Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fashion Archives: Haute Couture Family Tree (An Ongoing Project)

(click to enlarge)

Sometime last year I began to diagram the incestuous world of grand Haute Couture. The same two dozen names kept popping up in my readings, and I wanted to connect the dots. Who was the master, who was the apprentice, and who was the lone agent (Coco Chanel, not surprisingly)? It certainly appears that Jacques Fath, Lucien Lelong, Christian Dior, and Christóbal Balenciaga pretty much trained everyone -- thanks, guys! 

Keep in mind, only Haute Couture houses are included, not Ready-to-Wear or individual couturiers working under a separate label (thus, names like Karl Lagerfeld are excluded for now). Also, most contemporary contemporary couturiers are not on the list yet. My timeline ends somewhere in the '80s with Alaïa and JPG. 

I'll continue to add names as they pop up, but what I would really love is for a talented illustrator or a designer to help me make my tree prettier and less clutter-y. Is that you? 

Do you recognize all the names? Any surprises? Did you pass the Haute Couture test?

If you notice a name missing, or have any overall suggestions on how to improve the diagram, please let me know. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Interview: Alexandra Suhner Isenberg, The Sleep Shirt

A native Vancouverite Alexandra Suhner Isenberg recently made a move to Växjö, Sweden, but her label The Sleep Shirt still calls Canada home. Although she's living the idyllic country life now, this designer cultivated her skills working in Paris and London. As a graduate of Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne (yes, the couture school!) and Central Saint Martins, she's worked for Sonia Rykiel, Burberry, and helmed her own luxury lingerie label, State of Undress (with fellow Canadian, Emma Cheevers). Upon returning to Canada, Isenberg made a name for herself through her smart, fashion insider blog Searching for Style, and through her work as a fashion editor for On a visit to London's Spitalfields Market, she discovered a 19th century sleep frock, and got the idea for a new line. Thus, The Sleep Shirt was born. Now in its 2nd year, the label is experiencing a great deal of buzz and success, with big retailers in the works. (Keep an eye on the stockists list exponentially expanding.)

You’ve been fully engrossed in the fashion world since your teen years. What was your first fashion memory?
I think it was France when I was 11. My aunt wasn't a fashion fanatic but being French, she had style and a great wardrobe, including a beautiful Hermès Kelly bag that I now own. I was in France for the summer and I remember she lent me some clothes that she later gave me. The first was a hot pink one-piece bathing suit with a super low back and a massive bow on the bum. The second was a pair of royal blue suede pointy-toe sling back stilettos (only a few inches high) with a silver leather star on the back of the heel. They were the first real fashion items I remember coveting and wearing -- and now that I think about it, they would have gone really well together. Ironically, the new wardrobe I had chosen for that trip consisted of neon coloured harem pants and wide, almost cropped tees. Style was apparently not something I was born with.

Having worked for big luxury brands, what are some of the challenges of running a small independent label?
Cash flow is a big one. Recognition is another -- and I don't only mean in the press and with customers, but being able to call a factory and say "I work with famous brand X" is a lot different to calling them up and telling them you are a new or small brand. It's harder to get people to hustle for you and take you seriously. The other big challenge is that you have to be an expert multitasker. This month I'll be dealing with production, development, sales packs, technical drawings, social media, press, design, accounts, finance, and I'll spend a lot of time yelling at people who are doing things wrong or too slow. I would rather just be a creative.

Has maturing and motherhood changed the way you think about sleep? It must be a luxury!
Funnily, I think maturity has more of an impact on the way I think about sleep than motherhood has. I know myself well enough now to understand that I don't function well on little sleep, so it is a priority. I can't remember the last time, aside from when I am traveling, that I've had less than six hours, and usually it is seven or eight, even with newborns -- although the eight hours would have been broken up. A few years ago a friend, who didn't sleep much, told me that he didn't bother because it was a waste of time. I remember thinking that I completely disagreed. Who wakes up after a ten hour stint and thinks "Gosh, I just wasted a lot of time?" Not me. I think, "That was amazing." And I've also realized I am a morning person, I am at least three times more productive between 6am and 9am than I am between 6pm and 9pm. Which is why I am usually in bed by 10pm. As far as motherhood goes, yes, it is tiring but I was a vigilant sleep trainer and both of my children were on a schedule from the day they were born. It worked very well for us and I can thankfully say I never felt sleep deprived due to children keeping me up all night. That said, I would have had a lot more sleep if I hadn't been trying to expand a business with a newborn and an eighteen month old. That I don't recommend.

