Sunday, June 28, 2009

Latest Reading

As per usual I've been reading madly and here are my highlights from the last few weeks ...

The Outcast by British author Sadie Jones is an assured debut novel which was shortlisted for the 2008 Orange Prize. A sobering tale about a teenage male protagonist outcast from upper middle class British society in the 1950's due to perceived wrongs, it is immensely readable, with taut characterisation and a filmic quality to many of the scenes (it started life as a screenplay apparently).

I was particularly impressed that the author decided to make her main protagonist male -considering she is female -and the young Lewis Alridge, though deeply damaged, is catnip for female readers everywhere. Young, sexy and enraged, but with a kind soul at bottom... yum yum indeed.

I did find some of the dialogue a bit forced and the plotting repetitive at times, but overall it was an enjoyable read. Published by Random House.

The Women in Black by Aussie author Madeleine St John originally came out in the early 90's but has just been reissued. This is a serious gem of a novel - insightful, darkly funny and heartwarming - that I can't recommend highly enough. Perfect for a cold winter's day spent huddled under a blanket on the couch, The Women in Black follows the adventures of four women who work in a fictionalised version of David's Jones' flagship Elizabeth St store in Sydney in the late 1950's. Set over the course of one summer, each woman's character is deftly drawn and St John's observations of middle-class Australian life at that time are brilliantly realised. With not a word out of place, fashion fans like myself will enjoy immersing themselves in the cocktail frocks, and everyone else will enjoy the wry humour and joyful ending. Published by Text Publishing this one went straight to Mum so she can read it next.

I've been meaning to read Ayaan Hirsi Ali's autobiography for quite some time. My Mum read it yonks ago and raved about it and I saw Ali in conversation at the Sydney Writers' Festival in 2007 where she really made an impression. Regardless of how you might feel about her politics, Ayaan's story makes a riveting read. Before she was even forty it was like she had already lived nine lives, born in Somalia, a daughter of a revolutionary; growing up in Somalia, Saudi Arabia and then Kenya; a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in her teens; leaving an arranged marriage by escaping to the Netherlands; living as a refugee in the Netherlands; her political awakening and subsequent entry into Dutch politics; a murder than thrust her into the international spotlight ... and much much more.
Although Ali's story is only one woman's experience, I do think her story speaks volumes about the lives of Muslim women in Africa and the Middle East, as well as those now living in Europe, North America and Australia.
This isn't a political blog by any means but I challenge any man or woman to read this book and not come away shocked and angry. Interestingly French President Nicholas Sarkozy suggested this week that the burka be banned in his country (France has the largest Muslim population in Europe). On Bust Magazine's blog I was interested to read the comments to a story about this- all from intelligent, politically aware women (as that is the magazine's readership) - and note that many of them (though not all) are apologetic of this bizarre cultural practice, claiming that many of the Muslim women "choose" to wear this type of dress. But if your community would call you a prostitute if you didn't wear a burka, you'd probably choose to wear one too, right?

READ THIS BOOK (published by Simon and Schuster).

On a lighter note I'm in the midst of the Elizabeth Gaskell classic North and South which has got me thinking about how many awesome female role models there are in the literary canon including the dependent and independent Margaret Hale in this book, Elizabeth Bennett, Anne Elliott, Jo March, Dorothea Brooke and more. If I am ever lucky enough to have a daughter one day, I can't wait to introduce her to these amazing characters.

I also can't wait to watch the fab BBC North and South mini-series again when I finish the book. Richard Armitage is such a spunk as John Thornton ... sigh. North and South is a must-read and must-see for hardcore romantics.

Available as a Penguin Classic.

Vintage Heaven

Is not the place virtuous old dresses go to die; it can actually be found right here on earth and soon it will be found in my very own closet.

I had been collecting images of wedding dresses past and present (mainly past) for inspiration for my own wedding dress, which I planned to have made from scratch, when I came across the perfect dress. After a night of vivid dreams involving me wearing this very dress - and not just some incarnation of it - I decided that my sub conscious would never let me rest if some other woman ended up hanging this beautiful gown in her closet. So I bought it.

Thus my wedding dress shopping is complete with 9 months to go to until the big day and for a fraction of the cost of having a dress made + it is guaranteed I'm not going to look like any of the ladies you see in Cosmo Bride.

