Category Archives: Fashion

easy chic: a guide to paris street style

It’s no secret that France – or really Paris – is the center of style. When you visit and walk the streets, there is evidence of it at any age or shape. Well-tied scarves.  An understated, personal look. Sleeveless on women over  60. Great shoes on kids.  Timeless and practical, not trendy.  Natural and easy. Confidence. Today’s French style owes much to the inventions of Coco Chanel (read more about her influence here in a previous post).

So because I consider this style the holy grail of my fashion identity, I’m adding the newly-released  “Paris Street Style: A Guide to Effortless Chic” to the other French guides collecting on my bookshelf on subjects ranging from parenting to eating well.


French fashion writers Isabelle Thomas and Frederique Veysset offer richly illustrated sketches and photos in this fashion guide and promise to ” help you cultivate an everyday style of timeless glamour.”

In addition, the book lists a series of fashion faux pas to avoid (no Converse after age 26, it’s reported, is one. Ouch.) and expert advice on getting your effortless chic style on. I’m there.



Summer is getting its last laugh this week with temperatures in the upper 80s. But today’s forecast shows rain next week so I’m getting giggly pulling out all my favorite rain gear. There are two items I can’t live without.

Number one on my list is my favorite pair of rainboots by Kamik, a  family run Canadian company making outdoor footwear in Canada and the USA for more than 100 years.  My boots are many years old but still so much fun to wear. For my next pair, I have my eye on the “Stella” and “Eliza.” I’ll be in Quebec next summer (where Kamik’s headquarters are located) so I’ll be on the look out for them.

Stella by Kamik

Eliza by Kamik

Number two on my list is a unique umbrella that receives a ton of attention – and smiles – each time I use it (especially from kids). Rain will never get you down when you open up this umbrella. One like this was given to me as a corporate gift many years ago by the director of advertising at a local newspaper.  I reach for it every winter and it gives me a smile no matter how gray the clouds are.

open up the funnies

I’m now on the hunt for a similar umbrella but would love to find one from an international or foreign newspaper like Corriere della Sera, Le Monde or the International  Herald Tribune.

 What are some of your favorite finds to live well in cooler weather?

longtime love affair with the cinquecento

Let’s for a moment pretend I’m not a carpool mom of two active school-age kids, who require school drops offs and pick ups and rides to tennis and soccer and playdates. Let’s pretend my kids don’t also have friends who require drop offs and pick ups, and backpacks and sports equipment that require storing. Let’s just pretend.

If that were me, a non-carpool-driving, equipment-lugging mom, then our next car would be, without doubt, the recently resurrected Italian-designed Fiat 500 –  or Fiat “cinquecento”as it’s called in Italy.

The new Fiat 500 in white available now in the U.S.

I, like many Europhiles, have seen these Italian iconic cars over the years when traveling there.

We’ve snapped photos and posed in front of them. They live in our scrapbooks now.

My scrapbooks over the years include photos of me posing in front of original Fiat cinquecentos when traveling in Italy.

If we could, we would tie our hair back in a scarf like Sophia Loren, slip our Armani sunglasses over our eyes and drive it home.

Now we can.

In this 2011 NY Times review of the Fiat 500,  we learn “the consensus of people I invited along as passengers was that traveling in the car made them feel young, sporty and ‘very European.’ And the arrival of such an economical car as gas prices flirt with $4 a gallon seems timely.”

A fun, new advertising campaign for the American market – “The Next Wave of Italians has Arrived” – was filmed on the Amalfi Coast and launched earlier this summer.

Small, sporty, affordable, European, easy parking?  At around $16,000? Forget the Honda Odyssey minivan that has taken over my town. Forget the kids (this time). We can use the other car for field and road trips.

 I’m not pretending.

Standing next to our friend’s red Fiat 500 in Tuscany a few months ago.

coco before chanel

I just watched the excellent biography film Coco Before Chanel about the early life of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. Before watching this film, I knew very little about the woman behind this powerful fashion brand.  I have read about her in my favorite books about the 1920s  Lost Generation expats because she was a great friend to influential writers and artists living in France at that time. In fact, it has been written that American expat Gerald Murphy’s resort wear inspired Chanel.  But, above all, I have always liked the understated sophistication, casual elegance and practical design associated with Chanel, even with little knowledge of the incredible history behind the name.

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel

Coco Before Chanel (2009, French with subtitles) focuses on Coco’s early life and her rise from orphan to seamstress to cabaret singer and ultimately the queen of Parisian haute couture. Audrey Tautou plays the legendary French designer brilliantly.

Audrey Tautou playing Coco Chanel in nautical sailor stripes in Coco Before Chanel

Rags to riches stories always make an impression on me, and Coco Chanel – an orphaned child of a laundrywoman mother who died when she was 12 and street vendor father who gave her away – struggled in her early years but was ambitious, rebellious and ahead of her time. She became an adult in the early part of the 1900s in a male dominated world at a time when women were not expected to work. Instead, girls “like her” – poor and orphaned but pretty – entertained and sang and danced in clubs and met wealthy barons who financed a leisurely life in exchange for mistress or entertainer. Many women gladly settled for this kind of life. While Coco indeed preferred the life and freedom of a mistress than a wife’s life (not an enviable position back then) and she knew without apology that men of status and wealth do not marry girls like her from impoverished backgrounds, she wanted more than to be a mistress. Her wealthy lovers proved to be instrumental in setting her free to pursue her talent in style and fashion.

