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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fall into Fashion!

My much adored son and I arrived home one afternoon last week at the same moment, just in time to collect the fresh mail in our overflowing box.  While I opened the front door I asked him to grab it and he did remarking “ Whoa. What the heck is this?” 

How to teach a 15 yr old boy
about FASHION! 
He was referring to the September issue of Marie Claire Magazine, the only fashion magazine I continue to subscribe to. I told him it was the September issue of a fashion magazine -- as if that would be sufficient explanation for the over 400 page treatise he was hoisting into the house. 

“Well, what does that mean?” he asked. 

“Well, every Fall is the new fashion season! ” I inadequately snapped back, as though he should understand these things.  I mean, didn’t he have some of his mother’s DNA? Didn’t he just automatically know that Fall equals Fashion?

It’s not that I am a slave to fashion. It’s not that spend thousands of dollars on clothes but I do appreciate the art of fashion design, the changing and revolving looks, and most particularly, the richness and drape of a beautiful fabric. I love just looking at clothes.

Adorable Betsy

My favorite toy growing up was my Betsy McCall Paper Doll kit, which included a simple translucent light box on which you could trace around a 12 inch paper doll of Betsy and design outfits for every occasion.  I filled three shoeboxes with my designs. I loved creating plaids.  I loved drawing hats. The shoes and boots my paper doll wore were nothing short of magical.  There were hundreds of dresses and sweaters and coats and hats in those little boxes.

Betsy, the paper doll originated in the 
back pages of McCalls Magazine, a staple in our little family household in the late 50’s.  It touched on fashion and home d├ęcor and even included recipes, designed for the modern housewife of the time, a creature and publication type that has all but disappeared but for Betty Draper and friends.  McCalls was beautiful and a true precursor to the priestess Martha of Stewart. My mother and I loved it in it’s heyday, and it was treated with reverence in our home. I made my first angel food cake and cupcakes from their glossy pages.  
In the early 1970’s, when our family home was gone in the aftermath of  divorce, I wasn’t there, I'd been living in Pittsburgh for two years and the only thing I asked my mother about were the shoe boxes with my precious fashion designs, stored in the linen closet in the upstairs hallway. She didn’t remember anything about them. They had been discarded, along with my childhood, unprotected in my absence.    

In between the simple bliss of McCall’s and the dissolution of all that was, Peg Bracken’s I hate to Cook book appeared on the kitchen counter.  It’s attitude and sensibility much more reflective of the times and terrors of raising a big family --as ours had become. If you are not familiar with it, you can pick up the 50th Anniversary Edition on Amazon.  It is a book that might be found in both the humor and cookbook section of Barnes & Noble. 

Deliciously Funny! 

Some of my favorite chapters include:
The Leftover -- Or Every family needs a dog
Potluck Suppers -- Or how to bring the water for the lemonade
Last Minute Suppers -- Or this is your life
Household hints -- Or what to do when your churn paddle sticks

 The recipes themselves are entertainingly named and written including Skid Row Stroganoff, Sweep Steak and Stayabed Stew, as in -- put all these ingredients together in a pot, turn on the light, and climb back into bed.

Peg Bracken was even the spokesperson for the modern new Birds Eye Frozen Vegetables brand (who better?) appearing in commercials through the early 1970s.

I will just include the first few sentences of the introduction to show you just how far from the McCalls attitude our household had slipped:

“ Some women, it is said, like to cook. This book is not for them. This book is for those of us who hate to, who have learned, through hard experience, that some activities become no less painful through repetition: childbearing, paying taxes, cooking.  This book is for those of us who want to fold our big dishwater hands around a dry Martini instead of a wet flounder, come the end of a long day. “

The forward closes with:
 “These recipes have not been tested by experts. That is why they are valuable. Experts in their sunny spotless test kitchens can make anything taste good. But even WE can make these taste good.”