Obviously I can't give away too much at this early stage except to say it is white and wedding-y without being too much so, features an accent colour, has no lace (very surprising) and is a vintage Ceil Chapman from the 1950's. The dress is well over 50, so I've definitely got "something old" covered.
Meanwhile I wanted to give a big wrap for the vintage seller I purchased the dress from as not only have they been tremendously helpful and professional their range is AMAZING. They are Timeless Vixen , based in LA, and here is a small selection of some of my favourites that are available on their website now.
Gorgeous novelty print which will take you to India, Britain and more.

Perfect for a summer garden party.

I had to show the distinctive back of this colourful circle dress.


Stunning floral appliques and draping on this 1950's couture frock, this would be ideal for a summer wedding.

A mod 1960's white leather purse that doubles as a phone! This is dead stock too - a serious collectors item.

This beautiful embroidered halter neck would be a knock-out wedding dress on someone slim and statuesque.
1960's Courreges rainbow wool coat; a great statement piece and warm to boot.
As well as the selection on their website Timeless Vixen also uploads items weekly to Ebay where you can grab collectible and wearable pieces for a steal.
The Aussie/US exchange rate is very favourable right now ... just saying ...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Frock of the Week

For a change this week was a no-brainer for me. French actress Marion Cotillard is glamorous perfection in Elie Saab. As Marion is under contract with Dior she is almost always seen in the French label on the red-carpet, so it is a nice change to see her in another designer. Close up this dress looks like little mosaic tiles. Love the cowl neck, love the accessories and her hair is divine.

Marion is at the premiere of Public Enemies which I absolutely can't wait to see for the double hotness that is Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. I've got to mention that they are both rather accomplished actors too as well as being visually arresting.

On another note I saw this photo of English singer Duffy today wearing the cutest Chloe shorts. I kind of want them, so hopefully some Aussie chain store will knock them off in time for summer.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Wet weather purse

Last weekend I was sitting on the bus travelling down Parramatta Road - on my way back from the vintage fair in Leichhardt - when I spotted this shop with the most gorgeous looking vintage dresses and hats in the window that I had to jump off the bus and check it out.

The store was Sandie Bizys Studio and specialises largely in unique vintage inspired hats - Sandie is a qualified milliner - but she also stock a select, pretty and high quality selection of vintage clothing (including wedding dresses), accessories and jewellery + reproduction dresses. If you are ever in the Inner West her shop is well worth checking out.

After a chat with the lovely sales assistants I am planning on making an appointment to see Sandie about creating a hat for my wedding. You can check out some of her work on her website.
Cheekily I also picked up this super cute bag while I was there. Apart from a few scuffs on the white leather shoulder strap, this bag is in good condition and is so different to anything else I've seen of late. I love the wood handle and you can't really tell in the photo, but the bag is actually made of quilted floral fabric, embroidered with gold, and then covered with clear plastic. It is perfect for the wet weather (will the rain never end?) and it is just big enough to fit a Penguin Classic. What more can I ask for?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dress of the Week

The Council of Fashion Designers of America held their annual Awards night this week and I've picked two lovely ladies to tie for frock of the week.
Style-maven Diane Kruger wore this sexy secretary Jason Wu dress with fabulous black embellished shoulders. Love the hot T-bar sandals and black clutch; Diane always accessorises so well and her perfect pins does the outfit wonders as well. I wouldn't recommend this look for mere mortals like me - especially sans opaques - but the divine Diane and Jason Wu have combined their talents with aplomb.

Style original Ashley Olsen wore this vibrant vintage 30's dress and I've got to give the girl snaps for wearing vintage to an event aimed at promoting current American fashion. I might not like what Ashley and her sister Mary-Kate always wear, but they are most definitely trend-setters rather than sheep and obviously both really care about what they wear beyond what is going to get them snapped for the tabloids.
I had to include a picture of the back of this dress too as it is so, so sexy. I love how dresses from this era were able to just show a hint of leg of back and ooze so much more sex appeal than the short plunging bandage dresses of current times (please make the bandage dress trend end NOW).
I love this dress so much I kind of want it. I wonder where she found it. Anyone know?
Her hair is looking good too.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

First Lady as Muse

My previous post about Oleg Cassini got me thinking about his relationship with the gorgeous Jackie Kennedy during her years as First Lady. I love Jackie because she was refined and intelligent, beautiful, uniquely stylish, bookish (she was a book editor in later years), discreet and the mother of one of the hottest men of the 20th Century.

Oleg Cassini designed many, many of the outfits Jackie wore on various State Visits and to many White House functions. It is such a pity that news reporting back then was still largely a black and white world as Jackie really embraced colour. I love all the long white gloves.

