Sunday, December 2, 2012


The phrase "I wish I..." comes to mind today, and everyday, really.

From as early as I can remember, "I wish I..." followed by a hopeful but wistful desire for something usually way beyond my reach was the first thing that would come to mind at the sight or thought of almost anything I perceived to be good or desirable or fascinating.

I wish I...

...could walk on the clouds. I wish I could touch a star. I wish I could fly to the moon. I wish I could have a brown pony and feed it carrots and apples and sugar cubes. I wish I could brush its hair. I wish I had silky, straight hair down to my waist. I wish I were better at hop scotch. I wish I could have that pink taffeta lace dress. I wish I could catch his attention. I wish I were sixteen....

And I'll stop there because as we get older the wishes seem to grow more and more questionable, intolerable, silly. They aren't in any way cute, but embarrassing confessions of stunted growth, unfulfilled desires, and lack of ambition or focus or both. Wishful thinking comes naturally to us during childhood, but an adult's wishful thinking draws sympathy or skepticism, and an internal voice that says "just do something--ONE thing--well and get over yourself."

Which brings me to the concept of an outlet. This came up in conversation twice yesterday. The first revolving around why it is that I am compelled to write in this blog, and feel pressure to hurry up and just get one post in before the month slips by, because it is nothing if not self serving. My partner responded that it is my outlet for expression. Hmmm...expression.... What is expression but unfulfilled desires manifest in the act of yearning? It seems to me a lot like adult wishful thinking. In the other instance a friend told me over dinner that she was planning a shopping trip to the outlets. I loved that. There's an outlet in the act of writing for expression and rumination. Then there's "the outlets" for shopping--and bargain shopping at that. Outlet stores are the temporary homes of overruns, unsold styles from last season, slightly ill-fitting or badly tailored runts of the pack. Those dresses, coats, shirts, pants, shoes, socks, belts, underwear, earrings, and ties that didn't make the cut, are on the fringes, castaways, and--lucky for us--bargain buys!

I just discovered via The New York Times the brilliant Maria Popova's Brain Pickings. Hours pouring over it and listening to TED talks and commencement speeches and list after list of inspirational wisdom was the motivation for this post, for sure. The one takeaway message: Do what you love to do. The second takeaway message: Create. And the third, like Madonna said so well: Express Yourself. Like most thirty-somethings who every two years or so tries to come to grips with our life's purpose, I am finding that in a small way this blog is like a piece in the puzzle of a life full of wishful thinking. It is an outlet for those castaway thoughts that don't make it into my day to day functions as an adult attempting to play the role of a responsible, assured adult. I like the idea that even if these thoughts are half-formed, half-baked, not altogether wholly presentable in a legitimate, sophisticated way, there's a little space for them. A temporary home where they patiently, hopefully await a new owner.

(Photo: At my desk, George Sweaters lambswool cashmere finish sweater with beaded details made in Hong Kong, bought at the Alameda Antique Fair.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Costume Couture

Feeling a bit like a zombie yesterday morning during my usual mundane, unglamorous commute to work, I was grateful to find myself stirred awake by the Monsters versus Sexy Nurses debate in The New York Times Opinion Pages. The contributors touch upon the role of role-playing during Halloween, our fascination with dressing up in costumes of the zombie or sexy feline variety, and the significance of attire and painted or exposed flesh to help us confront death or attempt to defy it. I was reminded of the utterly intoxicating and revolutionary Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the de Young, and the trio of garments that reveal what is beneath the skin. This sequins-embellished bodysuit in particular so boldly yet elegantly maps the heart and veins of a human body, and is the perfect combination of the macabre and the sublime, of the body as a network of pulsing blood and organs and as inherently sexual and divine. Fashion might be many things to many people, but at its foundation is a pure enchantment with the body--the awe of it, the strength and the vulnerability of it, the beauty and the temporal nature of it. I can't say that I am inclined to join the zombie or sexy nurse camp, but I am intrigued by all the possibilities in how we adorn our bodies, what that says about who we are and how we limit or amplify our own self-expression, and how we choose to live in our skin. As unadventurous as I am during this time of year, I can say that I am squarely in the Gaultier camp and, given the chance, would put this risque beauty on in a heartbeat.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Feathers, Fog, Fur, Fluff

The bad thing about this time of year is that you catch colds and can't pull yourself out of bed, let alone think coherent thoughts that can be put into words. The good thing about this time of year is that the fog and the cold weather reminds you that you love all things soft, fluffy, furry, and feathery.

Wellco shoes from Mercy Vintage Now, my new favorite vintage shop in Oakland.