Audrey Tautou as Chanel and Alessandro Nivola as “Boy” Capel

Women’s fashion of the time left little to be imagined with tight-fitting corsets and over-the-top dresses, dripping with jewelry and heavy, ornate hats. Coco – with a boyish figure – instead wore a tasteful, elegant, undecorated style that allowed for movement and breathing like men’s clothes, and covered more of her body to leave a little to the imagination. A brief career caberet singing in Moulins leads her to meeting Etienne Balsan, a French socialite, heir and horse racer, and she becomes his mistress and eventually lifelong friend. While living with him he introduces her to Paris society, including an actress that loves Coco’s new design of a straw hat for women.  She spreads the word to her rich friends and Coco begins to get noticed. Inspired my men’s clothes, Coco also gains inspiration by rummaging through closets of her lovers. Later she meets and becomes lovers with Arthur “Boy” Capel, another inspiration for her work, who makes a lifelong impact on her by helping her set up a hat-making boutique in Paris. She expands her boutique with deluxe casual clothes for leisure and sports using humble fabric like jersey previously only used for men’s underwear –  the final blow to the corseted, restricted fashion  at that time –  which helps lead her to become a giant fashion designer. (Capel seemed to be her true love, although they would never marry. She said she reimbursed Capel his original investment.)

Chanel today: 2012 advertisement

Whatever she became later in life – with reported wartime controversy and scandal and life among aristocracy – the film Coco Before Chanel portrays Coco in her early years as a gutsy, rebellious woman from a disadvantaged background but with a great sensibility and ahead of her time. A pursuit of expensive simplicity and her many trademarks – the Chanel suit, the little black dress, Chanel No. 5 perfume, and the marinière or sailor blouse – mark her legacy as an important and influential designer in 20th Century fashion that broke old rules of conventional fashion and invented a new way of chic.


“A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.”
– Coco Chanel

wallpaper for posh bookworms

This week’s The New York Times Style Magazine included something in their must-haves section for the home that is sure to get my nose out of a book.

The Bibliothèque pattern is Hermès’s first wallpaper collection and features images of a library of French equestrian books.

I’m not even sure I should be calling it wallpaper. Wallpaper to me is the yellow, orange and green striped pattern of my childhood bedroom.  But I’m having fun thinking of the ways I could hang it. Over a cabinet or buffet table? On a narrow wall? (Naturally it’s not a substitute for real, breathing books).

“Bibliothèque” comes in four colors. Want to take a peek? Go to the Hermes web site.   (Give the site a chance to load.) Then choose one from a virtual bucket of rolls, drag it to the “wall”  and “hang” it using a virtual brush. No trimming, smoothing corners or sticky paste required.  Then roll with the possibilities for your home. Price on request.

oh alessi

Our home is a mix of old and new. In our kitchen we’ve got a big chunky pine french country table that seats eight next to a squiggly colorful abstract painting and stainless steel appliances.

When we lived abroad, a shop near our home sold Alessi Italian designer products. Founded in 1922 by Giovanni Alessi, the company is old. But its products always feel new. I know it best for its innovative, artistic, modern design for the kitchen such as kettles, juice squeezers and such in colorful animal shapes and gorgeous stainless steel trays. Old and new. This is why I love Alessi.

Few companies make me want to count my pennies – 18,000 pennies to be exact –  to buy this fruit basket that I really want.

We have this bunny rabbit toothpick holder – it sits on our counter peering out at me when I cook dinner. He (she?) makes me happy.

When abroad, the store that sold Alessi was my favorite go-to place for wedding and other gifts to take or mail home.

This tray is always a hit.

The New York Times Style Magazine posted on their design blog that Alessi now sells the Moka Alessi as a tribute to Alfonso Bialetti who invented the octagonal aluminum stovetop espresso coffee pot that everyone uses in Italy (we still do). Ours is about to go kaput, so my eye is on this next.

Coffee anyone? I promise you it will taste even better with Alessi.

top photo credit: Alessi

a swatch to watch

For me, getting a banana-scented swatch watch nearly tied with a trip to the San Francisco Esprit outlet as the coolest thing about 6th grade.  I’ve thought little of the company since that time. But recently I saw the swatch originals collection , and another swatch watch (collection 2010 spring/summer) – nearly three decades since the last –  has gone to top of my Christmas list. I’ve put on my wish list the colors red (cherry-berry) or pink (dragon fruit). 

Today it appears that swatch, a Swiss company, has evolved over the years from offering rolled-up scented watches in plastic cases sought after by pre-teen California valley girls to designing an array of hip and fashionable collections. (Or maybe they always have and I never noticed.) If you’ve ever been to Geneva, somewhere between the fondue and the United Nations tour, you will, no doubt, come across windows of finely designed watches.  Geneva’s watch industry dates back to mid 1600s and it remains a world leader with many top brand watchmakers located there, including Patek Phillipe, Frank Muller, Swatch, Omega and Piaget, just to name a few.

While I may sound it but am not an official swatch brand ambassador, you can read more – and do some Christmas , Hannukah (or Christmikkah, as we like to say) shopping –  at their official web site and save the shopping trip in Geneva for another time.  Just don’t forget to share your favorites.