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' Tis the Season for Leather

"People are more violently opposed to fur than leather because it's safer to harass rich women than motorcycle gangs."
                                                                         -Alexei Sayle    

Among the twinkling lights, garland, and over-eager shoppers, leather is filling up the shops this Christmas season. We see loads of leather pants, skirts, dresses, and jackets each winter, but this year, an abundance of t-shirt and turtleneck designs have been added to the mix. has a variety of leather apparel to choose from. Some of my favorites include this t-shirt by Maison Martin Margiela ($1,690) and turtleneck by Balmain ($2,690.10).

I also adore this high-waisted skirt by Haider Ackermann ($2,362) and cut-out dress by Valentino ($4,900). Absolutely stunning!

I searched everywhere to purchase real leather, but had to settle for faux (PETA would be happy). I bought leather-friendly needles for my sewing machine and made a skirt. Then I designed and sewed an asymmetrical top to go with it and added leather behind the high-collar for stiffness to keep it upright. I bought enough of the faux leather (at the whopping price of $4 a yard) to also make my little boy an Anakin Skywalker costume for Halloween and either a dress or pair of pants for myself in the future. Quite a bargain compared to the extravagant leather designs seen on the runway.



A Hobbling They Will Go

"Of course, clothing fashions have always been impractical, except in Tahiti."
                                                         -Jacques Barzun

Fashion and common sense have a tendency to contradict one another (does a certain meat dress ring a bell?). Even in the early 1900s, women were willing to sacrifice their comfort and safety to make a fashion statement with the hobble skirt. According to Webster's Dictionary, the definition of a hobble skirt is as follows:
A hobble skirt (from to hobble = "to limp") is a skirt with a narrow enough hem to significantly impede the wearer's stride, thus earning its name. 
The restrictive garment's popularity increased by 1910, the same year the 100-yard hobble skirt championship of Greater New York (and yes, this really happened) took place. On September 14, 1910, The Milwaukee Sentinel reported on the race, in which Sarah King was crowned hobble skirt champion. "The program announced to wouldbe contestants that 'women desiring to enter who were not equipped with hobble skirts will be hobbled with ropes until they are fully as uncomfortable as if dressed in the height of fashion.' The winner covered the 100 yards with only seven tumbles."

It was incredibly difficult for women to maneuver around cities while taking geisha-like steps in these skirts, which led to countless fashion-related accidents. It soon became apparent that something had to change by way of public transit to accommodate the bound-up women. On March 21, 1912, The Toledo News-Bee published an article titled "Hobble Skirt Wins Lower Car Steps" about the Washington St. Railway Company placing orders for new streetcars that would cater to the impractical trend by making the step up into the car a meager 8 inches from the ground. For obvious reasons, these new streetcars were dubbed "hobble skirt" cars.

In 1913, the Boston Evening Transcript reported that a London fashion expert that had just returned from Paris said, "The skirts I saw in Paris were so tight that the wearers could scarcely walk. The dresses are frightfully ugly." Not long after this article was published, skirt designs started to become a bit more functional. But the question still remains: why would anyone with any sense wear the impeding hobble skirt? Perhaps women of that decade believed it made them more ladylike (apart from the tripping and falling) to make small steps or, just simply, flattering to the figure. Whatever the reason, just as high heels are a girl's best friend, fashion and comfort do not always coincide.

I purchased a black and white checked jersey from Mood and decided to sew a pencil skirt. To prevent it from looking too basic, I wanted to add an eye-catching detail at the waistline. I found a small glass bowl in my kitchen and traced around it to make an interesting design. I had leftover checked jersey, so I also created a top similar to my skirt design.

Fortunately for me, my modern and shortened version of the hobble skirt is a bit easier to walk in than the ones worn by the fashion-forward ladies of the early 1900s.



Checkerboard Chic

“Life is a checkerboard, and the player opposite you is time. If you hesitate before moving, or neglect to move promptly, your men will be wiped off the board by time. You are playing against a partner who will not tolerate indecision!”                                                      -Elbert Hubbard

Custom-crafted carousels and trains have been the grand centerpieces for Louis Vuitton shows in the past, but Marc Jacobs has moved on and now added escalators to his repertoire of over-the-top set props. Today in Paris at the Louvre, models descended two at a time from escalators onto a yellow and white checked runway. Like the catwalk, the models wore checkered designs ranging in color schemes from black and white to green and white to yellow and white, similar to the dual-colored stripes on parade a few weeks ago at the Marc Jacobs show.

