The last 4 months in 5 quick photos

(top to bottom: Marveling at Fort Feline, a Gold Beach Oregon community for feral cats; trying to see possibility vs a lost cause; hiking the gorgeous (Columbia River) Gorge; prepping for an upcoming, multi-event family wedding; taking time to notice a blue and gold fall)

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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

Curiosities on Oregon’s Central Coast

Though I placed a very different order with the universe, my summer calendar has been filled with tedious, mildly dramatic events instead of invigorating adventures. While recalibrating from zombie to human has required scaling back the more extraverted of my commitments and activities, it’s also had an upside: lots of low-key moments with very wonderful others.

Now, the experiences that were both mellow and a departure from the work-home-work-home landscape may have thrilled me a bit more by dint of their rarity.

And the ones that came with a fair amount of visual interest were possibly extra-rejuvenating.

But really—I couldn’t assign wellness values to each interaction; cumulatively, they all provided a lift. I will say that 24 hours on an underappreciated part of Oregon’s coast did seem to shift a lot of internal ballast. Perhaps it was startled into moving when it encountered large-scale Jang Seung carvings in Lincoln City instead of Seoul?

Artist Yoosuk Bang’s Jang Seungs carvings lived a jet setter’s life before their rather unexpected installation in front of Lincoln City’s Palace Inn

Or lightened by blue sky, broad expanses of empty sand, and the soothing rhythm of the waves?

It may be a gorgeous summer weekend, but Lincoln City’s underappreciated oceanfront has far more barnacles than beachcombers

Holding onto tension in such a setting is futile, especially when given random reminders to seek harmony. [Though technically the message came once-removed via Mr Vix.]

When the beach yields a yin-yangesque reminder to find balance, surely one should listen?

Clearly we were to continue following our no-plan plan!

Having tapped out our interest in wandering the beach, we turned to the streets, streets which happily led us to the city’s farmers market. More judgmental types might have been fazed by the abundance of deep-fried and sugary items, but as someone left underwhelmed by swiss chard when strawberry doughnuts beckon, I was in heaven.

Feeling both festive and vaguely ill from the aforementioned deep-fried items, the next move was up in the air. With no interest in Lincoln City’s casino and outlet mall—two reasons many avoid the area, for which I thank them—we hopped in the car and headed north. North turned out to be an excellent choice, as we stumbled onto one of Oregon’s most unusual headlands: Cape Kiwanda.

Expecting to see the charcoal-hued cliffs sported by most of the state’s coastline, I was a bit thrown by the warm rust and ochre tones I spotted across the beach. Why, except for the whole ocean element I could be hiking in Palm Springs!

Cape Kiwanda’s sandstone headland, with its beautifully colored cliffs, stands out amongst the coast’s more common basalt landmarks

Fortunately the terribly Oregonian “hey man, we’re just chilling and doing a photo shoot of outdoor wear but you’re welcome to be underfoot” thing helped tether me to geographic reality.

Despite geological oddities and a nearby fashion shoot (complete with stylist and makeup artist), an intrepid young bystander keeps her eyes on the ocean

Even if the rows of indentations along portions of the cliff walls suggested a reality that existed long, long before mine…

Wandering along Pacific City’s beach toward Cape Kiwanda brings one to honeycomb-like hollows

and the accepted practice of mixing dory boats + surfers + swimmers made me fear I might see a placid setting turn into a triage set-up should a boat clip an adorable waterbug during its incredibly fast transition from ocean to beach.

Consider yourself warned: near Cape Kiwanda, surfers and swimmers best keep an eye out for dory boats that swoop to a standstill

Luckily for my nerves we were headed to the calmer pastures of Tillamook County, where an impressive cow population along with a steady tourist influx allows dairy farmers to churn money along with butter.

Tillamook’s long-standing position as an Oregon dairy center goes back 100+ years. Today, dairy tourists have two main temples: the Blue Heron French Cheese Company (brie, booze, and lots of glass-packaged gourmet items) and the Tillamook Cheese Factory (ice cream, cheese, and swarms of families).

Despite an unfortunate genetic mis-wiring that leaves me unable to stuff gobs of dairy into my system, I do my best to support local businesses when visiting. And those working in the dairy industry tend to be so friendly, damn them. I felt a civic duty to stop at both companies, and Mr Vix was easily persuaded—though I think it was more a case of “you had me at ‘free samples'” than anything more soul-stirring.

I’d like to point out that stopping at the Factory isn’t just about gluttony, however: it’s also about EDUCATION.

