Friday, July 21, 2017

RIP KJL

Kenneth Jay Lane was a jewelry designer. I can't say I love his work across the board - I can't say I seek his pieces when I am browsing jewelry on eBay (which I do a LOT, just for fun). But his line in the article here struck me: "Our jewelry is designed for people who want to be noticed."

On my first day at my previous job, I wore a necklace my mom had given me at some point. I didn't know who'd made it, and never wore it often (I still don't; it's a heavy piece), but I always thought it was special. I wear it when I want something even a little more profound than a Pop of Color.

My friend Cute Shoes took a look at the new admin, and the way I was dressed (simple navy dress, big bold necklace) and decided there might be something to this chick.

Never trivialize fashion, clothes, style. And never forget that you are always visible - but you can punch up your visibility, without a doubt.

She told me about that first impression early in our friendship, and a few years later she even found the necklace herself, trolling eBay in the same way I do. Hers even had the original box, and earrings! I think that was when I even learned who designed the piece at all.



The other association I have with KJL is one of those elusive things I saw once, looking at a particularly large search result on eBay - a big, chunky necklace which wasn't even really my style ... but which had the single best copy of one of Childeric's Bees that I have ever seen. I recall being tempted to buy it, and kicking myself when I didn't. So, ever since, whenever I'm bored and happen to do a KJL search, that is what I am looking for. The bee that got away.

There is plenty of bee jewelry to be had on the 'Bay. Joan Rivers had a big line in bees, and I own at least one - a gift from Cute Shoes, one I just love. But KJL's bee was more like the stylized, possibly fleur-de-lys-prototype bee so famously excavated in 1653. And he has done s-necklaces that recall royal collars of office, and clearly he enjoyed playing with history in his designs, not merely shape - but story. And that is what attracts me in true couture fashion - the way it harks, intentionally, to history. Fashion and design are at their pinnacle when they are SMART - not just "smart".

And I could care less that Jackie O wore his work.

I care that Cute Shoes noticed when I did.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Collection

A drag queen('s) ... identity is created, but no more so than the identity that each and every one of us have created for ourselves.

Nietzschean realness, y'all.

***

I have a question. Do I TELL my mom, who still clings to the last very few pills she has of Darvoset N (not available on the American market - or, possibly, anywhere at all - for decades now), that she was right all along? I made her throw out my 1986 Rx for Percodan at least a dozen years ago, when she was getting rid of things before marrying my stepfather and moving to his home. Did we destroy precious relics?

I think maybe no. I won't tell her. But still, pretty interesting science (and worth the clicks beyond for a wider view of the expense of medical waste). Maybe mom and I should have invited some researchers over when we threw out those painkillers. TEO's father, a pharmacist, may be spinning in his grave ...

***

Something of a different kind of archaeology here:

The Museum of Modern Art on somewhat less-modern art installations. Oh my gosh, this is such a cool confluence of several of my pet obsessions. Art, conservation/preservation, technology, the questions of relevance and impermanence, and - for me perhaps the most absorbing part - a detailed look at the process of resurrecting art by way of old tech. One of the most interesting aspects of this is that the installation in question isn't completely being brought out of its old medium by reproducing it digitally, and the driving force in reinvigorating the pieces is reversibility. The guts of the original computer code take us into a rather wonderful and tense procedural - "the elegant motions of the robotics". A lesson in writing - how to build tension! Stay tuned for the payoff.

(There is a small amount of male nudity at the link, in case that is an issue.)

***

Ever since Blogger inexplicably chose to redesign the dashboard so as to hide the Reading List of blogs I follow and reduce the view of information that used to be easily available, I've been poor about, you know, FOLLOWING the blogs I follow. One of the least-posted ones is also a very good one, Madame Isis' Toilette, which posts detailed beauty tricks and recipes, as well as sewing, mostly for the 18th century. Recently, several of Madame's 2013 posts have popped up on my Reading List ... here is a SPLENDID one:

The recipe for Queen's Royal - and, far more interestingly, a varied consideration of what the stuff was for! Her first positing post on the matter is here. One point worth noting in the first link I point to (her second post) is that she questions a clove-and-cinnamon heavy recipe's use as a lice repellant. But y'all regular readers here know - American Duchess has actually noted the specific use of clove for this very purpose, and even today, it is suggested as a natural mosquito repellant (please note: research is inconclusive on any uses noted at this last link; I include it as a demonstration of known USAGE, not as any kind of recommendation).

Critical reading, folks. It's a good idea, and I'm not excepting this blog from that standard.