The reigning creative director for Louis Vuitton was inspired by the abstract minimalist conceptual artist Daniel Buren. "His work is very graphic with the use of grids and so I took inspiration from his sculptures and installations," said Jacobs after the show. There is no doubt that the dress lengths, silhouettes, and beehives gave off a 60s vibe, but Jacobs explained otherwise. "I can't seem to avoid a reference when I design," said Jacobs, "But it wasn't meant to be 60s. The beehive hair probably aided that." Louis Vuitton's signature monogrammed "LV" was missing from the clothing this time around, but Jacobs explained, "I didn't want to do the LV monogram for once, so I used the LV Damier squares instead." Jacobs worked his magic once again.

I was ecstatic to see Louis Vuitton's new collection first thing this morning, because I recently finished constructing my own peplum top resembling a checkerboard. I spent hours cutting out all the squares and sewing them together. A true labor of love. As the old adage goes, great minds think alike.



It Always Comes Back to Black

"Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black."
                                                                     -Henry Ford

As with Ford's Model T, black is dominating the fashion world. The classic hue has flooded the catwalks of New York, London, Milan, and Paris over the past few weeks as designers have debuted their spring/summer 2013 looks. A season typically full of pale pinks and other candy-colored tints, next spring's lookbooks will be heavily sprinkled with black. Here are a few of my favorite black ensembles that have recently graced the runway:

David Koma
Aquilano Rimondi
I made a black dress using a matte jersey. It can be guiltlessly thrown into the washing machine and still hold up well. It can also be dressed up or down using different accessories. Although a simplistic design, it has quickly become my go-to black dress for fall. 



Show-Stopping Stripes

"Once you can accept the universe as being something expanding into an infinite nothing which is something, wearing stripes with plaid is easy."
                                                                    -Albert Einstein

It's that time of year again for autumn comforts - spiced pumpkin lattes, caramel apples, the sound of rustling leaves from a crisp, fall breeze, and the aroma of freshly-sewn couture at New York Fashion Week. Always a crowd favorite, Marc Jacobs revealed his new spring/summer 2013 collection last night at the Lexington Avenue Armory. The event was a festival of stripes that lasted a meager five minutes. Jacobs's mod designs were refreshing and the 60s styling was impeccable. It's questionable whether Jacobs hit the fast-forward button on his show to make a statement, or simply to get back to watching the U.S. Open. Regardless of the reason, it got people talking.  

Quite a shift from the looks seen at the Marc Jacobs show, Zac Posen's spring/summer 2013 collection was chock-full of glamour. From dainty, sheer dresses to luxurious gowns, starlets are sure to snatch up these dresses for red-carpet affairs. As seen this week in designs by Zac Posen, Monique Lhuillier, and Diane Von Furstenberg, one trend still going strong is the always-flattering peplum. Women embrace the peplum because it accentuates the narrowest part of the waist while giving the appearance of an hourglass figure. As all good things come to an end, so will New York Fashion Week. Lucky for us, there are still three more things to look forward to this fall - London, Milan, and Paris.

I purchased an eye-catching Marc Jacobs embroidered fabric on an organza base that is 60s-esque and transformed it into a peplum top. The print resembles the black and white skirt's pattern (pictured above) from Marc Jacobs's new collection. The top will look great with a pair of dark skinny jeans this fall . . . or next spring.



Valentino: Master of Couture

"I know what women want. They want to be beautiful."
                                     -Valentino Garavani


Master couturier and Italian designer Valentino Garavani will be honored at an exhibition opening this November at Somerset House in London. The display will feature over 130 of Valentino's most exquisite creations including designs worn by fashion icons such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Grace Kelly, and Julia Roberts. The exhibit will celebrate 50 monumental years of Valentino's design career that began in the late 1950s, and give visitors a glimpse into Valentino's life. 

"Each of these designs has a beautiful story," Valentino said of the dresses to be displayed. "The atelier crafted each so diligently by hand, taking hours, sometimes days to complete. The details are incredibly intricate. Though outside the runway shows and events, the dresses have rarely been seen. To be able to showcase these designs at Somerset House, where they can be seen in great detail by the public, is very unique."

