Friday, February 26, 2010

Chanel Jewelry for a Song

Vintage signed Chanel costume jewellery circa 1985-2000.

Assorted vintage pieces of jewelry in the Rue Cambon style.

Chanel jewelry is highly collectable. Since the Chanel Boutique line was launched in 1983, Chanel jewelry has been fashionable and held resale value better than most other designer jewelry. While the most coveted pieces of Chanel jewelry are those from the 1950s and 1960s when Chanel herself still the designer, pieces from the 1980s to the present have a look and presence that most other brands lack. Second hand Chanel jewellery can be purchased at better re-sale shops consignment stores for less than half of what the original cost would have been.

When Chanel jewelry is good, it is very good, however a limited number of pieces exhibit manufacturing flaws and inferior quality. I’ve noted pieces with the “nacre” off the plastic pearls, and others where the gold plate bubbled and flaked off or wore off after minimal use. This is rather unfortunate considering that many pieces are in the $1500-$2000. range. In spite of this, most pieces are of fine quality, and the design and proportion make pieces from other designers and manufacturers look ill conceived, clumsy, and lacking style.

The Chanel look is unquestionably chic and desirable. The very high retail prices give it an additional aura of exclusivity. However, those women who have Chanel taste but limited budgets can conjure up the look if they really want to. Here’s the plan:

Haunt vintage stores, flea markets, and antique shows. Know the Chanel vocabulary. The vocabulary consists of: 1) pearls 2) gold chains 3) cabochon jewels 4) a heavier, more generous scale 5) pieces based on medieval or Baroque originals 6) camellias and gardenias 7) lion heads 8) lucky 4-leaf clovers 9)cross or quatrefoil motifs 10) wide cuffs 11) rustic and hammered finishes

Chanel lion left. Miriam Haskell right.

Anonymous clover pin left. Chanel clover pendant, circa 1990, right.

Chanel silk gardenia/camellia left. Vintage circa 1955 celluloid gardenia flower head brooch and ear clips,right.
Some people feel that the Chanel look must incorporate the double CC logo and are not accustomed to looking at Chanel designs without it. It really doesn’t have to have the logo. In fact Chanel herself rarely used it, and the way it is enlarged and plastered on so much today would likely be considered vulgar and undesirable by Chanel. So many of the CC logo bags seen on the street are counterfeits, so the prestige of the logo has become pretty diluted. Chanel wanted quality to speak quietly for itself, and luxury to be recognized by those with taste. She never felt that the Chanel presence had to shout. It was understated and discreet but still unmistakably Chanel. So if you follow the “vocabulaire” and find vintage examples, you will likely pay a minute fraction of the price of a signed designer piece, and the quality and look will be as good, if not surpass them. It is important to remember that design is more important than a brand name when you select a piece of jewellery or clothing.

If you don’t feel inclined to go on the treasure hunt that flea marketing often can be, stick to foolproof pearls. Artificial pearls of the Majorca, Miriam Haskell or Carolee brands are better quality and far less money. And you won’t have to worry if they’re ever lost, damaged, or stolen. In the most memorable photo portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy at the White House, she is wearing very inexpensive fake pearls. Considering that the French considered her the most elegant woman in the world, nobody should have a problem wearing faux. Save the money for tickets to the opera, a good piece of art, or your kid's education.
Hammered finish vintage faux topaz pin, unsigned.

Here are a few examples. Do you think these inexpensive thrift store finds look as good as the Chanel pieces?

Anonymous thrift store jewellery in Rue Cambon style.
Photographs and text copyright of Square with Flair™

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Happy Birthday Hubert de Givenchy!

Happy Birthday to the artist-ocratic Hubert de Givenchy!

In a 1998 interview with Charlie Rose, Hubert de Givenchy said, “Current fashion is ugly,” and went on to specifically mention heavy shoes, an excess of black, and the importance of being clean, suggesting that some people appear to need a bath. For a man who created such beauty, the hard edges and negative aspect of much street inspired, rock and roll fashion of today must be an anathema.

