To Blow Dry, Or Not To Blow Dry ~ That Is The Question

Hair Angst: A lifetime of fighting my hair’s natural personality.

It was Colleen Corby staring at me from the pages of Seventeen Magazine that made the message loud and clear – go straight or go home. Later, it was Ralph Lauren’s Clotilde that pummeled me into submission, and decades of blow drying my head into a glossy sheet that spawned compliments from women who longed for my hair.  But I was a fraud.  My secret fear was being caught in weather that would triple the size of my head, frizz forming on top of curls that sent me screaming for the nearest babushka, baseball cap or worse, trap me in the house.  A trip to Miami that was 7 straight days of rain did nothing for my look, regardless of my new pink mules that I thought gave me a Spanish vibe.  The thought of embracing my wombat look never even occurred to me.  And then came Gisele, a new nightmare.

If the ’80′s was a bad time for fashion, it was a great time for the hair-challenged like me.  The bigger the better, it seemed, and my diffuser became my best friend.  Just throw my wet hair over my knees, add mousse, scrunch … and lo and behold, I was Flashdance.  But like all trends that die with a thud, the ’90′s brought about a new, old look, and straight hair was back in Vogue.  Poof, and my moment of relief was gone.  So I gave up, or more to the point gave in, and grudgingly booked weekly blow outs with various stylists over the years, and once again became a slave to the weather.  The temperature outside was not the problem, but if the day’s humidity was going to be over 65%, I knew I was a goner.   No matter how well I thought I got the clothes together, if the hair wasn’t right, I wasn’t right.  Somehow, my freshly blown hair was the thing that made it all come together.  Or so I thought …

In the last few months, although admittedly late in the game, on a whim I asked my hairdresser to dry my hair with those Gisele beach waves.   The outcome was even more than I could have hoped for – not only did it look good, but I felt transformed!  Freer, more relaxed, with what I didn’t realize yet was a nudge toward the real me, I was ecstatic.  With complete abandonment, I tossed that mane everywhere I went.  My minimalist style seemed to look more interesting (to me, at least) under a bedhead.  The dichotomy of the structured pea jackets, narrow pants with flats, and the touch of madness on my head was thrilling, and I wanted more.

And then it happened.  Not being able to get to the hairdresser forced me to get to the bottom of all of it.  I washed my hair, added large dollops of mousse, and had an Aha moment; what would happen if I didn’t blow it out, and just let it air dry?  Would the wildebeest reappear?  I decided to risk all, winding the hair around, placing it where I wanted to see the waves, and left the mirror.  With wet hair, I left the house like an Olsen twin or two, and headed out to do some errands in the neighbourhood, not knowing what would develop.  We were hovering at 70 degrees that day, humidity level a very low 42%, and a breeze that helped matters, so I had a reasonable expectation that at least my local retailers would still recognize me.  I literally threw caution to the wind, and stepped into my brave new world, purposely avoiding any glass windows or mirrors along the way.  Getting home a couple of hours later, I headed for the bathroom mirror for the results, and without a word of a lie, I didn’t know who was staring back at me.  Completely dry now, my hair was curly with even a few ringlets, wavy where it was supposed to wave, and not a frizz in sight!  And I was overwhelmed with a feeling that at last, my au natural wasn’t so bad. I would call that a miracle.  I’ve done it again twice since then, and each time it’s better.  If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then behold – I like my hair! Finally.

Janice Rosen is a freelance writer, blogger and fashion consultant based in Toronto.

©  Janice Rosen 2013

“Great design doesn’t require an effort to look at” ~ Elsa Peretti

By Janice Rosen

Portofino in the Sixties was Elsa Peretti’s playground, and barefoot beauties dressed in silk Pucci holding gardenias were a typical sight.  With a yearning to keep her flower from an early demise, at least until the end of the night, she took a tiny vase found in a junk shop and re-created it into a silver bottle as something to put the flower in to keep it alive.  The first of these was created for Giorgio di Sant’Angelo and must have been a piece of magic. Today, the silver bottle carries on and an 18k gold bottle with a tiny turquoise stopper also sells out at Tiffany & Co.

I think it was in 1972 that I first became aware of jewellery designer Elsa Peretti, when Vogue was my bible and I just couldn’t get enough of her simple, elegant aesthetic.  Quiet, but often bold, her early work perfectly complemented the clothes of Oscar de la Renta, Giorgio di Sant’Angelo and most notably, Halston.  Now, almost forty years later, I’m struck by how those early designs remain as modern today as when she first created them.  Inspired to make pieces that eliminate excess detail, the result is purity and finding the essence of a form that moves right on past fashion and becomes unmistakable style.

