First Fashion …

The Obamas at The Inauguration - synchronized dressing

The Obamas at The Inauguration – synchronized dressing                                                                                                                           Getty Images

A moment to take in the First Fashion from the Inauguration

Michelle Obama has great style. What I love most about our First Lady’s fashion sense is that she truly owns it. She knows what works for her and how she likes to present herself. Every time she steps out she makes a statement – one that says chic and approachable at the same time. Today, all three Obama women made statements, and the First Fashions were so well coordinated  …

… and for the second time, Michelle Obama chose a custom Jason Wu design for the Inaugural balls. I love this color red; she wears it so well.

What do you think?

The Inaugural Ball - Michelle Obama in Jason Wu

The Inaugural Ball –
Michelle Obama in Jason Wu                                                                                                                        Getty Images

“Like boys” …

Credit: The New York Times On the Street with Bill Cunningham

Credit: The New York Times On the Street with Bill Cunningham

Like boys … translation: Comme des Garcons

The way I approach each collection is exactly the same…the motivation has always been to create something new, something that didn’t exist before. The more experience I have and the more clothes I make, the more difficult it becomes to make something new. Once I’ve made something, I don’t want to do it again, so the breadth of possibility is becoming smaller.” Rei Kawakubo, Japanese fashion designer and creative force behind the label Comme des Garcons, Ltd.

Today I am inspired (as I often am) by New York Times On the Street photographer, Bill Cunnigham, and his piece entitled, Coated“. He highlights the coats and dresses from Rei Kawakubo’s collection from March 2012, and those women lucky enough to be wearing these colorful fashion-as-art pieces now.

Rei Kawakubo’s first collection, “Lace,” debuted in 1981 and since her debut, Ms. Kawakubo’s designs have been original and exquisite. She appears not to be interested in what others are doing, in creating the new, and in having the discipline to do so. I am thrilled to own my own small piece of Comme des Garcons, and for once I too, can be like boys!!

What do you think?

My very own Comme des Garcons shirt!

My very own Comme des Garcons shirt!

Breaking news: no sleeves!

Today Show's Anchor, Natalie Morales

Today Show’s Anchor, Natalie Morales

Have you turned on the news lately? Anchor women are going sleeveless and everywhere you turn, you find this new uniform; sleeveless blouses/dresses and exposed arms – even in the cold winter months. I’m wondering … who sent these women the memo?? Could it be a response to our First Lady’s penchant for sleeveless dresses? My mother, Claire, and my neighbor, Jean, first brought this phenomenon to my attention. Initially, I noticed just a handful of participants, but now I see that among the younger news women the trend is spreading. Everyone is dressing this way; local newscasters to more well-known names, like NBC’s Natalie Morales and ABC’s Katie Couric.

Should we be reading into this? Is it just a passing fancy or simply a passing thought? Do we care?

What do we think?

Irina and Anna

Mother and Daughter - Irina and Anna

Irina and Anna are mother and daughter. Their family moved to New Jersey from Russia just two years ago, turning their entire lives around, because since she was fifteen, Irina knew in her heart that “she didn’t want to grow old in Russia.” We sat down for a conversation and talked about their life in Russia, what life is like in today’s Russia, and both American and Russian style. I walked away smiling, knowing that I spent time with two extraordinary women, and learned a little about their world as well! Here are Irina and Anna:

Irina: When I stopped speed skating at 21, it was a very difficult time for me. I had always had my skating and only my skating; I was living in a bubble without having to step into the real world. Then the sports ended and I had to figure out what I would do next. I was also married at 21, so my life changed in that way, too. My husband and I first attempted to leave Russia when we were newly married, and we moved to Holland as aux pairs. That didn’t work out, but it led me to my next opportunity, because it’s the little details that are important ..