This unassuming but courtly gentleman who was born in Beauvais, France, turned 83 this February.

Givenchy retired in 1995, and was succeeded by a then unpolished John Galliano and a creative but shockingly edgy Alexander McQueen. This drastic change in artistic direction caught the French establishment off guard. It was somewhat like being forced to listen to the Sex Pistols when your favourite music is Mozart. Who can understand the logic of those who want to re-brand venerable houses in a way that makes them unrecognizable and does not acknowledge their rich, historic, and creative past? Change can be refreshing and positive, but obliterating the past is reminiscent of dictatorships. Perhaps in the future we can look forward to some creative re-interpretations of classic Givenchy designs, much the way that current designers have done at Balenciaga, Chanel, Hermes, and Dior.

While many designers have fashions that shout defiantly, Givenchy’s designs spoke gently, clearly and succinctly. He was a disciple of Balenciaga, and that pure, rigorous aesthetic was evident in his designs. The clothes were comfortable, but not loose. They suggested the contours of a woman’s body, but were never tight, clingy or vulgar. Prominent patrons of Givenchy couture were Audrey Hepburn, Bunny Mellon, the Duchess of Windsor, Mona Bismarck, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Jayne Wrightsman. Audrey Hepburn said that her friend Hubert’s clothes were a form of protection for her. Looking at a vintage Givenchy dress today does not convey the sense of beauty with which it was originally presented or seen. Many simple evening dresses were designed with restraint to set off important jewels clients owned. Formal gowns that are without sleeves would have been worn with long gloves, giving a less exposed look than is apparent. Day outfits were often punctuated with inventive hats, highly original and creative sculptures in their own right. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, look at Audrey Hepburn’s little black day dress that she wears with a wide brimmed hat and long organza band to understand how millinery was crucial to the total concept. Many fabrics that have large scale prints, or elaborate surface decoration and embroideries, were put on garments with very simple, uninterrupted lines in order to show the superb design, pattern, and quality of the material.

As a great connoisseur of the arts, Givenchy has collected superlative 20th century art by Giacometti (some of it specially commissioned) and other modern masters, but also collected the most magnificent 18th century furniture and decorative arts. With his infallible, acutely trained eye, his understanding of volume, proportion, colour and balance was skillfully exploited in his fashion designs. While every designer is best known for grandiose evening gowns, and Givenchy did those to perfection, his day clothes were also outstanding. His coats and suits were finely tailored and flattering, and more designers today need to devote more attention to day wear, as Givenchy did.

Wool day suit jacket with "Matisse" motifs, 1992

For a good snapshot of Givenchy designs, look at Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Givenchy’s flawless designs can be seen in cocktail dresses, evening gowns, day coats, and gorgeous hats that enhance ensembles. Incredibly, Edith Head won the Oscar award for best costume in Roman Holiday and in Sabrina, when Givenchy should have been recognized. I’ve written to the Academy of Motion Pictures more than once with regard to this oversight.

There are far fewer books on Givenchy than on Chanel or Dior, and this seems to add to his mystique. The ones that are available really don’t use illustrative examples of his designs to show any chronological progression for the more than four successive decades, and that is a shame, because the collections are sublime.

I’ve seen a few pieces from one of his spring/summer 1992 couture collection, with silk and wool patchwork and applique inspired by Matisse paper cut-outs, and they are incredibly beautiful. “Beautiful,” and “pretty” are words that one rarely hears in fashion anymore. Wouldn’t most women out of their teenage years rather be “beautiful” than “edgy.”? Certainly, if they are dressing for themselves or for men, beautiful is better, and Givenchy and his exclusive clientele thought so too.

Silk day dress with "Matisse" foliate motifs, spring'/summer 1992

Detail of silk floral embroidery on dress Jacqueline Kennedy wore to Versailles, 1961.