It's hard to resist a sweater with puffed sleeves, a feathered collar, and a keyhole neckline.... From Chick-a-Boom Vintage in Petaluma.

San Francisco under fog as seen from the Bay Bridge.

There is something very satisfying about staying in and cozying up in a faux fur coat with a good book and a cup of camomile tea...then slinking back into bed.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Happy Birthday Extravaganza

Happy Birthday to someone dear and special whom I love! Happy Birthday to me this month! Inspired (hypnotized?) after spending precious, irretrievable hours pouring over Anna Dello Russo's crazy ridiculous bedazzling blog, lured by her extravagant style and fashion philosophy, watching more ADR dance videos and ADR mugging for the camera than anyone can rightly justify, I find myself compelled to share this very apropos birthday cake gif. Sugared roses! Flickering candles! So ridiculous and retro but mesmerizing. It is that absurd fascination that kept me scrolling down and down and down....until I discovered this gem of a testament among all the bewildering ADRisms.... This is number 6 from her "10 Top Rules for Your Closet":

6. In front of a dress to KILL or to KEEP,
ask yourself:
future generations ‘ll want to see it?

Your cabinet must follow
the GEOLOGY’s criteria:
the older stones are to be on the bottom,
the younger eras must be layered on top.
In your closet’s SECTION you can
read the HISTORY of fashion.

I love the idea of putting a dress through the stylistic test of time. Would I still cherish this twenty years from now? Would I pass this down to my daughter? More importantly, would she want to inherit it? And I especially adore the concept of organizing one's closet by era. Excavating, re-evaluating, purging, reshuffling.... For someone who fantasizes about one day becoming an old granny with purple hair and a filled-to-the-brim consignment shop, this is a revelation. Why wait to own a vintage boutique when you can start the chronological timeline in your own closet?

Admittedly, regretfully, there aren't a lot of colors or bedazzled jewels or extravagant statement pieces in my closet. Anna would no doubt die of boredom, preferring to torch the site than to examine it piece by piece like a more patient archaeologist might. But history? Absolutely. Some of that history might be dead weight just waiting to be obliterated. But others are buried and neglected treasures waiting to see the light of day again. And then there's the emotional history that will resurface with an excavation of the closet: the old blue-and-white turtleneck sweater from a long winter in New York (sentiments forgotten but clinging on by the thread); the paisley dress worn once for a sister's gorgeous wedding in the hills (bittersweet memories of the now-distant past); the never-worn but perfect-fitting LBD that will be lovely to slip into on a warm L.A. evening (history on the verge of being made...). And still, always, somehow...there is room for more. Another birthday, another year, another dress to kill or keep, another stone inching its way down the pile and a new one triumphantly taking its place. I definitely have my share of old stones to unearth and reexamine.

But first, let us eat birthday cake! Maybe in a few more birthdays from now someone will find a way to make scratch-and-sniff, puffy-sticker versions of cake gifs. Now that would be very retro.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Scallops and Skin

I am a devout follower of Orangette--I must have made this banana bread (or some version of it) easily over a dozen times; I feel extremely lucky to have a sister who buys oats in cafeteria-worthy quantities to make and share this divine olive oil and maple granola; and I have recently added these bouchons au thons to my arsenal of quick dishes worthy of impressing both a certain French monsieur as well as two especially finicky little eaters.

Yet it wasn't until I read the chapter "Bonne Femme" in A Homemade Life, where Molly of Orangette describes a mother-daughter gastronomical trip to Lyon to discover the varied delights of bouchons, that I thought to connect the dots between food and my mother and this blog. I realize I've written plenty about my mother--her clothes, her style, her immortalized youth and beauty, and her huge influence on me--without really scratching the surface of who she was. The glaring omission being, of course, her love of food. And trying to describe my fascination with vintage and my mother's own sense of style without talking about the flesh and bone of our bodies is like staring at a tantalising parade of plastic sushi without ever getting a taste of the real thing.

But first--about those Lyonnais bouchons.... Restaurants of this variety still serve up dishes similar to that which their seventeenth and eighteenth century precursors did--a type of cooking called cuisine de bonne femme, hearty comfort food (think "lots of pork, lots of offal, and lots of wine") that goes by the motto, "Waste not, want not." I love that concept. It nicely sums up the way I feel about hunting for vintage treasures. When an undeniably exquisite pair of, say, size eight-and-a-half vintage brown suede shoes materializes before my eyes, it concocts a perfect storm of indulgence and practicality--it's vintage! It's my size! It needs a home!

