Tuesday, December 27, 2011


December: A time for lathering up with lotion, cozying up to the fireplace (or blasting the heat, in my case), and dressing up in layers.

My first blog post promised rebirth, reinvention, and a shedding off of layers. Today, twelve months later and as 2011 draws to a close, I find myself obsessed with layers: layered clothing for warmth and protection against the elements; layers of meaning and suggestion in our spoken and written words; the layers of myth and storytelling that hide or attempt to capture our versions of the truth; layers of chocolate ganache, buttercream, and amaretto-infused chestnut cake that blend together in my mouth; the swirly layers of rich yumminess in a buche de Noel; the pastel layers of a winter's sunset; layers of the metaphorical onion and the presumption of a spiritual nirvana at its center; and the layers of our skin, flesh, muscle, organs, bones, and everything in between that make our bodies function or fail.

It's hard for me to make sense of any of it. Sometimes I confuse transparency and the vulnerability of the naked body with the truth--they seem to represent the same thing. As if our flesh and body equate with a deeper reality while the layers we pile on are just dust in the wind. But the clothes, the representation, our actions, stories, and words...I think these are all we have in the end, or at least all we have some semblance of control over. While we ride the tide of time and witness the changes to our bodies, the comings and goings of sickness and health...all we can do is to carry on, to seek protection and comfort and meaning, and to pile on the layers and attempt to stay warm.

(Photo: wearing my grandma's sweater vest from Hong Kong circa 1980s)

Monday, November 7, 2011

distance = speed x time

How fitting that I write about vintage, because my head seems always to be stuck in the past. Not only the distant past, but the still-smell-it-and-taste-it-on-your-tongue past of the weekend.

This morning when I woke up I was feeling quite moody, a bit romantic, exceptionally gloomy and dreamy and sad...morose even. So it's no wonder that as I got dressed I found myself drawn to this soft, vintage velour bolero of bruised turquoise blue and dusty pink paisleys. The last time I wore this somber yet subtly audacious spectacle, I paired it with the shoes in this post--making a definitively different statement than the dusky gray flats I'm wearing today.

It's been years since I felt inclined to slip on this tattered homespun bolero. Maybe because it feels frivolous, or maybe because it is falling apart in places, with its exposed, unfinished hems spilling out from beneath an otherwise haughty, somewhat imperious facade. Every time I see it patiently hanging there in my closet, I think of the fashion-design or art-school student who labored over the details and construction of it. Who no doubt spent hours on it, and whose earnestness and sartorial aspirations were likely abruptly abandoned in favor of a more practical yet fitful career in retail or waitressing or accounting. I wonder about the choices she has made after that day when she dropped off her unfinished sewing project, and where her path has taken her since.

But mostly, I find myself wondering about time, change, and distance; about bridge crossing and recrossing and the lengths we will go to seek out that which we desire or believe in; about the expectations, hopes, fears, and surprises that come with arrival; and about the many circumstances out of one's hands that ultimately lead to departure. And how the speed of fleeting moments can create a universe of distance between two people.

I think about all the events and emotions that fell into place in order for me to obtain this sweet little handcrafted bolero. And I can't help but wonder whether it was a choice or an inevitability that I would wear it again years later, on such an appropriately beautiful, gray, and bittersweet day.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The ground beneath my feet

This post began with many fits and starts, with a million themes and events racing through my mind but not one that I could focus on as the dust hasn't yet settled. So I will safely retreat to writing about fashion and fantasy.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of watching Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, an inspiring, visually rich documentary of the former fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue and, in her later years, an unconventional, ground-breaking curator at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vreeland was a lover of nostalgia. She loved beautiful things and extremes--nothing ordinary would do. She loved Russia but claimed to know nothing of Russian things. What she loved was the idea of Russia.

Which got me thinking about reality and fantasy. I think the film spoke to me at a time and place where so much in my life was (it still is) in transition, so much of my reality was quickly crumbling beneath my feet, and any steps toward the future fueled by uncertainty...and here I was watching a manifesto for a pleasurable life worth living as much as a celebration of Vreeland.

But back to the idea of Russia. Vreeland was infatuated by Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. She considered herself an ugly duckling who loved the language of dance. Through dance, she shed away inhibitions and fully immersed herself in movement, wordless expression, storytelling. It's no wonder that, as a fashion editor (a role that she defined and heralded), she turned the spotlight on performers, musicians, and artists; in so doing, she seamlessly fused emotions, desire, theatricality, and fantasy to capture and shape the collective imagination of her time.

