Ranunculus Neckline Dress

Lately when I try to make things easier they get harder. It’s not really a knack that endears me to me, but it does make for extra delight when plans trundle past intended mileposts instead of making sharp U-turns into oncoming traffic.

So let me keep this short and fairly sweet….

First, I met some fabric. Then, I met a woman intrigued by my desire to merge a simple wool jersey dress with a dramatic collar. I mentioned “1940s” and “draped” and “rouched.” From there the Affable Experimenter came up with an interpretation that reminds me of the gorgeous Persian buttercup (aka ranunculus asiaticus):

After much patient experimentation, a local dressmaker succeeded in topping a wool jersey dress with a ranunculus-like neckline

Although I certainly see a connection to the soft swoops of fabric so prevalent in vintage clothing. And to dimensional dresses worn by not-so-vintage sirens.

With the help of my creative collaborator, I’d say I ended up with a dress that’s 1 part 40s Vogue : 1 part Katy Perry

While my Contrarian Classicist side influenced the design from start to finish, adding a few shiny accessories makes it simple to get buy-off from my Minimalist Magpie side. When the dress is worn on its own, all it takes is a little patent:

Long sleeves and a staid length meet up with patent platform peeptoe heels…

and also pair with highly walkable boots that have their own take on platform + patent (via a tough-to-see shiny heel)

But adding a matching jersey tube that lightly cinches the waist and upper hip area makes the perfect backdrop for an off-the-clock chain belt:

A removable tube of matching wool jersey lets me create more waist definition (and provides a handy backdrop for a chain belt once I’m off the clock)

As with most of my custom projects, the Affable Experimenter and I had to do some problem-solving here and there; overall, though, the whole process was so smooth I may be in withdrawal from “complicated.” Could that be why the highly impractical cape below seems so appealing?

A 1955 cover line touts bulk against slimness—and makes it mighty tempting to add another charcoal item to my closet

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Parade of Peacock Feathers Dress

Having apparently squashed the rose-colored glasses I keep around to help offset personal and global downers, I’m extra-bummed that anytime I fall in love with something beautiful there’s always a least a little darkness attached.

Take silk: though I felt called to start budgeting for my Periwinkle Silk Goes Goddess-y Blouse the moment I saw it—and vowed to have a less poufy, more printed version created in dress form—knowing the very very tough life that captive silkworms lead definitely cast a cloud over my greed.

Because even I, with my “Let them eat mulberry leaves!” perspective, feel a bit guilty about how ole silkworms feast, molt, mate, lay eggs, and die soon after. Author Dana Thomas, observer of modern silk production, leaves no room for one to have happy fantasies about silkworm eggs going on to live happy caterpillar/silkmoth lives, either; she notes that (hopefully unexploited) workers steam the critters in their cocoons before unwinding the cocoons onto reeling machines and getting down to a process where “the work is swift, the water filthy, smelly, and very hot.”

Kind of grim, right? By the time I’d done two months of off-and-on searching for silk fabric I was worn down with liberal guilt.

[But then that’s part of the reason Thomas’ excellent book is titled Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster and not Consumption: Enjoy It Mindlessly.]

Naturally I could have reassessed my wants, abandoned my quest for a silk print, and turned to bamboo jersey. Once I stumbled upon a fabric with the right colors, design, and sheen for my purposes, however, I’m afraid the plight of the silkworms was mentally filed under D for Denial and cross-referenced under H for Hypocrisy.

As a bonus, the madcap print—varying sizes of peacock feathers sprawled over a 2-foot repeat—reminded me of one of the most amazing spaces I’ve ever seen, James McNeill Whister’s Peacock Room.

I’m discovering that my custom peacock feather print silk dress (worn V-neck/halter style) loves a good breeze

Though a mere dewy-eyed girl when I first encountered Whistler’s beautiful deep aqua and gilt creation, I’d still move in today. Especially as the room boasts a mural that captures the seemingly eternal battle between those who create art for money and those who hold the proverbial purse strings.

My childhood love: James McNeill Whister’s Peacock Room — loved even more now for its mural (Art and Money; or, the Story of the Room)

But back to the dress, close sibling to my voluminous periwinkle purchase.

As documented earlier with the blouse, the style is a mix between a simple Greek chiton and a peasant blouse. A drawstring neckline and a detached belt let the wearer transform it from two sewn-together rectangles to a dress/tunic that can be worn in a variety of styles.

In my case all the “variety of styles” involve feathers on poitrine and posterior, but when one is channeling a peacock, shyness isn’t an option. I’m actually hoping a wild print plus under-engineered clothing shape = loud and clear sign of midlife crisis.