***

And here is some critical Googling. I did an image search on Kamala Harris, because though I've heard her testimony of late, and know WHO she is, I wasn't sure I had a face to put to her name, and ... this is what I found:


Image: Google screen-grab
PLEASE embiggen this.



Yes, folks, the most important aspect of an image of a United States Senator is: her body. After that, because she is after all a woman, it's mostly family relationships. "Senator" is not among the categories Google has seen fit to choose for her. Not even "Politics" or her home state, constituency. Nothing but traditional feminine roles.

First and foremost comes her body. (And let us not even get started on the latest news in assessing women's bodies. Again.)

For comparison, a Google image search for John McCain falls thusly: Family, POW, Arms, Wife, ISIS. His body and his family do come into play, but then John McCain's body is very much in the news this morning, and the attention to it is largely born of his status as a former POW - not his sexual charms as a man. Possibly his cancer will change the labels above. And that is not ALL there is to see about him. On the other side of the aisle, Bernie Sanders yields: Quotes, Family, 2016, Socialist, and Bird. His body is clearly a source of amusement, but it comes in last, and again nobody's concerned with his physical appeal.


I would say this qualifies as Nietzschean UNrealness.

***

The final point made, I should also add that in fact my prayers are with Sen. McCain and his friends and family.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Voice Crush

A man's voice has always been one of those things I find deeply attractive. Many people these days go for Benedict Cumberbatch, and I will say, I understand how he's become the thinking person's crumpet. But when he speaks, frankly, I just hear a smoker's voice. It's got more fry than a man his age perhaps ought to have, and is so dry there are times I wonder about the quality of his breath.

For my idea of a classic Englishman's voice: Tim Curry. Much more velvet there. And who ever had a finer sneer? American? Frank Langella, of course. He doesn't even bother sneering.

But the voice I love most is Peter Egan. Perhaps not so well known by many Americans, I first "met" this actor in the BBC historicals I grew up with (introduced by Alistair Cooke). The first one was "Lillie" - and his performance here still all but makes me cry (minute 41). Yes, it's a claustrophobic costume showcase, yes it's basically only the story of a popular girl getting by on her looks. (Francesca Annis, though, is splendid in it.) But Egan's turn as Oscar Wilde is THE best Wilde I have ever seen - and, indeed, I do include Stephen Fry's go at the role.

There is something about Peter Egan's use of his breath that creates some sort of sympathetic response, and I find myself squeezing at oxygen when he plays intense emotion, precisely because he does it so quietly ... but his breath is attenuated and silent and desperate, and it brings me to the place he is portraying. No bombast, no effort. He just has that Thing.

And that Thing, he emanates in his breath. His voice.



Watching him read aloud, I suddenly recognize something else - something itself pretty resonant with me.

Without resembling him, without sounding like him really at all - Peter Egan's cadence, even the way he moves, looking at the book and looking up, making some small gesture - reminds me powerfully of my dad.

Dad was a teacher. As much as any actor in the world, the great job of a teacher is to communicate. To build the sympathy of *understanding*.

Without, perhaps, admitting I have for decades been a bit in love with Peter Egan: I would say, at least, that he is a consummate builder of sympathy.

And seriously: that voice. You could NUZZLE with that voice.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Daytime-ization

Not too long ago, I said I was going to do a post about the twentieth century transformation of evening and formal textiles/jewels into day wear. The idea is one I've cogitated on for many years, not as a blog post, but in a more philosophical sense. I was reading one of Ann Rice's Lestat novels, probably Queen of the Damned, in which he had awoken to the modern world and observed how everyone now had access to glimmering clothes and finery. Written in the 80s, and read by me in the 90s, the idea did stick with me - that we had an abundance of riches, in the modern world, which were unreachable in centuries past.

A little age, education, and experience puts a great deal of perspective on the equation of flimsy acetate with cloth-of-gold. But the point of abundance is not quite negated, and the point that we're a flashier lot these days holds pretty firm.

As much as I rail against the idea that humanity has "evolved" (oh, and the semantics baggage in that word) from stupidity and filth into any new-and-improved form, it doesn't do to deny we've invented a whole lot of stuff. Good and bad. But production is a different question than quality - see also, the difference between centuries-old handmade cloth of gold and mass manufactured lame or acetate of any variety of shiny-ness, boldness, etc.

And so we turn to quality, and the evolution of its usage.


As a younger lady, I was addicted to Miss Manners. Sure, what she actually had to say was always splendid, but the real draw was her writing. Like Roger Ebert (with whose movie reviews I almost *never* agreed), I read her columns faithfully, because she could express ideas with eloquent insight. AND so often the ideas were something much more than answers to straightforward questions.

