Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Mediterranean: Eternal Beauty

The Mediterranean is a beautiful, mythic sea.  Once you’ve seen it, you never forget its beauty, even if like myself, you come from a different sea altogether (i.e., the Caribbean). 

The name Mediterranean is derived from the Latin mediterraneus, meaning "inland" or "in the middle of the earth." The Romans called it Mare Nostrum ("Our Sea"). The Mediterranean is located in an area where many of the most ancient civilizations on earth thrived and it has been a major influence on these cultures.  The sea provided the means for trade, war, and colonization, as well as the basis of life. 

The Mediterranean is almost completely enclosed by land.  It is bounded by the coasts of Europe, Africa and Asia.  Twenty one states or countries have a coastline on the Mediterranean:

In Europe: Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece and Turkey (a country that is considered both Europe and Asia)

In Asia: Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel

In Africa: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco

Some of these countries are completely within the realm of the usual tourist trip abroad for many Americans, while others are much further afield (Eastern Europe, anyone?).  Some are Biblical (Egypt, Syria, Israel) and yet others are in what might be too exotic a locale for some:  northern Africa.  Today, when we refer to the “Mediterranean,” we generally mean the entire area and its people.  A lifetime is too short to explore its myriad cultures, foods, traditions and landscapes.  To name just two:  the foods and the natural beauty.



Most of us have heard of the “Mediterranean diet,” that magical recipe for a healthy, long life.  We know that it includes lots of fish, olive oil, red wine and fresh fruits and vegetables.  Few of us would have difficulty following this regime, because it’s delicious.  But alas, we are Americans, and we perhaps lack the discipline to also cut out snacking and sugary drinks.  But let me tempt you with these lovely photos and surely you will add more of these foods to your usual fare.   GRILLED SARDINES


But, when lucky enough to visit the area, do not neglect to have bouillabaisse in the South of France, tapas in Spain, grilled sardines in Greece, stuffed grape leaves in Turkey, and kibbeh in Lebanon. 


As for the landscapes and what visitors the world over go to see when they visit “the Mediterranean,” feast your eyes on these photos. 

'Til next time. 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

An Ode to Throw Pillows

What’s not to love about throw pillows?  Aside from changing the color of your walls, there’s no easier way to change the look of your living or bedroom, than by changing the decorative pillows you display.

Some might think that simply pilling them on is enough to show you know a thing or two about décor, color and style, but there’s more to it than that.  A mish-mosh of pillows might have a bohemian flair, but a little thought can make your sofa or bed look smashing. 

Love graphic, bold design?  Use pillows to add the accent to an otherwise simple living room.  Think black-and-white prints, large graphics, and contrasting colors.

Want to bring the colors of the outdoors in?  Select pillows with prints of colorful flora and add a vase of flowers to your coffee or side table.

Lovers of travel and exotic locales can add a couple of throws made of Indian or Moroccan prints for a touch of excitement.  But, unless you truly want your décor to completely reflect a foreign locale (or a bazaar), be careful not to add too many of these touches. 

Francophiles have it easy.  There are several ways to add touches of France:  for whimsy and the look of vintage fabrics, bring in a stack of throw pillows made from French flour sacks.  Add a pillow with “le coq français” (the French rooster, symbol of France).   Decorate your sofa with pillows made of toile de jouy fabric if you crave classic elegance. 

Want the drama of a monochromatic or two-color scheme?  Dress your bed in white linens and cover your windows with white curtains.  Then, consider blue and green.  Add throws in both colors.  The look is lush, tropical and airy.

Love red – and who doesn’t?  Think of its potential for dramatic effect in a living room that has mostly white, black, blue or even brown elements.   Solid red or more effectively, prints in various shades of red, stoke the fires. 

Show your wild side by employing touches of frankly-bold prints: Daliesque craziness, Picasso-like prints, Cocteau’s colors and sensuous lines – can all showcase your artistic, bohemian flair.

Of course, throw pillows do not a living room or bedroom make.  They should be coordinated with the pictures on your walls, the items you display, your curtains, and the overall style of your room.  My recommendation:  Apart from being beautiful, your pillows should also allow you to lay back and relax.  There’s no need to get pillows so laden with decorative elements that they’re too stiff, too formal, or to uncomfortable. You want to enjoy your environment, not just admire it.

‘Til next time. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Gray Moment?