Born in Florence, Italy she developed her artistic sensibilities in Rome where she studied and received her degree in interior design, but it wasn’t until she moved to New York City in 1968 to further her career as a model that her true calling began to make itself known. A trip to Mexico in 1969 was where she saw a horse girth which became the inspiration for her first leather belt with a silver buckle that used looping as a closure.  When Halston used it to accessorize his clothes, it became a huge success, appearing in photographs everywhere making it the IT piece of the time.  Models, socialites and movie stars all over the world adopted it as part of their uniform of classic good taste, and it has never gone out of style.  If you could get your hands on one of those originals today, trust me, you would never need to buy another belt the rest of your life, it’s that good.

It was 1974 when Peretti joined Tiffany & Co. to work exclusively, creating jewellery and tableware in silver, gold, lacquered wood, glass, carved hard stones and bamboo basketry.  Collection after collection of understated and timeless objects of art not only continues to sell, but seem to get better and more covetable with time.  The silver bone cuff I purchased in the early 1980’s is still my go-to piece when I want to look just right and everything else I own looks wrong for the feeling I want to convey.  I’ve loved it since first seeing it in a Tiffany ad in the mid ‘70’s and vowed I would one day own it.  I had to wait until I had a trip to New York, as Tiffany wasn’t in my city at that time. Her beans, hearts, snakes and scorpions are as famous today as the Diamonds by theYard, revealed in 1976 when she gave herself the challenge to design according to one’s financial possibilities.  Tiffany’s sold the first tiny diamond on a gold chain for $89.  Mission accomplished.

Elsa Peretti and Tiffany are a match made in heaven to me, having celebrated their 35-year partnership in 2009, with a glamorous retrospective of her work at its Fifth Avenue store in New York.   Long tables with her sculptural art were on display and the windows were breathtaking, encapsulating what we’ve come to instantly recognize as the unique work of this visionary. Old friends, craftspeople and clients all turned out to honor this woman whose talent for making the world more beautiful came to life wrapped in a small blue box.

From her home in Spain, where she has lived for over 25 years, Peretti continues to produce some of the finest objects of nature, where every shape is the definitive best.  A bangle of lacquer over Japanese hardwood becomes a 70-step process using natural tree sap to produce, and is as organic and beautiful to look at as it is to touch.  There are no details too small to ignore, making Elsa Peretti linger in our memory for a very long time.

In a world where fashion moves so fast and we’re all exposed to so much on the internet, the real blessing to have is an innate knowledge of what trends to sit out when it’s too much, inappropriate or just doesn’t work for us.  Just because something is a trend doesn’t mean it’s attractive; they are developed for the young and its how the industry keeps things moving.  True personal style can only develop when we know what it is that feels right for us and we can get dressed, go out and forget about how we look while living our lives.  A statement piece like the bone cuff is my calling card.  It makes me feel exactly how I want to be seen.  What’s yours?

Janice Rosen is a freelance writer, blogger and fashion consultant based in Toronto.

©  Janice Rosen 2013

Menswear and the Art of Sprezzatura

By Janice Rosen

I love this way the Italians describe the effortful pursuit of the appearance of effortlessness in dressing.  Sprezzatura ~ a studied carelessness.  Those that have spent days, years and decades researching fashion, designers and art can get dressed in 10 minutes, making it look like little thought was put into it. This might very well be the definition of what’s cool.  Or, the “new” cool.  Coco Chanel taught women that simplicity is the keynote to all true elegance and one can easily be overdressed, but never over elegant. While the line that crosses from tasteful to vulgar is blurred for some, the stylish cats stand out from the crowd in their impeccably tailored silhouettes and relaxed way of accessorizing that seems to convey who they are from the inside out.  Colour transcends seasons as well as borders, and the perfectly designed luxury piece mixed with the broken down and familiar is as individual as the gentleman himself.

Whether we think about it or not, we know it when we see it.  I saw this quote recently and it made me pause … “A man in a well cut suit is to a woman like lingerie is to a man”.  It made me go aaahhh.  There is a kind of comfort in that visual; a stranger crossing the street ahead of us looking dapper can make everything right in the world, if just for that moment.  The sense of order it conveys; it makes us feel good to see it and once again, we’re reminded of how simple it is and extraordinary at the same time.  Likewise, when a man looks cool, it’s a representation of what he’s all about on the inside.  The effortless way of putting things together is what’s appealing and when everyone wants to look like that guy, you have a style icon, or at the least, a leader who doesn’t want to look like everyone else.

