Hope and the holiday

After today, the Passage shutters until January 9, 2018, for a pause to celebrate and relax. I wish the same for you.

The sentiment I welcome this time of year, whether one draws it from a faith tradition or not, is hope. Not joy, not comfort, not goodwill toward men even if that term includes women. (Salma Hayek is the angel on my tree this year.)

So, hope. I hope harassers of any stripe will pause before acting to assess whether their actions serve dignity and safety, whether they would like those whom they love subjected to such acts—and then choose to change.

At Christmastime I think too, of lonely people, who have no one to visit or receive. Loneliness may inhabit the heart even if a person is bustling to work, or standing in line in a bank. I hope each of us does what we can to connect and ease that ache.

I suspect that we distract ourselves from community by the focus on things. I'm seeing more and more young adults stepping away from that model of consumerism and many aspects of the prevailing economic model.  I hope they keep pushing, organizing, seeking ways to improve equality in the world my generation is leaving to them.

I hope both countries of which I am a citizen resolve their conflicts peaceably and that the US finds some way to revive its commitments to protection of the environment.

I hope Montréal's new mayor and her colleagues make good on their promises for more social housing and transportation.

I have frivolous hopes, too. I hope women stop fretting about the size of their pores—just use sunblock and moisturizer and get on with life. I hope now that I've found a well-fitting, inexpensive bra that it isn't discontinued like the last one. (Dadgummit, Olga.) I hope Patti Smith gives us another book soon.

And I hope you keep walking through the Passage. It was named for the tiny arcades of Paris, those idiosyncratic, half-hidden retreats in which to browse and restore ones' self away from the chaos and commotion of city life. Your comments connect me both to you, and to continuing to write.

I am asking for a gift: Would you tell us what you're hoping for? If you have a moment, I would love to hear that. Your hopes, humble or grand, serious or lighthearted, will give me hope, too.

Recommended: Leslie Caron, The Reluctant Star

Tip of the frothy, plumed "Gigi" hat to reader Barbara R., who sent an e-mail to recommend the recent documentary, "Leslie Caron, The Reluctant Star" and ask, "What are those pearls she's wearing?" (Spoiler alert: big white and golden South Seas, as befits a grande dame.)

You can find the film posted for free streaming on various web sites, some of which may be accessible only by country, but look for it, make a pot of tea, and settle in to a major charm initiative by one of the greats. Try Knowledge Network, which Barbara gave me, TVO or PBSInternational.

Caron was, and remains, her own woman. After being whisked at barely 19 from the corps of Paris' Les Ballets des Champs-Elysees to Hollywood, she matured enough even under autocratic studio rule to put her tiny foot down about cheesecake shots and arranged dates with men whom she had never met.

She was one of the very few dancer-actresses who moved from dance roles (partnered with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, below) to drama, earning nominations and awards for both genres.

We are served only tidbits of her routines with her legendary male dance partners, but even those show her graceful, classical counterpoint to their loose-limbed jazz style. "An American in Paris" stands as one of the "most perfect films ever made".

"The Reluctant Star" offers carefully-controlled glimpses into both her professional and personal life, but even those peeks fascinate. It is as if you were invited into a magnificent townhouse, but only as far as the sitting room.

For example, following her American and British award-winning films, Caron returned to her native France, hoping to join the artistic community there. After an initial film, the classic "The Man Who Loved Women", directed by François Truffaut, nothing more came to her. The pain of failure to find acceptance in France's artistic community is evident still—yet she stayed forty years, a very long part of her life about which we are told nothing.

And while Caron is most definitely a ladyperson, surely there were liaisons other than that with the notorious Lothario Warren Beatty. Only one of three marriages is mentioned, and while her son, British producer Christopher Hall, has a sweet cameo, his sister, Jennifer Caron-Hall, is glimpsed in a split-second childhood clip.

The lacunae do not obscure her beauty and backbone, and she does refer to bouts of severe depression, similar to her mother's. Those of us wondering how to dress at 85 have only to admire Caron in simple, elegant trousers, her sweater or jacket always accessorized with a beautiful pin or those pearls. Her enviable posture and purposeful stride (on what have been called the most beautiful legs in film) are the legacy of a life at the barre and professional discipline.

Caron was 1.56m, or just under 5 ft 2in. in "Gigi" and "Daddy Long Legs" and probably shorter now; petite women will have a lesson in how to create a dramatic visual presence.

Toward the documentary's close, Caron, in a double rope of white and a single strand of golden South Seas, is interviewed by Jane Pauley, also in South Seas. Watching these two pearled personnages on my laptop allowed me to stop and stare, and then continue toward the end, which came far too soon.

An ideal holiday treat to watch snuggled up on the sofa, pearls optional.

Bailing: Tis the season for non-commitment

Last summer, David Brooks published a spot-on piece in the New York Times, "The Golden Age of Bailing".  And now we're into the prime social season, when holiday invitations stack up like planes over LaGuardia.  

Brooks notes that bailing, loosely defined as breaking a specific commitment, has levels:
"There is canceling on friends. This seems to follow a bail curve pattern. People feel free to bail on close friends, because they will understand, and on distant friends, because they don't matter so much, but they are less inclined to bail on medium-tier or fragile friends."

Bailing from a public event attended by many ("I'll meet you guys at the ballgame"), is less fraught than cancelling out of a dinner at someone's home, especially when it's a special occasion. 

My experience is that under-40s are big bailers, but the habit has spread to any age old enough to make their own plans. Nancy Colier, in "Last-Miniute-itis: The Behavior Plague of Our Time, says, "When I make a date to meet with someone these days, in person, there is about a 50/50 chance that the meeting will happen, with most cancellations occurring within an hour of the appointed meeting time."  

We closed last summer with a traditional grand aioli party, to which we invited a visiting friend, and her 33-year-old son and his girlfriend, who live practically across the street. The girlfriend bailed an hour and a half before the party by getting our friend to place the call on her behalf. She had been to an electronic music festival for several days, dancing till 6 a.m. and was just too tired to attend. 

We host these big parties rarely now, and Festival Girl will not be on the list for the next one.  (This was not her first cancellation.)

I have low tolerance for bailers, because I've not been one myself. My parents did not allow me to pull the covers over my head after a late night; by god, you took an aspirin, put on your dress and showed up at Aunt Margaret's for dinner. 

Brooks lays the blame at the vibrating foot of technology: so easy to text, evading direct contact with the host standing at the stovetop, who will now have to figure out what will keep and what goes to the dog. So does Colier: "The cell phone... is teaching us that it is okay to behave in a way that is disrespectful, undignified, and ultimately unkind."  

But all disappointments contain a gift. Festival Girl's behaviour led me to realize how much I appreciate the the beauty of good manners, by which I mean one's conscious consideration of others.

Be warned, bailers, that when bailees don't share your foible, they are not sanguine about your blow-off.  There is a limit to your cancel-and-apologize routine, and we're on to you. The Internet is full of articles like "5 Steps to Bail on Your Friends", and—prize for best headline oxymoron—"How to Flake Out on Someone Gracefully".

Crises, psychic storms and just plain exhaustion will happen, and I'll accommodate that, but I've stepped back from serial flake-outs and the perpetually "running late" types. And I don't mean to pound on Millennials, but at least they don't have memory problems; when I don't turn up it's not because I've bumped you for somebody else, our rendezvous vaporized from my brain. (Yes, I have a calendar, but you have to remember to read it.)

Nor do all Millennials accept their friends' behaviour blithely. Son J. invited a friend and three of that friend's summer visitors (whom he had not met) to his home for a bar-be-que. They cancelled less than an hour before, because the visitors decided they wanted to go to a club. 

J. had very limited means but had prepared a lavish spread; he was upset by their incivility and the waste, and vowed, Not inviting him again. He said, in his slightly formal way, "I keep my commitments."

End of elder rant, and so nice to see you; the coats go in the bedroom.


Adjective; "of or relating to emeralds".

Since many readers were fascinated by the story of Miriam's emerald doublet, I am "doubling back" to emeralds, this time, as whole stones.

Emeralds worry buyers; they are chary of a stone that needs a little care, are practically never perfectly transparent and have experienced price volatility, up and down, over the years. But look at this Edwardian emerald and diamond ring (from Beladora; price, $US 8, 500): it has retained its beauty since the earliest days of the last century:
An emerald is the Elizabeth Taylor of gems: an exotic beauty, a bit temperamental, but you can't take your eyes off her. So, two things to know:

1. Emeralds are included; the swirls, bits and bubbles you see in their depths are called the "garden" of the stone, and are not considered faults. You can see these without any magnification. Avoid black inclusions, either as lines or specks, and stones with an evident fissure on the surface.

