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?