Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Making of a Mannequin: MAD About Linda Fargo and Mike Evert

We received an email from the Museum of Arts and Design stating that in connection with their current exhibition, Ralph Pucci: The Art of the Mannequin, they were going to have a live demonstration of the art of mannequin making featuring Bergdorf Goodman powerhouse Linda Fargo as the model, with sculptor Michael Evert creating the face.  We didn't know what to expect, but it sounded like fun, so off we went.

To our surprise and delight, Linda did not have to sit stock still and stone faced, and instead talked at length about the importance of mannequins to the retail business.  She told numerous anecdotes and traded stories with Michael, all while looking fabulous.

Michael himself was a whirlwind.  With the deft hands of a man who has done this for many years, he started with an undistinguished lump of water-based clay, and with each movement made noticeable changes.  The pedestal the clay stands on is on rollers, so he could - and did - roll it around the floor: in front of and behind his model, to her left and right, so he could get her likeness correct on all sides.  Another head, on the work table below, is wrapped in plastic to maintain its moisture.  Some parts of his work are better done when the clay is wet; other parts have to wait till it's a bit dryer and harder.

Linda noted that it is difficult to put mannequins into more than a few basic poses, partly because the clothes look best when they are not creased (by elbows and knees, for example, which is why you will seldom see mannequins in yoga poses), but also because specially posed mannequins can pose problems for those who dress them.  One guest inquired about bendable knees and elbows.  Linda, who worked for many years in Bergdorf's display department, replied that those make the mannequins bulkier, which can create problems when putting the clothes on.

We got to see what various mannequin molds look like.  The yellow mold on the top shelf is a full body; below that are legs and arms; and the red mold in the middle is a head.  Linda said that not just anyone can handle Bergdorf's mannequins.  After all, they cost around $1,000 each, and one misstep can break a mannequin's arm or leg.    Along that line, she pointed out that mannequins have very simple feet to accommodate the great variety of shoes they wear.  Too many shoes were being ruined while being wrestled on and off realistic feet.  Mannequins change as styles change, and in their extensive warehouses, Bergdorf's has mannequins from decades past.  (Linda is a self-described "hoarder" - a plus in her business, though not a trait that works well for most of us in our private lives).  When older mannequins come out, display staffers try to dress them appropriately for their period, so they look right in every respect.

Here we see Linda the mannequin begin to take shape.  On the shelves at the back are a variety of mannequin heads - some very realistic (Christy Turlington's likeness is among them); some verging on the abstract, which is the way Linda said mannequin heads are trending these days.

Of course we were very curious to see how the final product would turn out, but we are OLD, and it was standing room mostly (we deferred to those we judged to be our elders).  So rather than breathe down the artist's neck,

we took the elevator and

retreated to Robert's, the MAD penthouse restaurant with a lovely view of the city, and an interesting cocktail menu,

where we had a pair of cocktails.  (That's a pair of cocktails between the two of us, you wags, not a pair of cocktails each.)  Jean's glass came with a tiny orchid balanced on the rim, which she carried around the rest of the evening.

Satiated, we made our way back downstairs where an assortment of unconventional mannequins met us at the elevator.   Most mannequins, Linda said, are characterized by "beautiful, well proportioned neutrality", since "mannequins are to retail what models are to magazines".  Birdie, the zaftig mannequin in the center, was designed by Ruben Toledo in a nod to the realities most of us face.

When we returned to the workshop, we could see that Linda the mannequin looked quite a bit more like Linda the person.  Our long suffering model was full of self-deprecating humor, and made us all laugh, saying things like "more hair, less face", and "I really think we should take this opportunity to idealize me."

"I really did wonder why I said 'yes' to this", she said at one point, but we can see she needn't have worried, and she herself seemed to be enjoying the event as much as we were.

An added treat for Jean was running into Steph Anderson, a friend from the early 1980s who had worked at Macy's in visual design and who worked with Linda in that period. Needless to say, Jean and Steph had a lot of catching up to do. She reminded him that she still decorates her mini-holiday tree with the tiny black glitter covered dinosaur and tiny Kewpie Doll ornaments he'd made for her.

We just had to share a few more shots of the mannequins in the exhibition on the 2nd floor. Ruben Toledo also designed Zen Zen, the mannequin on the far right in 1983. By 1988, his work had changed dramatically as evidenced by Birdland, the highly stylized black organic shaped figure in the center.

Interior designer Andree Putnam designed this trio of mannequins. Far left is the 1986 The Olympian Goddess. The year before, she designed The Mistress in the center. In 1988, she designed The Form, an accessory mannequin used to display scarves, hats and belts. The alabaster body sits on a raw fiberglass stem.