In my day-to-day life, I find it so easy and pleasurable to escape in a performance, book, or magazine. In that safe space anything is possible and fantasy is unhindered by reality. Loose strings are neatly tied up or, if they're not, they are left beautifully--not dangerously--tangled. But what I felt strongly that night when I left the theater was that fantasy is not the antithesis of reality. It is a totally valid and perhaps even a reverential interpretation of it and its endless possibilities...if we only had the freedom and the courage to pursue what is possible and not to stagnate at what is.

I love the idea that the eye has to travel, from one point to another and from one chapter to the next. Sometimes I wish that in life as in art I could step back and see the bigger picture. But as I cannot, I will continue to let my eyes travel, and attempt to make sense of the path they take as I follow along, exploring what is possible.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

From Ashes

Since last Sunday, I've been feeling the tremendous push and pull, unbearable weight and lightness of the past. As the anniversary of 9/11 approached, I knew that I would have to reflect on that day, but I resisted it. To think about all the lives lost, all the children grown up, all the families affected, a scarred New York...and the passage of time, for better or worse...it was all too much.

But my sister and her boyfriend were covering the 9/11 stories and events for Yahoo, and they told me about all the personal accounts, photos, documentaries, and memories that were being featured, all the lives--of those living and gone--that they were shining a light on, and I knew it would be necessary for me, for us, to honor those who lost their lives and to reflect upon how the world is a changed place.

Like many others, when I think of that day I feel vulnerable and helpless. Unlike those who lost a loved one, I was a mere witness. That day ten years ago I walked away unharmed save for the image of the towers on fire, in smokes, crumbling, and then completely, utterly, hopelessly gone. The sense of disbelief and shock and horror has over the years been replaced by something else--something more vague and nebulous and foggy. Could that really have happened? Is this how we heal, by forgetting?

As I made my way through the horrific images and heart-wrenching stories, it all came flooding back. When memory fails or words are lacking, the visual, like this photo of a woman in shock, seeking shelter in a building, can scream the truth. It reminds me of our fragility and our beauty, of destruction and resurrection. And eventually my mind wanders back to clothes--clothes as an expression of ourselves and our aspirations, as a representation of our frail armour against the world, and clothes as a means of reinvention. From that day ten years ago, we have all shed our clothes and dressed countless times. We have put away the past and carried on. Even in the wake of tragedy, let's never forget who we are and what we are. And let's continue to get dressed, and to not take each day for granted.

I'm back again. I reread my post and it just felt so sad and depressing to share this entry during Fashion Week. To see how New York has risen from the ashes of 9/11 with brilliance, check out Tommy Ton's inspiring street fashion photos here. Color! Beauty! Skin! Life!

(Photo: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

All the world's a stage

I've been horribly, horribly busy this month. A good busy, but still horribly so. This month my daughter started kindergarten and I started a new job. Needless to say, my thoughts have quickly shifted from my post-laid off existential dreaminess to the practicalities of packing lunches, emergency-pack packing, backpack stuffing, BART riding, traffic cursing, multitasking, and getting getting getting things done. Though, I must say that I love my new job. I really do--it's almost embarrassing to admit this but I swear I think there's a spring in my step when I walk down the halls.... But I can't help but think with sadness and fondness of my poor, neglected sewing machine and all the patterns and fresh cuts of cloth sitting there, waiting to be dusted off and made into something. What happened to my dreams of creating and defining my own path and literally wearing my heart on my sleeve?

Then I re-watched this video of Isaac Mizrahi on TED and I was so comforted. How true that "Style makes you feel great because it takes your mind off the fact that you're going to die." Really! It's not depressing--it's true! And just listening to him ramble on about staying up at night and the beauty of mistakes, and color, puppetry and fighting boredom...he is such a creative genius you just have to smile.

But back to his morbid assessment of style. Why do we have a personal style--whether we make our own clothes or go thrifting for perfect sweaters and boots and purses or head to the mall for something we saw in a magazine? With clothes, there's the making and tinkering and the observing, or the trying on and fitting and purchasing.... And then there's the presentation. We all want to be observed. Even the most timid among us...need, want, desire to be observed. We wear our clothes and present ourselves to convey, to connect, to communicate. It's true that style is an extension of ourselves. With style, we display our emotional selves. Style is expression, and expression is a fleeting moment that is all we can do to defy death.

So all of this is to say that I've come to the conclusion that it's okay for my machine to sit idle for the moment. After all, what is the point of clothes without a player and a stage?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Little Things

Gift from my sister: bronze purse locket from her trip to Paris.

Another charming little gift: Daisy solid perfume and locket by Marc Jacobs. It's hard to describe scents, but I'll happily agree with the description of the violet fragrance as capturing an "eclectic, vintage flavor.")