The Met in NY had an exhibition of Jacqueline's early 1960's clothing some time ago and I managed to find these images of some of their collection pieces. You'll recognise the blue strapless dress which she wore to a Ball in Mexico and the lovely pink dress she wore on a trip to India.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fashion in the 1950's

Seeing as I'm currently obsessed with 1950's fashion, here is a little video reminder of why it was such an amazing decade for style.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The September Issue

I'm not sure if the doco The September Issue is going to get a cinema release in Australia but I was lucky enough to see it last night as part of the Sydney Film Festival.

Even though I tend to enjoy most fashion flicks (and please, the woeful Sex and the City Movie does not count) they generally get panned by reviewers who don't really 'get' the frilly world of frocks, but I suspect this will be quite well received by audiences, fashionista or no, as it touches on so much more than clothes.

The September Issue is a fabulous fly on the wall documentary which follows US Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour for six months as she and her staff pull together the September 2007 issue of the magazine, still the biggest issue in it's history. The documentary maker was given unprecedented access into the hallowed cubicles of Vogue and I loved seeing how the issue was pulled together.

Anna Wintour has a reputation as an ice queen and this film will do nothing to dispel that perception. Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada was so freakishly spot on that if you'd put her in a blonde bob they could be one and the same person. She is unrelentingly critical, seems to make her decisions as to which photos and clothes make the pages on a completely arbitrary basis and doesn't demonstrate any great passion for the fashion she reigns over, although surely she must feel it.

What amazed me was that the hyperbole about her influence in the fashion industry seems not be hyperbole at all, with her silent withering looks able to make and break a designers career. It is amusing to see her actually summon a guffaw as she gives the CEO of Neiman Marcus a flirty arm touch at a Vogue/retail conference.

Vogue's Creative Director Grace Coddington comes off as the antithesis of Anna. She has warmth, a sense of humour and a devoted passion for the beauty of fashion and the aesthetic in general. She is a true artist and Anna does give credit where credit is due (apparently she has been quoted as saying she can't live without Grace), despite their numerous disagreements.

As a study in office politics this film is priceless. Of course these things can be cut so easily to push or pull the audience in a particular direction, but Anna was at the Sundance premiere so she can't be too miffed about it.

As soon as it finished I wanted to watch it again to revisit the behind the scenes glimpses of the high fashion shoots + relive Anna's ruthless cut downs and evil eye. And I wanted to befriend the lovely Grace.

For a more cerebral review of the doco written by someone with a better handle on the film world click here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dress of the Week (and runners up)

This week had been a doozy as far as flash frocks go so I feel like I can't just post one photo.

First runner-up is Michelle Williams in this 3.1 Phillip Lim dress. Go Fug Yourself polled this one and thankfully it came up trumps with over 35% of readers (at last count) voting the dress AWESOME (in capital letters like Kanye West). I think it is pretty awesome too and have no issues at all with the gold chain mail shoulder (which actually extends almost the whole way down her back). Isn't Michelle Williams pretty? Even back in her Dawson's days she reminded me so much of my good friend Megan that I've always had a soft spot for her. She exudes a definite laid-back Brooklyn cool and always looks fab whenever she is papped.

Another super pretty girl is Emma Watson whom I watched in Ballet Shoes on ABC 1 on Sunday night. Cute story and this is a really cute dress on Emma. Sheers seems to be all the rage at the moment and this avant garde dress is doing something right for me. Maybe it is the lovely shade of blue. Is this cerulean as per Devil Wears Prada?

Third runner-up is Cameron Diaz in this hot Stella McCartney embroidered mini.

And finally I'm awarding the gong this week to Anne Hathaway who wore this Oscar de la Renta dress to the Tony Awards. This is another dress with an element of sheerness which creates a nice point of difference against the timeless fit and flare silhouette. Not sure about the shoes though. What do other people think?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Lover as Muse

In history there have occasionally been top male fashion designers who have actually been straight and one of those was French-American designer Oleg Cassini. Cassini was, for a time, married to Oscar winning Hollywood actress Gene Tierney and he also dated Grace Kelly. He is probably best known as the designer of choice for my beloved Jackie Kennedy Onassis, when she was First Lady.

As I've been off the air in recent days due to absence from Sydney and illness, this is just a quick post of some photos of Gene in Oleg Cassini. Normally blogging will resume shortly.

The Frock has a great selection of vintage Oleg Cassini gowns to drool over at the moment. Anyone got a spare $5,000 they want to lend me indefinitely?