Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Heads up re-enactors...

Quick note to let everyone know about the latest contest from the lovely American Duchess.  They have a new Regency dance slipper, which is up for grabs in their latest giveaway.  The Highbury (named after the village in Jane Austen's Emma) is a flat silk slipper with a pointed toe, much like a ballet slipper.  The feature that I love is the inside loops that allow you to put your own ribbons in your own configuration to inspire your inner dancer.  I can't imagine a nicer pair of shoes for our upcoming Admiral Nelson Ball or Jane Austen Evening, when wearing these and dancing a lovely Auretti's Dutch Skipper or Irish Lamentation.  Even if you miss out on the giveaway, at $80, the price is pretty reasonable for a pair of shoes based on slippers once owned by Abigail Adams.

Go for it ladies...

American Duchess Highbury Sweepstakes

Saturday, March 3, 2012

More Laura Ashley Brides

Sorry that it has taken me so long to get to scanning.  I don't have a date on this catalog, but I want to presume it's around 1983 or 84.  I have to admit that this edition of the bridal line was not among my favorites.  In my opinion they were tweaking details from the existing day line and some of the frills and inserts are simply awkward.  However, as always, the styling is unique to Laura Ashley, and the accessories are lovely.  Sorry that this did not come out in sequential order; next time I will have to upload pictures one at a time!  I love the setting for the photoshoot; it looks like it might be the Glastonbury or Whitby Abbey ruins.  I also like the sleeve on the Ophelia gown which is featured on the cover.  It's very like a sleeve on a custom gown that Gina Fratini made for the late Princess Diana that she wore for the opening of Parliament about 83 or 84.  Click on an image to see the full sized pages.  Enjoy...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Laura Ashley Brides

Back in 1988 I went to work at Laura Ashley.  For someone who loved old fashioned clothes, it was heaven on earth.  The shop girls were required to wear Laura clothes, and so there was a clothing allowance based on a point system.  As I was a full time employee, I earned three points a month.  Part time girls received two points a month.  You could get a dress or skirt for two points, maybe a top for a point, etc.  Sometimes you'd bank your points to get something really wonderful like a coat.  We also had the "company closet," a rail of clothes belonging to the store that we could borrow from, which included some of the more iconic white blouses and petticoats.

At one time, I had nearly 70 pieces of Laura Ashley in my wardrobe from espadrilles to gloves to ballgowns to the iconic 80/80 cotton lawn dresses with a square neck and puffed sleeves.  I've still got a baker's dozen or so in my closet, although I could now kick myself for donating so many of those pretty floral dresses with lace collars to Goodwill every time I see them pop up on eBay or on some vintage Etsy store.

Word to you vintage sellers out there.  I know I'm not alone in feeling nostalgia for the clothes I used to own.  There are a lot of women like me who would like to buy their old Laura dresses back (or something that looks a lot like a print we used to love), but we are not about to buy a dress that got chopped off halfway down the skirt by some sweet young thing.  Yes, there were some Laura party dresses in mini lengths in the 80s, but those were few and far between.  The classic Laura dress was below the knee.  You'll have a better chance of selling the dress if it's in it's original condition.

I got engaged when I was working at the South Coast Plaza store.  Nothing delighted me (or my manager) more than trying on the Bridal dresses on my lunch break.  Trivia:  Laura Ashley had operated a telex for British Intelligence during her stint as a WREN in WWII.  The American branches selling the bridal gowns all had telexes linked to the Laura Ashley factory in Carno, Wales, placing the orders directly in the manufacturing queue.  I still remember the tags on the gowns - "Made with love in Carno."

After I ended my stint at Laura-land, I ended up buying my gown at Jessica McClintock after seeing a dress in the window that reminded me of the second act of the ballet "Giselle."  However, I never stopped dreaming of a Laura wedding dress of my own.  I've purchased a few on eBay, and they're in the closet with my own wedding dresses (second time lucky).  I've got some of the bridal catalogs from the 80s and 90s.  At one time, I had all of them, but lost some along the path of life.  I could also kick myself for throwing out the Laura Ashley by Post catalogs that I'd amassed over the years in order to clear up space in our last home.  Now those are going for a chunk of change on eBay as well.

I've scanned the last Bridal Collection brochure produced by Laura Ashley USA in 1995.  It was only a little post card sized brochure as compared to the lovely full sized catalogs that the company used to print.  I will post some of the other catalogs I still have in the coming weeks.  Takes a bit of time to scan, ya know?  I love these dresses because the fabrics and silhouettes are what is important - not embellishment.  Good quality cotton and silks.  English net lace.  These dresses are also all perfectly appropriate for church weddings with covered shoulders and no deep necklines.