Since we’re talking sleep, what is currently on your nightstand?
A lamp, a pot of Zibadel honey cream -- for lips and dry skin -- it is my favourite beauty product, Kleenex, The Minimalists' memoir Everything That Remains, Jolie Kerr's My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag... and Other Things You Can't Ask Martha -- after nine years with a cleaner I am going to take a stab at cleaning my own home; I doubt I will last more than three months -- and my phone, which doubles as an alarm clock, although my kids are much more effective.

The Sleep Shirt is growing, what’s ahead for the label?
We've got our foot in the door with a lot of amazing retailers for Fall 2014 and we need to increase our brand awareness so that the product flies off the shelves. I want to make sure we are at the top of a lot of people's Christmas lists this year, and now that I am working full-time on the business, I think things are going to start to move faster. Fall is a much bigger collection, with a larger selection of fabrics, including linens, and more shapes like a long sleeved nightie, a raglan pajama top, and an eyemask, in addition to our traditional nightshirts. Everything is still made in Canada and we only use Japanese cottons. It looks great! And it is all very comfortable, of course. In the long term, our goal is to grow the brand and business without compromising our lifestyles, our ethics, or losing any sleep.

Alexandra Suhner Isenberg photographed by Nicole Gurney.
The Sleep Shirt Fall 2014 lookbook photographed by Jennilee Marigomen, art direction by Ryan Willms.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Screen Style: North by Northwest (1959)

My favourite Hitchcock ice queen is not Grace Kelly or Kim Novak, it's Eva Marie Saint. Her role in North By Northwest is impeccably flawless, both in performance and style. As Eve Kendall, a delicate femme fatale, Saint is no damsel in distress but a sexy confident woman that outsmarts Cary Grant's Roger Thornhill on several occasions, and wins his heart in the process. 

In this tale of mistaken identity, an innocent man is pursued across the country by a devious  organization with plans to smuggle a film containing government secrets. In the game of hide and seek, Roger Thornhill crosses paths with Eve Kendall, whom he meets on a snazzy mid-century passenger train -- back when trains were highly erotic.

Eve is faultlessly coiffed and manicured, in that flawless Betty Draper kind of a way. Yet, there's noting fussy about her. She sticks to a mostly neutral ensembles of black, white, navy and slate grey. With very little embellishment, Eve accessories with a delicate string of pearls, a slim lady watch, and a sumptuous coral lipstick, which never leaved her lovely lips, even when she descends Mount Rushmore. One one occasion, our minimalist leading lady spices things up with a grey silk cocktail frock, embellished with seductive red velvet roses that would make Thom Browne green with envy. 

Believe it or not, Alfred Hitchcock, disliking the choices selected by MGM's costume designers, picked up Eva Marie Saint's wardrobe himself by simply walking into Bergdorf Goodman and selecting things off the rack. If film directing didn't work out, he could've enjoyed a fulfilling career as a fashion stylist. 

Eve: How do I know you aren't a murderer?
Roger: You don't.
Eve: Maybe you're planning to murder me right here, tonight.
Roger: Shall I?
Eve: Please do.

Film stills courtesy of Classiq.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

In the Mood For: Pastel Beauty

Elle Vietnam (April 2014)

This editorial is so beautiful, it's inspiring me to rethink my spring colour palette. Instead of my usual eyeliner and bright lipstick, I'm looking to embrace the tonal look this season. I love the subtle layering of similar shades, with elegant pops of pastel colours: a little green around the eyes, a little peach on the nails. I think I discovered the ultimate palette for tonal makeup. 'Kaleidolight' by Aerin is my dream compact and I might actually cry when I run out.

$78 at Estée Lauder and Aerin.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fashion Archives: Cindy Crawford and Richard Gere (Vogue, November 1992)

"The Model and the Movie Star" (Vogue, November 1992), photographed by Herb Ritts

In the light of Kimye Vogue controversy, I'd like to do a little time jump to 1992 and the time  supermodel Cindy Crawford and eternal dreamboat Richard Gere graced the cover of the fashion bible. First, can you believe it's been almost 22 years? I was a preteen when their hotness steamed the newsstands, but I clearly remember the hype behind the gorgeous couple. 