Valentino is best known for using his signature color red, but that was not always so. In 1968, he debuted one his most memorable collections - the "White Collection." According to the Milwaukee Journal on January 15, 1968, "Jacqueline Kennedy's favorite Roman designer concentrated on white in the preview of his collection for international store buyers and press. What was not white could be beige, black or navy -- adding up to the dictum 'no color.'" The much-talked-about "White Collection" was also the beginning of Valentino's trademark "V" that he began strategically incorporating into his garments. Accompanying white shoes and stockings, the Milwaukee Journal also reported that the show began with a "series of short white coats worn with matching hats shaped like inflated berets." It was this very collection that included the dress Jacqueline chose to wear for her wedding to Aristotle Onassis, which will be on display at Somerset House in a few months.  

I purchased a canvas-like, printed Valentino fabric with a slight stretch from Mood this summer. I transformed it into a pair of shorts and sewed in belt loops. If you squint, you might be able to see "Valentino Jeans" written within the print. Valentino may have passed the torch of his fashion empire onto someone else, but his majestic designs will not be forgotten. 



Prada's Nostalgic Bodysuits

“It's all about wanting to go forward but still having to deal with nostalgia.”
                                                          -Miuccia Prada

One of this season's crowd favorites (in the fashion world, that is) was the swimwear seen in Prada's spring/summer 2012 Real Fantasies collection. Retro-inspired and embellished with colorful, embroidered flowers and sparkling jewels, theses swimsuits have attracted much deserved attention. According to Prada's website, Real Fantasies is a collection that "explores the nostalgia of hot rodding, golfing, picnicking, the space race, and other wholesome past times."

It's arguable that these suits may not yield much swim time, but they are every stylist's dream when it comes to magazine cover shoots. They have graced the covers of Vogue Paris, Elle China, and the British editions of Harper's Bazaar and GQ, to name a few. Victoria Beckham, who modeled the coveted bodysuits for more than one magazine, is also a fan of Miuccia Prada's work. "Everything she does is genius. I've never met her, but everything she does - not just the hair, the make-up, the shows - everything about the brand impresses me, " said Beckham. This isn't the first time Milan-born Miuccia Prada has stunned the fashion industry. She has been designing masterpieces for decades, and for the fashion industry's sake, let's hope she continues for many more years.

I wanted to make a playsuit (think Charlie's Angels' jumpsuits, but a shorts version) based on Prada's bodysuit designs. I chose two Marc Jacobs printed fabrics that complemented each other. Constructing it was similar to a jigsaw puzzle, as I was creating it from scratch with no form with legs to work with. Every proportion had to be perfect for the right fit. I added belt loops and sewed an invisible zipper up the back. It's my greatest construction feat to date (other than possibly my 40s pinup swimsuit)!



Paris Haute Couture

"Paris is always a good idea."
                     -Audrey Hepburn

The Paris haute couture shows for fall 2012 are now finis. Versace was the first among other high-fashion French and Italian designers to dazzle the world with their couture designs this week. As usual, Versace's designs were edgy and full of personality. Two of my favorites were Giambattista Valli and Christian Dior. It was evident that Valli's collection was inspired by nature with its colorful hues, feminine florals, and myriad of textures. The Italian designer has a magical way of creating volume.

Previously designing for Jil Sander, Raf Simons debuted his first haute couture collection for Christian Dior. Many fashion enthusiasts excitedly waited to see what Simons would send down the runway on Monday, and it was quite a success. He managed to create modern silhouettes that were tailored to perfection. Words cannot do the complexity of these haute couture designs justice, so here are a few photos from Paris:

Giambattista Valli Haute Couture Fall 2012

Christian Dior Haute Couture Fall 2012

This week I made a summer dress perfect for every day wear. I chose a rayon woven reversible fabric. Once I received it in the mail, I was disappointed at first because the fabric looked very different than the online photo. One side was silver, which I could have used to concoct a futuristic space suit with, and the other side was blue. I ended up using the blue side and was happy with the final result!



