Diane von Furstenberg, Through The Years

I’ve always been a huge fan of DVF…both the line and the woman behind it. Her creativity, integrity, and instincts about what women want was and continues to be right-on. And what a fascinating life she has led: becoming a princess at a very young age, designing the most iconic dress of the century, losing it all and staging a massive comeback…and through it all, she has never lost her sense of self. Watching her age so gracefully has been a joy, as she seems to accept (and enjoy) life as it comes. Here are some photos of her through the years:

Posted in Chelsea Girl Vintage, Diane von Furstenberg, DVF, Elisa Casas, vintage, vintage clothing | 1 Comment

Sustainable Gowns (and Tuxes) at the Oscars

The 84th Annual Academy Awards were last night, and I’m surprised to report that Natalie Portman was the only actress who wore vintage: she looked stunning in a 1954 red Dior gown. But even though I was disappointed that there weren’t more vintage looks on the red carpet, I was pleasantly surprised to see that sustainable clothing  seems to be getting more attention.

Meryl Streep wore a gold Lanvin gown made from eco-certified fabric, Colin Firth (deliberately) “recycled” his tux from last year, and Kenneth Branagh, John Krasinski, Djimon Hounsou, and Demián Bichir all wore Zegna, who design patterns that reduce fabric waste and recycle scrap material into new textiles. And Missi Pyle from The Artist wore an eco-conscious gown by Valentina Delfino, winner of the “Red Carpet Green Dress” design contest, an initiative by Suzy Amis Cameron (James Cameron’s wife) to promote sustainable clothing on the red carpet.

(I have many questions about the money spent, the energy used and the pollution caused by the manufacture of “eco-friendly” gowns that apparently take “weeks” to make, but I’ll reserve judgment until I can do more research. Of course, I applaud the use of organic and recycled fabrics, and support companies that use “green” methods in manufacturing, but vintage is really the best way to go if you care about the environment.)

Although encouraged by the attention that sustainable clothing has been getting on the red carpet, I miss seeing top stars like Reese Witherspoon, Marisa Tomei, Julia Roberts, Demi Moore, Penelope Cruz and Renee Zellweger proudly wearing vintage to important events. As a matter of fact, I have a theory…which I hope to back up statistically at some point…that wearing vintage seems to bring good luck: nominees who wear vintage consistently win. Congrats to Meryl for wearing a sustainable gown and for winning her third Oscar!

Renee, Julia, Reese and Penelope (photo below) all won Oscars in vintage: Renee in Jean Desses, Julia in Valentino, and Reese in Dior.


Penelope Cruz, the year she won her Oscar, in vintage Balmain.
Posted in academy awards, Casas, Chelsea Girl Vintage, Elisa Casas, julia roberts, natalie portman, oscars, penelope cruz, red carpet, reese witherspoon, renee zellweger, vintage | 1 Comment

“You’re only as good as the people you dress.” -Halston

"Halston" by Andy Warhol, 1974.

Halston (few know his first name, Roy, or his last name, Frowick) was one of the most influential designers of all time. A  charismatic, over-the-top personality, master of promotion and flamboyant spender who lived life to its fullest and then, due to greed and drugs, fell out of favor, is a cautionary tale that makes for great storytelling. But the mythology of Halston’s life is not his legacy: the clothes are. He was a gifted designer who had great instincts and made clothing that was innovative and commercial (and sexy as hell.) His 70s dresses remain highly collectible and their low-key glamor still appeals to celebrities.

Jackie Kennedy on inauguration day, 1961.
A classic drapey, minimalistic Halston design on one of his favorite models, Karen Bjornson.

Halston started out as a milliner at Bergdorf Goodman. His big break came when he designed Jackie Kennedy’s seamless pillbox hat worn to her husband’s inauguration in 1961. She wore the hat tipped back on her head, making fashion history and allowing him to leave Bergdorfs and start his own ready-to-wear line. His atelier on Madison Avenue became a gathering place for the city’s hottest celebrities, and as he became more successful he moved into an ostentatious, entirely mirrored showroom on 5th Avenue. He started hanging out with Liza Minelli, Liz Taylor and Bianca Jagger (all wore his designs) and his entourage of “Halstonettes” (his loyal models) at trendy venues like Studio 54. He lived life to its fullest, spending crazy amounts of money on things like orchids ($200,000 per year) and living in an expensive modern townhouse on the Upper East Side that was decorated in minimalistic shades of gray. His financial decisions were questionable, but his legendary over-the-top antics garnered him a lot of press and promoted the sale of his clothing.

