Friday, January 18, 2019

In the Market Report by Marilyn Kirschner

The 2019 Winter Show Sapphire Jubilee Opening Night Party

All photos Marilyn Kirschner
Click images for full-size views

Last night, The Winter Show at the Park Avenue Armory (formerly The Winter Antique Show) held their Sapphire Jubilee Opening Night Party in celebration of 65 years of arts, design, and history. This always glamorous evening of cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and fascinating objects from around the world kicks off a 10 day event, and benefits the East Side House Settlement. The community-based organization in the South Bronx, which works to bring quality education and resources to residents of the Bronx and Northern Manhattan, established the Fair in 1954.

The eclectic mix at Olde Hope

It’s not only a New Year, but the previously known Winter Antique Show has a new name; and a new executive director. Upon her appointment last April, Helen Allen changed the name of New York’s longest-running art, antiques, and design fair by dropping the word ‘Antique’, to reflect the inclusive, eclectic mix of vintage and contemporary art spanning some 5000 years. Each object exhibited by the 70 exhibitors is vetted for authenticity, date, and condition by a committee of 150 experts from both the US and Europe. So you know you can shop with confidence from the vast selection of objects that range from the mundane to the marvelous.

Salvador Dali's 1950's diamond and ruby Honeycomb Heart pendant offered by Didier Ltd

I was instantly drawn to the booth of Didier Ltd. Based in the U.K., Didier and Martine Haspeslagh have amassed an enviably rare collection of jewelry by artists and designers including Salvador Dali, Alexander Calder, Andre Derain, Alberto Giacometti, Jacques Lipchitz, Gio Pomodoro, Louise Nevelson, Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso who first made unique jewels from objects troves that were further embellished for Dora Maar, Francois Gilot, and other girlfriends. In 2018 the duo was honored to lend over 20 jewels to the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Paris for an exhibition that ran from March through September. It was curated by Diane Venet and based on pieces from her own personal collection.

Lillian Bassman iconic photographs for Harper's Bazaar presented by Peter Fetterman Gallery

I also gravitated to Lillian Bassman’s instantly recognizable and iconic black and white fashion photographs for Harper’s Bazaar dating back to the late 50’s and early 60, which were displayed on the wall at Peter Fetterman Gallery.

Mark Longo's enormous charcoal Shark painting represented by Michael Altman Fine Art

Mark Longo’s enormous and foreboding charcoal drawing of a shark, presented by Michael Altman Fine Art, immediately called to mind Raf Simons and his final collection for Calvin Klein, which was inspired by “Jaws” down to the shark bite skirts. It was also a reminder of the way fashion can cruelly eat you up and spit you out.

Kentshire's booth with its striking Scalamandre zebra printed wallpaper

New exhibitors this year, joining a distinguished roster of longstanding stalwarts such as James Robinson, Kentshire, Ralph M. Chait Galleries, and The Old Print Shop, include Charles Ede (London, UK), Erik Thomsen Gallery (New York, USA), Lowell Libson & Jonny Yarker Ltd (London, UK), Red Fox Fine Art (Middleburg, VA) and returning exhibitors Les Enluminures (Chicago and New York USA; Paris, France) and Maison Gerard (New York, USA).

The 2019 loan exhibition “Collecting Nantucket, Connecting the World” will celebrate 125 years of collecting by the Nantucket Historical Association, presenting the best the Association has to offer in paintings, craft, and folk arts.

Emily Rafferty, Diana Taylor, Jamee Drake

Returning for a 23rd year, the Show’s Presenting Sponsor is Chubb, with Fran O’Brien, Division President, Chubb North America Personal Risk Services, as Chair of the Opening Night Party. The Show’s 2019 Design Chairs were Frank de Biasi, Victoria Hagen, and John B. Murray, eminent figures in the world of interior design and architecture. In attendance last night were approximately 2000 guests from the worlds of arts and antiques, design, business, and philanthropy. Among the notables who perused and purchased highly sought out museum quality objects prior to Friday’s opening day: Coco and Arie L. Kopelman, Maureen and Richard L. Chilton (all of whom were Sapphire Sponsors of the event), Martha Stewart, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Diana Taylor, Barbara and Donald Tober, Emily Rafferty, Jean Shafiroff, Jamee and Peter Gregory, Jamie Drake, Lee and Cece Black, Wendy Goodman, Amy Fine Collins.