Back in the 1980's, Jean had numerous Andree Putnam sightings at downtown restaurants and clubs, often in the company of Larissa.  Here is a closeup of The Olympian Goddess whose face harkens back to the Surrealists.

Putnam's The Mistress looks like she stepped out of a Lichtenstein painting.

After a great evening, we headed home and stopped on the traffic island on Park Avenue in front of one of the Calatrava sculptures where, as luck would have it, we met fashion stylist Jacci Jaye,who was sweet enough to take our opening photograph.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Hundred Dollar Challenge

Valerie says:

Jean has entrusted me with tonight's post.  Hahahahahahahahahaha. Like my mom trusting me to behave with my boyfriend. (It's okay - I'll entrust her with the next Wednesday post. Hahahahahahahahaha!)

We get our ideas for posts from the oddest places. This weekend, we went to visit a favorite shop - a real New York institution - where the owner deliberately cuts all identifying tags out of her wonderful  stock, and puts prices on almost nothing, forcing customers to ask the price on every single thing they're interested in. I asked the price of an item I really liked, and nearly gasped when I heard the answer. The owner pointed out that it was worth every penny, and while I'd never dispute that fact there was, I said sheepishly, the matter of The Budget. You don't look like a woman on a budget, she replied.

Well, that's the whole point, isn't it?  Not to look like a woman on a budget, while being exactly that.

The other day, I wore this outfit to work (minus the hat in the opening photo), and one of my coworkers complimented me on my shirt.  Readers, you know how difficult it is to graciously accept a compliment.  We always have to say something self-deprecating, right?  So instead of saying 'thank you', I said 'thrift shop'.  And then I realized everything I was wearing was second hand, bought at bargain prices.  Probably under $100, I thought.

Between the above two conversations, the kernel of a post was born. We've done this before, but it bears doing again.  You don't have to spend a lot of money to look good. You DO have to be willing to wear someone else's cast-offs, but as Americans rethink their throwaway habits in these lean times (lean for the 99%, that is), wearing cast-offs has been reframed as recycling.

Here's the lowdown:

The costume earrings were $20 at a flea market.  They're so much fun.  The outers are round, matte and rubbery; the centers are lustrous, hard and pointed, so there's a great contrast concentrated in a small design.

The shirt was purchased just a few weeks ago, also for $20.  The giraffe-y print caught my eye right away.  The outer is silk, it's fully lined (in polyester) and, as was pointed out to me by a fellow customer the day I bought it, the hem is finished, so I have the option of wearing it tucked in or leaving it out.  In the top photo, with the suspenders, it's in; in the next photo, sans suspenders, it's out.

The suspenders, braided leather with horn buttons, were bought at an Issey Miyake sample sale while I was still in Japan.  I'm pretty sure they were Y2,000, which, it's probably safe to say, means under $25.  And that was more than twenty years ago, so you can see I'm not the throwaway type.

The black linen button front skirt (with side pockets!!!) is by Ellen Tracy.  Also a thrift shop find, and I've been wearing it since before the change of the millennium.  I think it's reasonable to say this also cost around $20, even if I can't get my hands on the receipt.  If I were a corporation, I would list it on my income tax as a deduction, noting its depreciation over the past 15+ years.

The shoes, Isabel Toledo for Payless, were $22 at a resale shop.  We're not counting the stockings or undies or glasses, right?  Or the hat.  (All of which were nevertheless completely affordable, 'cause I'm a woman on a budget.)

So: earrings, suspenders, shirt, skirt and shoes all total around $100.  If you don't like suspenders or earrings, $60.

And since I had a hat for the with-suspenders-look, here's another hat for the sans-suspenders-look.

Do I hear you saying 'hey, these pictures could be a bit sharper'?  Yeah, well, that's what happens when you hit the timer on your camera, focus on a wall, and then run to your designated spot. Tellin' you. Gotta have an intern. Preferably one that lives in the same building, and never needs to sleep.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Shakespearean Travesty

In which we go to see The Tempest (the play) and wind up in the tempest (the weather)
"The Tempest" Ivan Ivazovsky Wikiart.Org

Dear Diaries:

Shakespeare in the Park has been a New York City fixture since the 1960s, but imagine - we'd never gone to see it!  Not that we didn't want to, but we heard that even though it was free (that wonderfully seductive adjective!), there was a catch (there's always a catch): you had to stand on line forever in the blazing heat and hope for a ticket.  Well, five days a week we have jobs, which leaves Saturday and Sunday for everything else. Never enough time, eh, diaries?
1908 The Office Museum

But Shakespeare in the Park came into the digital age, and now there's an online lottery.  So we signed up for that - (separately, to increase our chances), but didn't always remember to sign up before the daily noon deadline, and neither of us won when we did.