“They were all impressed with your Halston dress and the people that you knew at Elaine’s…” (Billy Joel, “Big Shot”)

My mom was a big fan of Halston, and although she couldn’t afford his clothing, she bought the McCall’s patterns, the Halston fabric (I spent many afternoons with her at Jerry Brown, who provided all the fabric to the big-name designers, on 57th Street) and sewed the clothing herself. She could, however, afford Halston (the wildly successful fragrance) and wore it for most of the 70s to places like Maxwell’s Plum, the hot bar on First Avenue where the beautiful people would get drunk before going to Studio 54 (my parents tried to go once, but they didn’t get in.) The iconic Halston bottle, designed by his muse, Elsa Peretti, is still displayed in my parents’ bathroom.

The innovative Vogue ad for Halston's fragrance.

In 1977, Halston made the grave error of selling his name to JC Penny in a billion-dollar deal that turned out to be his downfall. Bergdorfs and other high-end retailers didn’t want to be associated with him anymore and canceled all future orders. Adding insult to injury, the low-end JC Penny line Halston III didn’t sell and he was ousted as its designer. Halston tried to revive his career but was unable to, and in the 80s he discovered he had AIDS and moved to San Francisco to die (he did, in 1990.)

“Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston” is a new documentary that is infinitely watchable for the 70s footage of Halston’s world. The director, Whitney Sudler-Smith, however, is an amateur: inept at interviews, uneducated about filmmaking and a fame whore who insists on being in every scene. But seeing it made me rethink Halston’s legacy. He became so highly regarded in Europe that he shifted the geography of the fashion industry, putting the spotlight on American designers who were designing clean, modern sportswear. Diane von Furstenberg, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and many, many others owe their careers to Halston.

Halston and best friend Liza. He designed the costumes for all her live performances, and the yellow gown she wore when she won the Oscar for "Cabaret."

Trolling eBay for vintage Halston is disappointing: there’s not much available. But I do plan to ransack my mom’s closet this weekend and see if she kept any of her homemade Halstons. I won’t be wearing them to Studio 54…that era is long gone…but I sure can wear them at dinner parties in my loft, which my friend Harv, Jr. dubbed, “Studio 44.”

Halston sportswear ad. Angelica Houston (bottom left) was one of his models. She's wearing an Elsa Peretti sterling silver cuff.
Posted in Chelsea Girl Vintage, Elisa Casas, Halston, Liza Minelli, vintage clothing, Vintage Halston | Comments Off

Thrifting with Ruby

Beacon's Closet on 13th Street.

Most of my wardrobe comes from thrift stores, vintage stores, and eBay. I do buy new clothing from time to time (jeans, for example, since vintage ones just don’t fit me properly) but avoid it when I can. The items in my closet that I fall out of love with get recycled: resold, traded, or donated.

Beacon’s Closet is awesome. I shouldn’t even call it a thrift shop because it’s nothing like the anachronistic thrift shops I grew up with: it’s actually a shop that has a modern approach to buying and selling used clothing. You bring them a bag of clothing you don’t want anymore, they give you a store credit and then you get to shop for free. The pieces they don’t want you can leave behind for donation. This method of guilt-free shopping thrills me. You spend zero money, go home with “new” clothing, responsibly recycle and donate to a good cause.Those extravagant afternoons at Barneys have become a distant memory (and I don’t miss them.)

Christopher Fischer embroidered cashmere sweater (originally $375) and a 1970s hand-embroidered sweater ($14 at Beacon's.)

Ruby, my 17-year-old daughter, was actually the one who turned me on to Beacon’s Closet. It thrills me that she’s passionate about thrifting because it’s really fun to do it together. She’s committed to the whole thrifting lifestyle: she belongs to an online clothing swap at her school, searches for (discounted) designer jeans on eBay and won’t even buy a new book. Maybe growing up in mommy’s vintage clothing store had something to do with it.

Yesterday Ruby and I brought a bag of old stuff to Beacon’s, got a $75 credit, and with it bought a gorgeous puff-sleeved 70s blazer ($17), a Christopher Fischer cashmere sweater ($24) with a hand-embroidered owl on it (I have a thing for owls), a white crochet sweater ($15) and a pair of Sigerson Morrison shoes ($25). Ok, so I ended up spending $17, but in New York there’s not even tax on items under $55!

Marc Jacobs is very clever to print the required, "Made in China" label in difficult-to-read black on black. DVF prints it in French so maybe Americans don't understand, or at least think it's chic.

Luckily Ruby has the same shopping philosophy as me (shopping requires concentration and is best done alone) so once inside we split up and remind each other to “look for stuff for me, too!” (Grunge dresses for me, oversized cashmere cardigans for her.) True, like any thrift shop, you have to look through lots of other people’s fashion faux pas to find a gem, but Beacon’s is curated so it seems that you always do.