Sadly, there are no longer Laura Ashley shops in the U.S. or Canada.  Laura passed away in 1985, and her husband Bernard (later Sir Bernard) started expanding the chain with the help of a public stock offering, probably more than he should have.  The North American chain essentially imploded from oversaturation.  In 1998 the Ashley family sold their interest to a Malaysian holding company which closed the North American shops shortly after that.  Although the Laura Ashley brand still exists, the product that is now sold in North America is only a shadow of it's former self.  Real Laura garments were of the highest quality materials and were based on the romance of the past and Laura's love for Victorian prints and silhouettes.  Current Laura doesn't look like old school Laura, rather their clothes now look like anything that you could buy at any high street chain store.  The company is emphasizing their home furnishings business, which are still supposed to be meeting the same high standards.  However, we Americans can't get that great home furnishings fabric here easily anymore.  I miss the romance of walking into one of the shops with the polished brass rails, pine floors and cupboards, sections filled with floral prints for every season and the pristine white blouses of spotted muslin and Irish lace.  

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Saturday, January 21, 2012


I've been looking for inspiration and am wasting way too much time, but having fun checking out images that make me ooh and ahh.  So in the spirit of sharing...

Beautiful paste tiaras from an old shop in London, Jewels by Alexander.  Count Alexander, of Hungarian/Austrian descent used to make copies of famous jewels worn by various royal families, as well as delicacies like the fairy tale coronet in the first photo.  Sadly, he passed away in early 2010 and the remainder of his stock was auctioned off last year.

The real deal.  These jewels used to belong to the Russian Imperial family.  The first crown was the nuptial crown worn by all Imperial brides, last worn by the Czarina Alexandra.  The second is an amazing piece of the jewelsmith's art that appears to be from the late 18th/early 19th century when antiquity was the rage in fashion.  All the jewels were auctioned off by the Bolsheviks in 1927.

Tiara purchased from Garrad's for the wedding of Sarah Ferguson to HRH Prince Andrew, Duke of York.

Tiara originally commissioned by Napoleon I for the Empress Josephine.  The colored stones were originally emeralds, which were sold and replaced by turquoise.

Eagle crown commissioned by the Emperor Napoleon III for Empress Eugenie of France.  Mid 19th century.

Princess Mary of Denmark in a spectacular parure (set of matching jewels) in rubies and diamonds.

And just for fun, Leslie Caron as Gigi, in her Cecil Beaton designed evening gown (worn at Maxim's), featuring a little crescent moon diamante hair ornament.

The Swarovski crystal reproduction of the George III fringe tiara made for the film "The Young Victoria."  This was at the FIDM exhibition of Academy Award nominated film costumes in early 2010.

The old crown worn by Rose Queens until Mikomodo got a licensing deal.  That crown has been replaced as well.  It's a bit gaudy, but at least the floral shape was in there...

A variation on the Star Princess headpiece worn by "Christine Daee" in The Phantom of the Opera.  Seems each theater comes up with their own interpretation of Maria Bjornson's design.

ETA:    Because more is never enough when it comes to jewels, I'm adding these rings...

I am a bit of a royalist, even if I am American.  Don't think much of the Duchess of York and her continual talent for finding trouble.  However, I love her engagement ring.  I suppose the props should go to Prince Andrew, Duke of York.  He designed it.  Back in 1986 it was said that the ring cost $35,000.  I am partial to rubies, as they're my birthstone.  Love this look of the Burmese ruby surrounded by diamonds.

Antique diamond and ruby engagement ring purchased in London by Charles, Earl Spencer for his first wife Victoria Lockwood.  Fittingly, it was a Victorian style, when crowns over stones were the trend.


Friday, August 5, 2011

18th Century Costume

The Sundance Channel has been running Marie Antoinette a lot lately.  Milena Canonero designed the AMAZING costumes, which although not entirely authentic, were delightful to behold.  After making three Regency outfits, I think it's time to return to the 18th century and make myself a robe a l'anglais or a robe a la reine so that I can have an outfit for the Sleepy Hollow ball.  I have a pair of Kenneth Cole shoes from about 1995 that are perfect - a silk dupioni in black with the Louis heel and raised vamp.  The only catch is that I'd like a light gown, and that style is long discontinued.  Quite frankly I can't afford to pay $300 for a pair of Peter Fox shoes.

Thanks to other costumers on the web, there's a solution.  American Duchess is releasing another run of their authentic 18th century shoes - much more authentic than the Kenneth Cole version.

American Duchess is taking pre-orders for the shoes now... http://www.american-duchess.com/  Only $100, which is REALLY inexpensive for an authentic, limited edition run of shoes.  So if anyone else is interested in picking up a pair of these lovelies - in SILK no less - hurry, because pre-orders end on August 10th for October delivery.

And just in case you'd like inspiration for dresses to go with the shoes...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

More eye candy

I've had a pretty bad injury from a car wreck, so I can't do much of anything but look, and I have some lovely photos to share. These delicate confections are from Basia Zarzycka, who has the most amazing shop on Sloane Square in London. It's like a cross between an Aladdin's cave and Marie Antoinette's boudoir. She has a bespoke business, and these are some of her over the top creations. She started out with a stall in a burough market in London, so she gives me hope that someone who is craft minded can start small and prosper. Having said that, she does have both a Bachelors and Masters in Embroidery, Design, and Textiles so the woman has got both skills and knowledge. What separates Basia from many other bespoke designers is her baroque layering of the best of laces, beads, and beautiful fabrics. These are pieces that are truly worthy of a Princess. BTW, all images are from her web page. Go ahead and drool over her dresses, lingerie, and accessories.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bring out the big gunns.