Brazilian emeralds look different from Zambian and Columbian emeralds; emeralds also come from other countries, but those are the big three.

2. They are typically treated with oil to improve the clarity, or resin to fill tiny fractures. Oiling is deemed acceptable, while the use of coloured resins is not. That's why you will want to buy an emerald from a reputable jeweller, and for large stones, get a GIA or other well-recognized certificate.

Hue, tone and saturation

These three elements of colour are important factors when you shop for any coloured gem; this graphic is part of an excellent GIA tutorial on coloured gems.

The emerald's quality, and therefore value, will also be affected by cutting grade and polish. The faceted emerald you want is a glowing green headlight, no matter the size or shape. A one-carat emerald will look larger than a diamond of the same weight, because emerald is a lighter mineral. (Link to good summary of emerald quality factors.)

Modern emerald designs

Taylor's emeralds were classic grande-dame stunners, but today's stones take grande into latte-land; you can wear them every day.

Left: Oui emerald (4mmx3mm) and black enamel pendant by Nikos Koulis: just a little dash of green on a white gold chain; price, $1,736 at Twist.

Centre: Judy Geib is the reigning Emerald Queen, using them often in her fanciful, mismatched designs. The Casino Royale Earrings contain 6mm x 7mm cabochon-cut emeralds set in 18k yellow gold; price, $1, 300.

Right: Mociun Capella Stone Cluster ring uses asymmetrical black and white diamonds to frame a 4mm emerald; price, $2, 500.

An especially cool way to wear emeralds is as a single earring, alone or mated with another earring. Just make sure those small stones are vivid.
Left: Mocion make a tiny 2mm emerald Moonray Stud set in 14k gold for a reasonable $US 185.  Also shown, white diamond, and available in black diamond, too.

Right: Single chevron stud, by Ambre Victoria; price, $534 at Broken English.

Emerald jewellery is also being made in interesting cuts, such as the rose-cut emerald slices in Monique Péan's earrings, which also feature conflict-free diamonds; at Barney's; price, $9, 800.

New life for older emeralds

A vintage emerald may show some signs of wear, especially abrasion on exposed settings. It can be revived in the hands of an experienced jeweller or cutter.

If you have a vintage emerald that looks dull, look for a specialist in restoration. Re-oiling will improve the colour; repolishing erases years of wear. Damaged stones can usually be recut, but perhaps not to the same shape. For more info about the restoration and repair of coloured stones, and what skilled cutter can do, see The Gem Doctor, Vancouver-based Anthony Lloyd-Rees' site.

Here is a terrific post by Cecile Raley of Cecile Raley Designs, who describes the before/after oiling of a pair of round emeralds, with photos.

See also her Etsy shop, yvonneraley, for both finished jewellery and loose stones. For example, on the Etsy site, Ms Raley sold this lively pair of 3.5mm emeralds for about $US 350; a simple setting in gold would add several hundred dollars.

When buying any of the Big Four precious gems (diamond, sapphire, ruby, emerald), deal with a jeweller or gemologist, rather than a department store salesperson.

When a jeweller promises to make you something with emeralds, be aware that certain settings put high pressure on a stone, and you are just asking for problems down a pavéd road. A piece should be designed with eventual repair in mind. If you're thinking of having an emerald (or any coloured gem)  custom-made or reset, here's valuable advice, "Coloured Gemstone Design and Repair", by Suzanne Wade, retrieved from Ganoskin.com.

Don't shy away from the gorgeous emerald, just give them a little love and respect. Though jewellers can offer other other green stones that do not require so much tending, nothing else provides such plush, glowy, velvety depth, and if you're a Nugget Girl, emerald comes in big sizes.

Taylor was famous for her collection of jaw-dropping emeralds, which you can see here. I saved them for last, because I don't want you to think of emeralds as ballgown stones. The casual pieces in the Passage's windows today were made for versatility.

But you do feel different in an emerald, even a tiny one. Nothing wrong with a dash of mystique at the market!

The closet: Taking classics to current

I stand, nearing year-end, with a beady eye on my closet. Everything is, as my mother would say, "perfectly good", but is it current?