As we all strive for authenticity in our lives, do we naturally gravitate to a style of dress reflecting this?  If Kate Moss is a fashion icon for women all over the world, the underlying message is not just what she wears, but where she wears it.  The sense of appropriateness is as important in her effect on us as the clothes on her back.  The lesson then is really more about good taste than the latest trend.  If you are fortunate and travel to Europe, or get your fashion fix from the internet or magazines, you are likely to be aware that the over 50 year old man in Milan or Paris is, how shall I say … a tad more elegant than some of his peers in North America.  There is an awareness of what to wear and how to wear it, all with what appears to be an ease of self.  Much less afraid to take styling seriously, the art of dressing for them is as important as breathing. It’s just a part of life over there that is not just accepted, but expected.  While I’m not running down my Canadian or American friends, there is nothing very special about baggy jeans worn almost everywhere, paired with the favourite band tee shirt, purchased from the merch table at the best concert ever 20 years ago.  While real style is ageless, it is ever evolving.  And it might just come down to the difference between dressing your age to look younger, rather than dressing younger…to look younger.  Make sense?  I think you know what I mean.

While classics and neutrals are usually the backbone of a man’s wardrobe, it’s the twist that gets the attention.  Maybe it’s the navy suede loafer instead of black, the burgundy leather brogue rather than brown, or the pocket square that “goes” but doesn’t match perfectly.  Using colour as an accent under a dark jacket, or a scarf under a coat goes a long way in creating an understatement, rather than a statement outfit.  The stylish man is never thinking about fashion as trend.

When the always elegant Gianni Agnelli of Fiat fame wore his wrist watch over his shirt cuff, he said he didn’t have time to roll up that cuff, but the world saw confidence in the quirk that was part of his showmanship.  Never ostentatious, never overdressed or underdressed, the man was style personified.  Was he born with it?  I don’t know, but he always made it look easy.  The baton he passed on to his grandson, Lapo Elkann makes me wonder if it’s a happy accident; if the artful dishevelment of Elkann’s sartorial choices that are the epitome of cool in today’s world could be anything but innate.  Rumour has it that Lapo has been wearing his grandfather’s suits these days; they’re that excellent in quality.  Again, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

While the herd-like mentality is alive and well when it comes to fashion, it’s those that have the desire to go their own way that are always the standouts.  That’s why we call them icons.  They take risks and they care.  They start trends, they don’t follow them.  More importantly, they never look foolish because they know what works for them.  And good designers sift through archives looking for inspiration, looking for that touch of refinement that makes sense in a modern world.  Ultimately, the well dressed man never goes out of style.

Janice Rosen is a writer, blogger and fashion consultant based in Toronto.

©  Janice Rosen 2012

Accessories ~ 50 Shades of Obsession

By Janice Rosen

My friend: “Seriously, how often do you look at a man’s shoes?”

Me:  “You’re kidding … right?  Always.”

My friend:  uproarious laughter … “Come on, really!?”

Me:  sheepish smile, due to the absurd question.

This exchange happened recently, and although we laughed our heads off over it, it did get me thinking about why seeing everything on everybody is so ingrained in anyone who loves fashion.

Nothing says more about a person’s fashion attitude than their accessories.  When jeans hit the mainstream and became work-wear for so many, the way to kick it up a notch was to team them with unique pieces that spoke to the world about who we are.  The shoes, belts, jewellery and bags became as important to a look as the clothes.  Once upon a time, a belt was something to hold your pants up, and a necklace was an after thought. Today that single piece can bring the whole thing together and make that desired statement. Summer days in flip flops and yoga wear are almost behind us and soon it will be time to get dressed for Fall.

Back to the future now where retailers have realized that the way to a woman’s heart can be through a new pair of shoes.  They not only rule profits, but keep the customer coming back.  So it’s no accident that many department stores are expanding their shoe departments with the clear message that they get how important it is.  It’s exciting to see new lines popping up at different price points, as well as established fashion designers creating footwear that’s true to their particular point of view.  To stay on top of their game, the retailers must stay positive and take risks to attract their target clientele. Websites constantly updating new arrivals, making their product available globally keep the customer hopping and get the most traffic.  With fashion moving so quickly, the companies that don’t get on board with technology will be left behind; the customer will go elsewhere.   Having daily emails arrive in my inbox from stores and brands is what keeps me informed, and it makes me feel like I’m part of the community that the message is intended.