Larry and Janet Larose

It was an eclectically dressed crowd, and while many were dressed in New York black, there was a smattering of blue. Well, this was a Sapphire Jubilee after all. The occasion also served as a perfect excuse for one woman, Janet Larose, to break out the diamond and sapphire necklace her husband Larry designed for her. When I asked if he was a jeweler, she immediately said, “No, he’s just a great guy!” The love fest continued and he chimed in saying, “And she is a one of a kind!” And it’s not even Valentine’s day yet lol.

Flora and Amy Fine Collins

And while it’s the dead of winter, there was also a welcome smattering of spring like florals, as exemplified by Amy Fine Collins and her daughter Flora (aptly named) both of whom carried the theme down to their shoes. Amy wore Thom Browne and Flora opted for Alice + Olivia.

The Prince of Chintz Mario Buatta

Speaking of flowers, one highly revered fixture who was noticeably absent was Mario Buatta, the famed interior decorator who passed away in October just shy of his 83rd birthday. Buatta was known as the “Prince of Chintz” owing to the cheerful flowered fabrics, cabbage-rose covered couches and canopy beds, paintings hung by sashes and bows, chinoisere, bibelots, etc.,  that were a signature element of his lush English country–style rooms. His aesthetic, a rejection of the ‘tasteful dreariness’ of beige, white and gray, was predicated on more is more not less is more. In truth, he was an avowed and proud hoarder; the self-proclaimed “King of Clutter”.

So it’s safe to say that Marie Kondo will not be one of those attending the memorial service to be held in celebration of his remarkable life and work on Monday at the Park Avenue Armory. Members of his family will be on hand for the tribute along with Kip Forbes, Carleton Varney (both of whom are scheduled to speak), Anne Eisenhower and Hilary Geary Ross. Also, Peggy Lee’s granddaughter Holly Hoster Wells will arrive with a group of pictures of Peggy and Mario together (apparently, Mario was a huge fan of the iconic chanteuse and never missed one of her concerts).

If anyone deserves a tribute at The Winter Show’s Park Avenue Armory, it is Buatta who was not only a longtime chairman of the iconic show; he was instrumental in transforming it from a “sleepy event into a high-society extravaganza akin to Paris’s Biennale des Antiquares” in the words of Architectural Digest’s Mitchell Owens. Georgia Dullea of the The New York Times once quipped that Buatta “did for the Winter Antiques Show what Diana Vreeland did for the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute. He took a staid and respectable exhibition and made it chic and exciting and the place to be

The show, first held in 1954, was envisioned by the executive director as an outlet for the trustees’ used furniture. According to one report from the time, “a few hundred people roamed the drafty Park Avenue Armory during the opening-night party”, and “a certain Lady Gosford, in white chinchilla, paid $1.50 for a cookie cutter”.

In 1971, when the show’s president, Louis W. Bowen, first contacted Mario Buatta, the show was on the ropes. “No one was there on opening night,” Buatta once recalled. “At 8 o’clock you could have shot a cannon down the center aisle and hit no one!” The total take was only $30,000. He urged the committee to make the show a more social event: “Invite the nouvelle social group; they’re the ones with the money and who buy things,” he told them. About the founding members, he stated, “all those Upper East Side society ladies already have generations worth of furniture.”

- Marilyn Kirschner

Thursday, January 17, 2019

New York Fashion Cool-Aid by Laurel Marcus

Vicky Tiel's "The Absolute Woman" Makes its Debut on Park Avenue

Jean Shafiroff & Vicky Tiel
All photos Laurel Marcus - click images for full-size views

It’s not every day that you’re compared to Elizabeth Taylor!” said a glowing Chopard diamond bejeweled/Vicky Tiel gowned Jean Shafiroff fresh off a week of R & R in Mexico. The occasion: a book signing Chez Shafiroff of iconic fashion designer Tiel’s latest oevre “The Absolute Woman: It’s All About Feminine Power.” Tiel was Elizabeth Taylor’s designer (husband #1 was La Liz’s makeup man) and is now exclusively designing for NYC’s most noted (and tireless) philanthropist and style setter.