I love the times when I'm not rushing and going and doing or trying and fighting and searching. I love the times when I can acknowledge and appreciate the fact that it's the little things in life that matter: a touch of the hand, a knowing look, a handmade card, a piece of chocolate on the pillow at night, a cup of tea in the morning, a kiss on the cheek, a squeeze of the arm. These are the things that I enjoy and remember most. More than big gestures or grand parties or huge vacations.

Of course in the literal sense, it really is "the little things" that matter. My little ones are everything and the world to me. They are small packages of joy and wonder. They are life itself, brimming with love and meaning and purpose.

But in another literal sense, I simply love little things. Small packages delight me in the same way that they have since I was--well, little. Shiny stickers, lost teeth, coin purses, tiny trinkets, charms, feathers, and marbles--wrap these up and they become instant treasures, ready to be stored away in a collection of their own. So when I recently received two small packages from my dear sister Lila--one containing an antique locket in the form of a tiny bronze purse, and the other containing an actual tiny purse which held its own locket necklace (filled with MJ's Daisy perfume, no less!), I got that heady rush of exuberance that comes with the firm belief that an entire universe of loveliness can be stored in the littlest, most unassuming objects. Either that or this perfume is really working its magic.

Maybe I'm stuck in my childhood, unable to see the big picture and obsessing over the little things--maybe everyone is and does to some extent. It's no wonder why I like to steep myself in children's books--where it's the Charlottes and Despereauxs, the Very Hungry Caterpillars and the Poky Little Puppies who comfort and captivate and shine. Adults can seem so strange, intimidating, all-powerful, and just plain wrong sometimes. Even at my full, overgrown adult size, when I'm not busy being a strange, messed-up, all-wrong adult, I love to just admire and take in the little things.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Vintage Phil

It has been half a year since the passing of Phil Wood, the founder and publisher of Ten Speed Press. Like the books he published, he was original, impressive, charming, whimsical, often irreverent but always compelling. And like many others, I'll always remember him for his signature Panama hats and bold Hawaiian shirts and larger-than-life personality. When I think of Phil Wood, I think of the man and the books and the personality and the perfect embodiment of the man: his shirts.

So it was entirely appropriate and touching that at his memorial celebration this past weekend, Phil's eclectic collection of pristinely kept Jams World shirts--some of which still bore their original sales tags (that habit being just one of Phil's many idiosyncrasies)--were gifted to guests, lovingly folded and awaiting their new owners in sage-green gift bags. The crowd was a sea of florals, palms, chilli peppers, abstract geometrics, and psychedelic splashes of color galore. Though the donning of shirts was a celebration of the man, I still found myself choking back tears when I saw a Phil look-alike (and there were many)--the jolly girth, the white beard, the kind, sparkly eyes. Yes, Phil was very much like a Santa Claus: in his frame, in his sense of pleasure and indulgence, in his ability to give so much to so many. And here we all were, giddy with the excitement of our gifts and a bit in wonder over the closeness of something extraordinary just beyond our grasp.

A few women wore their shirts with a sash or belt. Some men, as noted before, channelled Phil almost too well. His adorable granddaughter wore her shirt beautifully as a comfy dress that reached her ankles. I loved my shirt for its rich imagery of temples, romantic figures, and pilgrims embarking on a journey. Also, the shirt was as soft as the human touch. Looking around the room, I felt as if Phil's XL frame were a considerate, calculated part of his legacy. The old, the young, the large, the small, the wildly successful, the wide-eyed up-and-comers and everyone in between...Phil made room for all of us.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Once upon a time I thought I had no use for biographies, less they served me in the writing of a term paper. Fiction was always and would always be my true love. From the works of Shel Silverstein to Beverly Cleary, Shakespeare to Beckett, through storytelling and characters would I safely revel in the humor and tragedy of the world around me, glimpse into the darkest and most transcendent aspects of the human condition, feel always as if I were inching increasingly closer to understanding the essential and universal truths about war and peace, love and loss...and every human emotion, really.

So when my dear friend Abi lent me her copy of The Power of Style, featuring iconic, stylish, and fascinating women who set the standards for the world of fashion during their time, I was surprised to find myself instantly hooked to the genre. I've never been much of a reality-television watcher or People Magazine reader (though I do recall some bored childhood afternoons watching "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," from which I've gained some faint recollections of glittery chandeliers and gilded wallpaper and the notoriously nasal-y British accent of the sunburnt host)...and I have long held the misconception that biographies were boring and indulgent or technical in a decidedly non-literary way. How wrong I've been!

Just as fiction leaves ample room for interpretation, real life truly is filled with limitless space between the lines. Space for breathing, pausing, reflecting, growing, and dreaming between the limiting lines of circumstance, title, fame, age, location, date, or time. Not sure that made any sense...The point being there is a tremendous amount of fantasy in reality. I suppose right now I'm looking for a direction, maybe a template for an accomplished, adventurous, fulfilling life. No, I know there's no such thing, but still...the following biographies are absolutely captivating and must-reads for anyone with a love of fashion or who simply enjoys a great read.