Sisters, I was served a wake up call, thanks to a stranger.  I was in a shop last week when a woman about my age walked in in a 1980s fur coat, matching fur hat, and patchwork cardigan. She looked very well dressed...for 1990. That was "classic", once, and now it's old-timey as a lorgnette. If she feels good in it still, that's her business, but I don't wish to follow suit.

To consider how to work with what I have, I looked for classic pieces like those I own, worn by women who have a decidedly modern vibe. No weird or unwieldy proportions, nothing short, tight and "cute": adult clothes, skirts at the knee, shoes to walk in.

Photos left, right: The Sartorialist
Left: Turquoise coat over black tank and an at-the-knee knit skirt with appliqué detail; white sneakers. A coat in an unusual colour is an outstanding update; Mom again: "Your coat is the first and last thing people see." White sneakers keep the whole thing casual, you can walk in them, and they're cool. I have the coat for next spring.

Centre: Judi! Ecru! I can't wear beiges but never mind, I wanted a reminder that neutral, tonal palettes always look smart, and admired Dame Judi's supple bag with no visible logo, charms or clunky hardware. (To get around the ever-climbing cost of quality leather goods, try consignments.)

But since I saw the locally-made Casgrain leather bag, which converts from tote to backpack, displayed at Lowell, I am coveting its clean chic:

Right: Classic black/white plaid reefer over black denim and a basic black turtleneck, and then... the red boots. Option: swap in any solid bright, and choose a lower heel, but that coat is much livelier than all-black, my city's default. That's Yasmin Sewell, whom I always find inspiring.
Shown: Vince Camuto Chelsea bootie:

When classic hits the wall

I've written about the generational marker of coordination, and which is still seen in certain sartorial circles. So sometimes I collect What Not to Wear images. All of these shots feature a classic trouser or skirted suit, and the rigorous coordination takes the lead in making them look passé:

Bright coordinates persist in department stores, sold by the same vendors that wonder why they have lost Millenials' business. The jewel tones are harsh, yet often chosen for the camera—they make it hard to look away. For women in public life, that might be the goal—but it's not modern.

Clinton is dressing differently in her post-election life. Now that every outfit is not chosen to telegraph some kind of message, she can wear more sober tones, as she did for an appearance in Montréal this fall:

She wil probably still coordinate her trousers and tops, because the unbroken column elongates her petite figure, but the grey jacquard is far more current than the mans' suit in electric hues.

That hypercoordination gets little play beyond those roles and some mother-of-the-bride outfits, and not by women under middle age. Drop by a pub or coffee shop where young adults gather, and you'll see black-and-white houndstooth with citron yellow; sky blue with taupe and a shot of coral; red with a green-and-pink floral.

You may notice combinations you never thought of, and be warned off any incipient matchiness except for all-black—they do wear that.

Accessories don't save everything... but close

On The Sartorialist, Scott Schuman shoots eccentric colour mixes and pattern, usually on lithe young persons, but also shares his deep knowledge of fabrics, tailoring and fit. Frequent reading has warned me off some mistakes, and fanned my longing for reincarnation as a Milanesa.

"Modern" means neither the shortest or tightest piece you can get away with, nor the trendiest. (Schuman has never photographed a cold-shoulder sweater.)

Below, classic pieces, but each sparked by current, high-quality accessories.

All photos: The Sartorialist

Left: Classic trench in gray plaid with metallic boots and shiny charcoal bag: playing with a tonal palette, but also texture: a master class in detail.

Centre: Menswear checks tweaked by a bold graphic muffler, good sunglasses—and the 'accessory' of a great hair cut. I'm eyeing this should it go on sale:

Right: You might be thinking, What accessories? Look closely and you'll see her big ring, and two bracelets (one, woven cord on her right, the other, a thin bangle). You could wear a mid-scale earring, or even a necklace, if you prefer nothing on your hand or wrist. of All-navy needs a little tarting up, makeup-wise—she has red lipstick—but poppy or a deep wine would work too.
Most women have more than enough clothes. As Janice of The Vivienne Files once said, "We tire of our clothes before they tire of us." We slip into a rut concerning how we wear them, so a single investment accessory can punch up any number of old favourites.

And, as I consider Fur Coat Lady, I realize that some "classics" have a dated cut that no accessory can modernize. Her sweeping fur could be renovated into a short jacket or vest.