Vicky busy signing her book

Attending the cocktail soiree were fashion and society notables including FIT’s Valerie Steele, Kim Dryer of Sequin Jewelry, representatives from Carolina Herrera, Bergdorf’s, and the perfume licensing company (sold on HSN) as well as many of Jean Shafiroff’s bonne amies. The line to meet, greet and have your book signed and decorated with a personalized drawing in a facsimile of one of Tiel’s gowns (or just drawn as is for the men) was never ending as primarily black clad attendees jockeyed for position, sometimes a little impatiently.

Guests in the parlor

Open bottles of several of Tiel’s perfumes (Coco Chanel actually advised both Tiel and Taylor to develop fragrances) were available to freshen up with as you wait “spritzes”—someone even bought the Tiel designed scarf which was part of the display. “Vicky’s equally at ease whether she’s talking to a high society socialite or a regular Joe,” commented a guest who knows her well. While many waited for their audience with Tiel, others congregated in the dining room near the cheese and fruit platters or in the black and white entrance foyer greeting the ever incoming guests (there were about 150 attendees), sipping light colored beverages and eating sushi off of butlered trays.

The line for the autographed book is out the door

Jean spoke of her first encounter with Vicky’s fashions – “I had a little black and white polka dot pouf of a dress that I bought at Giorgio on Rodeo Drive – I’m so sorry I gave it away,” she remarked.  Interestingly, although Vicky claims to be the “longest running female fashion designer from Paris – 54 years!” since she was so emblematic of the ‘80s it seems that many of her designs from back in the day have met the same fate and can be found on resale sites.  No one perhaps realized the timeless allure of her creations – Bergdorf’s sold thousands of the “Pretty Woman” dress for many years running – in fact I just saw a black velvet version on the sale rack this week. (Too big for me or I might have given it a whirl).

Dr. Valerie Steele waits her turn

Another thing that you will find in her book – Tiel is a woman who can’t be owned.  In her chapter “No Sex for Shoes” she details how she never was beholden to a man and could buy her own chaussures, merci bien. Even when beginning her design business “no one ever lent me a penny,” she brags. Other late breaking news? “When Brigitte Bardot came to my shop (at 21, Rue Bonaparte) she had no underwear on.” Aside from revelations like that, the book is full of tips on how to be happy (the gospel according to Tiel says that’s the most important thing in life) followed by how to help others. Tiel, a Buddhist, is a great believer in Karma “what’s meant to happen will happen,” there’s always a good thing that comes from a bad thing however make sure you “Don’t Dance with Crazies.” For more about the book read my review.

Sketch and signing Vicky did for Laurel's copy of book

For her part, Shafiroff will still play the designer field. The very talented designer Victor dE Souza, who was also in attendance and collaborates extensively with Jean doesn’t need to worry that he’s being sidelined -- the lady likes her fashion! (I dubbed this design oriented ménage à trois “Vicky Victor” – with apologies to the Julie Andrews movie). Of course, anyone at all familiar with the New York social world knows that Jean can be found virtually every night on the philanthropic gala scene garbed in yet another awe-inspiring gown. And yes, she re-wears – “It’s chic to repeat,” is one of her “well worn” adages.

Jean in her Vicky Tiel gown and Chopard diamond earnings.

So far the transatlantic partnership is going well judging by tonight’s velvet bodice with purple satin skirt number. A matching stole and finished tulle underlining gave the hostess a thrill along with others as she was happy to display the rare (and very French) design embellishment to everyone in the room by lifting up the long skirt. Ooh la la! “Vicky took my measurements. The gown arrived, I try it on and it fits,” she marveled.