Here, in a November 1992 cover story, Vogue had Cindy and Richard frolicking on a beach on a white horse. Photographed by the late Herb Ritts in his signature sultry black and white manner, and styled by André Leon Talley, the couple captures the all-American sexiness effortlessly. (Especially now when compared to wooden-posed Kim and Kanye.) 

Everyone wanted to be them. Sadly, three years later, they split up. It probably would been cruel to the rest of us if these two magnificent creatures procreated, but I still wish they had. And, my gawd, Cindy's body.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ask Me Anything: Answers! (Part 2)

What is your first fashion memory? It's something you always ask in interviews. Your turn!
Watching Dynasty reruns with my grandmother. In fact, that might be my first memory in general. I mean, Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan!

I noticed your prefer oversized clothing. Why? You're so petite! Shouldn't you do the opposite?
True. Fashion crime alert! I buy everything a size larger, because I think looser clothing looks more elegant. It's a tip I learned from a Lauren Bacall interview I read about a decade ago. Also, it's comfy.

Any style tips for curvier women? I'm a size 10 and find it difficult to relate to most edgier style blogs. I love designers like Alexander Wang, but it just doesn't look as good on me than it does on all the street style stars.
I say, wear it anyways. As pointed in the previous question, I don't really dress for my body type either. I'm passionately against telling curvier women to avoid heavy prints and traditional What Not to Wear rubbish like that. If you like it, wear it. You can adjust some fit issues by getting a great tailor -- it's something I can't stress enough. And remember: We are our own worst critics. I spent a decade avoiding skirts because I was convinced I had hideous legs. I don't regret many things in life, but I regret that.

I'm transitioning from a traditional office to a creative office -- any style advice?
First: congratulations! Have fun with your clothes, while still remaining professional. If you wear jeans, pair it with a smart blazer. If you wear a pencil skirt, pair it will a youthful top. When I think of creative office wear, I think of Jenna Lyons. Does that help?

I'm sure you have many nice things, but what's the most cherished item in your closet?
That I bought or inherited? I'll answer both. Purchased: a Tsumori Chisato coat from S/S 2007 because I consider it my first venture into Japanese fashion. I feel like I got so much more adventurous after purchasing it. I'll photograph it soon for the blog, once I convince one of my friends to take my pic. Inherited: an antique silver 1920s purse from my great-grandmother. It's very Daisy Buchanan. 

As a freelance writer, how did you go about finding clients/opportunities?
80% of the time, I use the traditional rejection-filled route of pitching to the editors. It's tough, and can be soul-crushing, but I'm still not at a career point where editors come to me, although I'm slowly getting there.

I'm a new blogger. What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Depends if you're in it for personal or professional reasons. If you just want to have fun and show off your personal style, that's great. If you want to eventually get work as a writer/editor, you have to show off some writing chops and your knowledge of the industry. But, either way, I suggest quality over quantity. Spend time on your posts; they should be a labour of love.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Sorry, is this an interview question for a job I didn't know I was applying for? Just kidding. Well, hopefully I won't still be writing this blog in my 40s. I would like to imagine myself at the top (half) of the masthead at a larger publication, print or digital.

What are the details of your perfect day?
Spending a leisurely day with my dog -- meaning a nice spring/summer walk, some shopping, and a patio lunch.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Style Icon: Caroline de Maigret

We in North America often have a very romantic -- and often very false -- view of Parisian chic, thinking it's all frills and macarons, when in reality the most stylish French women have a rock edge. My friend Alexandra Suhner Isenberg, who lived in France for most of her 20s, would argue that there is nothing Rock 'n' Roll about France: "the French have a really bad understanding of the use of the words “rock” and “punk.” I remember Alexandra's words because they are largely true. Looking at -- albeit very well dressed -- Parisian women like Emmanuelle Alt in their studded Balmain and ripped jeans, I somehow doubt they have a hefty collection of rock on vinyl at home. (We know Alt has a soft spot for Wham!)

But Chanel muse Caroline de Maigret seems more genuine than that. Never mind that this ex-model's father is a Count, she does own her own record label. And, according to her feature on The Coveteur, she does indeed own many records! She is someone that looks just as put together in Margiela as she does in Madewell -- a difficult thing to do. So, here's a look at de Maigret's enviable style. 

The Coveteur

Madewell lookbook

Madewell lookbook