ask me to fix it."  (I actually did that, and he said, "NO. Just turn down the lights.")

Don't ask the chef friend if he knows a better version of your recipe. Don't discuss the many things you thought of making and ask if he would have liked that better. If you can help it, don't announce that you forgot to buy the ice cream—just serve the pie without it.

Occasionally, the chef friend can be asked to come early to deliver a mini-lesson, as in, "Louise, can you come early and show me how make your béchamel?" But do not ask her to do basic scut work; Chef does not peel turnips at her resto. 

The occasional cook is often desperate to avoid criticism. Good luck with that. Chefs, whether pros or amateurs, tear apart each other's cooking all the time, but are usually gentle with beginners.

If you ask for feedback and are told the harsh truth, don't take it personally. Too much nutmeg in your kale sauté: no biggie. Absolute disaster? As long as you can get takeout or delivery, no one goes hungry. I once incinerated six shriekingly expensive racks of lamb, so we ate takeout souvlaki from around the block. (I was busy piping three different purées onto the plates, and lost track of the lamb. I should have made a veggie stir-fry.)

Given the choice between fine food in a public setting and a decent meal in someone's home, I'll vote for home, though I respect a host's preferences. The main thing is taking time to enjoy one another's company.

But there is also a deep pleasure in learning to cook; Mark Bittman says the ability to serve a meal made with your own hands is a life skill everyone should have, whether essaying a simple omelette or devoting a weekend to produce a Chez Panisse Three-Day Twice-Cooked Pork Roast.

And one more terrific resource: my neighbour Kathleen MacDonald (who also rents a terrific Montréal apartment via Air BnB) has just opened Cooks from Home, a company that pairs nearby cooks with hosts who wish to order home-cooked meals or single dishes.

For example, I can order the appealing dishes above for my vegetarian—and even vegan—guests. (I, like our friend, would call myself a pretty good cook, but my vegan repertoire is limited to this easy coconut vegetable curry.)

Look for a similar service where you live; it's a recent addition to the "sharing" model of community businesses, and just might save your bacon,  regardless of your love of cooking.

Jewelry: Letting go

I'm an advocate for jewelry renos, but also advise disposing of pieces you no longer wear.

Over the summer, I took my own advice and divested a non-heat-treated sapphire and diamond cocktail ring, ca. '40s. A gift about twenty years ago, it did enjoy some giddy nights on the town. But now, it was no longer me and no one in my family was interested, so it languished in a vault.

Below, I was thinking about what to do; notice the ring does not really work with a marinière, let alone a FitBit bracelet!

Fab but formal

I decided to test the market.

Equipped with current appraisal from a highly-respected firm, I met with a prestigious jewelry auction house's appraiser, Mr. P. He admired the ring, then proposed a starting bid at one-sixth the appraised value. My heart sank; there was no way I was letting that ring go for so little.

An auction house is essentially interested in a sure sale. A low starting price attracts interest, and though the piece may sell for more, my check of the house's recent sales of large blue sapphires reported hammer prices near starting bids. 

When I suggested his estimate was low, he questioned the accuracy of the appraisal, until I showed the signature: he had been the original appraiser, in a past job. He wanted me to have the sapphire unmounted and shipped to the GIA for a report (cost, at least $600). I did not find this request unreasonable, since the house has a worldwide clientele, but the very low estimate did not garner my cooperation. 

Next stop: a carriage-trade antique jeweler who advertises his interest in buying estate fine jewelry. The owner made a wildly lowball offer.

Depressed by those meetings, I reconsidered a reno and built a file of ideas, collecting austere examples like the Helène de Taillac design at left. 

I visited my longtime jeweler, Pam, to discuss the project, but breaking down the ring felt like cutting a silk charmeuse gown into gym shorts.

She too thought the auction house's estimate was low, and suggested I show the ring to Ms. M.,  a gemmologist whom she trusts, for her opinion.

That meeting was infused by a palpable frisson: Ms. M. adored the sapphire's velvety, cornflower depths and retro glamour. She asked my permission to take it to a New York gem lab for analysis (at her expense); after confirmation that it was indeed unheated, we negotiated a fair price, significantly more than the auction house's estimate, but a good deal for both parties. 