My mother, too, could have lived by that motto. With seven kids, she was never one to waste. Moreover, she was never shy about her appetite. She seemed to have a special fondness for anything that called for slurping and sucking and smacking one's lips--needless to say she loved shellfish and tender meat falling off at the bone. She loved my father's cooking--especially his annual crab feasts, his barbequed pork, his "birthday" chicken, and his pork shoulder and winter melon soup. She relished in dim sum and banquets with large families at large tables with lazy Susans the width of a large kiddie pool. She proudly procured pink boxes of pastries to go with afternoon tea when relatives from Australia or Hong Kong were in town. She had a soft spot--as all her children do--for steaming bowls of won-ton noodle soup or fish congee on lazy Sunday mornings. And though she didn't herself cook much, she was the Queen of Eggs--achieving to the delight of her kids the perfect combination of crispy-edged and runny-centered sunny-side-up eggs, of fluffy and moist scrambled eggs, and of firm yet highly dunkable soft-boiled eggs.

When I think about the clothes she wore, it's hard to separate their form from the vivacious body that once inhabited them. She carried her blouses, her mid-length skirts, her occasional furs, even her shoulder-padded blazers with grace--not because they were expensive or extravagant items but because in my childhood eyes she was a gorgeous woman of the flesh. Her passion for life was as evident in her rapacious appetite as it was in her bursting closet. As a young girl I couldn't think of anything better than to observe my mother as she prepared herself for an evening out--an outing sure to involve meats and sweets and good things to drink. I loved to watch from her bed as she considered what to wear, dressed quickly, and settled at the vanity to brush her hair, spritz on perfume, and swipe on red lipstick.

Today, I occasionally catch my six-year-old daughter watching me in the same way. And although I'm far from perfect in her eyes, she still views her mum with some pretty heavily tinted rose-colored glasses. I often wish I could see my own mother without those glasses on--I'm sure it would ground me in many ways. But there is little time to regret, and so much to be grateful for and to take in. When I'm not too busy rushing myself or hurrying the kids, I like to spritz on a bit of perfume and swipe on my lipstick. Sometimes I even give Sonia's cheeks an almost invisible stroke of blush. It's gratifying to find nourishment--indulgence, really--in what we have, rather than dwell on what we lack. Yes, I think "Waste not, want not" truly is my new favorite motto.

(Photos: scalloped lace J.Crew top from Chris in Nob Hill; Sesto Meucci suede heels from Alameda Flea)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Summer Colors

It's summer. I'm so busy. So many birthdays to celebrate, so many people in and out of town, so many pregnant friends to visit, and so many beautiful babies being born. It's a glorious, colorful time of year. And the kids and I are literally basking in the sun, enjoying ourselves in that happy-go-lucky but insanely packed with activities summertime way (in between fights and meltdowns and long lines for gelato). My life right now is feeling a bit like this collection of shoes--jam packed, delightfully varied, verging on chaotic, and remarkably sublime. 

(Photo taken at the Treasure Island Flea)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

What Goes Around

(marble bust of Mary Robinson by David d'Angers, 1824)

Nearly fifteen years after I first read about the sprawling concrete museum at the top of a hill, vowing I would visit and anticipating the six-hour journey down, the ritualistic tram ride up, I finally found myself at the Getty, under circumstances entirely unanticipated but filled with that sense of deja vu that strikes me when it's warm with a light, cool breeze; when early evening holds on tight to that last, sumptuous light of day; and when architecture, sky, land, and water come together harmoniously to inspire and reassure. It might be awe, love, reverence, illumination, joy...maybe all of the above. Whatever it is, it makes me hyper aware of the present while vaguely recalling memories or imaginations of the past.

Fifteen years--studies and travels, marriage and children, love and heartbreak, sickness and health, dissolution and resurrection--how quick the passage of time. At nineteen, "thirty-something" sounded eons away. At nineteen, who would have guessed that life could possibly ever do anything so mundane as to get in the way? But here I was, finally, for the first time, nearly fifteen years later, at the monumental Getty Center, with company that was new yet strangely and exceptionally familiar. Despite change, some things stoically and reassuringly stay the same, and we occasionally find ourselves reawakened to a part of us that has never really gone away.


What I'm getting at really is a roundabout intro to discussing fashion's revival of the updo. Gorgeously carved into marble almost two centuries ago by Pierre-Jean David d'Angers are the likenesses of Ann Buchan Robinson and her daughter Mary, both sporting breathtaking updos that, according to the Getty's accompanying object labels (and not off the top of my head--absolutely no pun intended), demonstrate the stylized refinement common to early-nineteenth-century Neoclassical art.