Hubert de Givenchy fashions are wonderful to wear. They are comfortable, flattering, elegant, modest, and never make the wearer feel conspicuous. They strike the perfect balance of simplicity and style, without being minimalist or dull. His "look" could be described as mid century, modern Paris, and that is a style that is now classic and eternally flattering. Consider the images of Audrey Hepburn and all will be understood.

For an interesting but rare glimpse of the aristocratic and discreet Hubert de Givenchy, see this 1998 Charlie Rose interview:

Apart from the unforgettable photographic and motion picture images, and existing archival garments that Hepburn wore, all a result of the Hepburn/ Givenchy alliance, the most wonderful thing of all is the legacy of philanthropy, and heightened awareness of the work of UNICEF that endures as testimony to Hepburn’s sensitivity and generosity, the aura within that made her all the more compelling on screen and in person. Givenchy, with his innate understanding of beauty, enhanced this and made it all the more apparent.

In the last decade, Givenchy has used his talent for philanthropic projects such as museum exhibits he has helped to organize, and restoration of the vegetable/ kitchen garden at Versailles. He has donated garments to be auctioned for charitable causes, and it was a delight to know that the proceeds of the extremely high realized prices were going to benefit the underprivileged and needy.

Garden motifs, spring 1961 Jackie's Givenchy Versailles dress

I doubt Givenchy misses the pressure of having to present new collections to legions of journalists looking for sensational changes to report. For Givenchy who loves gardens, plants and flowers so passionately, such philanthropy must be a most rewarding contribution to the disciplines of History, Horticulture and design, not to mention important social causes.

Thank you Monsieur Givenchy, and many happy returns!

Photos of white evening gown from "JACQUELINE KENNEDY; THE WHITE HOUSE YEARS Selections from the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, Bulfinch Press/ Little, Brown and Co., 2001.

© 2010 Square With Flair™

Monday, February 15, 2010

Canadian Flag Day, 2010

Today, February 15, 2010, the distinctive Canadian flag is 45 years old. As it was first raised on the Peace Tower of the Parliament buildings, the Royal anthem, God Save the Queen and the national anthem O, Canada were played. While at first it looked new, and lacking in heritage and historical significance, almost half a century it has grown on us. In terms of design, it is much bolder, more graphic, and clearly visible in a way that the Red ensign with a miniature Union Jack and a detailed coat of arms was not. The old Red Ensign and the Union Flag, or Union Jack, are still considered official flags and it is correct to fly them. In the last few years, Canadians have become much more patriotic, and this is a wonderful thing to see. Canada is the land of abundance, peace and opportunity. We have one of the highest standards of living in the world. As the world looks upon us during these exciting Winter Olympics, show your love of country and display a crisp new flag. Happy Flag Day 2010!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Valentine From Christian Dior

On a chilly February 12, 1947, Christian Dior presented a valentine to the world of fashion; his first fashion collection.

It was revolutionary. For many people it was a startling shock. Not only did Dior have talent, taste and creativity, he was a marketing wunderkind. He knew that a world in ruins and existing on rations dreamt of luxury, allure, prosperity, and romance. His collection, presented in the newly decorated neo Louis XVI salons on Avenue Montaigne, introduced extremely full skirts, exaggerated hips, and soft shoulders. These were impractical, dreamy dresses in contrast to the austerity of wartime clothes. Cupid's arrow had been dipped in the intoxicating essence of Dior's signature lily-of-the-valley, and stylish women clamoured to in some way update their clothing to approximate Christian Dior's creations.

The dramatic change of fashion caused tremendous controversy and attracted enviable attention and interest. The journalists were eager to write of this sensational "New Look," and it was covered in the most prominent newspapers and magazines of the day. In spite of the fact that the fashions were in many ways a step back from the liberating aspects that war and practicality had on the design of women's clothes, such as slacks, utilitarian pockets, modesty, durable fabrics, a lack of foundation garments, and coveralls to work in factories, the designs came to exert tremendous influence on what women wore after the war. They were an expression of optimistic joy that the terrors of conflict were over and once again, consideration could be given to less serious things.