The Bolter, by Frances Osborne. Wonderfully engaging narrative about Lady Idina Sackville, a woman who scandalized Edwardian high society with her many marriages and affairs and general debauchery...all in quest of love.

Idina, the ultimate flapper girl.

Idina with her third husband, 1923. (I adore that they are glamorous in bare feet, he in silk pajamas.)

Jackie as Editor by Greg Lawrence. JACKIE - AS - EDITOR. The title itself is sexy. An enlightening read for any Jackie O. fan, but a delicious one for the nerdy, bookish type.

Jackie looking elegant and understated at Viking Press, 1977.

Jackie, ravishing in gold.

Fragments by Marilyn Monroe, edited by Stanley Buchthal and Bernard Comment. Marilyn's poetry and diary excerpts are familiar to any girl...and breathtaking in their intensity.

Marilyn reading Joyce in a bold striped swimsuit, 1954.

Marilyn with Arthur Miller, 1956. (The black mesh makes this dress stunning and memorable. It being worn by Marilyn helps, too.)

Mistress of Modernism by Mary V. Dearborn. I've just begun this one but already identify with Peggy Guggenheim's self-professed inferiority complex, and her feeling of always being an outsider. Also I'm mesmerized by the photos of Peggy's daughter, Pegeen.

Portrait of Peggy Guggenheim by Man Ray, 1924.

A seated Peggy, 1942.

Her daughter Pegeen, center (Samuel Beckett, right).

Portrait of Pegeen. (The hair, the blouse, the gesture...simply a beautiful portrait.)

I suppose now it's time to close the books and shut down the laptop...back to making and living and exploring our own life stories, yes?

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Don't you sometimes wish that things, concepts, people were a little more transparent and easy to understand? Why is it that we hide behind closed doors and computer screens and put up so many protective barriers?

I've always instinctively felt that my most private, petty, awful, or trivial thoughts were transparent to others. Surely my catch of the breath, my twitch of the eye, my biting of the lips, or my nervous finger-twirling of hair will reveal my inner-most thoughts and darkest demons. My awkward bangs betray my insecurities. My frizzy ponytail announces that I don't have much time for myself. My rayon-polyester blouse whispers that I don't quite fit in here, though here I am. My skirt reveals that I am practical yet by nature a romantic, a bit of a head-stuck-in-the-clouds kind of person. My shoes broadcast the fact that I have a ton of responsibilities, walk way too quickly, step into dirty puddles, have wide feet, headaches, and children, and still try to carry myself with some amount of grace...comical though that attempt usually, inevitably turns out to be.

And when years go by and a person suddenly strikes me as incredibly un-transparent, impenetrable, unknowable...I wonder why things couldn't be easy and clear and simple.

I'm not the nudist type. I don't think it's appropriate or necessary to always wear one's heart on one's sleeve. And though I appreciate seeing raw emotions on stage and screen, I relate more to nuance, double entendres, the act of hinting and guessing, the freedom of interpretation and the allure of the unknown. I wish we all could face our demons, let others in on our secrets, learn to accept ourselves fully so that we could fully invite others in--instead of forcing the door shut on those who care the most. I guess what I'm saying is that I wish there could be a little more transparency in this world. If only life could be so simple.

Photos: Coco curtain by Creation Baumann; MIA jelly shoes; jelly flat by Melissa.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Play

The big glasses and bolero jacket are in honor of my mother on Mother's Day.

Hope you all get to spend time with your mother, enjoy being one, or remember the good times. Sorry about the poor photo quality...I actually like the blurry effect. It's like really cheap and easy airbrushing.

(Jacket: vintage "All that Jazz" from Down at Lulu's in Oakland, CA)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Two Shoes

Thanks to Ms. Casey, my English teacher from 9th through 12th grades (her motto was: "All educated, literate people know this!"), and my generally brooding nature, while shopping for shoes the other day and contemplating which pair to settle on, I thought of "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

You see, I am at a crossroads of sorts. Not that the choosing of shoes would determine my next step, so to speak, and seal my fate--the shoes being on clearance and non-returnable--but in the midst of (kind of sort of) job hunting, anticipating interviews, awaiting the assumed desire of a positive outcome or bracing myself for the expected rejection, I am secretly harboring dreams of taking the road less travelled by. Certainly commuting on Highway 4 during rush hour is most definitely NOT the road less travelled by. And creating my own path, however meandering and impractical and unrealistic, will almost definitely lead to many sighs in the future.