I couldn’t help but notice that 90% of the items I looked at were made in China (even those from my beloved DVF, who manufactured her iconic wrap dresses in Italy in the 70s.) A whopping 1/3 of all apparel imports in the U.S. come from China, and unfortunately it’s impossible to know the details of how responsibly these items are manufactured. I hope people will become more aware of the benefits (financial, environmental, and social) of purchasing vintage and used clothing, especially when there are stores like Beacon’s Closet that make “thrift” shopping such a pleasant experience.

I've always loved the Betsey Johnson punk label from the 80s and coming across it at Beacon's Closet brought back memories of my NYU days. My friend Nancy and I had matching Betsey fingerless gloves that we wore with matching black dusters from Ibiza (I still have my gloves.) I didn't buy the glittery bustier because it was in poor condition, but since the label was hanging by just a thread (see photo), I took it. What can I say, I'm nostalgic.
Posted in "Made In China", Beacon's Closet, Betsey Johnson, Chelsea Girl Vintage, Elisa Casas | Comments Off

Liz Taylor Couture Auction Sets Fashion Record

The record-breaking $115 million realized for Elizabeth Taylor’s famous jewels didn’t come as much as a surprise as the prices realized for her clothing. All of the 67 lots sold, most beating their high estimates and raising $2.6 million for Taylor’s AIDS foundation (10 times the estimated total.)

Left to right: The Gina Fratini wedding gown, the Versace jacket and the Christian Dior evening gown.

The priciest item was a 1968 Christian Dior gown of beaded silver brocade with a matching purse. It had an estimate of $6,000 but fetched a whopping $362,500. Two other items soared past the $100,000 mark: a Chanel ball gown and cape with shoes and matching bag ($134,500) and a Gianni Versace bolero jacket, beaded with portraits of Taylor in her famous roles ($128,500). Other highlights included the Gina Fratini dress she wore at her second wedding to Burton in 1975 ($62,500), the embroidered robe from “Cleopatra” by costume designer Irene Sharaff ($62,500) and a black velvet “Scorpio” cape by Tiziani that she wore to Princess Grace’s “Scorpio” ball in 1969 ($60,000.) Even Kim Kardashian couldn’t resist Liz-mania, purchasing three diamond bangles for $65,000.

Liz Taylor in the Tiziani "Scorpio" cape she wore to Princess Grace's 40th birthday party in Monaco, November 15, 1969.


Legendary fashion leader/industry consultant Fern Mallis, who attended the auction, said, “Vintage clothing is like buying art these days. It will only increase in value.” This is true not just of vintage clothing associated with celebrities, but all collectible vintage items (like the 60s guitar purse featured on Chelsea-Girl.com right now.)

This is what I would have bid on: Liz Taylor's incredible kaftan collection.
Posted in Chelsea Girl Vintage, Couture, Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor Auction, Liz Taylor Auction, Vintage clothing auction | 1 Comment

A Visit to MOMA

It's pretty awesome to stand inches away from a priceless masterpiece: Van Gogh's iconic "The Starry Night" from 1889.

There is nothing more awe-inspiring to me than standing in front of a great painting. I often frequent museums when I’m feeling down, because being in the presence of great art makes me feel better, and I always go on my birthday, when I treat myself to a day off and spend some time alone (like shopping, I think museum-going should be solitary.)

I stopped by MOMA on Monday to see the Diego Rivera and DeKooning exhibits, but as usual, I spent another hour viewing the permanent collection, which has always been my favorite. To be in the presence of Matisses, Picassos, Van Goghs, deChiricos, Miros, and Dalis is awesome enough, but to be in the presence of their *most* famous works is almost overwhelming.

Picasso's radical "Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon," 1907

I have a friend who won’t live more than a half-hour drive from a great museum, which is perfectly understandable to me. I feel grateful to live in a city where some of the world’s most beautiful art exists, and where I can drop in any time I feel like viewing them.

Matisse's cubist "The Piano Lesson," 1914
MOMA itself is a work of art.


Posted in DeKooning, Diego Rivera, Matisse, Moma, Picasso, Van Gogh | Comments Off

Elizabeth Taylor Estate to be Auctioned on December 13

On December 13, Christie’s will begin their high-profile auction of Elizabeth Taylor’s estate, including 269 pieces of jewelry and 400 pieces of clothing. Highlights include the 33-carat diamond ring that Richard Burton gave her in 1968 and the silk wedding dress she wore to her (first) wedding to Richard Burton. I want these diamond chandelier earrings that were given to her by Mike Todd BAD. Apparently she bought the antique originals, which were just paste, in Paris for herself, but Mike Todd has them made in real diamonds for her. In Christie’s publicity video below, the clothing begins at the 6 minute mark but don’t miss the impressive collection of gems that kicks it off.

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