The Oscars of fashion is the annual Vogue-sponsored red carpet fete for the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute. But this year's show "American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity" happens to run concurrently with an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum "American High Style: Fashioning a National Collection featuring a beautifully curated 85 masterpieces of couture. Along with Elsa Schiaparelli pieces like the surrealist plastic disk necklace crawling with toy insects ( below left) and elegant, here-and-now-looking pieces by Norman Norell (below right), the show has an interesting focus on the forties-a pivotal time in American fashion. Couture customers stranded stateside by Germans in Paris discovered a talented group of American women designers. Claire McCardell, Bonnie Cashin, Valentina (whose designs were worn in films by Garbo and Kathryn Hepburn),Carolyn Schnurer and Vera Maxwell had the business incentive and freedom to express a "national identity' with their designs. Enamored of Schiaparelli's surrealist sportswear like divided tennis skirts and one of the first (if not the first) pant suits they created clothes that broke with the formality and rigor of French fashion.
Claire McCardell had an especially modern design sensibility. With casual and uncomplicated silhouettes, her 'play clothes' pioneered a distinctly American style that broke ranks with the fussiness of many French clothes. We can credit her and Bonnie Cashin ( among others) for the American ideal of sportswear.
You don't have to live in New York to experience some of the collection. The Brooklyn show has a virtual/interactive element too. The museum has partnered with Polyvore, the social networking site where members create and share collages of fashion pictures. Visitors to the museum's website or to Polyvore will be able to mix and match the museum's fashions with any image on Polyvore. This should thrill the world's aspiring Anna Wintours to create clever mash-ups of the iconic with the right now. Those who want to see more of the museum's 4000 holdings which include Balanciaga and Yves St. Laurent as well as Americans Scassi and Geoffrey Beene can view them on the ARTstor digital library.
A few weeks ago, I listened to a panel of fashion and beauty seers assembled by The Fashion Group International. Sarah Brown, senior beauty editor at Vogue had an interesting take on one of the hottest accessories for spring/summer. Nails. In a recession economy sales of nail polish have soared with an interesting mix of colors that are classic and irreverent.
Along with variations on summer classics like peach, coral and shell pinks there are tough, futuristic colors like dark blue, hunter green and silver bullet gray that suggest an auto assembly line more than a bottle of lacquer. Neon yellows and hottest pinks are inspired by fashion's infatuation with sport clothes like neoprene surf gear. They have a New Wave 1982 look and are purely kid stuff. The ageless and modern look? Color with sophistication. There is nothing cooler-looking than a simply dressed woman with an unexpected color on her nails. Well, toes anyway. Some of these colors can be pretty rough on mature hands but toes are an age-free zone so let it rip. The other day I spotted a good looking, 50ish woman on Madison Avenue wearing a very deep blue polish on her hands and feet as an accent to a minimalist outfit. She looked great. Experiment.
My current favorites fall into two camps: Incendiary orange reds and the kind of taupe-gray mashups that looked so great on the spring runways at Chanel and Marc Jacobs. I love the way a fiery red lights up white and a pair of tan feet. And taupe adds edge to any look and toughens up soft colored clothes.
LEFT TO RIGHT:
RGB Nails Too Red $14 RGBcosmetics.com. Essie Vermillionaire "A heart pounding red orange" $8 essie.com. Sephora By OPI Petals a vivid tigerlilly orange-red $9 sephora.com. Butter London Pillar Box Red $14 butterlondon.com.
RGB Toast $14 RGBcosmetics.com.
I have always loved the spectator shoes and sandals of summer. Any graphic combination of chalk white paired with bright color and you've got my attention. Not to mention the appeal of the Chanel ballet flat. The feminine proportion and that black cap toe have a 'forever ingénue' quality that appeals to the inner Bardot in ever woman. For summer I've been spotting many two-tone and color blocked riffs on the theme that are more cheeky than classic. How better to spark neutrals like white, khaki and black in your wardrobe? And in a season of pattern mixes, wearing a print something with a color-blocked shoe (that share at least one color in common) looks style savvy.
1.Kate Spade's sandal combines cream and caramel with fiery orange red $298 couturezappos.com.
2.Barneys New York COOP simple camel suede and gold leather sandal has a two-toned perfection that will elevate any outfit $295 barneysnewyork.com .
3.Could have knocked me over when I found this shoe from Camper - a line known best for sturdier shoes. Nude and black suede combine with a light wedge heel for tri-colored chic. Great with silk cropped pants. Walkable and $149.99 endless.com.
4. I 'll confess I am exhausted by shoe styes that suggests gladiator anything. But this style's sculpted heel, minimal platform and combination of straw textured fabric and cream leather piping reminds me of Manolo Blahnik. Expensive looking but $120 ninewest.com.
5. Okay these sandals from Loeffler Randall are patterned and not color blocked but they have a low 1 inch wood wedge heel and it's easy to see how they'll enhance neutrals and hot colored solids alike. $399 couturezappos.com.
6. J.Crew's versatile two -toned satin ballet flats are dip dyed by hand $118 jcrew.com.
Shorts are everywhere or maybe I am looking at them more closely after reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about how shorts ( especially in lightweight leather) have been given a huge retail push. Why? Because designers hope they might just be the one thing most of us don't have in our closets. For anything but weekends, anyway.
Utility chic describes the new breed of shorts cut in fabrics like tissue weight leather at Celine (above left). Cotton satine and silk blends are refined enough to wear to work with a jacket or out in the evening with a dressed top like Pringle's metallic knit above (right). Finding the right length short is just like finding your ideal skirt length. You want the length that makes your legs look well proportioned; their longest and leanest. For most grown-up ladies this means an inseam of about 11 inches. But finding longer length shorts that look here and now can be tough in a season of rompers, bum-grazing bloomers and rolled and cuffed styles hemmed at the upper thigh. Enter the classic Bermuda updated two ways: with a slim shape and a tapered hem or with a pleated waist and a slightly fuller leg for a slouchy boy-meets-girl look. Legs look better in longer length shorts with a bit of a heel. Nothing towering required but even a one or two inch wedge heel will flatter.
LEFT TO RIGHT
DKNY pleated walking shorts $145. Runway images from style.com.
When rainy days meet hot weather women face a real style challenge. Few things are more uncomfortable than bare feet and legs shod in rubber rain boots. A less sticky but unsavory alternative can be seen when legions of flip-flop-wearing girls navigate the soaking streets of New York. Ack!
Fortunately, a few labels are offering an antidote in lightweight rubber ballet flats and more. Let it rain!
1. Vivienne Westwood Anglomania & Melissa UltraGirl 1V ballet flat with wax seal detail $134. Lady like and the Chanel-esque color combination has a graphic appeal. Want ankle booties or peep toe pumps in rubber? Viv makes those too. couturezappos.com.
2. J. Crew Rainy Day Ballet Flat $55 and available in more colors jcrew.com.
3. Kate Spade Obi sandal $60 for those 'chance of afternoon showers days'. couturezappos.com.
4. Marc by Marc Jacobs lace up ghillie meets jelly $95 couturezappos.com.