WAKE UP PEOPLE

L, 3 yards of silk Haute Hippie peacock print fabric await transformation; R, pale silver sandals meet up with meandering peacock feathers

However, as a fan of structured clothing, I’m naturally clinging to my creation’s drawstring for dear life. It’s my gateway to texture and shape, and although the string and channel construction is underappreciated in my household (“It looks…Amish,” quoth my beloved), I stand by my belief that a gathered neckline or sleeve has timeless charm.

If the style was good enough for the innovative Madeleine Vionnet, by gum, it’s good enough for me!

Speaking of art and money: As one of the master’s of the goddess-y gown, Vionnet’s mix of technical and artistic skills centered around ease of movement and letting the inherent qualities of a fabric shine (L, detail of a 1936 pleated neckline; R, shoulder detail from a 1938 gown — both c. the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Lately it’s been good enough for those hired to carry on Vionnet’s work, too.

During her long career, Madeleine Vionnet expanded industry horizons; today Vionnet SpA reinterprets her vision (Spring 2011)

In fact, I’m somewhat mourning my tradeoff of fewer pleats for less width/more manageability—but since I’m busy trying to figure out how and where to put necklines, hemlines, and volume I don’t have much time to dwell on my decision.

I’ve pretty much decided I can do false-advertising-in-action demure…

A short + straight waist means I rarely belt, but the crazy print of Peacock (keyhole in back/high neck variation) does keep the eye moving…hopefully away from slatternly slip straps

fear I need to draw the line at front-pleated skirts…am safe with the split shoulder, V-neck halter style better modeled with the Periwinkle Pouf…

A multi-way dress has many challenges, and while my sewist conquered print placement I’m testing necklines, hem lengths, and volume distribution

…and may have broken something trying to be trendy via tunic, cuffed skinny jeans, and vaguely cage sandals.

Technically, my Peacock dress can become a Peacock tunic…so I’ve thrown my staid basics aside in order to experiment with about 10 (aging) trends at once

Luckily for me and my styling efforts, the peacock symbolizes renewal. Here’s to having such a vividly colored reminder that every failure marks another opportunity for success!

PSA 1 and 2: Learn as Betty Kirke, costume historian and author of the classic Madeleine Vionnet, shares her knowledge about Vionnet’s revolutionary construction techniques—or get a glimpse of the Vionnet retrospective at the Museum of Decorative Arts (redirects to YouTube):

PSA 3: Get a look inside the jewel box known as the Peacock Room, currently housed in the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art, and read up on the artist-patron feud that inspired the room’s famous mural

Getting a head start on my Bling me up, Scotty resolution

As a sucker for anything shiny I’ve long admired the flashes of green, blue, purple etcetera exhibited by labradorite, a dark grey mineral generally hailing from Labrador, Canada.

[Apparently Canadians take their branding more seriously than I’d realized, as they refuse to call the stone’s beautiful play of colors iridescence, instead insisting on the term labradorescence. As the latter term is both a savvy marketing move and fun to say, who am I to question their choice?]

Now normally I’m a pretty surface-oriented person when debating jewelry options.

Since wearing labradorite would apparently jumpstart my January and beyond by aiding my self-esteem, creativity, metabolism, perseverance, and energy as well as helping out my crappy night vision and boosting my resistance to respiratory illnesses, however, I didn’t hesitate to tell holiday-shopping relatives that I’d like to change my usual “hiking socks and black tights, please” answer to one involving the transformative stone. Stand back, world!

When pressed for suggestions to pass along, I ventured over to the somewhat daunting etsy.com and searched amongst their raft of $50 and under jewelry for a labradorite lovely. I may have looked incredibly briefly at some stunning items over $50, since I was there and all, but it was easy enough to fall in love with an in-budget pendant of unknown origin, time period, or labor source.

SOLD!

Though members of my clan forced me to pick it up in beautiful, sunny California.

O FINE, I WILL COME BE MERRYISH AND WARM AND DRY

California, possibly keen to win over another family member, surprised me by serving up something in addition to relatives, sunshine, and my new pendant: a vintage Whiting and Davis mesh bag.

My Minimalist Magpie side, emboldened by time spent in the glittering sun, demanded that I take the $20 envelope-shaped beauty home with me.

Vintage meets "used": The back side of a $20 Whiting and Davis mesh clutch shows off a new-to-me labradorite pendant

So I did.

