Shirt Stories: Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren and the checked shirt 

You always notice the person wearing a great shirt. A classic that, for me, holds just as much appeal as a perfect pair of jeans. Shirt Stories is about others who feel the same, women and men, and who wear it well.

Ralph Lauren brings the ease, freedom and ruggedness of the American outdoors to the runway. Jeans and checked shirt on top of a henley. Can it get any more lumberjack-like than this? And yet, on the designer, it feels right, regardless of the surroundings. On many, or most, such blatant dress code-breaking would look subversive. But on Ralph Lauren it stands out as perfectly natural, the result of loyalty to a particular style, all his own, stemmed from utter practicality, the very same that Ralph Lauren and his brand stand for. It’s also the result of knowing what works for yourself.

I usually pay more attention to men’s style than I do to women’s. It is the men’s style that affords me more focus and inspiration when referencing my own personal style. Not necessarily in terms of borrowing the exact pieces a man’s wardrobe consists of (although, who denies the utter attractiveness such pieces exude when combined with feminine details and the balance is just right?), but the idea that looking good doesn’t have to mean standing out. Just wear what makes you feel like yourself, over and over and over again.
Shirt stories Ralph Lauren 
Take the checked shirt, for example. Prints, besides stripes, are not my thing. But the plaid shirt has always been the exception to the rule. It is simply the fact that it looks so good. It is embedded with authenticity, a sense of comfort and innate, laid-back appeal. And when I think of the cold days ahead, and knowing myself, there won’t be few times when wearing a shirt (because I can’t do without) will implicitly mean a warm plaid shirt atop a white undershirt (jeans will probably be part of the equation, too, but so will high heeled ankle boots) with the conviction that it’s the best layering tip of the season.

But leaving my own styling ideas aside, Ralph Lauren remains, quite possibly, the one, man or woman, who has worn the plaid shirt best, able to message that quiet confidence, that simple but particular look one aspires to when it comes to genuine personal style. And as long as we are on the subject of Ralph Lauren’s signature look, the tartan can easily be substituted with denim. And if are to talk denim shirts, we might just well talk double denim. Robert Redford is one name who, long ago, earned his leading role in the pantheon of men who wear double denim well (only recently have I talked about it , after all), but nobody can argue with the fact that Ralph Lauren has a place just as much deserved on the list, in all its medium-washed glory.
Ralph Lauren and the checked shirt

Shirt stories Ralph Lauren 
Related Shirt Stories entries: Robert Redford / Charlotte Rampling / Francisca Mattéoli (interview) / Heidi Merrick

photos: / 2-Susan Wood, East Hampton, New York, 1977 / 3-Bruce Weber, RRL Ranch, 1983 / 4-Bruce Weber, Martha’s Vineyard, 1981 (taken by me from the book Ralph Lauren)

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Interview with Patricia Gucci

Interview with Patricia Gucci 
My interest in Gucci has always transcended their classic loafers, the Grace Kelly scarf and the Lady Web suede bag with shoulder strap in the trademark green-red-green stripe, my three all time favourite pieces created by the brand. The history of the Italian leather goods and fashion house, steeped in the craftsmanship of local Tuscan artisans, its sound foundation meant to ensure that the brand would survive the trends of future generations, the association with equestrian heritage (the above mentioned stripes were derived from a traditional saddle girth), the made in Italy stamp, the class in taste, the innovative design, the pride in and devotion to its Florentine roots, and, most recently, its active involvement in the preservation of motion pictures (including a few groundbreaking Italian classics) in partnership with The Film Foundation, all these combined reflect a much clearer image of what Gucci truly stands for. I believe there are others who feel the same. “Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten”, used to say Aldo Gucci, the man who, with his visionary mind and relentless work, was responsible for the rise and success of the brand.

Today, Gucci has reached new heights of success: Be interested, be interesting. But I say this is, not in the least, one more reason to remember and acknowledge the merits and accomplishments of the person who made the Gucci phenomenon all possible, setting the basis for what new generations and designers could continue to build on.