But back to the shoes. So I had on one foot an "interview" pair: black and sleek and with enough of a heel to exude that extra boost of measured confidence; on the other foot was a "mom" pair: suede loafers that were comfy enough to wear to the park and during endless trips to the grocery store...pretty much identical to two other pairs that are sitting in my closet--stained, permanently embedded with sand, reassuring when I slip them on but also annoying in that sandy-shoes way. It was a decision that I resented having to make, and yet it was painfully obvious that I had put myself in the position of standing there at the shoe store, choosing to make it. And now high school physics came to mind, and I felt like a ball of potential energy just seconds from shooting off a cliff (What have I done? I don't even like heels! Why am I doing this?) and conversely like a steady stream of inertia moving continuously and comfortably yet uncertainly (This is natural. This is easy. Is this all?).

It turned out that the decision I made was the best choice of all. I know it is because instead of buyer's regret I am still euphoric and scheming to buy every single pair that I can afford, in my size, in every color (easy to say even for a brooder like me as the shoes only come in tan, black, and gray--my favorite colors after navy blue). I chose the path that for me is most definitely less travelled by. I stepped out of the clearance section and straight to the pair of trusty leather oxfords that caught my eye on the way in. I would stop asking the shoes to define me, stop letting the anticipation of the future define me. I would define myself.

Uh, oh...and now the line "and miles to go before I sleep" keeps repeating in my head....

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Maybe because I'm listening to Brian Eno, and Brian Eno (plus David Byrne) were playing today while I was at the always-inspiring Stonemountain and Daughter Fabrics (you know it's a place you'll love and cherish forever when they have tons of gorgeous prints, knits, wools, silks, velvet, furry-monster fabric; vintage patterns; lovely quilts and quilters everywhere; highly-knowledgeable teachers and assistants; a purple, paisley restroom; and a sign behind the counter that reads "Unattended Children Will Be Given an Espresso and a Puppy"), but this image--this landscape comprised of Danskin tights-clad legs lined up simply and beautifully--leaves me pondering space, existence, the weight of our bodies, rest, change, growth, time, movement, beginnings and endings and all the stuff that happens in between.

I've been mulling over how to adequately describe the impact that this image has on me, but sometimes (most of the time) the visual speaks for itself, and words simply fail. All I can do is list the many impressions and memories that flood into mind: Gudrun's emerald-green stockings in Women in Love, holing up with classic tomes in a small apartment in a foreign country, old blue tights, dozens and dozens of leotards, a cozy studio in Germany, Greek tragedy, lost worlds, walking across Canal on a wonderfully warm night, seeing the familiar in the abstract, making friends with a stranger, becoming soulmates. I can't seem to get past the individual impressions and episodes to find the unifying thread in all of this. Perhaps the thread is the experience itself, of being triggered into recalling a slew of events and emotions that are forgotten...but matter.

Okay, yes--I should turn off Eno, but now that I've managed to not make any sense but at least got to post this amazing Danskin poster, I'll end with a few more images also found in the book Dance Posters (which I am sure--cliche as it sounds--"found me" in the overflowing treasure box that is the Russian Hill Bookstore; not to imply that I am one of those treasures, but you get the idea). Anyway, I felt compelled to share them because I am currently obsessed with costumes and costume design and costume design blogs and the idea of costume designing, which is kind of exciting.

Mark my words: I am going to make this Siamese unitard/duotard!


Feet in five positions by Edward Gorey.

A "modern" foot.

Tableau from a piece based on Aesop's fables. So right and so wrong.

I love this poster for the same reason that I love Richard Serra sculptures and ipad billboards (damn marketing to my demographic!)...subtle simplicity manifested larger than life always works on me.

Stunning American Ballet Theater dancer and costume.

All images from Dance Posters by Eleanor Rachel Luger, Simon and Schuster, (c) 1979.

Friday, April 1, 2011

In Character

I heard Norwegian Wood on the radio today, and as it always happens when I hear this song, I was transplanted back to my fourteen-year-old self locked away in my upstairs bedroom with a boom box, lying on a green shag rug. (Sadly, it was not the seventies.)

Although the song is more bittersweet than angst-y, the overpowering sense of lovesick regret and anguish conjured up brings to mind these slightly disillusioned, slightly disturbed girls on film, and I realized that some of us never fully outgrow our awkward, frustrated, outcast teenage selves. I know I haven't. (And if or when I do, who will I be without the scar tissue from my past?) One of the things that I love about vintage is that the ever-present but buried past is brought right up to the surface and reinterpreted. There's something empowering about acknowledging and putting our stamp on what was. In a very personal, quiet way, I think that wearing my vintage cords or a dowdy old blouse is a statement of subtle resistance to the way things are--even to the way things were, maybe--and a small assertion of the fact that we all proceed to live our lives with varying degrees of trauma and arrested development...in a good way, if that's at all possible.