The woman with whom I had worked as an aux pair, had a friend who was just starting out in publishing; he would eventually become the owner of one of the largest publishing houses in Russia. Through that initial connection I ended up working for him and began a long career in publishing …

During that time, I collected beautiful, high-end clothing for my work wardrobe. At one time, I had 10-12 Louis Vuitton handbags! Today’s Russian style is sophisticated. Russian women spend time selecting clothes and are very aware of the details of dress. They appreciate beautiful things and will spend more money buying them. They love labels like Chanel (especially the older women) and Dolce & Gabbana.

(I asked Irina to compare today’s fashion with the old Soviet Union … )

Growing up, we didn’t have choices. Everyone was forced to wear the same things. I didn’t dress in color: my clothing was gray, brown or black. My girlfriend’s aunt had connections and she always wore bright, colorful clothing! I wanted to look like her!” ~ Irina

Anna:Some people here (in the United States) don’t want to make the effort with fashion. In Russia, everyone dresses carefully and with attention to the details. Even my friends who wear uniforms to school will take care in putting their outfits together: adding a  pencil skirt, a nice blouse, great shoes, special handbags, etc. Everyone in Russia has a good-sized handbag and men and women carry big wallets as well  … no one wears backpacks in Russia! They prefer to carry totes! When I first moved here, people couldn’t understand why I carried a tote and not a backpack. Friends still tell me that I dress with a European attitude but I don’t see it. ~ Anna

Much to say; I would love to have another conversation with Irina and Anna

It’s the little things …

Jennifer Lawrence in her tangerine-red couture gown and slim black belt

Jennifer Lawrence in her tangerine-red couture gown and slim black belt- Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Details in dressing are important. It’s the little things that help you reach your style potential and create value that will take your look over-the-top. When I saw Jennifer Lawrence in her gown at The Golden Globes, the tangerine-red dress was beautiful, yes, but it was the slim black belt that made it stand out! Accessories, when done right, are accents that bring charm and identify you and your personality: a belt on a cardigan sweater, a necklace worn in an open v-neck, or the right bracelet on your wrist. Other details are critical, as well. I have spoken about the need for a good fit and having a tailor in your arsenal. Proper seams add sophistication to your shirts and jackets, and slacks hemmed appropriately for your size will do the same. Pops of color brighten an outfit, but more important, your mood. Think of a colorful handbag or clutch, or scarf worn around your neck, or even a manicure, the next time you want to feel brighter.

It’s the little things that bring huge benefits!

What do you think?

Phoebe

Phoebe

Phoebe

It warms the heart to enjoy a conversation with a young woman with whom you have history and have known all of her life. I sat down with Phoebe, who turned sixteen last month, and at first, all I could see was the adorable cherub of a baby I once knew. But as Phoebe spoke, I left the baby behind and saw only the young woman sitting next to me. And isn’t she effortlessly chic and stylish? Here is Phoebe, in her own words: on fashion, where she shops, and the need to express oneself …

My feeling about fashion is that you should dress the way you want to dress. I never understood trends. I just pick the things I like and I wear them …

My high school is big (Fiorello H. La Guardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts, or simply, La Guardia High School), and like any other large school there is a wide range of fashion looks. But we definitely feel free to express who we really are without judgment. Sometimes students’ choices are wonderful and sometimes terrible, but at least they are their own and I think that is what’s important …

I shop at J. Crew, Forever 21 and The Gap. If I had to pick my favorite place to shop, I would say J. Crew, because their clothes are always current and classy. My friends and I also like to shop at Buffalo Exchange, a consignment shop filled with current looks and is geared toward a young, hip crowd. There really isn’t one store where I shop most, because I look everywhere for pieces that fit my style. As long as it’s not too expensive and I think I can make it work in my wardrobe, I’ll buy it …

I wonder about the connection between fashion and self-esteem and people who don’t care about how they dress or what others think. I have a certain level of self-respect and it affects how I choose to dress. From what I observe at school people care about how they present themselves, too; from their outfits, to their makeup, to their shoes and their accessories. I think it’s connected to having a more positive self-esteem …