“I also can’t wait to wear the red ‘Pretty Woman’ gown but that needs a little more fitting,” she remarked. Shafiroff often accompanies her day and evening attire with costume jewelry however tonight Chopard got a plug for lending a spectacular pair of diamond drop earrings and bling ring, price available on request. “There are several armed guards here so don’t even think of stealing them,” she quipped.

- Laurel Marcus

Monday, January 14, 2019

In the Market Report by Marilyn Kirschner

Thirteen Cool Things

Ah, the merry month of….January. Not! With the holidays over and the inevitability of miserable weather approaching, we all need a bit of help staying upbeat and happy in January; even if it’s help of the superficial kind: retail therapy. Luckily, there is a never ending stream of merchandise out there, some of which just might do the trick, cheer you up, give you something to look forward to, and take a sting out of the month.

The following 13 items, priced from $31 - $750 have certainly caught my eye. And while I am hardly Marie Kondo (probably the polar opposite!), these updated classics possess something unique that sets them apart and have ‘sparked joy’ by virtue of their clever design which makes them functional, versatile and practical, in addition to looking good.

The Multi-Purpose Hinza Bag

Hinza's colorful multi purpose totes are made out of recyclable polyethylene.
Click images for full-size views

The Hinza bag, a Swedish classic, designed by Perstorp A.B., originally became popular at the beginning of the 1950’s and was reissued in 2008 by Karin Bachstätter, the great granddaughter of the founder. Made of a recyclable polyethylene to withstand almost anything they are subjected to the rugged plastic totes are stackable and perfect for everything from storage to beach, picnics, gardening, and shopping. They easily wipe or rinse off any dirt, come in two sizes, and are available in 11 colors, $31 - $38.50  More info/purchase

Veronica Beard Fergus Dickey Jacket

Veronica Beard Fergus Dickey Jacket in Off White

Sharp tailoring never gets old, as exemplified by Veronica Beard’s Fergus Dickey Jacket. In chic off white wool and spandex, with a contrasting black collar, it features a single button fastening and a removable silver chain. So chict! It is also available in black with a gold chain. Both are compatible with all Veronica Beard Dickeys, $695. More info/purchase

Jeffrey Campbell Ballero Scarf Loafer

Jeffrey Campbell Ballero Scarf Loafers

Scarves and scarf prints never go out of style and they always add a touch of color, pattern, and interest to any ensemble. They have recently been given appealing updates (French designer Marine Serre, for one, has been using them inventively in her collections). Jeffrey Campbell had a clever idea to add a knotted printed satin scarf to spice up his classic white stacked heel loafers, $154. More info/purchase

Apolis Global Citizen Customized Market Bag

Apolis Global Citizen Customizable Market Bag

The Apolis Global Citizen made-to-order market bags are perfect for carrying everything you might need, from office supplies, mom stuff, groceries, gym wear, or daily gear (Gisele Bundchen is among the fans). They hold over 100 pounds, are made to last at least 8 years, and what sets them apart is that they are customizable. You can enter up to three lines of text and multiple designs to be hand printed to your specifications and not only are you getting a chic, durable, practical bag with a water resistant interior, but better yet, all the Bangladeshi mothers who handcraft the bags receive Fair Trade wages, annual profit dividends, and a retirement fund, so it’s win- win all the way around, $68.

This month, they are coming out with their limited-edition Customizable Hand-Painted Monogram Bag: Apolis + Emily J. Snyder, $88. This bag features the initials of your choice hand-painted in water-resistant paint by Los Angeles-based artist Emily J. Snyder. More info/purchase

Norma Kamali Abstract Lines Carpet Bag

Norma Kamali Large Carpet Bag

No doubt travel (or long weekends out of town), is in your future and Norma Kamali’s enormous rectangular nylon and spandex carpet bag should do the trick beautifully. It has a distinctive abstract black and white ‘Lines’ pattern, raw-cut edges, a double handle, and is lightweight enough so it won't weigh you down. But it is still roomy enough to hold all the things you can't live without. An added bonus, it’s been reduced from $420 to $150. More info/purchase