And today, when the trend is full-force long, wavy locks or sleek, ironed straightness (my own locks are at their very lengthiest, unruliest, and, admittedly, all-too-often subjected to a scorching hot iron) some of us would like to go against the stream and bring back the elegant least in an ironic, early-twenty-first century Postmodern sort of way.... W just recently wrote about the phenomenon here. I'm all for it. In fact, what better way to get that long, unruly hair out of my face but to put it into a strategically (or, in my case, an inevitably) tousled topknot?

(bust of Ann Buchan Robinson, 1831)

I loved coming across this mother and daughter sculptural duo. As Mother's Day approaches and I think about my own daughter's lovely hair (it is soft and silky and the polar opposite of mine), and this day two centuries ago, and this day another century from now...I am reminded of my six-year-old's preoccupation and coming to terms with the cycle of life and death and my own view of the cyclical nature of life and emotions and fashion. In an effort to comfort my daughter, I liken the end of life to roses wilting and making way for baby rosebuds. But I realize I've only been painting part of the picture, entirely neglecting to acknowledge the decomposing petals, the roots, the particles of water mixing with the air, sun, and dirt. Like roses, like topknots, like the sentiments of our nineteen-year-old selves, everything comes back eventually. Or perhaps nothing ever entirely goes away, instead waiting for the right moment to resurface.

I feel I could launch into a pseudo-serious lecture about our perceptions of good karma and justice and bad karma and blame, and how that all relates to the current state of my life and, of course, to fashion, but that's a topic for another post.... For now, let's just leave it at the cyclical (figure "8" even!) nature of The Hair Bow, courtesy of the talented ladies at Vena Cava.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

spotty, spots, polka dots

polka dot

1. one of a pattern of small circular regularly spaced spots on a fabric
2. a fabric or pattern with such spots

1. a rounded mark or stain made by foreign matter, as mud, blood, paint, ink, etc.; a blot or speck.
2. something that mars one's character or reputation; blemish; flaw.


1. full of, having, or occurring in spots: spotty coloring.
2. irregular or uneven in quality or character: a spotty performance.
2. erratic, random, sporadic, episodic.

I've been longing for a way to write about polka dots, a way to express their visual impression on me, without sounding frivolous and silly and childish. Polka dots evoke youth and a carefree beauty reminiscent of flamenco and 80s prom dresses (adorable and coveted items in my book, by the way). But there's also something more about polka dots that is pleasing to the eyes in the way that looking out at a beautiful landscape or staring up into the night sky filled with twinkling stars is. Which brings me to my dreamy and moody take on polka dots....

Leave it to me to take something simple and cute and girly and make it serious, weighty, and sad. (I'm such a damper sometimes, I know.) A special, sweet friend of mine whose command of English is sometimes more endearing than accurate referred to polka dots as "spots." They are spots, really. Many of them and in uniformity, usually. And so, naturally, I looked up the words in the dictionary to search for their antonyms and synonyms. To my heavy heart's delight I am now able to "connect the dots" between my obsession with polka dots and my damper's view of the world as irregular, unreliable, flawed, and random. Sometimes life can be so consistent and good, or consistent and mundane but reliable in a good way. Other times it is erratic and messy and episodic. One day we are innocent, childish, beautiful, and worthy. Another day we might feel flawed, insignificant, unreputable, and small. Someone lovely who is here today may be gone tomorrow. Such is life. Such is polka dots. Beautiful and spotty and reassuring and mysterious as the night sky.

(Photos: YSL shoes from Treasure Island Flea; 1930s polka-dotted red bolero from Roads Less Travelled; 1940s peter-pan polka-dotted blouse from my favorite sellers at TIF.)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A poignant indicator of the passage of good things

Like certain people, there are those special places you come across in life that hit you in the heart like a ton of bricks (in the best possible sense) and leave you bleary-eyed in love, in lust, and in awe of the unbearable beauty and simplicity of good things. And when that happens, when that first impression is made, it's like walking on air, bathing in sunshine, feeling ticklish inside from a glass of champagne. I recently experienced this giddy head-over-heels crush over a venue at the inviting little gem that is FOOD+LAB in West Hollywood. The heart-fork-plate-knife-happy face logo pretty much sums up the vibe of this place, and the vibe you get upon leaving it. Not to mention the delicious food. Mmmmmm, the food...and the sweet teas and chocolates and homemade caramels.

But perhaps what left the biggest impression on me was, upon my exit, coming across the b&w photo postcard of the mother-and-son owners. He as a wide-eyed infant and she as a stunning, smoky-eyed model and new mom. The photo said everything: it encapsulated beauty, love, life, and time. It made me think about what remains despite the passage of time: style, grace, and passion. And I left with a postcard and my bag of goodies, thinking about this treasure of a place and motherhood and infancy and food and love. I knew I would not be back for a while, but I was comforted just to know that such a lovely place exists.