When you’re looking for a new way to rev up a favourite dress, or give some steam to your basics, a new pair of shoes will do the trick.  If a new wardrobe isn’t in the cards right now, a piece of jewelry that makes your heart sing can give you the boost into the new season.

Janice Rosen is a freelance writer and fashion consultant based in Toronto.

©  Janice Rosen 2012

Emerging Designers ~ It Starts With A Dream

By Janice Rosen

Artists are the biggest risk-takers I know.  The world of art, design, music, film and literary achievement is filled with former children that might have shown an early talent for their creativity, or developed their passion as a stepping stone from a deep need to express who they are.  In all cases, they follow their bliss and set a goal to show the world the results of what is in their heads.  They do it because they must.  And yes, it starts with a dream.

Fashion designers are a rare breed, inspired by colour, fabric, silhouette, the places they travel to and different cultures they might immerse themselves in.  All of the influences are eventually honed and a particular aesthetic is born; a vision of how they would like their perfect world to be dressed emerges into a point of view that is needed to see success. Everyone wants to stand out, but a designer in particular needs to stand for something.  Each level these artists pass through will create new challenges until one day, if they have steadfastly stuck with it, they will come to a point where it feels right to say “I am ready for the next level.”  Doing it right sometimes means giving the reigns over to someone who knows more than you do.

A quick personal story comes to my mind here and will demonstrate what I mean.  A thousand years ago, or at least that many seasons, I ran into a luxury store in my city one day to check out what shoes were on display for the new season. There I was on my own, when I noticed a man not 6 feet away from me.  Our eyes met at the same time and with purpose, he walked up and stood in front of me.  Valentino himself, yes, that Valentino said to me “Navy blue.  The deepest, darkest, navy blue.  That is who you are.  Do you understand?”  I nodded yes, but had no idea what he was talking about, while I stood there in some little, lame, beige number.  It was the first time a designer taught me that fashion is individual.  I never forgot it and more to the point, of course he was right.  That is conviction.  After searching for “who I am” for decades, deep, dark navy blue has made a strong comeback, and I’ve systematically collected enough of it to last a lifetime.  Thank you, Valentino.

Finding a voice can take time, but partnering with the right business people who understand how your image should be perceived will communicate that for you, and help your business grow, leaving you to do what you do best – design.

Janice Rosen is a freelance writer, blogger and fashion consultant based in Toronto.

©  Janice Rosen 2012

“A fashion is nothing but an induced epidemic.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

By Janice Rosen

For anyone who’s been through the state of fashion-consciousness and come through it relatively unscathed, it’s a relief to settle into a personal style that is reflective of whom one is.  There is comfort in simplicity and perfectly executed tailoring; a love for fabric becomes more important, and gradually there are fewer bells and whistles needed.  When fashion tipped over the edge can scream “look at me…please”, it is always the person with a quiet and tasteful style that is remembered.   Elegantly traditional, but modern and authentic with a nod to current trends is how we could describe the “less is more” rule that the German luxury menswear brand Roy Robson has mastered.

Celebrating 90 years in business this year would be a great achievement for any company, but when it comes to fashion, we tip our collective hat to Roy Robson, who has not only endured, but thrived and expanded into a global leader of urban style to be reckoned with.  Since 1922, when RR began as a small tailor’s shop for formal attire in Berlin, its vision of the stylish man made it originally one of the most important specialist companies for suits and jackets in Western Europe.  Always keeping an eye on using the best fabrics available, and with laser focus attention to detail, good taste is what grounds this growing line of menswear.

Eventually, having moved from Berlin to Luneburg, the growth of the company is today under the watchful eye of Executive Manager, Heiko Westermann, who with his father Wilhelm, created a complete lifestyle brand.  In addition to suiting, casual wear, leather bags and accessories are now represented in 45 markets. Since 2008, Izmir Turkey is the home of RR’s manufacturing expertise.  With independence from partners, complete control of their high standards and working conditions is guaranteed.

When we speak of a fashion designer or brand having a point of view and staying true to it, Roy Robson is the perfect example of creatively expanding on a theme.  With consistency in style, the capsule wardrobe of the RR customer will evolve with the addition of new trends, but its core of a slim silhouette and classic pieces are timeless.  The ease in which the clothes can be mixed and matched is what makes the wearer a man who wears the clothes and not the other way around.  With the right fit and swagger, there is a change in body language that indicates confidence, and we see an individual who is at peace with his look; no need to follow trends blindly.  For Autumn/Winter 2012/13, the collection is a trip through the U.S.A.  From New York to New England to Aspen, the colours and looks converge to create a modern, urban style that is suitable for any occasion or time of day.  Think European flair with relaxed Americana.  In a sense, Roy Robson has done the work for the wearer; for even the fashionably challenged, there are no faux-pas.