Gray hair is having a moment…Perhaps this is the breakthrough gray hair has been waiting for: acceptance in the worlds of modeling, film, music and television.  No longer relegated to your grandma and her friends, it is now understood that gray hair signals still-sexy maturity, wisdom, and of course, longevity.

We have been treated to Anderson Cooper’s short gray locks, and his admittedly worldly-wise commentary on CNN for years now.  It is not just gay men who admire his looks – the man’s hot.  I venture to say that a large part of his allure is that hair.  It gives him an air of authority, charm and intelligence. 

In my gray-haired macho-man collage I also include Sam Elliott (a man I’ve admired since the 70’s) and Richard Gere.  Both have been improved by graying hair.  Those early salt-and-pepper looks of theirs were attractive, sure.  But the full-blown total gray-white look is amazing.  Sam Elliott was always attractive in that Marlboro Man way: lanky build, huge mustache, deep voice, long hair.  He’s lucky to have a full head of hair, and the looks to pull off keeping it long.  Now that it’s gone platinum – wow!

Richard Gere on the other hand, has been going gray for a long time. Longer hair, shorter hair - whatever a movie called for -  his salt-and-pepper look was attractively scruffy or executive-y.  Now he’s gone white and it looks great.  It’s an asset.  Projects wisdom and still-sexy masculinity past fifty. 

When I was a child, gray hair (not to mention white hair) was for “old people.”  That meant my friends’ grandparents and the elderly that we were supposed to give seats to on the subway.  Although I am graying, my hair is still brown (and I help it along).  But for years now, I’ve envied women whose hair has gone completely gray or platinum.  With a good haircut, conditioning, and attention to the color (no yellowing…),  the many shades of gray are dynamite.

What about the women:  Well, that’s where the true change has  come.  In the August 2010 issue of Vogue magazine, the model Kristen McMenamy sports long, long gray hair.  It’s fantastic and shocking.  At first glance, I thought it was a wig, but was happy to confirm that it is not.  Perhaps Vogue will continue to use models with gray hair; perhaps this is just something they were trying out….Obviously, I hope it’s a sign of the times. 

Ever-beautiful, ever-lasting, ever-enchanting model Carmen Dell Orefice, of course, is the exception to the rule.  Gray-haired models may not have ruled the runways or the fashion pages, but ever since Carmen turned gray, she has been the diva of platinum.  One can only wish upon a star to look half as good as she does in her seventies.  

Some actresses  have gone gray to great success:  It’s usually the European ones, though, who choose not to dye:  The great Dame Judi Dench and Helen Mirren, for example.  I hope when the time comes for Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett, that they too go gray gracefully.

As to the Americans: Two great examples:  Jamie Lee Curtis, who’s been letting it all hang out for about a decade in an attempt to show what people really look like as they age.  She looks better now than she did at 22, I swear.  And, the singer Emmylou Harris.  Her platinum is a definite “yes.”

I don’t expect all of us will be letting go of gray-covering hair color.  Hair color has a permanent place in the cosmetics counter and the salon.  But I do hope  that “gray moment” becomes a tide of acceptance. 

‘Til next time. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ivy Fever

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Sunday’s New York Times had an article on “Take Ivy,” a slim book of photographs commissioned by Kensuke Ishizu, the founder of clothing line Van Jacket. The book, first published in 1965, was the result of a fact-finding mission undertaken by a Japanese photographer and three writers to Ivy League campuses in the US. The four toured Harvard, Dartmouth, and Princeton with an eye to capturing the style of American men at these revered institutions. The photographer took hundreds of photos.

Because Japanese male style had been entrenched in old-fashioned looks that had not changed in years, Ishizu was seeking inspiration from America. The book became a style bible for Japanese men enamored of the traditional style of American clothing, as well as an ethnographic study of the Ivy League male. Since its publication, “Take Ivy” has become the center of a sort of cult whose passion is partly fueled by the fact that the book has been out of print and has never appeared in English. Fashionistas have scanned and photocopied the book ad infinitum to share its inspiring photos.

The men shown in the book have been captured in their glorious, fit and beautiful youth wearing the clothes deemed appropriate to that place and time. They were caught at sport, play, dining, and walking along Harvard Yard, College Green (Dartmouth) and Nassau Street in Princeton.

The Bermuda shorts - some in plaid - tight white jeans, button-down shirts, sweaters, slacks and loafers they wore are still attractive additions to many male wardrobes. The look is casual, sporty and rich.