Here are my tips about selling fine jewelry:

1. Before talking to potential buyers, get an appraisal from a credentialed appraiser who is well-regarded in the industry; if she suggests an accompanying gem lab report (e.g., GIA), have her arrange that. The appraisal value is replacement value, nearly always higher than the target selling price.  

2. Research current prices for similar pieces sold by specialist jewelry auction houses (Sotheby's, Doyle, Christie's) and sites like First Dibs, not eBay. If you are selling at an auction outside a major city, and held by a lesser-known house, the price is usually lower.

For an important piece, think beyond your local market. The leading auction houses regularly hold client consultations in major cities; contact them to inquire.

Before booking an appointment, read the contract to learn exactly how they work and to calculate the net profit you could receive after costs such as commission, handling fees and taxes upon sale. This is not always on their web sites, so call ahead to request those details. You do not want their terms to be news after it's too late.

3. Value is determined by the material, but also by style, workmanship and maker (if signed). My ring's Hollywood Regency swank is hot now; a less-desirable piece that would be broken down for the materials will bring a lower price.

4. Toughen your skin, because you'll encounter buyers who think you are desperate or may denigrate the piece (or your intelligence), as a tactic. On the other hand, realize that sentimental value is relevant to you alone.

As in any negotiation, figure out your walk-away price and stick with it. I wasn't facing what auctioneers call "The 3 D's"—death, divorce or debt—so did not feel pressured to sell.
5. If you consign, factor in the consignor's share (which may run as high as 40 or 50 percent) and applicable taxes, and realize that the sale may take time or never happen. Check the consignee's insurance coverage.

6. Remember there are always more options, if you are not in a hurry. I might, for example, have donated the ring to a registered charity's auction and received a receipt to use as a tax credit.  

7. Just like selling a house, luck plays its part. Ms. M. happened to love the ring, but what if she had not? Give luck time to show up. If you can, initiate the process before you feel any sense of urgency. Take your time, do your research, and realize what one person says, even if an expert, is only an opinion.

I felt a pang letting that opulent jewel go, because that combination of quality and size isn't coming into my life again! But it also felt right; there's a time to find another home for possessions not enjoyed day to day.

Le Duc suggested replacing the cocktail ring with an everyday one. Ms. M. had introduced me to Dorotheé Rosen's "OneFooter" series, represented in Montréal by Galerie Noel Guyomarc'h
Photo: Dorothée Rosen

I waited until the Galerie received a selection, then chose one similar to that shown at far left, with a lively lavender sapphire, more saturated than this photo shows:

I will wear it!
From cocktails to coffee cup, such is life these days. 

Dressing a weight gain: Why be boring?

First, a sincere thanks to all for your words regarding my friend Rachel, whom I visited last week. When I left, I felt infused with her vibrant life force, awed by her equanimity, and strengthened by her resolve.

That evening, I met another friend, whom I'll call "Colette". Rachel and Colette do not know one another, but share wild, irreverent senses of humour, love of art and music, and eclectic, avid reading habits.

They also share, temporarily, another characteristic neither wants, unintended weight gain. Due to a medication side effect (being addressed), Colette is much heavier than she wants to be. But there you are, these things happen.

Greeting her, alluring as ever, in the bar of a posh hotel, I didn't notice till she lifted her chic silk blue-grey tunic to reveal a roundness that has furloughed her usual wardrobe.

Among other things, we discussed the Clothes Problem (which had happened to me, too).

My observations:

1. If you gain weight, do not lose your mojo, girls! Buy a few good-quality pieces that shimmer with drama and wit, and wear the mess out of them.

2. Order from specialty-size merchants on the Internet unless you have an exceptional local shop that understands that voluptuous women do not want rectangular, boring clothes.

3. Don't save your bucks for the day when the old number bobs up in the scale's window; you will hate the clothes you have relegated yourself to wearing, and then hate yourself. But at the same time, buy what can be altered, if you are on a mission to shed the extra weight. (Some health conditions can cause a permanent gain, but not Colette's.) Pants can be cut down one or at most two sizes, but skirts are much more flexible, and some sweater styles will magically fit you over multiple size drops.

I found some gorgeous examples for my friend, who dresses with expressive and original style. Colette loves skirts and dresses, so I've favoured them over pants, and besides, they show off her pretty legs, which betray no evidence of this medication weight.