Let me say that I resisted my dog-nephew’s wouldn’t you like to give me leftovers? face for 5 days straight so it’s not as if I’m a complete marshmallow…but yes, I caved almost immediately when the bag’s sparkle called to me from across the proverbial crowded room.

Luckily for Whiting and Davis fans who don’t feel like tromping around consignment shops, the long-standing company still produces both its simple and more elaborate mesh bags—plus vintage options abound. Pick a favorite from online vintage resellers or mainstream retailers, or just ogle the designs collected in a W&D-centric book.

Whiting and Davis' mesh purses are the perfect advertisement for this book on the long-standing US company

Somewhat unfortunately, I can see how one could get good and hooked on collecting W&D bags for personal use. What with my new-to-me bag’s streamlined shape and versatile color, my grubby little paws and I are finding many an excuse to trot ole Meshy out and about.

I find a neutral backdrop of dark denim, black, and charcoal serves as a good foil for pendant and purse

Of course my $5 All Up in My Grillz Clutch is super-miffed I left it in the closet on New Year’s Eve in order to add yet ANOTHER bit of bling to an outfit that already involved a lurex-threaded dress and shimmery multi-strand necklace.

Sure, neutral backdrops are great--but there's also something to said for pairing my vintage mesh clutch with lurex-threaded Missoni fabric by the yard (and despite the clutch's clasp lacking one rhinestone, the bag has plenty of personality)

But really: can one have too much sparkle on NYE? Especially when one has to tone down said (Persnickety Bohemian-approved) lurex-threaded dress for one’s business creative/casual workplace?

Since I tone down my lurex-threaded dress with opaque tights, a higher neckline, and a cardigan or jacket for my Business Creative/Casual workplace...

This year, I voted “Hell no!” and chose to ring in the new year with plenty of bling. It may have been overkill for the local Italian restaurant where I celebrated, but I figured I’d try to point the universe in a shiny happy people direction.

...I figured I might as well bling up the slightly metallic, front-and-back scooped Missoni fabric by the yard dress for NYE

Unfortunately the local, national, and world news has already tarnished my hopes for a 2012 that never loses its luster, but here’s to a future that’s as bright as possible!

Barely Boho-ho

Apparently the love child of my two more staid style personas will not be denied: the Persnickety Bohemian wants her time in the sun.

Which is annoying and ridiculous because I’m not spending my summer lounging around a private cabana with ocean breezes ruffling my silken garb, nor am I wandering around an exotic marketplace picking up local jewelry and textiles.

I’m either working, or being provincial.

But the libertine heart wants what the libertine heart wants, which is how I’ve ended up wearing an increasing number of outfits which are (should one require a label) barely boho. There’s just something about the unholy mix of super-tailored items with their opposite that appeals to me right now. Greatly appeals.

After 3 months of steady wear, however, I wish I could either commit to dragging my kind of free kind of wow, Charlie sheer silk blouse in for a little tailoring, or learn to embrace its über-waftiness and semi-boxiness.

Undertailored (those arms!) Fairie in the Backyard top meets overtailored mullet shorts (chopped from twice-tailored work pants)

Normally I wouldn’t even BE wavering; as one with an H/Rectangle build and some proportional issues I’ve come to see boxy as villainous.

But o the damn shirt and its siren call! First, a gathered waist and curved hem created a hint of a peplum, and I’m a sucker for a peplum. Then, its transparency turned the copious fabric less boxylicious in most lights. So I rationalized buying it and am now rationalizing leaving it as-is.

[Since the dark grey/purple/rose color scheme fit in with the rest of my clothing, and the print seemed to meet my interpretation of stylist Bridgette Raes’ guidelines, I can’t say it was terribly difficult for the few ounces of silk to weasel their way into my closet.]

My Persnickety Bohemian side doesn’t like the arms in need of tailoring or the creases…but luckily when it come to my garden I’m more of a wild woman

Now given the state of my yard—which is teetering somewhere between “lush” and “blowsy”—I don’t know why I’m obsessing about the blouse’s semi-sloppiness. I guess it’s just a case of “Get your Persnickety out of my Bohemian!” “No, you get YOUR Bohemian out of MY Persnickety!”

Mid-July in the Vix Household backyard: going for lush but heading for blowsy and unkempt

Thank god the hat I usually slap on when I’m running around in the sun is not only a less fraught item, but an item that demonstrates that my legs are not as white as they could be.

Testing camera’s white balance with legs and hat…and trying to embrace a loosey-goosey top fit from all angles

I know my barely boho ensembles are neither fish nor fowl, truly I do. Yet I can’t seem to stop wearing them for work and play. They feel…just indulgent and devil-may-care enough.