The Tempest is only playing till July 5, so we didn't have the luxury of biding our time.
St. Louis Gametime

So we tried a third lottery option this past weekend.  We went down to the Public Theater on Lafayette Street, where there is a daily lottery for those who show up in person.  Submit your name starting at 11:30am, and wait to hear your name starting at 12pm.  We did this over the weekend because we couldn't possibly do it on a work day.  

First we checked the weather.  New York has seen a lot of rain lately, which is great for dry earth, but very, very bad for Shakespeare in the Park.  So bad, in fact, that SITP will be cancelled in the event of rain. Or people will need ponchos or rain coats. There had been rain in the wee hours of the morning, and forecasters were making contradictory weather predictions.

But at 11am, the sun was blazing, so Valerie got all dolled up and took the bus down; Jean got all dolled up and strolled over.  One of the gents in charge told us not too many people know about this option yet (although it's on the SITP website), which explains why we both scored ticket vouchers (or two, if we wanted them).  

There is another option, and that's the $200 membership option.  That way you skip the lottery, the waiting on lines, and the limitations in the number of times you can attend.  But free is a very seductive word, and we were seduced.

Vouchers are not tickets, however, and the rules state that voucher holders have to show up at the box office between 5pm and 7pm ("NO EXCEPTIONS") to turn in their vouchers for tickets.  Valerie went home (to do laundry! really!) and Jean went to an Amy Downs hat event (to buy hats! really!), after agreeing to a 5pm meeting point in Central Park.  
Amy Downs Summer 2015 Urban Turban

The heat and humidity were merciless, so we both changed into comfort clothing (next best thing to comfort food).

We arrived at the theater at about 5:15, with nary another voucher holder in sight, so we needn't have worried, but better safe than sorry. 
Of good cheer, even without an intern or a selfie stick.

Sitting on a bench, waiting for the gates to open at 7:30, we nibbled on snacks and spoke to fellow benchers about the possibility of rain. One woman showed us her Galaxy smart phone, which showed the chance of precipitation was zero, so we were of good cheer.

Just before 8pm we were ushered in, where we had lovely seats, and lovely seat mates.  We were warned numerous times to turn off our cell phones and NOT TO TAKE PICTURES. As the play opened, a musician nearby (too nearby) struck a grand gong and numerous other percussive instruments to evoke Shakespeare's tempest and for over an hour we very much enjoyed ourselves, and the play, and Sam Waterston and his fellow actors. Parenthetically, we were very happy to see bats flitting above the stage in the twilight, a heartening sign since white nose syndrome has sent East Coast bat populations crashing. Remember bats eat insects, so they're our friends, not our enemies.

We also saw several dragonflies in performances of their own, zigzagging across the stage. 

Sometime after the intermission, though, just after Prospero joins the lovers in a fairytale ceremony, the heavens actually did open up on audience and stage, and the performance had to be stopped. Numerous people inexplicably screamed as if the bleachers had collapsed, and all of us went running for cover.
QMI Agency/Tony Caldwell - Ottowa woman in rain

Amazingly, after about fifteen minutes, the rain stopped, and we were invited to take our seats again.  But by that time, it was after 10pm and we were exhausted. We had gotten up at 8am to embark on this journey. We had arrived early at two separate locations, and had probably spent more than five hours doing what one has to do to see a three hour play for free, only to be rained on.(One fellow stander-under-the-awning said this was the second performance he'd attended in the rain; another nearby trumped that, saying it that was his third, and that non-paying guests don't get to try again.) We decided to make our way home.

Two little old ladies in Central Park on a dark and stormy night.

Gee, does that mean we're old now?
Summer Rayne Art 2014

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Shakespearean Tragedy

This is us around 6:30 on Sunday, waiting for the doors to open for an 8pm performance of Shakespeare in the Park.  Didn't get home till after 11, so more on this on Monday.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Readers might remember we dressed up all in black a few weeks ago, looking all glam and ready for our close-ups, but you know the expression "never let 'em see you sweat" which, loosely translated means 'of course it's hard, but make it look easy'.

Today we're going to share with you two more of Valerie's shoe tips, so take a look at this once very badly behaved shoe, which had to be brought to heel, so to speak.

The first day Valerie wore it (without socks or stockings, in her usual manner), before she'd walked five blocks they had begun to rub the skin off her ankles.  What's a girl to do?

Packing tape to the rescue!

As soon as she arrived at work, she got some packing tape out of her desk drawer, cut off a piece about three inches long, and wrapped it around her ankle.