One of the more concrete things you can learn from the study of etiquette is the language of gems. Like the language of flowers, certain stones denote certain implications, not all of which have to do with the months of our births.

All this may seem very quaint and perhaps romantic to many people, but the value and magic of nonverbal communication never dies. We just find different ways to do it.

It was the concrete rules of dress that laid the groundwork for the somewhat more subjective messages sent by what we wore - and when. Ask a fan.

And so it was: there was a time diamonds would never have been worn during the daytime. In the evening, they conferred elegance, glamour, and conspicuous consumption upon the wearer, but during the day, anyone in any glittering gem (pearls and I believe mourning jet were acceptable; if anyone knows more than I, I'd love your comments!!) was nothing but gauche. Display had rules. Getting the rules wrong only demonstrated someone's ignorance of wealth, but probably what we now call "trying too hard" (if not, worse, actual depravity).

Then diamond engagement rings became de rigueur, and the rules began to shift.

Certain necklines were acceptable only in the evening as well, and dress followed the appropriateness of the hour of the day, the age of the wearer, their status and station (see above), and the activities they had afoot. Morning dress, riding habits, low gowns, certain hats.

Oh, hats. There is a wonderful fun bit in one of the early episodes of "Are You Being Served", iterating the acceptable hat styles for various levels of employee at Grace Brothers department store. Bowlers are right out, unfortunately, for Captain Peacock, a floor walker - higher in status than the sales staff, but not so high as manager Mister Rumbold.

And yet, a bowler suits Peacock ever so well.

Another fine scene involves the proper fluffing of a pocket handkerchief.

These things matter, was the issue - and big issues they were, even so late as the 1970s. It wasn't so long ago. Mrs. Slocombe might wear any color hair she desired - but Captain Peacock needed dispensation to sport that bowler.


For a look at an encapsulated moment in the timeline of women's fashion, watch seasons one and two of the American show, "Remington Steele". Most famous for bringing Pierce Brosnan onto the Hollywood scene, what tends to be forgotten now about this series is the driving "sit" of this particular com, which was that a woman in 1982 presuming to act as a private investigator was so utterly outre' she had to invent: "a decidedly masculine superior." Hijinks ensued, and a jolly good heartthrob I still don't mind taking a gander at.

In season one of the show, Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist), our inventress, spends an interesting amount of time in hats. Fedoras in particular. She heads to a horse farm wearing a more tweedy ensemble (and woolen cap), but more than one episode sees her costumed almost for one of the old movies Steele constantly invokes as they follow their cases. But she's not costumed like the femmes fatale of these classics; she is modeled more on Sam Spade - or even Columbo. Structured tailoring, subdued colors, sturdy textiles. And always covered. She presents entirely feminine, but her character design still does not flutter nor blush. Even her most spangled evening wear (and spangles there are) speak to power, to her skill in the work she does and the refusal to become a conquest, even as most eps end in breathless kisses in the early going.

The upshot is a woman in "a man's world" - demanding respect and commanding authority.

Season two plays up, in every possible aspect, the Bondian parallels (we will not point to aspirations on Brosnan's part) of HIS character. And hers shows up in shorts and bathing suits rather suddenly. The season premiere is a lesson in what producers felt they had on their hands, and even all but cops the famous Bond theme music.

The good news is, Laura Holt is not reduced to being a Bond girl, but the contrast in production design - in costume design - captures something else of the time. By season three, she's almost always sporting elaborately swirling hairstyles - more Gibson Girl than Big 80s Hair, but still a notable change from our introduction to the character, who only got Gibson for special occasions, and not even all of those.

Even in 1982, as realistic as it was to portray a female lead in need of an imaginary man to make it in business, the fact was, women's place in American society was not quite what it had been years before, when the series was actually conceived (1969).

So, season two. They stopped presenting Laura in the clothes of male private detectives partially because the series changed in tone - and because she had nice legs and so forth - but also because women overall were becoming a little less likely, even then, to package themselves mannishly in order to make it. A little.

Fast forward a couple of years, and we have Maddie Hayes in "Moonlighting" - conceptually similar on several counts, and trying to push even farther. Hayes hardly ever wears anything but brights, in silky fabrics, and always with heels. (Note that Cybill Shepherd famously rebelled against heels, herself.) The fact that this character (and Shepherd) was a former model provided the excuse for the frippery, and the sexual tension in "Moonlighting" was if anything even more prominent than that in RS, but the difference in the female leads' outfitting was fundamental.