Had a fabulous time this past Saturday afternoon at Fashion Island. This is the shopping center where I had my first retail job at the old Robinson's department store, and later used spend all sorts of lunch hours shopping and browsing because I eventually worked at Union Bank in one of the towers behind the outdoor mall. I haven't been there in a while because it's a pain getting down there with county traffic these days, so I got surprised by changes in the mall. But I digress. The main reason I went, and was able to drag the hubby along, was a promotional fashion show hosted by THE Fashion Mentor of all mentors, Tim Gunn.

Mr. Gunn was there in his capacity as Chief Creative Officer for Liz Claiborne, with selections from Kate Spade, Lucky Brand Jeans, and Juicy Couture being featured. Loved seeing the new threads as much as anyone else, but really, I wanted to question Tim about Project Runway. They had an open forum after the runway show, and I was surprised to find myself the only person asking about the show.

I started off by saying that it had been obvious that a few of the designers hadn't fulfilled all the requirements of particular challenges (he interjected "a few?" Well, we know it's been more than a few), so I specified Emilio Sosa and Gretchen Jones. How is it that they progressed onto the next level of competition? There has been talk on the PR boards, so did the producers, judges, or both actually get together early in the season and preselect certain designers to pass no matter what?

Tim very quickly and emphatically replied "no." He explained that in the earlier iteration of the show on Bravo, the old production company (Magical Elves) had tried to impose their preference for one designer or another into the process and that Heidi "would have none of it." Heidi felt that their integrity would be spoiled if the selections weren't entirely made by the judges that we see there onscreen. Tim also mentioned that he's only asserted his opinion in the judging process once in all those seasons, when he felt that the judges were loosing the point of the challenge. He pointed out that he generally saw much more than the judges saw because of his role as workroom mentor. They haven't walked up to the runway and take a closer look. He knew what the original concepts were and he saw whether or not they've been executed successfully. He also mentioned that the lights on the runway have sometimes made a garment look better or worse than it has actually looked in the workroom.

Tim said that what we see on the runway is pretty much what the judges see, and so the judging process that viewers see on the air is a pretty fair representation of the process.

I let Tim know that I had a second related question. I said that in seasons 2 through 7 the show had emphasized that the winner was the fashion forward designer. Why the change from the avant garde to the designer who is reflecting what the market is showing now?

Tim joked that he was going to get hauled into court because he had a non-disclosure clause in his contract, but he was going to answer anyway. He started off by saying that we could all forget about Jessica Simpson's opinion having any weight in the decision. As far as Tim was concerned he didn't remember her presence, she didn't register, her opinions didn't matter. Heidi was pushing for Mondo; she asked Tim to come over and try to convince Michael Kors of the same, and that Nina also was partial to Mondo. Kors turned and looked at Nina and said, "o.k. think about the runway presentations we just saw. Gretchen took all your advice and did everything that you asked her to do. Did Mondo change what you asked him to change?"

At this point Tim imitated Nina. He got this crestfallen expression on his face and physically crumpled up, while saying, "no..." in a voice that trailed up in a question.

Tim said that Kors declared that he was tired of all the winners being fashion forward and that it was time to have a winner that represented "classic American sportswear." Tim looked at me and said, "o.k. we know that Gretchen does not represent classic sportswear, far from it." After Kors' declaration, Nina changed her vote. Tim said that although he had a great deal of respect for Michael Kors, and that he was quite canny when it came to the business, he did not agree with this decision at all.

Now let me interject that Michael Costello happened to be there, sitting off to the side of the runway in the VIP section. Tim introduced Michael to the audience of about 1,000, and said that he had mentioned this before in other forums, but he wanted to make sure that he said this in front of Michael Costello himself. He said that the judges had made decisions to keep Costello in the competition to the point where he was indeed positioned to be one of the three finalists at Fashion Week, and therefore the judges had a responsibility to send him to Fashion Week as a finalist. He felt that they dropped the ball in sending Andy, Gretchen, and Mondo. (Let me point out that Tim was a gentleman in that he did NOT say which of the three he felt to be unworthy of the third spot.)

Tim finished up his detailed answers to me by retelling an anecdote that I'd already heard on YouTube. That the day after the finale aired, a woman stopped him in his local deli and expressed her disappointment with the final verdict. She finally accepted what Tim had to say telling him that, "Mondo will be successful no matter where he goes, Gretchen needs the money."

I really appreciate Tim Gunn more than ever after having this encounter in my home county. He is refreshingly candid, and whether in front of an audience or one on one, he behaves exactly as he does on television, so his public persona is about as genuine as they come. I love his sense of humor and the fact that he doesn't talk down to the audience; he retains his pedantic persona as a former educator and uses a public vocabulary that requires more than an eight grade education. His humor is expressed in some blunt, candid ways when giving fashion advice to the audience. Two of my favorites:

On comfortable dressing (around these parts sometimes expressed by people wearing pajamas in public): " If your aim is to look as if you've just rolled out of bed? Stay in bed."

On owning your look: "If you look in the mirror and think you look like an ass, chances are you do."