It looked like this.  Bet you can't see it.  If you look carefully, you might see the light reflecting off the tape a bit.  If you're wearing socks or stockings, even the eagle-eyed will not see that you're wearing tape on your ankle.  Sounds odd, but works like a charm.  The smoothness of the prevents further chafing.  The tape is durable, but the adhesive is gentle and doesn't harm the skin.

Do NOT get out your bandaids.  They are absolutely useless in this location.  Too much friction.  And they're too narrow, so sooner or later the edge of the shoe will hit the edge of the bandaid, and that's when the bandaid starts rolling up and coming off.   Don't even get out your favorite Mondrian bandaids (these bandaids kindly supplied by Jean).  Use them someplace where they'll stay - on your arm, around your finger...  but not on your ankle.  Mondrian bandaids are much too hard to come by.

If you have a sense of humor about it, you can get artsy packing tape,

and protect your ankle with that.  (Polka dot tape also supplied by Jean.)

Of course, this is just a temporary solution.  You don't want to go around with packing tape in your bag just because you bought a new pair of shoes.  So when you can, you have to sort of massage the back of the shoe into submission.  You may not be able to see it in the photo below, but a bit of the back of the shoe has been pinched completely down.  After about 20 minutes of massaging, it becomes very pliable and stops rubbing.  Be sure your hands are clean and dry before you start this, especially if you're dealing with light colors, or delicate materials.  Then, as if you were kneading a

tiny bit of dough, push and press the edge of the shoe down toward the inside, then toward the outside.  Keep doing this till the material is no longer hard.  Use both hands.  The photo below shows one hand.  Coulda shown you a picture with two hands, but that would have necessitated pulling out the tripod, guessing at whether the shot was lined up and focused, and setting up the timer.  We'll go pretty far for glamour, but not that far.

A girl's got to draw the line somewhere.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


Jean is traveling; Valerie spent several nights over the past week going back and forth to the computer store on a hard drive issue.  Computer issues probably have to be added to that classic list of stressful events: marriage, birth, moving, new job, divorce, and major illness.  On the bright side of all that backing and forthing, the weather was very forgiving (not raining or snowing), and there were lots of interesting shop windows to see along the way.  They're good enough to share on a night when we are both exhausted with other things.

All of the windows below are just steps away from Rockefeller Center.

Two of the major themes this week seems to be paper and recycling.

Cole Haan put beautifully crafted paper lobster masks and gloves on its mannequins.  The lobster on the right has carefully cut partial incisions where the paper has been lifted just a bit to represent spines.  (For some reason all of the mannequins were separated by partitions, making the work a bit difficult to fully appreciate.  Oh well.)

Nearby, Anthropologie did a series of lush natures capes created with paper cutouts.

Check out this close up of the lion's mane.  All the paper plants are backed with newspaper, but the lion's mane is upfront about its newsprint origins.

Continuing with the paper theme, Tommy Hilfiger is displaying giant pinwheels in one window (below), and probably a fifteen foot display of row upon row of smaller pinwheels in its other window (not shown).  And they all rotate!

Saks Fifth Avenue had fun with gigantic men's paper dolls vignettes.  The hat rack, a hat and chair have been cut out of the backboard, and the paper hat hangs on the paper hat rack.  Notice the tongue-in-cheek tabs on many of the items, so they can be folded and hung as they would on real paper dolls.

Just for fun, and while we're on the doll theme, let's slip in this Ermenegildo Zegna display.  The very casually dressed central mannequin is surrounded by six Mini Mes, all wearing exactly the same casual dress, right down to the colors and sneakers.  (Who knows - maybe they're made of paper mache, the essence of recycling.)

Louis Vuitton also has a paper theme, this time in the form of giant household product stickers (notice the matchbooks, hair dryers and salt and pepper shakers), plastered crazily all over the interiors and exteriors of the windows.  (Enlarge for a better look.)

Banana Republic created this vignette (and several others) out of nothing more than recycled plastic bottles and ingenious lighting.

The Bergdorf Goodman men's annex mixed quite a few metaphors in one of its displays: in a window emblazoned with the words Father's Day Haute Dog Dad, here we see more plastic bottles - this time ketchup and mustard containers squirting great arcs of red and yellow almost like fireworks, and that must be dad, playing the role of hot dog in a hilarious Claes Oldenburg-like soft sculpture.

But the ultimate in recycling is the Bergdorf window series across the street, where the latest fashions are displayed against a backdrop of fanciful antiques repurposed by Frederique Morrel, all covered in discarded tapestry work.

Back next time with more tales of adventure and derring do.  Or something like it.