Can clothes really do all that? I think so. And at some point, it's liberating to grow up and shed off the many schizophrenic layers that once defined and confined us--the teeny bopper, the grunge, the hippie chic, the skater, the prep, the goth, the mall jammer, the hipster--and accept that who we are isn't determined by what we wear. But at another point, it's a comfort to see those phases as an evolving expression of self, and to know that we are always evolving...and that the need to fully express ourselves never goes away.

(Photos: Molly Ringwald as Samantha in Sixteen Candles; Winona Ryder as Charlotte in Mermaids; Ally Sheedy as Allison in The Breakfast Club; Faye Wong as Faye in Chungking Express; Gwyneth Paltrow as Margot in The Royal Tenenbaums)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

By Design

To turn off the computer. It's amazing to me how much I can accomplish when the computer is off. These last couple of weeks have been incredibly productive, sewing-wise. I've made three skirts (one of them complete with darts and a zipper!)...

...an Elmer Fudd-style hat for Sonia, and two pairs of toddler moccasins. I even have a load of wash going to preshrink some recently-purchased fabric, and will be turning this machine off in half an hour tops to draft up the pattern for a dress. Sure, with the computer off I'm less caught up with the news and the latest celebrity scandals, and my soon-to-be-overdue library books and phone bill are slightly weighing on my mind (not to mention I should be searching for a job!)...but no matter. What I am blissfully infatuated with at the moment is constructing clothes and making sense of patterns.

I am in love with patterns. I just recently learned how to decode these fragile paper beasts, and it has been incredibly enlightening. It's fascinating enough, our instinctual desire to create. But then for us to codify our creations so that they can be replicated and recreated--I find this so exhilarating and comforting. I have always been slightly in awe of architects and designers, their blueprints, their ability to marry form and function, even their sharp way of dressing is something I admire.... Not that I have any desire to build a bridge--and if I did build one, I certainly wouldn't want anyone to dare cross it--but somehow, my understanding of the necessary steps in the construction of shoes for my little ones, the way to properly insert a zipper (note: understanding does NOT equate with mastering), and the basic technique to bring shape to a garment makes me feel like I am, in the smallest way, making sense of the world around me...and maybe inching a tiny bit closer to understanding who I am.

In addition to the sharp-edged dotted lines, the beautifully straightforward arrows, and the practical formality of the instructions, what I love about patterns is that the process of deciphering one is a lot like learning a new language. At first everything appears foreign, incomprehensible, and scary. But with a little guidance, constant exposure, and a lot of trial and error, it all starts to make beautiful sense. And like uttering a sentence in a new, foreign tongue, when a garment is constructed there's no covering up one's mistakes. It's exhibited in all its vulnerability and uncertainty. Like the slightly gnarled zipper on the back of my skirt.

There's something very liberating about being a novice and willing to expose oneself in that way. (Although I'd never let my zipper expose me in too compromising a way, let me reassure you!) I'm reminded of studying literature in college--or, rather, deconstructionism, postmodernism, and the epistemological uncertainty of everything. It's no wonder that in the midst of my studies I was drawn to dance and language because of their very transparency. No amount of research or rhetoric would cover up the fact that I was a complete, wet-behind-the-ears novice. In dance, my most impassioned Brechtian ideas of the stage and performance couldn't hide my weak pelvic muscles or lack of a properly-arched foot. In my study of Mandarin, it was humbling to attempt to translate and interpret two lines of Confucius in a two-hour class. And constructing clothes from patterns, like performing a dance or speaking in a foreign language, requires the mastery of at least some basic vocabulary and technique. Fortunately, I'm pretty sure that I'm getting the hang of the pattern thing. At least that is my hope, because it would kind of suck to always be a novice in everything.

With that in mind, it's time to turn off the computer, get off my bottom, and get my fabric into the dryer.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Remember this ad?

This ad spoke to my soul during my early-teen years in the 90s. Oh, how I felt this way. Really, really felt this way. Really really obsessively felt this way. Disregard the fact that the ad and cologne were aimed at men...to that all I have to say is pish. I mean, what is it about that tender age for girls--okay, yes: hormones, puberty, chemical imbalances in the head--that makes us yearn, wonder, dream, and become fanatically obsessed with something or someone: a pop singer, an entire band of pop singers, or, you know, an intangible and holy High-School-Senior.

Obsession. I experienced this very thing--it led my heart to jump out of my chest at the sight of one particular person, and me to alternate between writing my name combined with this stranger's surname over and over and over again in cursive, and lovingly scribbling both of our initials combined with a plus sign and encircled by a dozen Paper Mate-inked hearts--all over my binder, all over my diary, and all over the jacket cover of my pre-Algebra textbook. And all the while, this person--or, this being that has been stratified into the status of a Greek god--had no idea of my existence.