Janice Rosen is a freelance writer, blogger and fashion consultant based in Toronto.

©  Janice Rosen 2012

GAUTIER ~ French Luxury Furniture

By Janice Rosen

There’s a new kid in town and it’s called Gautier.  If 50 is the new 40, then consider this brand of luxury modern furniture right on point when it comes to keeping up with the times and staying sleek.  To be relevant, designers must move forward, but always keep their point of view   This French manufacturer is indeed over 50 years old, but their concept of stylish living is as intelligent and well thought out as the day they were born.  The French are world-class leaders in fashion design, so I was excited when I found out that Gautier had chosen Toronto to establish its North American presence.  I knew it was going to be elegant and chic; what I didn’t know was how much I would love it!

Since 1958, this family-owned business has supervised every stage of production from design to delivery; there are franchises in more than 50 countries.  Standards are high, including social responsibility.  Everything is manufactured from sustainable forests and they provide a 5-year warranty for every piece they make.

I walked into this 7,000 square-foot space in the heart of our design district and I immediately felt relaxed, it was like a breath of fresh air.  At the same time, my eyes couldn’t take in the shapes of the soft lines of furniture and accessories fast enough.  I wanted to see everything.  Muted colours of sand, stone and blonde were artfully placed beside white and graphite, giving the feeling of light and airy, and surprisingly cozy at the same time.  The more I saw, the more soothed I felt.

The timing was perfect when one of the owners, Alexey Miroshnichenko presented himself and offered to give me the deluxe tour.  And what a tour I got!   The passion he has for this innovative and multi-purpose brand is as enthusiastic and charming as I’ve seen in a long time.  Young, hip and very savvy about how people want to live in their spaces, his knowledge and commitment are far beyond his years.  No attention to detail is lost on him.  Together with his sister, Tatyana Smykov, President of Gautier Toronto, they are an experienced team and no strangers to the luxury market.  Born and raised in Kasakhstan, they grew up in their family-owned retail business.  Tatyana being the chief buyer, regularly traveled to London, Paris and Milan while Alexey’s experience in management included the handling of Prada, Canali, Stefano Ricci and Brioni.  At the recent Milan furniture fair, it was Tatyana who was first smitten with Gautier’s presentation, wanting what she saw for her own son’s bedroom.  Trusting her instincts that Gautier’s aesthetic would fill a niche of elegant and affordable pieces for everyone at every stage of life, it wasn’t long before she began working out the plan to bring the brand to Canada.

From toddler’s bedrooms to living rooms and home offices, every nook and cranny is not only attractive, but also safe and has many different functions.  In each room I saw, the creativity of space saving and storage solutions were ingenious, without losing the harmony of its intention: practical meets serenity.  For people living in small spaces with young children, the bunk beds become play stations.  An older child who loves the sea will feel at home in the Calypso collection, complete with ‘cabin-like’ sleeping arrangements, and bookcases designed in the style of an officer’s lounge.  Not enough closet space?  Gautier has designed wardrobes that are available with or without doors, or walk-in that can be scaled to your measurements.  Expandable beds and dining room tables, sofas that can become two chaise lounges and an arm rest are just a few ways to change your environment in a minute.  From mattresses to fabrics and lighting, they’ve thought of everything.  And just because they are French and know these things, they update their accessories collections for us several times a year.  Just like shoes… no?

Finding one’s own style can take a minute or a lifetime.  It can drastically change with every new trend, or remain classic if that’s who you are.  One thing I know for sure is that style does evolve if we are open to it.  Maybe we learn to pare it down or step it up; but the core remains the same if we are true to ourselves.  The goal is to feel at home in our choices, but be open to new ideas.  Sometimes small changes have a big effect on how we feel, or maybe we need a complete makeover.  After my visit to Gautier, I was thinking about how our homes are a big part of defining who we are, but more important is how it makes us feel to come through the front door.  And that can give us hope; hope in how we want to feel all the time.

http://www.gautier-shops.com/

Janice Rosen is a freelance writer, blogger and fashion consultant based in Toronto.

©  Janice Rosen 2012