Norma Kamali Sleeping Bag Car Coat in White

Norma Kamali Sleeping Bag Car Coat

Collectible. Covetable. Comfortable. The poly filled abbreviated Sleeping Bag Car Coat is one of the newest additions to the classic NK icons and it’s a cold-weather must have. There is something really delicious about doing it in optic white, and keeping it starkly monochromatic in the dead of winter when everyone else is in black, $550.  More info/purchase

Norma Kamali NK Shirt Bodysuit

Norma Kamali NK White Shirt Bodysuit

Who doesn’t need a wardrobe of perfect crisp white shirts in their closet year round? Leave it to Norma to come up with a shirt that is a bodysuit so you know it will stay perfectly in place (just the thing for high waisted pants and skirts). This bodysuit pulls on for ease and has a bonded collar, cuffs and front placket for structure with raw, clean-cut edges for a modern finish, $265. More info/purchase

Kara White Shirt Bag

Kara White Shirt Bag in Lambskin

Kara’s limited edition lambskin leather Shirt Bag, from their capsule collection, celebrates the small, everyday gestures and objects that fill our lives. The front side is cleverly constructed with two zippered compartments while the full back panel has a single compartment accessible from the interior and exterior of ‘Shirt’. Tie sleeves together to create a messenger bag or cinch around waist, $750. More info/purchase

Kara Black Biker Wallet

Kara Biker Wallet

Kara’s Black Biker Wallet is inspired by oversized bike locks worn by cyclists around New York City. Made of polished calf leather it features a 36.25 inch chunky oversized silver chain with clip which makes it versatile. You can wear it over your shoulder, across your torso, or slip the wallet into your pant pocket and clip the chain to a belt loop. It is so popular it sold out but is on back order, $295. More info/purchase

Barneys New York Neoprene Insert Rain Boots

Barneys New York Neoprene and Tweed Boots

It’s been a season filled with great looking combat boots and hiking boots, but what makes these so great, is that they are made of molded black rubber with a heathered rib-knit collar and neoprene sock insert; perfect for braving the rain and snow in style, $195. More info/purchase

Dr. Martens Women’s 1460 Pascal Black Velvet Boots

Dr. Martins Black Velvet Boots

The 1460 is the original Dr. Martens boot. With its 8 eyes, grooved sides, heel-loop, yellow stitching, and comfortable air-cushioned sole, it is instantly recognizable. And iconic. Other than a Birkenstock and a Chuck Taylor lace up sneaker, it was the footwear of choice for Marc Jacobs’ resort 2019 Redux Grunge Collection. One normally finds versions of this boot in leather or maybe patent leather, but seeing it in sumptuous black velvet with matching satin laces, is more unexpected and quite appealing, $69.99 - $176.94 depending on the size you order. More info/purchase

 Dr. Martens Purple Velvet Boots

Even more unusual and out of the ordinary is the cherry red and purple (dusty violet) velvet which also has limited availability. Depending on the size your order, prices range from about $69.99 - $176.00.  More info/purchase

Zara Down Coat with Wrap Collar and Attached Mittens

Zara Down Coat with Wrap Collar and Attached Mittens

Zara’s hooded feather and down fill puffer coat will keep you extra warm and cozy thanks to its high wrap collar, double-breasted snap button closure, and adjustable long sleeves with elasticized cuffs. In addition to camel, it is also available in dark green, navy, and black, and you can’t go wrong with the price: $149. More info/purchase

What really sets this apart from other puffer coats is that it has removable insulated mittens so if you are like me, and are constantly losing one or both gloves, that will not be a problem! Love it!

- Marilyn Kirschner

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

In the Market Report by Marilyn Kirschner

Fashion Goes Hog Wild: The Year of the Pig

Harry Styles posing with piglets in the Gucci Cruise 2019 ad campaign

February 5th heralds in The Chinese New Year and 2019 is the Year of the Pig (an Earth Pig to be exact). Each year belongs to a Chinese zodiac animal according to the 12-year cycle and the Year of the Pig includes 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, and 2031. Among the famous people, past and present, born in those years: Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Ford, Luciano Pavarotti, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Billy Crystal, Elton John, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Julie Andrews, Woody Allen. And disgraced actor Kevin Spacey (no comment!).