I used to wear only jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. Now, I like to add different pieces to enhance my outfits and go a step further. I may choose a collared shirt under a sweater, with leggings and boots, for example. I’m also warming up to accessories like headbands and bracelets and I have a pair of pearl earrings that I wear with everything. I’m definitely more open to different styles.” ~ Phoebe

Phoebe, you are doing so well! I think you have a smart fashion sense and a solid perspective on the benefits of expressing yourself through your clothing choices. I love to see it and to see you too!  xx, Melissa

“The Empress Vreeland”

Diana Vreeland in the office of VoguePhoto courtesy of documentary -  Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel

Diana Vreeland in the office of Vogue
Photo courtesy of film, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, her granddaughter-in-law

I wasn’t a fashion editor – I was the one and only fashion editor.” ~ Diana Vreeland

My holiday break has been about spending time with my family … and watching movies. Movies like, Hitchcock, Lincoln, Argo, The Silver Linings Playbook, (all wonderful films, by the way), and today a movie just for me: the documentary called Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. I must confess that I did not know very much about the iconic editor before seeing the film. The woman and the movie are fascinating and I was moved by her life and her story; much of the documentary is told in her own words, in her own voice.

She was born in Paris in 1903, during La Belle Epoque, to a life of adventure and beauty and Le Ballets Russes, where, according to Mrs. Vreeland: “my education was the world,” and to live a happy life, “the first thing to be done is to arrange to be born in Paris. Everything else happens quite naturally.” But it was her mother, who told her that she was the ugly duckling of the family, who may have inspired Mrs. Vreeland to dream her big dreams, spark her desire to stand out from the crowd, and be where the action is. After she met and married the very winning bachelor, Reed Vreeland, she says that her mother’s words no longer hurt her, and “Reed made me feel beautiful no matter what my mother made me think.” Oh and by the way, while living in Paris, she met Coco Chanel, with whom she says she was very close.

Her family later moved to New York, and eventually, as a grown and married woman without any formal education or training, found her first job as a columnist for Harper’s Bazaar Magazine. Her column? Why Don’t You? A sort-of-how-to, way out, eccentric but  tried and true fashion Q&A, that represented her first step into a career in fashion, which she continued writing until the onset of World War II. She stopped when she believed the column to be frivolous. But Mrs. Vreeland’s role at Harper’s Bazaar grew and she would eventually become a fashion editor: the first of her kind in a role that she truly invented. Before that, magazines like Harper’s Bazaar didn’t have fashion editors; the role of women and fashion was more about society ladies dealing with the social do’s and don’ts of running a household, including how to make pies. But Mrs. Vreeland revolutionized that: she gave fashion a bigger, exotic life, she took people to new places they couldn’t reach on their own, she launched the careers of actors like Lauren Bacall, and put bikinis and blue jeans on the map. And after 26 years as editor of Harper’s Bazaar, she moved to Vogue, where she would become editor-in-chief during the explosive 1960s and set the world on fire again, turning a sleepy magazine into a global fashion runway.

She did it all her way. She was an original with a vision – always a vision. And I wonder, as I often do, what gives someone that indescribable drive? I am left with a compelling thought; that beyond her success in the fashion world, it is perhaps her personal story of drive and determination to find her own way and step away from the ugly duckling messages that her mother placed on her, to stop at nothing to express who she really was: magnificent. Here she is, in her own words:

I think when you’re young you should be a lot with yourself and your sufferings. Then one day you get out where the sun shines and the rain rains and the snow snows and it all comes together.” ~ Diana Vreeland

What do you think?

Diana Vreeland

A young Diana Vreeland

Empowered!

Dress for Success Morris County - December Meeting

Dress for Success Morris County

I returned tonight to Dress for Success Morris County to share in its December monthly networking meeting (part two of the three-step process to help women in need pursue an independent life). DFSMC hosts this monthly meeting for the women, to have a chance to stay connected with friends (I was told that some have been coming for at least eight years) and to feel empowered to continue moving in a positive direction. It’s an evening that includes dinner, an informational keynote speaker and babysitting for their children. What I witnessed was an overwhelming outpouring of love and uplifting energy.