A top in the rich hues of an abstract botanical:

Anna Scholz Ciara top; price, £125.

A sophisticated woman needs a dress like this; size is irrelevant.

 Signature black and silver snakeskin dress, £70 at Via Moda.

A finely-pleated skirt would move gracefully from work to theatre. Colette could wear this rich burgundy, a more novel neutral than black:

Persona by Marina Rinaldi semi-gloss pleated skirt, $US 251 at Navabi.

Cashmere is a necessity in our winters; this long poncho will fit no matter what. You can also wear it as a scarf, or, thanks to its length, belted. Rich grey is a Colette colour.
Eric Bompard long poncho; price, €246—my friend will spring for a luxe item if it makes her heart race, but I might wait for the January sale.

Finally, a coat, among the biggest-ticket items. But you need one, and it does not work to wear your old size unbuttoned. (I know from experience.)

C. is known for colourful coats. If she's reading, she will either tell me I got it right or horribly wrong, so I'm showing two.

I'd put her in this deep green faux fur: it's warm, audacious, and would either alter down or be desirable on the resale market. It's breathable and dries quickly. Anyway, I like it!

Persona by Marina Rinaldi faux fur coat; price $US 500 at Navabi.

A lower-priced plum model could be tarted up with a muffler, a good option when the size situation is not going to last long:

LL Bean Winter Warmer coat; price $US 129; free shipping to USA and Canada.
 Isn't it strange? The very moment your natural reasoning says to cut back and wait until you are size whatever again, it is wisest to spend within reason on a special item, or several if you can. You are affirming your self-assurance. The hunt takes effort, and price points rise, but that means choice is more considered than the time when nearly everything was a possibility.

There are many of us who are coping with a circumstantial body shift. Or, for other reasons, a gain has settled in for a longer stay. Rather than berate or bemoan, let's be, period, and look as deeply ourselves as ever.  

"Life is too short for..."

In late summer, one of my closest friends, Rachel, received terrifying news. Though she had no symptoms, a test picked up a troubling indicator, and she learned that she has one of the more worrisome cancers, at an advanced stage. From one day to the next, feeling fine, then this.  

She told everyone immediately. In the first weeks, while we struggled in shock along with her, I read an ad whose headline said, "Life is Too Short for Old Clothes". Like Rachel, I appreciate black humour, so my first thought was, Shouldn't that be, "If Life is So Freaking Short, Who Needs New Clothes?"

How does anyone cope with such news, which Rachel calls "surreal"? Probably not by ordering a cute top.

Rachel is basking in her family, listening to music in the middle of the night, going to meditation classes, undergoing conventional and complementary therapies, and beginning a blog so she can update us easily. She is pretty hinged, considering.

And I thought, What would I do, in her shoes—about to face surgery and multiple courses of chemotherapy? My first impulse would be to grab my loved ones, and—damn the expense—head for Tahiti or Capri or some other paradise, to spend time between treatments immersed in love, nature, memories and dessert every day. Or only desserts some days, why not?

But maybe I would find that less attractive than I imagine. Maybe all I would want is my own bed, a good conversation while sitting in my garden, a long soak in the neighbour's hot tub. I would put on my favourite earrings, a bit of make up, and a pretty head wrap, because my hair has gone on vacation too, without me. And that, so far, is Rachel's modus operandi.

At this magnitude of bad news, everything tilts, like a collision of tectonic plates. 'Now' is a different now. Medical terms swirl with the metaphysical; practical matters coexist with an intense appreciation of raspberries. Witness to a number of remarkable recoveries, we have hope and resolve.

An acquaintance who has had a decade-long remission buttonholes everyone she knows and asks, "Are you doing what you want to be doing?"

Why wait until hearing a such news to determine that? But we do.

I think of lines from Theodore Roethke's poem, "The Waking":
"I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go."

I'm in Toronto, where I traveled yesterday to hang out at Rachel's. A slice of lemon tart, some Eva Cassidy, the lowdown on "chemo daycare", and whatever else comes up—and it will, because she's expressive as ever: honest, acerbic, funny and vulnerable.  

I'll reply to comments next week; today, I'm with my friend. 

PS. Several readers wondered about Le Duc's Apple Crisp Tatin; if you would like the recipe, please e-mail me. It's a classic crisp with a caramel layer at the bottom.