And so it goes….
The world of magazines has become as narrow cast as our television channels.  Marie Claire, in particular, has created a niche I appreciate, incorporating the true spirited fun of fashion (i.e. wearing a fantastic $250 shirt with just as fabulous $35 jeans) as well as objectively evaluating the products we assiduously apply to our faces and bodies to brighten our beauty.
Michael, Heidi and Nina -- the tastemakers
(As an aside -- I’m also a big fan of their cable television partner, Project Runway, and my husband and I just love trying to predict whom der Mistress Heidi will tell to hit the highway at the end of each episode. “Jawohl, you’re out!”  She's very strict! )

So I decided that it was time for a little beauty education for the boy.
What better quintessential tool of fashion to use than the ubiquitous scent strips that are the olfactory component of Fall’s fashion pronouncements?

The September issue contained four full-page two-sided samples: Juicy Couture, Calvin Klein, Prada, and Dolce & Gabbana.  All were promoting their signature fragrances. I pulled each out of the magazine and laid them out on the coffee table.  I decided I would show him, pointing out in my particular Pop Culturally kind-of-way, what techniques were being employed to sell the scent and then ask for his 15 year old just-beginning-to-look-at-girls evaluation.  Three were open-the-fold and rub on the wrist versions and one was a peel-off fragrance-sample-underneath version.  I have learned that the peel-offs are much better ways of actually delivering as-close-to-real product samples via print media, but are more expensive.  

So, in alphabetical order, our team reviews:

Calvin Klein
Calvin Klein’s habit is to proclaim his fragrances, rather than simply introducing them; presented with such definitive names as Eternity, Obsession, Crave, and Truth.  All of these names possess such an authoritative finality that they just stop me in my tracks  --- from purchasing them. His latest is no different -- Beauty. (As if!)  

Klein uses as his spokesmodel, the pale impossibly toffy-blonde actress Diane Kruger of National Treasure and Inglorious Basterds fame.  She appears with a come hither stare, in a full body shot wearing a simple white silk sheath, limbo lit with the obligatory product shot on the reverse side.

After applying the sample to my wrist, my son sniffed and said it reminded him of Chinese food.  It reminded me of Nasturtiums, those brightly hued peppery flowers that I occasionally throw from my garden into my salads.  

I should note that we did recheck our first impressions, giving each fragrance time to breathe. We gave it two thumbs down and I didn’t even go into the name thing with my son, this was a scent assessment.  Beauty was not a beauty.

Dolce & Gabbana   
Dolce & Gabanna uses Spokesmodel Actress and blond Scarlett Johansson (muse to Woody Allen, tragically wonderful in Lost in Translation, completely lovely in Girl with a Pearl Earring and wife to one of my son’s actor heroes, Ryan Reynolds, because of his superhero role status) to promote their fragrance; Rose the One. 

Photographed relaxing waist up to camera, with slightly messy hair, lips open, all aglow in a rose golden hue; she is draped leaning forward to the camera with her lingerie strap just slipping off of her shoulder. The photo is much more sexually provocative than Calvin’s image. The obligatory close up product shot is on the reverse with the scent strip.  There is simple packaging like Calvin.

Again applied, this time to my son’s wrist, we both note a sweet bright flowery fragrance, with notes of lily of the valley, peony, and rose.  It’s very nice and light but it’s not my style. My son really likes it and says he’d like to taste it and he also thinks Scarlett is really swell too. 

Juicy Couture      
Juicy Couture the brand always makes me shake my head in wonderment.  
It all seems so “Real Housewives” kind of wear and I never saw the appeal of a velveteen track outfit with a huge satin logo. But they made the brand  work and frankly I was always a tad too old for their look anyway.  

Juicy Couture presents their latest (originally launched in 2009), called Couture Couture, for those double fashion divas I suppose, with a metrosexual (possibly) male star spangled figure in the background and a very pretty brunette with a stylish updo wearing a black one shoulder silk dress with a short toile skirt and pursing the deepest reddest lips imaginable in the foreground. The decorative bottle of Couture Couture is oversized and placed in her arm as one might pose with an oversized Oscar. The image is graffiti strewn and there is a lift-to-smell plastic tab over the ornate bottle. 

On the reverse, the same model appears posed looking wistfully on the marble ledge of the fireplace in front of a rococo mirror in a space with tall narrow windows along the wall while across the room, a man dressed formally, including a top hat and tux and wearing stilts under his dress pants, points to the superimposed image of the obligatory product shot.  If you can make any sense of that description, thank you. 