Almost twenty years later, I found myself face-to-face with this crush/obsession/person. In fact, we had been neighborly acquaintances for over a month and I had no idea that he and HE were the very same person. I'm still getting over the initial shock, but my rainbow-bright cheeks have by now subsided into a hidden blush, and at the moment I am surprisingly less inclined to want to prank call him and stalk him in L.A. Gear Flames than I am dying to get my hands on a copy of this new book to try to make sense of that time in my life.

(These L.A. Gears appear to have gone on to shoe heaven.)

Even strange episodes like finally meeting a former crush eye-to-eye, after almost twenty years, no less (twenty years??!!), makes me ponder fashion. I think back to that transitional period in my life between pegged jeans and grunge, but I also think about youth and all the awkwardness, uncertainty, absurdity, and beauty that comes with it. Yes, fashion no doubt has an unremitting fascination and obsession with youth, and often appears to idolize youth to the point of fetishism. And sure, there's the very visceral fear of old age that we all experience preceded, ensued, or inflamed by the industry's highly profitable marketing toward and of youth. But isn't it only human to want to relive, rediscover, recall that time when one's inside world is infinitely intense, dramatic, emotional, enigmatic, and new? When the creation and experience of something fantastical appears endlessly exciting...and possible?

To quote Marc Jacobs, "Youth to me is the most beautiful and sexy thing, really. I’m by no means a pedophile, but there’s a purity to youth. There’s an experimental side, there’s a curiosity. All that is more intriguing to me than knowing, headstrong, oozing sexuality."

This take on youth reminds me that there is a difference between "being young" and "youth." To me, fashion's obsession with youth is an expression of our collective desire to see and experience the world with freshness, newness, vitality, creativity, originality, wonder, and awe. Diana Vreeland said that "the greatest vulgarity is any imitation of youth and beauty." And also, "Without emotion, there is no beauty." It seems that emotions can run unbearably high when one is young, but emotion is also a constant flame and the fountainhead of beauty and creativity throughout our lives.

I recently went with my uncle to his class at a local health center, where he and over a dozen others participated in a morning exercise regiment. An elderly man came in supported by a walker and guided by his wife, placed weights on his walker before pushing it to the side, and attentively waited as he sat himself on a plastic chair at the front of the class. A woman wearing her soft white hair in a bun stepped onto a treadmill and walked with a bounce in her step for at least half an hour, bun flopping to and fro with exceptional grace. Watching the group perform stretches while seated on their chairs was like witnessing a beautiful piece of choreography. Every movement was so deliberate, comical, or sweet, and perhaps harder to perform than it would appear. And all I could think was, this is innocence, vulnerability, and youth. This is beauty.

Friday, March 11, 2011


I am no fashion historian. I don't even keep up much with today's fashions. And aside from the fact that, unbeknownst to my husband (because he most certainly wouldn't have been a willing accomplice), the names of my children were, on my part, partially inspired by two of my favorite designers (Sonia Rykiel for her big, frizzy hair, tiny cardigans, oversized sweater dresses, big tassels, jumpers, and bra-lessness; Marc Jacobs for his dowdy chic, vintage mash-ups, bold understatedness, Rufus Wainwright, and sexy sex-lessness), I really can't comment on the latest "it" jeans, bags, shoes, designers, perfumes, etc. But I do know what I love and what speaks to me.

For example, don't be surprised if I start wearing my hair like this again. (It feels so good to embrace big hair, literally and figuratively!)

So now that I have launched this blog and, just over two months from its inception, find myself not knowing what else to reminisce about, not wanting to take endless cropped photos of myself (despite appearances to the contrary), and not reconciled with the fact that I am a mostly-unpaid freelance reflector, I've decided to become a doer. Not the capital "d" kind of doer, no no. Perhaps I should say a "maker." I've decided to bring my sewing skills to the test, to go beyond pillowcases and curtains and baby blankies to finally make clothes for myself and my little girl and littler boy...and hopefully friends and extended family and anyone else willing to don clothes that likely will be navy blue, polyester (read: can handle spilt milk, bean-burrito fingers, and countless machine washes), vintage-inspired, and possibly just the slightest bit off in places. My first project is this cap-sleeved shirt. I wore it to lunch yesterday and my very sweet and/or very polite friends didn't say anything negative about it, which of course gave me more than enough ammunition to keep going.

This morning I was thrilled to find that this vintage-Gucci-belt-as-necklace really works in a sort of modern art kind of way.