Harry Styles and a baby pig

But even before the advent of the upcoming New Year, pigs have been in the spotlight, celebrated as unsuspecting fashion mascots. During NYFW last September, a teacup pig, Whistle The Fashion Pig (a brand ambassador for WhistlePig Rye Whiskey) appeared before the Proenza Schouler spring/summer 2019 runway show in New York dressed in an ‘on trend’ pink cable-knit sweater no less. The same month, Harry Styles, impeccably turned out in Gucci, posed with baby pigs and baby lambs. It was part of Gucci’s Cruise 2019 campaign photo shoot that took place in the historic Renaissance village Valla Lanta, north of Rome.

Miley Cyrus with a pig on the cover of Paper Magazine

Pigs have been the pet of choice for eccentric celebrities like Miley Cyrus, who not only adopted a pet pig named Bubba Sue back in 2014, but later posed nude on the cover of Paper Magazine while holding onto a large pig. More recently, Ariana Grande and her then fiancé, Pete Davidson adopted a “micro” therapy pig as part of her healing process following the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller. She kept the pig but let go of Pete.

But regardless of the fact that a few plugged in fashion companies and a smattering of celebrities have gone “hog wild” over pigs, and that according to the Chinese, they are diligent, compassionate, generous, and symbolize wealth, they don't exactly have a glamorous reputation and have gotten a bad rap through the centuries. In actuality, they are some of the cleanest animals on the farm but have become synonymous with being filthy and dirty. Their name has been used adversely in the vernacular to describe people who are gluttonous, very fat, greedy, selfish, swinish, repulsive, or bad mannered. The phrase ‘male chauvinist pig’, which was originally coined in the late 60’s and 70’s, could not be more relevant now. It is meant to describe men, specifically men of power, who think women are not equal and are there for their pleasure, which is expressed through word and action. Thankfully, some of the more high profile among this group have been outed and given their justly deserved ‘rewards’.

Constance Wu in a custom Vera Wang nude tulle gown

There are animals in the Chinese zodiac that lend themselves to fashion, (the horse, the snake, the tiger), but the pig isn’t one of them and it is a bit more challenging to link pigs to something elegant or chic. Of course, there is Bacon, the outerwear brand that specializes in distinctive ‘puffa’ jackets and duvet coats for men and women. I suppose if you want to celebrate the Year of the Pig, it’s better to wear bacon than eat bacon, or wear pigskin for that matter lol. Then again, you can wear the color that best symbolizes them: pink. Specifically, the range of pinks that are nude, blush, flesh-toned and barely there.

Julia Roberts wearing a Stella McCartney jumpsuit in blush and black

Coincidentally, some of the best dressed stars who attended the recent Golden Globe Awards, including Julia Roberts in Stella McCartney, Emma Stone in Atelier Louis Vuitton, Kiki Layne in Dior, and Constance Wu in custom Vera Wang, were wearing iterations of those sophisticated shades.

Gabriela Hearst

These are some standout choices available in the market right now. They are so neutral, so chic, and so modern; they just might make you re think pink! Gabriela Hearst’s baby-pink “Sophie” blazer, made in Italy from wool and silk-blend features classic details like notched lapels, button-fastening cuffs and a single back vent, $2500. More info/purchase The matching “Masto” wool blend pants, $1590, are $ 2500. More info/purchase


This plunging front Missoni dress, knitted in Italy from antique-rose Lurex, has a flattering nipped-in waist and pleated maxi skirt that shimmers underpinned. There is a chiffon slip for added coverage and comfort, $2830. More info/purchase

Naeem Khan

Naeem Khan’s floor-sweeping pastel pink tulle maxi skirt is embellished with beaded and sequined fringing that swishes elegantly and has a back slit to allow for movement, $ 3995. More info/purchase

Jason Wu Grey

This airy slip dress, from Jason Wu Grey, is cut from blush stretch-jersey embellished with scores of tonal sequins, $495. More info/purchase