Custom creatures: lightweight purple wool sheath plus Missoni-by-the-yard cardiwrap

Especially since I can’t bring myself to pair the scoopneck sheath I had made out of a beautifully lightweight, medium purple wool with a traditional blazer or cardigan. Way too Barbara Bush for me and at odds with my workplace environment, I’m afraid.

My favorite cardiwrap tied Daisy Duke style, though?

L, Custom lightweight purple wool sheath and Missoni-by-the-yard cardiwrap. R, rather prissy taupe patent peeptoes and beloved/aging pale pink micronet stockings

Why I think I hear Bohemian Rhapsody playing softly in the background….

Don’t miss this Barely Boho bonus shot, which documents how I accidentally matched my T and ancient silk maxidress-worn-as-skirt to the porta-potties at an outdoor festival!

Ultimate PMS Skirt

When she’s not at her day job, my pal Ms Eileen* is doing remarkably well keeping her camera focused on people/places/things. Between photography classes, wanderings, and a few paid portrait sessions she continues to develop her skills at an amazing rate…a rate that actually manages to outpace that of her photography-related purchases!

While I’ve been keeping up with the results of her studies, there’s nothing like seeing her in action. And this weekend I was fortunate enough to experience just that as she worked with a client who’s gearing up to go back on the job market.

BETTER YOU THAN ME, DEAR CLIENT

During the shoot, Eileen did all the hard work; I, on the other hand, swanned around making color-related suggestions and holding up things like an AWESOMELY LARGE diffuser so that light would bounce around and make our subject look all dewy-skinned and rested.

Not that said client and her camera-ready smile needed much help, but don’t we all have enough “photojournalistic” snapshots with unflattering shadows and glares to last a lifetime? Give me reality-plus anytime.

[Through reverse-side and cover design hocus-pocus, this diffuser even permits metallic colors to reflect back on the subject; you better believe I asked to see how the gold interacted with our captive’s lusciously warm skin tones. Answer: Beautifully.]

As a reward for stalwart holding of objects and so forth, Ms Eileen humored my request to capture the true glory of a piece I had created back in December: my Ultimate PMS Skirt.

Having worn ourselves and the client out with a loooong working session, we went old-school: dash down a side street with just a camera, grab 10 minutes of shots, and hit the road.

The result? The skirt was put through its PMS paces and came out a winner—and even held its own against my growing ever-more-ancient Awww Ya Big Lug Boots.

Custom Clothing for the Cranky: Key Benefits of My Ultimate PMS Skirt

1. Stretch fabric and slight A-line design allow one to blow off steam by running, jumping, and kicking 

2. Elastic waist accommodates water retention and/or hormonally-influenced eating

Neither rain nor...rain...can keep my Utimate PMS Skirt from displaying its bright, non-binding ways

Putting my Utimate PMS Skirt through its paces

3. Cheery color + mild Eurotrash sheen boosts mood OR fools others into thinking one is in a good mood so that they venture close enough to hear vent/sob of the moment

4. Color + pattern are bold enough to justify pairing with no-thought-needed, simple black or white pieces reminiscent of classic Pink Panther looks

Though it doesn’t give me the longest, leanest line, I generally pair my skirt with black or white for that classic Pink Panther look

5. Deconstructed hem irritates Mr Vix, my talented tailor/drycleaner, and any other perfectionists I encounter, thus satisfying my latent oppositional defiant disorder tendencies

My Ultimate PMS Skirt: more-or-less front and back + deconstructed hem

I had actually asked the Mellow Glamazon to whip up the skirt—born of last summer’s Missoni fabric by the yard haul plus a lining of sturdy-weight black jersey—for a reason: I wanted to indulge my inner Persnickety Bohemian (love child of my Minimalist Magpie and Contrarian Classicist style personas) when I went to Southern California this winter.

[And boy, did my barely boho side adore Venice Beach!]

Since the skirt entered my closet 5 months ago, I’ve been wearing it perhaps-overly-much with my multitude of VaderWear tops, sweaters, and blazers. Though I generally stick to monochromatic or tonal color combinations—the better to elongate my short legged/long torso’d self—what can I say: sometimes I like to go wild with a choppy, high-contrast look.

YO, ANYONE GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?

Because if so, just give me a moment to slip into something more comfortable….

* I must wish the talented Ms Eileen a very Happy 40th Birthday week! May your year be filled with wonderful clients and fabulous camera accessories.