Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Logo rebellion

Lesley Stahl's piece on Luxottica, the Italian eyewear manufacturer and distributor, made me think that back in the 70's and early 80's Luxottica was THE luxury brand in eyewear.  Our neighbor at our original location at the Watergate complex was "Watergate Opticians," where owner Nancy Glick purveyed fashionable eyewear that could not be found elsewhere.  I didn't even need glasses yet, but any visiting relatives would head next door to find the latest styles.  It was BEFORE prestige logos were a was all about (mostly) tasteful design.  I think that Diane von Furstenberg and Luxottica were the top of the line brands for eyewear (maybe Givenchy and YSL were available too, but I can't quite remember--and it wasn't about the logos).  Somehow, "design" must now be tatooed with a prominent logo in order to be relevant in the marketplace.  When did that happen?  Luxottica says that its first prestige deal was with Armani in 1988 (that would have been the "power suit" era, and Armani's suit was kind of the power power suit).

I remember a first trip abroad when I was 20.  I was abroad for a month, for work.  My goal at the end of my assignment was to stop in Paris, buy a pair of purple shoes for fall, and get a haircut (yeah, I know, nobody believes I ever get a haircut).  I didn't have much time, and I didn't then and still don't speak French that well (I tend to say things like septente instead of soixante-dix, which means I speak better Swiss than French).  Anyway, I bought some fabric at Rodin (surprise!) got lost (which was fun), bought two dolls for my younger sister, and some Godiva (which must have still been a Belgian company at that point--you bought the candy by grams at a sidewalk stand instead of in the famous gold ballotin in a suburban shopping mall).  I ate quiche (which was not very good after all).  I opened an account at Credit Agricole.  Saw the most beautiful display of purple shoes on the Champs Elysee (so many shades of purple, magenta, plum, so many finishes, perforated suede, leather, I could not have chosen--so I just carried the image around with me ever after).

The Dior boutique had just been redone in shades of gray.  Celine was kind of fading into obscurity. I found the tiny Balenciaga boutique, where racks of perfect, fluffy silk dresses were being wheeled in the front door (back from a private showing, perhaps).  I was able to pick out a tie for my husband.  Afterward, I climbed part of the way up the Eiffel Tower, which was less than a dollar.

I was saturated in fashion by the time I left, and there was nary a logo to be seen.

Now, logos are annoying.  In certain quarters, a logo-soaked fake Vuitton bag is more "valuable" than a plain Calvin Klein leather bag (or a plain good quality leather bag of any kind).  Some people who can afford or almost afford an upper echelon bag (or watch or scarf) won't even buy one because they'd rather buy ten knock offs.  Others won't buy an authentic bag because they don't want anyone to mistake it for a knock off.  These perverse logo madnesses have totally displaced good design, and they certainly don't convey "prestige."  Didn't Pierre Cardin teach us anything?

A Vogue or Harper's Bazaar magazine from September 1979 would be fun to have.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sewing with the Elsies

So there I sat, at my great-great grandmother's sewing machine, which had been in my great-uncle's barn until he decided I should have it.  I, car-less as I was, waited for my mother to deliver it once when she decided to visit.  Minnesota, the brand of the machine.  Still with implements in the four drawers of the sewing table.  Ahh, the tracing wheel...the one that must have made all the tracing marks on the drop leaf table that my grandmother used for sewing, or sometimes for extra dinner guests.  Hundreds of tracks of dimples, driven into the finish of the table top, spoke of a lifetime love of fabric and sewing.  First my grandmother's grandmother, Elsie, and then my grandmother, Elsie. Later I'd be given a picture of the first Elsie and her two sisters, clothed stylishly, in dainty cotton dresses.  Pretty girls, of whom I knew little.  But my cousin and I played with their vast collection of paper dolls.  We named one "Delicate and Fragile."

The machine, with a scrollwork metal treadle, did not work with a smooth motion as had my grandmother's Singer.  But it had lived in the hay mow of a barn, with hay and cow feed, and owls and baby calves, leftover ropes, buckets, hoses, and farm implements.  So I was happy, treadling away on my 1970's jersey.  There were extra needles, an extra bobbin or two, a lock of hair.  My grandmother's grandmother's machine.

My dress came out fine, and the wedding to which I wore it was joyful.  The marriage lasted a few years.  I saw the bride, my co-worker Sue, years later on the street.  She ran up behind me and told me where she  now worked, and her new name.  I can't remember it now.  It might have even been her maiden name.  I wish I had taken her to lunch, but life was pressing down hard on me.  I hadn't even recalled that I had any friends.  There I was, with a real friend, for a few precious moments on 17th and K Street.

Friday, June 7, 2013

It all started when...

...I was a student.  It was 1975, and I was working for an unnamed US government agency, part-time, in order to pay tuition.  One thing led to another, and I got a well-paying job with a lobbyist and put off continuing with school.  Mistake.

I made the daily walk from Capital Hill to Foggy Bottom (yes, I did--Metro was just in its infancy then and the nearest stop from Union Station was at Farragut North--so I took the opportunity to walk.  Times were simpler then).

I'd walk down Constitution and veer off onto Pennsylvania, usually, to walk past one or the other side of the White House grounds.  Yes, you could do that then.  Vehicular traffic even flowed unbroken down Pennsylvania Avenue back then, which, given the state of air pollution in those days, left my sandal-ed feet covered in greasy soot every night.

Hari Krishna devotees would stand on the corner of 17th and Pennsylvania on certain days of the week, offering flowers which the unwary would accept and then be informed that they have to pay for (...a certain resemblance to European gypsies in that respect).  Down 17th and then over on G or F Streets, sometimes with a stop at a very cool pharmacy where I once bought a green floral umbrella. Avoiding a walk past a certain bar where I knew one of my oldest friends would be drinking the night away.

Into my little building at the corner of 20th and F, at the back on the first floor.  Lock up, cook dinner, and read or watch an ancient television that I had bought at the Salvation Army store near Dupont Circle.  Remember that store?  My tv got three or four channels.  Books were better.  Or sewing.  Except that I didn't like the old, downtown, messy fabric store that "everyone" seemed to recommend.  Woodward and Lothrup carried fabrics, up to that point.  I bought a jersey in an apricot print (sort of a typical 1970's floral---spaced out and purple-y and teal-y flowers on an apricot ground.)  I needed a dress to wear to a friend's wedding.  The buttons were those aurora ball buttons that La Mode used to carry, remember them?  I probably still have the leftovers on a card, somewhere.....