Women didn't just gain knees in the early 80s. Take a look at the textiles I mention. From Laura Holt to Maddie Hayes hardly represents all womankind by a long shot (pretty, young, white), but the fashions on these shows make an interesting microcosmic study of the decade. Because Hayes' fashion actually WAS a bit like what we were seeing in the real world. Jacquard silk drop-waist/slim-skirt dresses DID get very popular. My mom wore a baby pink chiffon dress like this for my 1993 wedding.

Following this advent/onslaught of affordable, light, silk or faux silk dresses, I recall a big surge in men's short-sleeved silk shirts, sometimes with mandarin collars. Beloved Ex wore this look well, and I had silk right down to a pair of *pants* in the material, and many long scarves did dedicated duty as belts. In the early 2000s, the light men's shirts of this sort were still on tap with Mr. X as well. This is the transition of a sort of evening fabric firmly into the daylight.

Belts - we got to like showy little belts in the 80s. Skinny gave way to more cummerbund sizes (that scarf wrapped around me twice, back then), and even leather belts were soft, wide, and more and more sash-like. Buckles became increasingly jewelry-like. And then rhinestones crept off buckles and into our workaday earrings, even onto shoes. BLING burgeoned. There are reasons even that word gained the traction it did, when it did.

And more evening daringness made its way into our days.

(Notoriously, of course, many people's hair got excessive. I can't pretend guiltlessness in this, but I did fail Clue-Catchers 101. In some things, it is good to be a slacker.)



Another thing that burgeoned in the 80s was designer labels. It's hard to overstate the nature of this change to anyone who hasn't lived on both sides of the designer era. And this, too, is something of an evening concept brought through the rest of the day. I had heard of  a "Halston gown" when I was little, but nobody was wearing specific-maker-anything in the 70s during the day, to speak of.

In the 70s, it was in fact just weird to wear a shirt that advertised its maker. We'd gotten some memo or other, about a thing called "designer jeans" - but it took the Reagan 80s to cement product placement in our wardrobes. In my world, knowing about Aigner and Izod led almost faster than we realized, to the Hilfiger style revolution still with us, in which everything from sunglasses to purses to jewelry and clothing are logo'd, and that's actually desirable.

(Not so much with me, but that is another day's rant.)

And then came the body parts formerly reserved for special occasions. Grrl Power midriffs have given way by now to "cold shoulder" and side-boob/side/butt, but it is still conceived as special to show the nighttime bits during the day. (Even though this isn't really new, in 20th century terms and thanks to humanity's chronological myopia, it was.) Statement Necklaces and ever-expanding eyebrows ("called it!!") came in after giant implants and fake tans with frost lipstick. Even minimalism seeks a certain boldness. More than the workaday.

And, along with wearing chiffon tops in the middle of any ordinary day, the very textiles we are dressed in are ever more ephemeral, which makes an interesting counterpoint to the perception of ever more "glamour" in their deployment. When clothes are meant to be trashed six months out, can they really be all that elegant ... ?


Things don't change, not really - but our deployment of them keeps us thinking we are brand new.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Collection

Because I need MORE painfully addicting things to read online (don't we all - not): random history; how about the history of hookless fasteners? Because - neato! What's nice about this site is that the research is solid. Not perfect (the history of wigs calls Elizabeth I Mary Queen of Scots' "predecessor", which is an imprecise use of a term with specific implications - and in another article it discusses flour used as wig powder, which we all know was Not a Thing, thanks to American Duchess, right?), but above average for online history, and sources are included, which is great for research AND history dorks!

Image: Wikipedia, of course
(Original? No, but I hate to be a thief!)

One of the great pieces of received wisdom in the United States is that fat people in poverty are chubbier because they eat so darn much fast food. Challenging one angle of the theory that poor people eat more poorly - it is in fact the middle class who eat the most fast food. That said, differences across the board, demographically-speaking, are not wide in the U.S. The findings seems functionally obvious to me; those of us who spend the most time in cube farms live lives all but tailored to eat McFud the most. I keep this to a minimum, but there ARE times it's just easy. (But no: I have not had fast food during the past three weeks ...) The click beyond: on the possible ineffectiveness of fast-food bans in lower income areas. Because, really? Fast food is NOT actually cheap. Hmm.

American independence and personal responsibility for being poor. This is quite a good read, one that de-fuses emotion and contextualizes things in a way Americans don't always stop to do. Poverty is not a static, unchanging state; we move in and out of it (I have myself). And its victims do not have the control we as a nation like to ascribe to each of our individualist individuals.