Summer Ads Embrace Retro Charm

"I wear my sort of clothes to save me the trouble of deciding which clothes to wear."
                                -Katharine Hepburn

The heat of summer arrived several weeks ago (at least in Kansas), but today it's official. Summer begins at exactly 7:09 p.m. (EDT). Although the season has just arrived, fashion houses began working on their summer ad campaigns months ago. It's appropriate that designers have chosen to market their colorful clothing in retro-themed ads, given that so many beloved styles from the past have returned to the runway this year. From Prada's gas station ads featuring 50s-style automobiles to Louis Vuitton's ice cream parlor campaign complete with treats, these charming ads seen on billboards and the glossy pages of magazines are sure to gain attention and boost sales.

French brand, Paule Ka, has also embraced the retro-inspired marketing this summer by creating  ads with a 60s vibe. Photographer Venetia Scott came up with the vintage campaign telling the story of a woman vacationing in Acapulco (supposedly THE place to be for a 1960s jetsetter). Fittingly, the hotel pictured in these ads was also the backdrop for the 1963 film "Fun in Acapulco" starring Elvis Presley.
When it comes to summer attire, it's always best to stay cool and comfortable. I recently made a sleeveless top out of an extravagant Marc Jacobs embroidered silk satin twill with a floral pattern. I cut a soft and feminine neckline and lined it with white poplin. I paired the top with high-waisted black shorts I made out of a cotton twill by Theory. The high waist gives them a 40s feel. Perfect for a retro summer!



From Wine Country to the Runway

"I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has ever taken from me."
                                      -Winston Churchill

The term "wino" may take on a whole new meaning (in the fashion world, that is) if a group of scientists from The University of Western Australia has anything to do with it. The researchers in white lab coats have been working on creating eco-friendly, stitch-less garments made solely out of wine through a biological fermentation process. 

The futuristic fashion fabric has been dubbed "Micro'be'" because it is made with living microbes (tiny organisms). The microbes form a skin on top of the wine (think wine scum), which is then layered onto a dress mold to dry. Creators Gary Cass and Donna Franklin acknowledge their wine garments haven't reached the height of perfection yet due to the lack of flexibility, pungent alcohol smell, and brittle consistency when dry. Regardless of its shortfalls, Cass and Franklin are optimistic this innovative, seamless fabric will succeed and one day become a staple in every fashionista's wardrobe (possibly the future LWD - Little Wine Dress?). I'm curious though . . . would you store a LWD in your closet or the wine cellar?

I may not have a lab to concoct a fabric out of a merlot or a chianti, but I did purchase the finest silk from Mood to make a gathered skirt. Silk is a tricky textile to work with (although I imagine easier than wine) because it it so fragile. I've worked with it a few times now and am finally getting the hang of it. I paired the skirt with a black top I made out of a high-quality matte jersey. This look may not be bio-degradable, but at least I won't smell like a bar while wearing it.



Hats Off to Mr. Depp

"I don't pretend to be captain weird. I just do what I do."
                                               -Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp was honored with the Fashion Icon Award tonight at the CFDA Fashion Awards. Previously awarded to women with a distinct personal style such as Lady Gaga, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kate Moss, Depp was the first male to be recognized. The awards were held at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center and marked the 50th anniversary of the CFDA. This is the first year that the ceremony will be digitally broadcast to the public on (tomorrow at 12 PM EST).

Depp’s unique style is an effortless juxtaposition of the disheveled, like a well-worn waistcoat, with the impeccably designed. An example of the latter is the headwear he sports on screen and in real life, created by master hatter Graham Thompson of Chicago’s Optimo Hats. Thompson has provided custom-made, hand-crafted hats for many movies, including Cinderella Man and J. Edgar, and outfitted Depp for this iconic Public Enemies film poster. Such hats are a staple of Depp’s everyday wardrobe too, and his stylishly raked brims prove that while fedoras are no longer commonplace accessories, they can still be difference makers when worn with confidence and flair. When asked by James Lipton on Inside the Actor's Studio about his attraction to funny hats, Depp responded, "I don't know, maybe I just read too much Dr. Seuss as a kid."

It can't be a coincidence that hats are incorporated into so many of Depp's movie roles: Willy Wonka's garish purple stovepipe in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the straw fedora that perfectly fit Hunter S. Thompson's Cuba in The Rum Diary, and most memorably, Captain Jack Sparrow's battered black tricorne. While the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has lost its steam, let's hope that Depp continues his unique and whimsical fashion choices long into the future. As Optimo Hat’s tagline states, “Life’s better in a great hat.”