Coming back home to Berkeley, I continued to visit my favorite local spots. This one in particular had charmed its way into my heart and pulled me back for more...

and more...

and more....

Until it closed its doors two days ago and left this devastating note for its many lovers:

Cafe Fanny--also something of a mother-child affair as twenty-eight years ago Alice Waters named both the cafe and her newborn daughter after the heroine of Marcel Pagnol's Marseilles triology--with its intimate space, delicious poached eggs on toast, the best granola on Straus Family Creamery yogurt, and, of course, the cafe au laits, was a treasure trove of yumminess and warmth and fond memories that held a special place in my heart. Most recently I've been bringing my daughter there for cocoa and a bite of muffin or cookie before school. Her favorite treat was the lavendar chocolate chip cookies. My favorite treat: the time spent there, in cozy quarters and good company.

It's hard to say exactly why I feel the need to write about this--about my new cafe love and my former one--here in this place dedicated to clothes and vintage. Surely it has something to do with the arresting photo of Esther Linsmayer looking like a chic Madonna figure in a black cashmere sweater, with her darling baby, Nino, leaning into her cheek with total abandon. And the thought of Alice and her own daughter, and the influential role of Pagnol's epic tale of desire and romance on the foundation of a beloved cafe that is suddenly and tragically no longer.

Mostly, I'm reminded that nothing we love is forever. It's such a hard lesson...knowing that something exquisite is gone, accepting that temporal pleasures pass. In a way though, isn't every act of love and falling in love a belief in the good things that are and that might be, and a testament to the good things that have come before?

A cette pauvre, Cafe Fanny. Thank you for the opportunity to fall head-over-heels in love.

(Photo: b&w is by Food+Lab)

Sunday, February 5, 2012


I so often dwell on the bittersweet or morose. For a change I thought I would post a few photos of some lovely items I saw today that are simply delightful--and not anything more to analyze or get heart-achy over. There's nothing like a gorgeous, sunny day, a view of the San Francisco skyline, all the time in the world to spare, lovely aunties to help keep the little ones (somewhat) at bay, and salivating over antiques and vintage to bring joy to the soul. Enjoy!

Colored glass, elegant and timeless:

Looking closer, finding motifs:

Coral, spiky and sculptural:

Miu Miu, red velvet. Need I say more?

(Photos: All items from the Alameda Point Antiques Faire)

Thursday, January 26, 2012


These past two months, if lacking in warmth and exceedingly cruel as winters can be (yes even in the sunny East Bay, winters can be excessively harsh for some of us, certainly emotionally), have at least been visually generous: Pina Bausch's Danzon at the Zellerbach, with its girls giddily sucking on oranges, dresses taken on and off and on and off again, and large-screen goldfish/male-dancer duets; Hugo and clock towers, trains and train stations and people in train stations...and, of course, Georges Méliès film clips and their stunning reproductions; the Francesca Woodman retrospective at the SFMOMA, and all the eerie beauty and the steely strength in the vulnerability of nudity, vintage dresses, the dead, decaying, and the ghostly. All of the beauty and sadness swirling around in my head but never landing, never really making complete narrative sense but all of it making an impression.

And as January is full of birthday celebrations--my mother's, my daughter's, my niece's, MLK Jr's (my daughter said that Martin Luther King Jr "was shot in the head by a bad guy" and that he "is the most important person in the world" and also that "he's lucky because even though he died we celebrate his birthday...when I die will you keep celebrating my birthday?"--god, she's morbid like her mom)--it is also full of commemorations (my mother's, MLK Jr's). And so I think about the potential of the present but also about the opposite of celebration and that is mourning. Mourning for the past, mourning for those we have lost and the things we are, maybe, at any moment, just about to lose.

So I take refuge in seeking meaning in art. And seeing patterns in art and in life somehow makes the unknowable more tolerable, because at least I know someone at some point must have experienced this very emotion and made something beautiful out of it, or at least expressed that emotion and so validated it. Like the V's in Woodman's photographs of bent arms and colliding stripes, my hand-knit (not by me) blue sweater reassures me with its tassels and "V" motif. I mean--tassels. They make life at least seem richer and more elegant. Even when they simply dangle on dusty curtains they instantly give the room a more regal/fancy air in their excessiveness and silliness. I guess with my head stuck in thoughts of the cycle of life, death, celebration and mourning, the frivolous tassels, like hiccups on the road, make life not so awfully serious for an all-grown-up person like me who deals with not very fun grown-up affairs on a winter's evening.

(Photo: Knitted by Hand Jamie Scott sweater from Mars Mercantile)