Many may have read about Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, who was arrested in Michigan for performing FGM/C (a good interview, and explanation of the nomenclature here). A quote at the first link - "The practice has no place in modern society" - and this insightful essay both point to the way white America distances itself from ritual or behavior we either do not understand or wish to disavow. But these stories brought me to mind of the embrace Jeff Sypeck and Amy Kaufman see in our current culture, of "medieval" stereotypes, and the consequences. The fact is, we perform some damned indefensible procedures on ourselves, and no I do not mean body-obsessive plastic surgery - I mean "the husband's stitch" (see the second link), most "routine" circumcision, even some dental practices which may not truly be necessary for our health. Highly worth remembering: FGM/C in the modern world is NOT a Muslim tradition - one more reason to "other" this faith or mark them out as archaic, backward. It is performed across religions and cultures. And includes Christians. Clitoridectomy was covered by Blue Cross until 1977.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Collection

Once it is known that buyers are willing to purchase items with dubious or nonexistent provenance, the market for those items expands, which in turn encourages the kind of looting that we’re witnessing today in the Middle East. The connection between a scrap of papyrus and on-the-ground violence may be difficult to see. But it exists.

Many have seen the headlines of the $3M judgment against Hobby Lobby in regard to the thousands of tablets and bullae they amassed by questionable means. Here is a closer look at their path to such startling acquisition - and the speed at which they took it. "Breakneck" is not often the pace of archaeological commerce. This is an interesting, in-depth look at the people involved and the often all-too-shady business of trading antiquties.

Sometimes, it's a shame I am so slow to toddle through the blogs I follow and read; John Davis Frain has a personal and extremely good entry on Independence Day. It is both unique and universal: the trick of a mighty fine writer. It's also brief, and not really about flag-waving. So, worth a click any time of year.

I was late, too, to Celia Reeves' blog, where some weeks ago she talked about a Day of Remembrance. Beautiful post, with a photo worth clicking on to enlarge and really look at closely.

Colin Smith has two posts I wanted to share with anyone who hasn't seen them already (again, I am shamefully late in my perusal). One on writing about writing, as a pre-published author. And another, from the genuine-interest-in-people side of the "where are you from - really" question. CNN link worth a click beyond as well, from the "I am exhausted" side. These two pieces make good companion looks at the question - and not super-long reading, either.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Going MEDIEVAL

Sometimes it's refreshing to realize how many smart people (a) also hate the whole "oh the dirty stupid past" foolishness we like to bandy about a bit too much, and (b) also know better than to accept the most commonly held generalizations about the Dark Ages, barbarians, medieval/fantasy/The Dung Ages and so forth. Jeff Sypeck is one of those who reassures me that not everyone thinks uncritically about historical stereotyping. He's also introduced me to Amy Kaufman, whose paper he discusses above is easy reading, free, not so long as to scare one off a scholarly work, and accessibly written and reasoned. It's highly worth the click beyond.

The ideas under discussion - our "romanticization" of some of these ideas of The Past, and the consequences (ask Mark Twain) of ... well, what frankly is often called "branding" these days. Specifically, Kaufman looks at the same dynamic as embodied in the so-called Islamic State (side note: it's nice to see ANY use of the "so-called" anymore; even mainstream media seems entirely to have forgotten that ISIS is a made-up title and self-bestowed, and that using it straightforwardly confers legitimacy). It's a pretty chilling look, not least in the gender politics* involved.

*I refuse to call rape "sexual".

Readers here know, I have plenty to say about women's treatment in this world - doesn't matter "when", we are prey, and anyone who thinks otherwise is simply ignorant. But I don't consider things worse than they once were ... and I do not consider them BETTER, either. Like bubbles in wallpaper, the position may be pressed out of shape or shifted around, but one look at human trafficking, slavery being perfectly alive and well no matter its perceived absence in our own personal worlds, the lives of children across the globe - and the regressive state of nationalism and politics worldwide - leaves no doubt: human beings don't really change very much.

So just as bad as chronological snobbery - the idea that we have evolved beyond what we think we used to be, that the past was populated by morons and we today are educated and therefore actually more intelligent - is the offensive mistake of chronological romanticization. The good old days never were, and the bright new tomorrow isn't, at least so far.

As I grow older, the irony is that this view of humanity SAVES me from much of the fear so many of us find overwhelming. Knowing that we did not really clamber up from darkness and ignorance to a more enlightened place provides perspective that we're not about to fall off a cliff.

Hopefully.

Okay, I won't keep going on. But your thoughts would be most welcome. And please do read Sypeck's post, and Kaufman's Muscular Medievalism.