Cecile Bahnsen

Danish designer Cecilie Bahnsen’s ‘Siv' midi skirt is cut from blush fil coupé organza and has been reduced from $1225 to $612.50. More info/purchase


This Vince coat is made from a cozy mix of Italian wool, mohair, and alpaca in a pale dusk shade of pink, which has been brushed for an incredibly soft faux fur effect. Inspired by menswear, this calf-grazing style has a streamlined single-breasted front and matching belt at the waist, $695. More info/purchase


This iconic and authentic Chanel 2.55 Handbag is made from rare pink ombre diamond quilted lambskin and features silver-tone hardware accents, $3110. More info/purchase

Rejina Pyo

This pale pink 'Mila' shirt by Rejina Pyo is cut for a slightly loose fit from lightweight jacquard patterned with leaves, $425. More info/purchase The matching jacquard flared ‘Mila’ pants are $575. More info/purchase

Jil Sander

Jil Sander's pumps have been crafted in Italy from blush leather and have a detachable silver anklet embellishment and high-cut vamp, $267 reduced from $890. More info/purchase


- Marilyn Kirschner

Monday, January 07, 2019

New York Fashion Cool-Aid by Laurel Marcus

Underneath It All With "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"

Rachel Brosnahan as Mrs. Maisel
Click images for full-size views

Congratulations to Rachel Brosnahan for her second win as Best Actress in a TV Musical or Comedy series at the Golden Globes last night! In case you live under a rock like I apparently do, she plays the titular role in my latest bit of video escapism. Although I may have arrived a bit unfashionably late as a devotee to “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” party (the second season was released December 5 on Amazon Prime Video) I was able to make up for lost time on a two-day binge watch of the Emmy award winning show. I discovered this delightful diversion or I should say it was recommended as must see viewing immediately after my husband did his “stand-up” routine at a family event-- everyone knows that it is I who is the real wit behind the shy retiring façade. Wink face!

From the first episode in which 26 year-old Upper West Side Jewish housewife and mother Miriam (Midge) Maisel keeps a notebook of funny thoughts and one-liners while watching her husband Joel’s late-night comedic efforts (she later comes to realize his material is a “borrowed” Bob Newhart routine), it’s clear that she’s the one who should be holding the mic. Ever the supportive spouse she routinely secures a preferred time slot for Joel at the Greenwich Village joint Gaslight Café with a deftly placed homemade brisket. Midge is the perfect 1950’s wife – taking her measurements every day and never letting her husband see her without makeup – rising after he falls asleep to pin curl her hair and cold cream her face and again before he awakens in to reapply makeup and brush out her hair. All while wearing a gorgeous peignoir set! How does he repay her? By leaving her for his 21-year-old “dumb as a Brillo pad” secretary. As Joel begins to pack a tiny powder blue valise Midge yells "That's my suitcase! You're leaving me with my suitcase?"

This show hits the high watermark on so many levels – the writing, the story, the acting, the late 1950’s fashion – even the music (lots of Peggy Lee), all works for me. Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino of “Gilmore Girls” and “Bunheads” fame has done it again with an enhanced version of the past – this time inspired by her father who was a comic during this era. How this show makes me long for the candy-colored world of 1950’s era Manhattan -- the buildings, the automobiles, the women extras walking around in beautiful brightly colored clothes including hats, gloves, swing coats, matching bags and shoes -- not an athleisure outfit anywhere! If I could I'd shed my skinny jeans in a hot minute and time travel back into this idealized image.

Or would !? Costume Designer Donna Zakowska and Rachel Brosnahan who plays Midge have both remarked on the need for exacting undergarments including heavy corseting, restrictive bras and petticoats to make these period costumes fit. We’re not talking Spanx here – more like the serious control of an old-school girdle. “It’s like really the end of the era of the corset…that’s something you really can’t avoid. We can’t all have period bras but we worked with Playtex and they had a certain bra they created for us that we used. And so you do to a degree have to sort of pull women in, you know, bring the bust up…there’s no way around it, otherwise we couldn’t get people into those dresses,” Zakowska said in an interview with Associated Press.