Dior enjoyed immediate success, and became France's unofficial ambassador of fashion, rather than the government diplomat his father had wanted him to be. For the next decade, the ear of fashion was cocked in the direction from whence Dior's dictates came. Dior had become synonymous with Paris fashion at its most prestigious and chic. Many decades later, it's allure has not faded but has increased.

Sixty-three years after the presentation of the "New Look", it is interesting to observe how Christian Dior's impeccable aesthetics are echoed in fashions and tastes of today. The iconic grey and white store still exists at the same location in Paris, and satellite Dior mini boutiques grace the most fashionable shopping districts around the globe. For the past decade, grey and silver have been very popular colours for fashions and for consumer products. John Galliano creatively re-interprets the femininity and charm which the world craved after the war. A pale, almost Scandinavian neoclassical look similar to that of the salons of Dior can be seen in many very liveable, but nonetheless elegant rooms of residences in urban centres around the globe. The name itself is magical, and the DIOR monogram continues to be seen on the tapestry pocketbooks of stylish women. The dream lives on for those who look to Paris and the famous designer who saw women as beautiful flowers. And the image of flowers is something we all look forward to on a chilly early February day...refections of Dior in the emphemeral mirror of fashion.

Photographs and artwork copyright of Square with Flair

The Chanel Interior

In fashion, the classic braid edged Chanel jacket is one of the most recognizable icons. It has been coveted by women for decades, and every major designer from Yves Saint-Laurent to Moschino, has interpreted it.

Equally well known is Coco Chanel’s famous apartment in the Rue Cambon, situated above the couture salons. Left untouched since her death in 1971, it has been immortalized in scores of books, magazines and journals. Remarkably, interior designers have not appropriated Chanel’s décor they way fashion designers have continually copied her tweed, gilt buttoned jackets, and her boldly Byzantine jewels. That is a pity, because it is one of the most elegant, classic, livable, and easy to achieve looks in a room. Chanel décor is wonderfully versatile. While unquestionably elegant, it has relaxed elements that make it eminently suitable for our casual times. It is unisex; any chic woman would feel comfortable in it, and yet it is bold and comfortable enough for a man.

Here a few aspects of the look so you can bring it home.

Firstly, it is neutral, with an overall absence of colour. There are a few touches of soft rose in the chintz of a chair, and there are hints of muted colour on the enamel of crackled lacquer Coromandel screens, but these accents are virtually invisible. The palate consists of beige, black, off white, camel, and tobacco. Interest is introduced through varying textures: reflective crystal, velvety suede and velour carpet, mirror, bronze, lacquer, and wood.

The photo included here is of the author’s “Chanel” corner on a glass and iron wheat sheaf table. This table was one of the most famous pieces in Chanel’s apartment. The wheat table is Florentine gilt ironwork, and this design was widely distributed in North America during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, and they can be found regularly at auctions and antique shops. Yves Saint-Laurent also had one of these tables in his Paris apartment.

The formula for a Chanel room is a remarkably simple recipe. One caveat: deviation from the plan will result in a lack of coherence and loss of the Coco magic. This is one look, like a correctly accessorized Chanel suit, in which, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This look was pretty much assembled by the mid 1950s. Six decades later, there is no aspect of it whatsoever that is dated, unattractive, unlivable, or inappropriate for our lifestyle today. It is as timeless as the classic Chanel jacket, or her strings of pearls. And for those of you who would question the idea of reconstituting what is basically a 20th century period room, Lagerfeld himself has been known to recreate rooms and clothes, calling the process,"…an exercice de style." Doing this, he has realised flawless neo-classical and Biedermeier residences in Europe, as well as literal interpretations of classic Chanel suits, especially for promotional and advertising purposes.

Has the look of the Chanel apartment in any way influenced your taste, aesthetics, or selections in interior design? Do you think this look would be appropriate for your lifestyle, and do you think you would be comfortable in such rooms? Would you like to visit Chanel’s apartment?

Square with Flair™