This sample is completely different. It has a rich musky deeper scent. It smells expensive and sexy. There is vanilla, sandalwood and honeysuckle in the scent. This is the only fragrance garnering two big thumbs up from the test panel.  This would make me want to sample the fragrance in person but I’m probably too old to wear it.  This is a brand that knows it’s demographic.

Prada is pushing Infusion D’Iris this season, a fragrance originally launched in 2007. A generic high fashion never-seen-the-sun model with smudged eyes is tipping toward the camera, with lips open enough to show the gap in her front teeth.  Her nude barely-there buffed nails are just touching the rectangular oversized bottle with the obligatory close up product shot on the reverse. 

My son says baby powder.  I think Iris, perhaps something orangey with a touch of frankincense. He doesn’t like it and says it smells like it would hurt if it got in your eyes. Hmm. Two thumbs down for Prada.  

This all said, I do love fragrance but I am extremely loyal to my own, Boucheron, which I have been using since it was introduced in 1988.  It is considered an oriental/spicy fragrance with sandalwood, orange and vanilla notes.  Both my husband and son love it as well.  I don’t see any need to make a change at the moment, but it really was fun playing scent strip fashion with my 15 year old.  Fashion knows no gender.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Growing older with grace, wisdom and Mad Men

(Please note if you are not a fan or viewer of Man Men this blog may confuse you. To savor it best, I recommend you watch Season 4 Episode 8 The Summer Man -- before going any further. Unable to do that, scroll to the end of the blog for a mini-recap.)

Sometimes the worlds of fantasy and reality collide in my brain and meet in my blog as a special gift for me. This is one of those times and I want to make sure that I get it right. Follow along and let me know.

Nothing is subtle about Joan
This past Sunday evening I was glued to my television, watching along with many of you, the latest installment of Mad Men.  I found it both profoundly upsetting and insightful as it demonstrated the disempowerment of office manager and queen of the ample bosom Joan, by the earnest and naively well-intentioned Peggy.  

Joan, caught up in her own misguided I-as-victim psychology uses what she believes is her greatest power as sexualized woman to thwart the always-inappropriate sexual harassment by free-lancer Joey. For those of you offended because you find what Joey said unrealistic, I say to you, you have never been on the receiving end of it in Corporate America, especially before Anita Hill made pubic hair so very public.

Unfortunately Joan intends to resolve the matter by using her femme fatale powers on a client, most brilliantly the Sugarberry Man from Ham(m), who would sweep away the problem as her knight in shining armor---the very fantasy that keeps her trapped as victim. Oh, the bitter irony!
Joan works her co-workers

Yet, I can sympathize with Joan, as angry as she made me.  She, like many women who have no role models, fall back on what have been their strengths (the office sexpot) rather than risk the untested.  She chooses not to tell Don  was what really going on with Joey, instead using some fuzzy and vague  “I’ve been hearing complaints” nonsense in part because she knows she does use her sexuality as part of her power.

The tragic scene in the elevator between Joan and Peggy was fantastic. Peggy cannot possibly understand how what she did was effectively disempower Joan.  Joan cannot possibly understand how Peggy is the newly emancipated female on the horizon and she is about to become antiquated caricature.

Ernest Peggy

When Joan later bursts into tears when her husband talks about her friends at work, it’s hard to feel sorry for her. How we mere mortals complicate our own lives and are reflected back at us in the wonderfully complex characters in Mad Men.

In the real world on that very same day Ines Sainz, a female sportscaster from Mexico, was reported to have complained about being sexually harassed in the Jets Locker room. I watched the interviews on the "News" as she dripped out of her Victoria’s Secret pushup bra, feigning ignorance about her style of dress. As the news reported it, the players made off-color jokes and innuendoes as she tried to conduct an interview. She has apparently been covering football, albeit in Mexico, for nine years and every photograph I have seen of her is provocative. So I seriously ask you, why don’t I ever see any men in women’s locker rooms?

Funny Sofia 
I watched several of these interviews with Ines and I felt like I was looking at an episode of Modern Family with the hysterically funny Sofia Vergara -- a bombshell Columbian actress who understands how to make sexy funny.

Sofia was recently quoted in the new issue of Self Magazine,

"I wanted surgery, I told my mom, 'As soon as I'm older, please take these boobs away.' She said, 'Sofia, shut up. When you're 18, it will be different.' 'I was like, 'Why would I want these huge tits?' I'm a 34 DD. It's hard to dress. No matter what I wear, I look like a stripper."