Apropos to the need for restricting and reshaping foundations -- the show’s recurrent line uttered by Midge’s manager Susie Myerson (played by Alex Borstein) is a sort of “Break a leg” equivalent. Offered as a salute as Midge is about to go on stage is the phrase “Tits up!” Colloquially this phrase also means that something is broken and has died on its back as in its gone “belly up.” I’d also heard the phrase attributed to Roger Ailes who, in his rule at Fox News reportedly demanded that female anchors have their “Hair back, tits up.” In a scene in which the estranged Midge and Joel sleep together she apologizes for not having unhooked every other hook on her long line bra the way she (unbeknownst to him) used to. “What? Did you think I’m going to get bored and go make a sandwich or something?” he asks. Later he marvels at the red marks still left on her back from the contraption wondering aloud how long it takes for them to disappear – something he apparently never took notice of when they were living together.

The fashion moments just keep on coming whether the action takes place uptown, downtown, onstage (Midge takes to wearing more simple Joan Rivers inspired black cocktail dresses for performances), or at the frequent comic and agent hangout Stage Deli. During the second season the outfits get more haute in Paris; brightly colored print sundresses and shorts suits are explored in the Catskills; neck bows are big and in order for her job at the B. Altman cosmetics counter where Revlon’s a coveted brand. Even the iconic lipstick shade “Cherries in the Snow” gets a call out. Midge, who’s never held a job before, perseveres as an unquestioning loyal employee bordering on indentured servant as she is “demoted” for various conduct infractions being ushered from the sales floor to the switchboard dungeon or even the inglorious coat check room where coats are thrown at her Miranda Priestly-style. This is despite the fact that she is the top makeup salesperson and beloved by all her co-workers. Heck, she can even do an expert makeover blindfolded – who says that's not a talent?

I actually noticed a few outfit repeats in her working attire which helps make the show slightly more realistic. She seems relatable (and comic) while on a club circuit comedy tour of D.C., and Pennsylvania -- while waiting forever to go onstage she has a few wardrobe issues including a mustard stain down the whole front of her dress. Back in NYC she is forced to perform in her grungy traveling outfit after getting stuck in Lincoln Tunnel traffic. (Midge: “We’re going to die in this tunnel.” Susie: “Good, that’ll give me something to look forward to.”) They actually cheer when they cross the line demarcating New York from New Jersey which I have to admit I’ve done many times.

Right: Midge's mother played by Marin Hinkle

Other cast members such as Midge’s mother Rose Weissman (Marin Hinkle) also has some great fashion advice ("That dress needs pearls") as Midge famously raids her closet. When her husband Abe (Tony Shalhoub) an esteemed math professor at Columbia University realizes that his wife is "missing" for a few days, Midge opens Rose's empty closet in horror. "Didn't you notice that all her clothes are gone?" asks Midge. "You're in there a lot more than I am," he responds. Rose, feeling unappreciated at home, has “run away” to Paris where she was once a student so Abe and Midge (who doesn’t speak any French despite Rose being fluent) fly over to bring her back. Rose goes for a "haute bohemian" vibe while Midge dresses in Parisian colors and ogles women's hats as they pass by. Fun fact: Brosnahan is a niece of the late fashion designer Kate Spade who shared a similar aesthetic or inspiration with late 1950's style.

Rose’s (apparently well-worn) costume for Polynesian theme night at Steiner’s Resort in the Catskills is also worth noting although she says it will need to be replaced for the following year. Cue up the tasteless getting lei’d jokes courtesy of Joel’s father Moishe Maisel (Kevin Pollak) causing Abe to sit this event out. Be sure to check out his Jack Lalanne-style romper that he “secretly” wears to do his morning calisthenics at the resort – there’s a whole episode devoted to it in the second season. The only “unfashionable” main character is Susie who dresses “like a 12-year-old boy,” according to Borstein.

As award season begins I'll give a hearty “Tits up!” to "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." Now the long wait for Season 3 begins.

- Laurel Marcus