The best, for last

Most of the women on my idea board are smiling, even Theresa May, suffering a grip-and-grin with Vladimir Putin. The open, natural smile is a free, magnificent accessory, so hang on to yours! It will lift and polish anything you choose to wear, and make you feel better, too.

"You don't need a thing", I tell myself, "except for a pair of metallic shoes—but it wouldn't hurt to smile more."


Jewellery Reno: Mum's emerald had a secret

Miriam inherited her mother's ca. 1940 three-stone diamond and emerald engagement ring. She wanted to reset the emerald as a modern ring she could wear everyday and one day pass it on to her youngest daughter.

Miriam lives several hours from Toronto, so visited a jeweller I recommended, Pam Chandler of Artwork Gallery. Miriam liked their clean, modern pieces, and asked Pam for ideas.
Tip #1: Someone may recommend a jeweller, but it's essential that you like what you see when you visit, which reflects the artist's sensibility. Jewellers design within their style range; avoid one who says he can "make anything".

Two wax models

The jeweller made waxes of a three-stone modern band. This is the process for a cast metal setting, and gives the client and idea of scale and shape.

Left: The first model was an oval, slightly bombé band with rounded edges. Miriam thought this was not exactly it.
Right: Miriam chose the second version, a uniform, knife-edged band, designed to use all the original stones and recycle the 14k yellow gold. (That sapphire and diamond band is an Artwork ring they looked at as an example.)
Tip #2: If the first try is not your ideal ring, ask for more options. You'll want to be entirely happy and this is the stage to get the shape and scale right.

Trouble in paradise!

Though some jewellers set their own stones, often a setter handles this work. And at this stage, Miriam got a shock. When he examined the emerald, the setter found it was a doublet, which is a thin layer of emerald glued to another, far less costly substance, in this case, glass. Emeralds, opals, and other gemstones are sometimes made into doublets in order to lower the cost.

The process is not considered deceptive if the practice is disclosed. These are not fakes (such as glass or other material sold as an emerald); they are assembled gems. Triplets also exist; in this case an additional clear layer is added to the top of the gem, usually glass or clear quartz.

Did Dad know the ring he chose was a doublet? Did Mum? It was treasured—and whether anyone knew is lost to time.

The setter would not reset the doublet because of the risk of shattering. Setting an emerald, always an included stone, takes nerves of steel, and a doublet is even more finicky because the emerald layer is  thin. Miriam had a choice: take the risk (probably with a different setter), or replace the stone.

Pam suggested a green tourmaline, and sent Miriam a shot of it sitting loose in the setting, which was partially completed. Miriam liked this stone.

Tourmaline is fairly tough, but under a microscope this one showed many inclusions; therefore, the setter thought it might not withstand the force of the hammer. (A claw setting is much more accommodating.)
Tip #3: If you are willing to buy another stone, you might take a chance, but I have always respected an expert setter's judgement. There's an axiom that "Any stone can be set; it just depends how", but in this case the setting dictated the stone.

On the hunt for glowing green 

Back to gem shopping! Fortunately, Miriam was in the hands of a jeweller with very high standards and superb taste in stones.

Pam sourced a 5mm chrome diopside, a rich green gem that's slightly softer than tourmaline, but in this protected setting, and with Miriam's loving care, it will be fine. When well-cut, chrome diopside is an exceptionally vivid stone and the colour is natural, never enhanced.

A new and whole stone

Left: Pam sent Miriam a photo of the finished ring; Miriam had one more trip to make into the city!
Right: On Miriam's hand, a beautiful blend of old and new. The ring fits perfectly; the back of the band is slightly flattened to minimize shifting. As Miriam says, her daughter will have the new gem to connect her to her mother, and the diamonds to connect her to her grandmother.

Tip #4: Jewellery restyling is both art and science. If the science doesn't line up—the gem isn't what you supposed, or it is weakened by wear or internal flaws—be prepared to look at replacements. Fortunately, in sizes under about 6mm, there are many bewitching coloured gems at very reasonable prices.

Miriam was delighted not only with her new ring, but with the process, and that's a credit to her equanimity. She learned a good deal about gemstones with this project, and took her time to consider her options. Miriam's doublet could still have another life—it's very pretty—as a clasp, pendant or ring that accommodates its true composition.

Had she preferred the vintage setting, she may never have known its secret. Now she does, and has a story to tell, as well as a new ring to enjoy.