Ines on the field
So when I watch Ines speaking in her broken English  “ I hab nine years doing dis and I never have any trouble like dis” -- I admit it, I start to laugh. She sounds just like Sofia's character on the show.

So listen Ines, sex sells and you’re selling it. If that’s how you choose to package yourself, be prepared for the consequences and stop walking into rooms with naked men. Go for your 15 minutes, the Playboy spread, whatever frivolities come your way. Tune into Modern Family and check out Sofia’s great impression of you.  You, unlike Joan, have no excuses and plenty of role models to choose from.

Allow me to conclude that it all balanced out rather nicely in my Mad Men world. Those scenes with the hirsute Don in the pool at the infamous New York Athletic Club were delicious (except for the coughing at the end of one lap) and his heroic and grownup treatment of Peggy is almost enough to redeem him in my eyes. That’s where Man Men keeps it balanced, a sex symbol for everyone, just the way I like my fantasy life.

As Don Draper has said, "People tell you who they are, but we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Till Death do us... try to communicate

Over the summer, The New York Times Sunday magazine included a touching article by Katy Butler entitled “What broke my Father’s Heart”.  If you haven’t read it, you should. (I’ve included a link to the article at the end of my diatribe.)

Early Adopters
The well-crafted article recounts how a pacemaker prolonged her father’s life -- but destroyed her parents final years together. Much of the problem stemmed from being poorly informed victims instead of beneficiaries of the advances made in medical technologies designed to prolong lives. 

I don’t want you to think for a moment that I think pacemakers are not wonderful.  I have at least three friends under the age of 60 who sport them. I’m not denouncing them in the least. What is disturbing though, is how anything that prolongs life is being served up to consumers. In summary, the way Medicare is set up, it rewards Doctors more for doing procedures vs. assessing whether the procedures should even be done at all. 

"Meet Joe Black"
Early Storyboard Frame
The piece goes on to cite that according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the medical profession including doctors, drug companies, hospitals, and medical equipment manufacturers spent over $500 million dollars lobbying Congress in 2009 and my favorite paragraph in the piece says: 

“The system rewarded nobody for saying “no” or even “wait” — not even my frugal, intelligent, Consumer-Reports-reading mother. Medicare and supplemental insurance covered almost every penny of my father’s pacemaker. My mother was given more government-mandated consumer information when she bought a new Camry a year later.”   

The piece also noted that if 911 were called in the case of an medical emergency, the technicians would not honor a do-not-resuscitate order if the patient was not wearing an state-issued bracelet.  I know nothing about this and what the laws are here in New Jersey or any other state. If any of you do, would you let me know please in case, as Mel Brooks’ 2000-year-old man said, my heart should attack me.

I would really recommend you read this article and then use it to have a conversation with your elderly parents, if you are lucky enough to still have them  --- or with your life partner, if you are lucky enough to have one of those  ----or even with your children or siblings or best friend. Someone, somewhere needs to have this conversation.

I tried to have it with my husband.  I walked into his home office, waited until he noticed me, and gave him the article with the following admonitions:
"On the plus side, death is one
of the few things that can
just as easily be done lying down."
Woody Allen

1. I would like you to read this article.

2. I think it is well written and well informed.

3. I think it is a conversation we should have.

4. I am not asking you to read it right now.

Ladies and Gentlemen, didn’t I handle this correctly? 
Naturally, he glanced at the title and wrinkled his eyebrows and said, “Cremation, no extra-ordinary measures, no resuscitation” and handed the article back to me smiling.            

“Well, I wanted to have a conversation about this.” I said.                          

"I thought we just did." He said.

Hello. It is any wonder that books can be written about Men being from Mars?  It is my hope that someday soon I will be able to get him to sit down and actually read the article and come up with a list of questions for our elderly parents and one another. In the meantime, I’m doing my best to avoid death.  

What broke my Father's Heart by Katy Butler

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Let us praise Labor Day!