Not remotely related to Johnny Depp's hat collection, the warm Kansas weather has motivated me to make shorts. Having never made a pair before, I first had to figure out how to cut each fabric piece. I used ordinary tissue paper (still haven't managed to buy proper pattern paper) to make my own pattern and kept tweaking it until it yielded the perfect fit. Using my pattern, I made these plaid shorts in just under an hour. They are high-waisted and zip up the side. I'd like to imagine Johnny would be proud. 



Wartime Swimsuits Storm the Beaches

"During World War II, the pinup girl became popular. And wearing a skimpy swimsuit was patriotic -- it was considered doing your part for the war effort."
                                                    -Anna Cole, swimwear designer

Ava Gardner, Actress/Pin-up Girl
As enthusiastic crowds flock to sandy beaches this summer, swimsuits will be disappearing from store racks at a rapid rate. Once very modest and made of impractical fabrics such as wool, women's beachwear has drastically evolved since the early 1900s.

In the 1920s, Coco Chanel popularized the "sun tan" when she spent a bit too much time in the French Riviera and returned with a sun-kissed glow. Chanel's accidental tan was reason enough for women everywhere to adopt lying in the sun for leisure as a new form of relaxation. This hot new trend did wonders for the fashion world of swimwear.

Esther Williams Poolside in 1944
It was in the early 1940s, when war rationing extended to fabric, that the two-piece swimsuit baring some midriff really took off. Designers shortened tops and removed the extra skirt panel covering the thighs to save on fabric consumption, but still kept the navel strategically covered with a high-waisted bottom. Wartime pin-up girls like Ava Gardner, Esther Williams, and Rita Hayworth gained attention and heightened the popularity of these swimsuits among young females. 

Cole of California
Wartime Swimsuit Ad 
Fred Cole, a silent film actor and founder of Cole of California, transformed his family's knit underwear business into a swimwear success by bringing Hollywood glamour to the beach. During the war, Cole of California also made parachutes for the Air Force and marketed this tidbit in their swimsuit ads to boost sales among patriotic Americans.

When asked about upcoming swim fashions for an issue of The Evening Independent published on November 15, 1945, Cole said, "We want to keep 'em bare, but flattering. We want 'em functional, but beautiful. And the average figure is bad." Not sure if he'd get away with the latter part of that statement in today's society, but honest, nonetheless. The article went on to say, "With the average figure in mind, Mr. Cole does swim shorts in elasticized shirred treatments which have the effect of a girdle."
After the war was over, French designer Louis Reard debuted the bikini, which exposed much more skin than its predecessor. He named it the "bikini" after the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, the site of U.S. nuclear tests. Simultaneously in 1946, Jacques Heim, another French designer, came out with his version of the bikini and called it the "atome" (French for atom) and donned it "the world's smallest bathing suit." Reard then advertised his suit as "smaller than the world's smallest bathing suit." It was still considered improper to reveal one's navel in the 40s, so although it was available, the bikini was not worn by the masses until much later. 
My Version of
Norma Kamali's Design
Norma Kamali's Fringed 40s Pin-up
Swimsuit on
Retro 40s pin-up style swimsuits are making a comeback this season. Designers such as Yves Saint LaurentChloĆ©, and Dolce & Gabbana have all perfected the high-waisted two-piece delights. One of my favorite websites to virtually "window" shop is I was recently looking for a retro swimsuit and stumbled across the most exquisite one I had ever laid eyes on, by Norma Kamali. After seeing its shocking price of  $1,500 (and no, your eyes are not deceiving you), I knew I'd have to attempt sewing it myself. I purchased black swimsuit fabric and 17 yards of fringe. I had no idea how tedious sewing all the layers and layers of fringe would be or the challenge of perfecting the fit until I started cutting and sewing. After many hours spent constructing this suit, I now understand why it is listed for $1,500. Actually, quite a bargain after all! The most ironic thing about this little treasure is that it states on, "To get the best from this Norma Kamali piece we advise you do not wear it to swim." Happy lounging (I wouldn't dare set foot in the water wearing mine)!