Between the ability to watch factory workers and the relatively lively interpretive exhibit, a detour there is a social studies lesson come to life. Naturally the vintage marketing materials drew me like a curd to whey.

While the Tillamook Cheese Factory is a tourist mecca, its exhibitions (and practically free ice cream) are worth a pit stop

Now of course the central coast has oodles of natural beauty I didn’t document, along with any number of ways to get up close and personal with marine life, history, and/or delicious eats/drinks. Which I’d say is reason enough to go….

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

Periwinkle Silk Goes Goddess-y Blouse

In my younger and more Miss Priss days I was prone to living vicariously through charismatic slightly-bad-boys. While age has dampened my attraction to males full of razzle and dazzle, I rather suddenly and mysteriously seem to be prone to desiring clothing with similar attributes. Should I blame biology for my increasingly flamboyant taste—or just boredom?

Whatever the reason behind the change, it’s wreaking havoc on my plans to add a few practical spring-to-summer wardrobe items to my closet.

Instead of bringing home pieces ideal for my body shape, coloring, and lifestyle, I let an acre of periwinkle silk captivate my heart and my wallet. And though the material is fashioned into a blouse that can be worn in a multitude of ways and feels like heaven on, I can’t delude myself into thinking it’s ideal.

It’s too shiny. It’s too voluminous. It’s too in-need-of-belting (always a dicey proposition for a short-waisted H/Rectangle).

Blue meets green on a rare 85 degree April day (blouse worn V-neck/halter-tie style)

But despite knowing the blouse is rather wrong I don’t care that it’s not quite right. [And after decades of obliviousness around proportions and cut, these days I generally care about such things a great deal.]

I’d attribute the buy to my small but powerful Persnickety Bohemian side, but there’s plenty of finger-pointing to go around. Don’t think that my Contrarian Classicist style persona wasn’t whispering, “What’s more classic than a garment reminiscent of ancient Greece?” whenever I ran through the pros and cons of adding a vat of charmeuse to my closet.

L, Roman copy of a 4th century A.D. Greek statue wearing a peplos; R, attributed to Liberty of London c 1880s (via the Metropolitan Museum of Art's online gallery)

Periwinkle silk blouse worn V-neck/halter-tie style (with tighter vs looser gathers)

Post-purchase I learned that my blouse is more chiton-like than the peplos beloved by sculptors. Or more chiton-crossed-with-a-peasant-blouse-like. Translation: I bought rectangles of fabric meant to be transformed from boxy blah into luxuriously draped goodness. Er, yea?

Precedents for my periwinkle: Greek Chiton and Peasant Blouse

Unsurprisingly for someone on record as loving a good sarong dress and often sure that rouching will solve many a wardrobe problem, I feel more at ease with structured draping that has at least a small molecule in common with the artistic masterpieces of Madame Grès than I do with a couple of fabric rectangles.

2011 saw a long-overdue Madame Grès retrospective at the Musée Bourdelle

Alas for my comfort zone, there’s no getting around the fact that even when corralled, my blouson-y periwinkle doesn’t exactly create softened-yet-sleek lines.

Periwinkle silk blouse worn with keyhole in back

But here I am, and forward I must go. All hail that inspirational master of volume, Balenciaga!

Mid-50s Balenciaga via the Metropolitan Museum of Art's online gallery

Dear Balenciaga made things look so easy, yet two months after purchasing what Mr Vix rather annoyingly yet semi-accurately insists on calling my “purple sack” I’m still trying to figure out how to get the most out of the blouse’s range of wearing options.

Keyhole neckline front or back, gathers tightened/loosened, hem higher or lower—things can get a little complicated. I ain’t gonna lie: at times, styling my new boho luxe delight has proven as challenging as taking self-portraits in a dark hallway.

Voluminous meets variety in a dark hallway: Periwinkle silk blouse worn with split-neck/straight-across tie, deep V-neck, and with keyhole in back

At this point, tossing it over or under a column of color has been how I’ve started getting my cost per wearing down. As the weather dries up and warms up, though, I’ll keep on experimenting with variations that put this blouse front and center. Because when one’s inner goddess decides it wants to assert herself, it seems best to get out of the way.

PSA #1: Get an overview of Madame Grès and her sculptural designs—a mix of “austerity and sensuality”—including glimpses of the 2011 Musée Bourdelle exhibit that featured her work:

PSA #2: Enjoy Grainsdesel’s extensive, multi-part walkthrough of  the 2011 Madame Grès retrospective at the Musée Bourdelle—including beautiful shots of the museum itself: