Monday, January 24, 2011

In the bag

I have been fascinated by Anthropologie's catalogue featuring purses and their spilled contents. Purses make a great canvas for inspiration boards, their contents giving a quick but intimate portrait of a person, place, time, and mood. They can reveal so much about the past, about who we are, and about who we desire to be.

This vintage purse was acquired ages ago. I included a few beloved objects from my past as well as stuff that came directly from my purse today. There were a lot more jelly beans (beloved objects from my present), but the kids kept stealing them as I was putting together my "purse collage." Suspiciously omitted are the diapers and wipes and the wads of tissue paper...ah, the beauty of storytelling!

As far as what's actually in my purse, my god--that's not a pretty picture. But I think even the receipts, gum wrappers, cookie crumbs, and, yes, diapers and wipes are worthy of reflection. I'm just not a good enough photographer to make them look interesting rather than disgusting.

Sometimes I think about the contents of my purse as evidence, each item like the undigested fig in Dora's stomach in The Fig Eater (minus the morbid murder mystery, I hope). What we choose to carry and what we deem essential says so much about us: our current obligations, headaches, habits, comforts, and guilty pleasures, who we love and who once loved us. Perhaps most revealing is the tension between what was, what is, what could have been, and what still can be.


My friend Abi kindly noted that the inspiration for Anthro's catalogue cover was Irving Penn's Theatre Accident, 1947. Now this photo has a story to tell.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bonfire of the Vanities

Twenty years ago today my mother celebrated her last birthday. She was 43 and I was twelve. We were both so young.

My mother. Where do I even begin? There are a zillion adjectives that I can use to describe her--mostly all synonyms of loving, warm, beautiful, and generous--but I will tell you about her clothes, or, more accurately, my memory of her clothes.

In her small walk-in closet she had what seemed to me a million pairs of shoes--all heels, sandals, boots, and slip ons--lined up and stacked on the floor and stuffed in a rack behind the door. Hanging in a corner were a few very luxurious, very seductive, and very off-limits fur coats. Belts and scarves hung on a rod near my dad's suits, slacks, and dress shirts. Up above were soft winter blankets from Hong Kong, stored neatly in their original plastic packaging and emanating the stuffy scents of a faraway place.

And then there were the rows of dresses. Oh, the dresses! There were dresses from the days she dated my dad. Form-fitting, tiny-waisted, short dresses with long slits, mandarin collars, and cap sleeves. There were the mod, mid-length knit dresses and two pieces that were her mainstay after moving to the States; the ones with decorative details in the buttons, pockets, and matching fabric belts. There were the empire waist polyester/cotton-blend dresses in all different colors and patterns that would become for me the signature of motherhood at ease. And then there were the animal prints, pencil skirts, silk tanks, pleated trousers, rayon blouses, shoulder pads, and bolero blazers--these from her days as a working mother of seven still in her thirties.

The combination of scents in that closet--a tad of my dad, perfume, fabric and fur, the past and present--was distinctively grown-up, alluring, and comforting. That is, it was Mom. I have the usual childhood memories of sneaking into her closet, trying on her clothes, and fantasizing about transforming into a woman. And the delicious memory of my sister and brother and me sneaking candy in that refuge, huddled together surrounded by my mom's presence but in defiance of her, rushed and frantic and thrilled by our shared secret and loot.

Shortly after my mother's death (it could have been two months or two years--time had a way of shifting gears unexpectedly, one day passing by excruciatingly slow, the next day racing on unforgivably fast) my father shocked us all when he announced that he had donated all of her clothes. The closet was wiped out. Every last remnant of her gone.

I have come to accept that it wasn't an intentional act of malice on his part. He was just being the practical, unsentimental father figure that he was, or that he thought he should be. But the reason for his actions doesn't matter. What matters is that she was gone.

When I walk into that closet now, I still think that I can faintly make out the familiar, mysterious scents. Part of me hopes that her clothes have found their way into the closets of women who share her same sense of passion, beauty, love, and generosity. Perhaps in my scouring of racks, I am hoping to discover some of what was taken away so abruptly.