I arrived just in time to see the women finishing dinner and enjoying each others’ company. Everyone looked polished and professional, as they wore outfits that they had selected from their suiting and styling session with a DFSMC volunteer. But what was most noticeable were their genuine smiles being among friends and supporters. I met Simone, who told me that she had just landed a job and “felt like a queen!” To Simone, this job means freedom. “When I first came to Dress for Success Morris County I had no confidence. Now, I am full of confidence and this new job is power.” Similarly, Nancy described her remarkable transformation: “I had given up on myself and now, I feel like a professional again. By coming here – they give you anything you need – you get over your negative feelings and find your strength again.”

With a warm introduction, speaker Ceylone Boothe-Grooms took the floor; from the moment she spoke she made a connection with the audience. Ceylone’s message rang true for these women, all of whom like Simone and Nancy have had much to overcome: Believe in yourself. In Ceylone’s words, “We are women. By design we are fierce and fabulous! Confidence is powerful!” Perhaps Ceylone struck a cord with everyone when she told her own story; growing up in The Bronx in an environment filled more with drugs than dreams. She was forced to leave college early to work and help support her family. But she had strong parents who saw her potential and she herself began to dream big. It was then that she decided to hold her head high and change her thought process. By chance, she landed her first job in Alexander’s Department Store and later advanced to Macy’s as a makeup artist, all because of this belief in her dream and her unwillingness to give up. Today she is a national make-up artist and image consultant, performer, speaker, and former Mrs. New Jersey America (2011).

She was as if a spiritual leader, and the women reacted with applause and appreciation. There was something so moving about Ceylone’s message: first, believe in yourself and then, give yourself the best chance for success by dressing the part. When she finished, she answered makeup questions and provided makeup lessons.

I think we were all transformed tonight.

What do you think?

Simone: feeling confident

Simone: feeling confident

Speaker Ceylone Boothe answering questions and giving a makeup lesson

Speaker Ceylone Boothe-Grooms answering questions and providing a makeup lesson

Tailor-made

A good tailor is a fashion essentialPhoto credit: Google images

A good tailor is a fashion essential
Photo credit: Google Images

I need to find a good tailor. There is a basic fashion truth: the right color and a good fit cannot be overlooked. Even a beautiful outfit will miss the mark if it doesn’t fit you properly. When you find a good tailor, one with skill and expertise, you will have found a fashion partner for life! For a reasonable fee, a tailor’s attention to detail will give life to almost-right pieces and add confidence. Watch things like: the length of arm sleeves on shirts and jackets, the length of trousers and slacks, and a well-defined shoulder and waistline. These elements are critical when it comes to a good fit and proper proportion. I notice that when we feel a little heavier, we tend to choose clothes one-size up from our regular size. This is a mistake because the clothing makes us look larger than we actually are. A fitted look is much more slimming.

I am off to find a good tailor. Do you have one in your arsenal?

What do you think?

Hit the Target!

My Skaist-Taylor faux fur vest from Target,Photo Credit: Myriam Alavarez (taken at Neiman Marcus)

My Skaist Taylor faux fur vest from Target/Neiman Marcus
Photo taken at Neiman Marcus – Photo Credit: Myriam Alvarez

The Target/Neiman Marcus partnership story continues ..

There is one thing I’ve noticed about these designer/Target partnerships; like a good cookie, it’s difficult to stop at just one visit, and the Target/Neiman Marcus pairing was too enticing. I returned to Target and now in addition to my Judith Leiber compact and Carolina Herrera journals, I own a Skaist Taylor black faux fur vest. I didn’t know who Skaist Taylor was; I wasn’t even sure about the vest until I tried it on. But it had a certain whimsy, a luxurious quality, and the price was right. Three is the charm.

California designers Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor were the co-founders of Juicy Couture. Together they created Skaist Taylor, a collection of California-chic designs and a mix of glamour, simplicity and cool.

Go hit the Target. There is something there for you. I know it!

What do you think?