It occurred to me as I enjoyed these pictures that the ultimate model for these clothes was the erstwhile president – John F. Kennedy – who wore this style with panache. His Ivy League credentials were real, of course, and he sported the look when at play at the family compound in Hyannis Port, MA.

Next week, “Take Ivy” will be published for the first time with English language text. A new generation of male (and female) fashionistas can now enjoy the book and revel in its nostalgic glow.

'Til next time.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Duke, The Duchess, and the Jewels

More than 70 years after England's King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, some of the couple's jewels are being auctioned by Sotheby’s.  The twenty items that will be auctioned in November are currently owned by millionaire businessman Wafiq Said. 

Some of the pieces are estimated to bring more than 1 million pounds ($1.5 million) each.  Cartier, one of the couple’s favorite jewelers, made pieces for them during the 1930s and throughout their marriage.  A standout piece is a panther bracelet by Cartier.  Designed in 1952, the bracelet was among the finest of designer Jeanne Toussaint's "great cats."

Also up for sale is a flamingo-shaped diamond brooch with feathers of rubies, sapphires and emeralds, and a citrine beak. 

Another of the items in the collection is a bracelet consisting of gem-set crosses, which bear inscriptions representative of special moments in the couple’s life together. 

A heart-shaped brooch of rubies and diamonds, commissioned for the Duke and Duchess’s 20th wedding anniversary, features the initials W.E. (for Wallis and Edward) in emeralds. 

Edward had been on the throne for just eleven months when he gave up the crown in December 1936 to marry Simpson, the American divorcee. The abdication speech he gave on December 11, 1936, has become famous for his declaration that he had “found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.”   

Although the Duke and Duchess’s story has been the inspiration for many a girl’s dreams of marrying her prince (or king), at the core, the story had a dark heart. 

After the abdication, the erstwhile king was created Duke of Windsor.  In 1937, against the advice of the British government, he and his Duchess toured Nazi Germany.  It is believed that the Duke was sympathetic to the Nazi movement and that Hitler mourned his abdication.  During World War II, the Duke was stationed with the British Military in France, where he and Wallis had settled.  But, at this time, the Duke’s actions proved so distressing to the British war effort that Prime Minister Winston Churchill threatened the Duke with a court-martial if he did not return to British soil.  It was then, in the summer of 1940, that the Duke of Windsor was installed as Governor of the Bahamas.  The Prime Minister thought that in the Bahamas the Duke would do the least harm.  He held that post until the end of the war in 1945. 

After the war, the Duke of Windsor was never given another official appointment, and spent the rest of his life in retirement in France.  The empty life of vacuous society figures that the Duke and Duchess led in France until their deaths (he in 1972; she in 1986) is well documented.  Their tale of “star-crossed” lovers triumphant leaves a lot to be desired.

'Til next time.  

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Tunic: A Glamorous Option

I love tunic tops.  Always have, always will.  As a matter of fact, I co-founded a company to design such tops for women who are like-minded.  Seems to me that you can wear a tunic for almost any occasion, over almost any pair of pants or skirt, and dressed up or down.

In the daytime, few items are as chic as a flowing, easy-to-wear tunic.  In the evening, when glamor is the name of the game, a tunic can make you the standout in a room.  Over a swimsuit, a tunic top glamorizes your look and shows you know how to cover up at lunch pool-side.

To illustrate, let me show you what I mean.  I've illustrated this post with photos from our own, Mediterraneo tunics, as well as those of other designers.

From the variety of fabrics, designs, cuts and prints available, it's easy to formulate a wardrobe of tops that complements what you already own.

You can wear tunics three seasons of the year:

In spring, wear a cotton or linen tunic over jeans, and layer with a generously-proportioned scarf around the neck.  Leggings and loafers (perhaps with a buckle) complete this easy look.  Carry a colorful bag.  You can run around town all day in this and still look chic at dinner with friends.  Bright colors bring you out of the winter doldrums and put you in the mood to play.

For summer, accessorize your chiffon or cotton tunic with great costume jewelry, a big hat and big sunglasses.  Your bottom half might be a pair of white pants (indispensable) and thong sandals.  Think white-on-white for its refreshing quality and for its chic appeal.  Very Jackie O...

Autumn styles call for fabrics with more coverage and richer colors and textures.  Your tunic might be in a crepe or raw silk.  You can cover it with a ruana or shawl.  Pants can be tweed, lightweight wool, or jeans. A pants boot completes the look.  Think Jean Shrimpton in the late '60s.

Enjoy the photos.

'Til next time.