All I know for sure is that the clothes themselves are immaterial to me now. It's the searching and remembering that remains.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I'd like to pay homage to the original Resurrection. No, not that original resurrection--I mean Resurrection Vintage on Mott Street. This is where I learned how to pronounce Azzedine Alaia and the value of a YSL dress in mint condition from the 70s. I worked there for a brief stint post college, and it was simultaneously wonderful and painful. Imagine working at a chocolate shop, salivating all day, and not getting a bite of the sweets. But despite the fact that even with my employee discount I couldn't afford one of their vintage belts (let alone a gown), it was a thrilling experience. My coworkers were somehow both severely cool and surprisingly kind and patient with me. (I was still naive enough to be brushing away visions of a tiny pink dog any time someone mentioned "Pucci.") Mostly my supervisor allowed me to perfect my vacuum-cleaning and garment-steaming skills while she gathered clothes for film shoots, but at the time it felt like a little slice of heaven to be surrounded by such stunning clothes.

On the one hand, the cost of vintage designer clothes can be so intimidating for someone like me, whose experience shopping vintage/thrift prior to Resurrection was at Salvation Army and Shark's, Wasteland and Goodwill. But on the other hand, there is no mistaking the craftsmanship and artistry in the pieces. I don't think it's too much of an overstatement to say that some of the garments are truly life-affirming objets d'art.

Though I couldn't imagine myself wearing an Alaia dress then--they really demand an hourglass figure and mine is more akin to an ironing board--the older I get (surprisingly) the more I appreciate the bold celebration of the body. That is exactly what these clothes do. They flatter and accentuate the body, and they boldly assert one's presence. Some of us may never have an hourglass figure (*sigh) but life is fleeting, our bodies temporal...why not fully accept, embrace, and celebrate what we have at the moment? From the girl just out of college that I was to the mother of two that I am today, there have been so many changes in my world and to my body. Every bit of those changes make me who I am today, and I am coming to understand that clothes are not to hide behind or make a statement with, but can be an unabashed celebration of who we are.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


At birth, we are cleaned, swaddled, fed, and embraced. And with each day that follows, these actions become daily rituals. We bathe, we dress, we seek nourishment and love--such basic needs, really. Yet love can be so elusive, can seem so complicated. Food and clothing so extremely opulent or tragically deprived, depending on one's circumstances. It's only natural to wonder how it must feel to experience either extremes.

Despite the fact that we have megastores for toiletries and more megastores for food, magazines telling us what to wear and how to look, and the same magazines telling us how to find love, and despite the commodification of nearly everything we hold sacred, it is a visceral sense of pleasure one gets when a basic need, a most instinctive desire, is satisfied.

To bathe, to dress, to seek nourishment and love...let's remember that these are not means to an end, but life itself.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Every so often, more often than not, I wish I were a doer. I mean, a capital "D" kind of doer. I think about farmers, bridge builders, midwives, surgeons, elderly-care providers...I think about all that they accomplish in a day and all the lives that they've touched, and then I think about my day.

As depressing as that can get, I am finally learning to accept the fact that I have always been and always will be a reflector. Perhaps not even a capital "R" kind of reflector, or a useful kind of reflector for a bike or sailboat, just a liberal arts major kind of reflector. But when we give ourselves a moment to breath, aren't we all? Aren't we all prone to analyze the world around us, and, in turn, wonder how the world around us shapes us and our view of ourselves?

Which finally brings me to clothes and to Cindy Sherman. It comes as no surprise that in Sherman's early photographic days she was a serious thrifter. Many of the clothes she collected she wore to further a mood, a character, a story. Of course she left plenty of room for interpretation. When I look at one of her photographs, my mind races to fill in the gaps. Who is this girl and what happened to her? What did she do? What was done to her?

I am always filling in the gaps. Whatever we may wear, however we may project ourselves, minds will race to fill in the gaps. Fortunately there is no right or wrong answer, just interpretation and fantasy.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Every story has a beginning, so shall we start with the present?

It's the new year, and today is the first day of my last month at my current job. Like many of my colleagues at our beloved (but dying) children's publishing house, I'm confused and sad, relieved and excited. There's nothing like the anticipation of an ending to sharpen one's focus on the present. Work is always emotional. But it's especially so now. I'm grateful though, because I am finally waking up to the emotional me and not the worker-bee me. Yes, it's 2 a.m. and I'm not asleep but finally waking up!

Perhaps it's fear of the unknown that draws me to the comfort of the past. Whatever the reason, here I am to share with you an old and undying love of mine: vintage. It sounds so trivial as I put the idea into digital pixels, but clothes have always fascinated me, and the stories behind the people who wear them, who once wore them, and who may one day share them can be endlessly exciting. I hope you enjoy this meandering sartorial documentary of sorts.

To start things off with a figurative beginning, I've posted one of the the most striking nude tableaus of our time. Courtesy of the lovely and legendary Pina Bausch, a true storyteller. Let's peel off all the layers and celebrate where it all begins: the body.