There's nothing quite like stumbling upon something in my closet and seeing it in a totally different, totally awesome light. Or maybe it's just the cloudy, windy day getting to my head. The kids were already on their third or fourth episode of Diego courtesy of Netflix, I'm supposed to be editing, doing dishes and laundry, and it was coooold outside.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Temporal Pleasures

Some things weren't meant to last forever, but that doesn't mean they can't make life more interesting and fun. A little bit of sweetness and love never gets old.

And because I have a hard time letting go of lovely things (including empty but beautiful and still chocolatey-smelling boxes of chocolates), I couldn't yet bring myself to throw out these adorable hang tags that were snipped off of a few recent purchases I made at Mars. Talk about effective marketing--the descriptions are so sweet and succinct, and the fact that they are handwritten totally sells me. They somehow bring back those feelings I had playing store as a kid, getting the due date stamped in my library books, and passing notes with my best friend during fifth period.

Times will change, but fortunately the presence of the human touch will never go out of style. I'm back in Berkeley tomorrow for a sewing class (finally facing my fear of interfacing!)...so it will be hard to resist a trip to Mars for more vintage treasures and more treasured hang tags. After all--and I may be revealing the full, frightful extent of my packratedness by asking this, but--what else should one do with those gorgeous, crinkly, sparkly gold plastic trays that once housed objects so divine?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

And now about clothes again...

Or not. Somehow this gorgeous piece from Pina Bausch's Nelken (Carnations) makes me think about my desires, dreams, hopes, regrets...and dresses. Maybe it will have the same effect on you. (Or not.)

I find it fascinating how simple changes in context--from the studio to the stage, from casual wear to the suit, from the intimacy of the first clip to the unexpected intrusion of the audience's laughter in the second--affect our perception of the performance. I can't say that I prefer one over the other. All I know is that the marriage of visuals (the movements, gestures, body) and audio (the music, lyrics, and mouthed words) is beautiful. It makes me want to put on a dress and--no, not dance on stage--just be.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Loves Past

On this Valentine's Day, I'd like to pay tribute to all those girls from my past who made a deep and lasting impression on me, but who exited my life before I was able to know it or acknowledge it.

To Edna, for her pink velcro sneakers and sharing cookies in our hiding spot

To Han-Lin, for her braided pigtails and yellow jumpers

To Rachel, Molly, and Jen--true outcasts who accepted me as one before I lost my way

To Lauren, most of all for her laugh, but also for her grandmother's wooden sculptures and the serene beaches of Big Sur

To Michele, Mich, Michelle, ma belle, for defining my teenage years (and all the Manic Panic)

To the girl in my summer photography class, for her sad but brilliant eyes and her striking resemblance to my mom

To the girl in denim who took my photo the following summer

To Marie, for lending me her copy of Rilke (which has traveled with me to many strange places and still sits on my bookshelf like a stolen treasure)

To the girl in comp lit with the stunning hair and boots, who flew back to Korea, I think

To Rose, for her antics during choreography class, her red leotards, and her effusive love of Titanic

To my study abroad roommate from Japan and her mother, who sent me a scarf

To Adrienne, for her musicality and for giving me a chance

To Cynthia, who will always be as cool and as beautiful as she is elusive, for her unwavering sense of style and self

All of you together are a patchwork of innocence, awkwardness, confidence, confusion, intensity, vulnerability, vulgarity, joy, restlessness, calm, immense beauty, and fierce intelligence.

I wonder where your life has brought you, and if who you were then is still a part of who you are today. I hope so.

Thank you for entering my life, and thank you for leaving a mark.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Let's just get it out there. I have a thing for:
1. stripes
2. dark dark navy blue
3. buttons, preferably gold (those that serve no function get extra bonus points)

So I was practically walking on air (water?) when I went thrifting yesterday and found four wonderful, nautical-themed items within half an hour. It's not that I go searching for them, they just have a way of calling out to me, like the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, pulling me in and not letting go until I'm won over...or something like that.

I even found a rubber-slicker yellow, faux-snakeskin bracelet-watch for a whopping $5.99 (with working battery) to perfectly accessorize my 80s-yachting outfits. Interestingly, my husband is a sailor. Even more interesting, I probably would be quite happy--if not downright gleeful--were I to never step foot on another boat. Ah...the mysterious and inexplicable push and pull of attraction.

Truthfully, while my husband's style of Nautica and West Marine may be more authentic, I happily embrace my Coco Chanel- and Kurt Cobain-inspired stripes and will continue to wear my nautical threads with deck shoes firmly planted on city pavement.

p.s. I've recently fallen in love with these sailors' knot bracelets* that you, too, can learn how to make, thanks to Etsy!

(*photo: groundsel for etsy.com)