I'm having a what?
I would like to begin with clearly stating that I did not actually experience labor. However since it is Labor Day I have chosen to write about it anyway.  I was one of those whose child was upside down, also known as breech, from the beginning to the end of my pregnancy. This meant that his little head was nestled right next to my heart, which he rubbed against and made burn every chance he got.  My clever child had a planned exit strategy, which was just fine and dandy with his mother. Then again you know what they say about the best-laid plans.

First let me say that every chart, every paper, and official document leading to my son's arrival was inscribed with the following: AMA.  At first I thought it had something to do with the American Medical Association but when I saw a nurse writing it, yet again, in permanent marker at the chart at the foot of my bed as we awaited my son's arrival, I finally spoke up and asked.

"What does AMA stand for and why does everyone keep writing it on my chart?" I queried.

"Oh," she replied taken aback. " It stands for Advanced Maternal Age, just a precaution."

Hmm. Well thanks for that.

It was 8 a.m. on the day of, a week earlier than planned, due to the lack of embryonic fluid being produced, and I was buckled in to the heart monitor and dressed in the latest hospital formal wear at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City, as the city was about to be pounded with piles of snow.

Cynthia Covers it
As a fan of Project Runway, I would like to suggest to Heidi and associates, that they challenge their designers to come up with something less drafty and more fashion forward in hospital garb, although the pattern on the gown was actually designed by Cynthia Rowley. That is the one amenity I wish I had held onto since Cynthia has now moved on to the much more profitable disposable diaper business.  Obviously this was before the current health care crisis when there was still money to be spent on such niceties as the patient experience.

My husband was dressed head to toe in traditional surgical blue and at his side, his camera.  We were going to experience all that could be experienced under the circumstances, together. He was going to photograph the event with clear caveats from me. We were scheduled for a 9a.m. Cesarean that did not happen. It was now 11a.m. and the nurse came in to tell us that we had been bumped for emergency triplets.

As we were waiting in the maternity check-in when we first arrived at the hospital , a very very pregnant, as in going-into-labor lady sat next to me and I watched in fascination as her belly was distorted and distended by it's impatient guests, which you could actually see moving under her sweater. It reminded me of Roger Rabbit's Acme Brand products.  She was taken away rather quickly before I even had the chance to ask her name, not that she was in any mood to answer judging by the pained expression on her face.

11 o'clock quickly became 3 o'clock as I was bumped for the emergency triplets and then for emergency twins.  I was getting punchy though, surviving on my glucose drip.  My soon-to-arrive son had a ferocious case of the hiccups, which helped to keep us entertained but my poor husband was clearly wilting in his hospital blues.

Unbeknownst to either of us, the lamenting Medea* also known as my mother, had arrived and was aimlessly wandering the halls of Beth Israel with a large bough of kumquats for the platters at the bris, looking for her daughter and first grandchild.  In the logic of new grandmothers, she was convinced that our fish platters wouldn't be festive enough unless dressed with her kumquats.


Her collection was replaced eight days later at our Upper West Side apartment, with fresh sprigs at the bris hosted by our celebrity moyhel ("I trimmed all the (Dustin) Hoffman kids --you know.") who provided Yamulkes with an 800 number imprinted on the inside and a fancy press kit.  The video is actually a laugh riot but we're still waiting for the right time to share it with our son.

* Refering to Euripides' character, not the very funny Tyler Perry Madea. Medea is a play which somewhat sympathetically explores the disadvantages of being a woman in a patriarchal society -- though killing her own children to get back at her cheating husband seems a tad extreme.

In the meantime, the two and a half of us were being held in the private closed-to-visitors, patient on-deck section of the hospital and it seemed that the staff was unable to locate precisely where or who I was.  At 4 o'clock when I finally told my husband to go get something to eat, Medea and her son-in-law apparently ran into one another in the cafeteria and he told her to just hang in there, we had been rescheduled for a 5 p.m. guaranteed delivery.  Both now refreshed, they resumed their posts.

At 5 o'clock I was wheeled into the delivery room, properly sedated and became a mother.  My husband recorded it all in carefully framed images, my son's little feet emerging first, ready to step out into the world.  My mother had the opportunity to meet her little grandchild, gift him the kumquats, and my world was forever changed.

So no matter what comes to mind for you this Labor Day, be it our struggling work force or the grand forces of nature, celebrate in grand style and don't forget the kumquats.