In her book, In the Name of Gucci: A Memoir, Patricia Gucci is telling for the first time the complete story of the Italian house, from the very beginning and throughout the six decades that Gucci belonged to her family, and the beautiful love story of her parents, Aldo Gucci and Bruna Palombo. It is told straightforward, unassumingly, elegantly, worthy of a brand that, above all else, has withstood the test of time; it’s the real thing. I reviewed the book a couple of months back, and, in the meantime, I had the pleasure of interviewing Patricia to talk about the story behind her memoir, her parents and the Gucci legacy, and about her favourite place to return to in Italy.
Interview with Patricia Gucci 
When did you know that fashion was part of your life and of whom you are, that Gucci was Gucci?
I began to realise that Gucci represented more than a family name when I was a young girl at school in England. Teachers and students – whose parents had likely made them aware of Gucci before I knew anything about it – treated me differently somehow. Not preferentially, just differently. It wasn’t until I first visited the Gucci store in via Condotti, in Rome, that I understood the full import of what my father did and what the name represented.

Given your lineage, being your father’s daughter and your grandfather’s granddaughter, how difficult was it to make your own mark working for the company and to find your own voice in life?
I never had difficulty with my identity, or in defining who I was. Even though I started attending Gucci functions in the US as soon as I became of age, my sights were set on an acting career and I never intended to join the family business. It was only when my father insisted that I eventually joined the company and while it was a huge responsibility I can’t say I ever felt the weight of lineage on my shoulders.

Did you ever feel that your name preceded you and your work? What have the perks and challenges of carrying the name Gucci been?
Yes, definitely, especially in America. In England people are more reserved by nature and far less invasive. In New York it was much more of a big deal – when I would meet someone at a party they would invariably react with astonishment: “Wow, Gucci!” And from that moment all the preconceptions would start flooding in, leaving me feeling judged before people got to know me and making assumptions that weren’t necessarily true.

Your memoir is a tribute to your father. It was an eye-opener for me, in the sense that I felt I finally had a clear, honest, unfiltered view on the history of the brand, on the phenomenon that your father created when there was nothing like it and its legacy, on the creative and business driving force that Aldo Gucci was; this is what I was looking to take away from the book, something so much more than the personal drama and the Gucci clan infighting. What prompted you to tell the story of Gucci? And what would you like your readers to take away from the book?
First and foremost, this is a tribute to my father, who singlehandedly really made it happen for Gucci in particular and ‘Made in Italy’ more generally, not just during the company’s heyday when he was at the helm, but for generations to come. I also wanted to pay tribute to my mother, who is credited with the less visible part a woman plays in contributing to a man’s success. As individuals and as a couple, for me, they transcended all the scandal and glamour that is normally associated with Gucci. My aim was to show the human side and the history of the brand.
Interview with Patricia Gucci 
What was the most challenging part, and the most rewarding one, of the research for this book?
The story of Gucci spans 100 years, starting with my grandfather before he had even conceived the idea, leading up to the time it ceased being a family business shortly before my father’s death in 1990. There was plenty of history to research – Guccio’s early days at the Savoy, the origins of the Gucci crest, surviving two world wars, but what I was really interested in – the personal details – could only be recounted by my mother. Getting her to open up to me was the most challenging part and, once the love letters were revealed, also the most rewarding part.

Your mother is a very private person. Yet, she was the most valuable source for your memoir. Is she happy with it?
My mother has always shunned the spotlight, preferring the freedom of anonymity. Reading about her life on the page was always going to be difficult, but, in time, she was able to embrace the book. I think she is happy with it.

To what extent do you think the Gucci heritage, the dedication to quality that your father instilled in his company, has contributed to the survival of the brand?
The popularity of Gucci in the 1960s, 70s and 80s was such that it is difficult to unravel. Quality was certainly at the root of the brand’s success, instilled by my grandfather in the age-old tradition of Tuscan artisans and expanded by my father, but those who have followed in their footsteps, starting with Tom Ford and, most recently, Alessandro Michele, have built upon that foundation with great success.

The tag line ‘Made in Italy’ is still a symbol of quality and craftsmanship. And your father was the one who heralded it. Do you think people wearing Gucci today have a real appreciation of the company’s history and legacy?
Ask most anyone entering a Gucci shop today and they will have little or no idea of how ‘Made in Italy’ came to be, or Aldo Gucci’s role in this phenomenon. It’s the reason why I wanted to write this book – to inform not just lovers of Gucci, but also lovers of Italian culture, that Aldo Gucci was a pioneer, heralded by President John F. Kennedy as the country’s first ambassador of fashion.

A luxury brand involves so much more than exquisite product quality and a price to match it. It is the entire shopping experience, the lifestyle concept it projects and the work ethics and shared values instilled in every employee. What was it like to enter a Gucci store back in the day?
My father was a perfectionist who insisted on the highest standards at all times. Especially in America, customers often felt intimidated by the pervasive feeling of excellence. The staff, which in the early days was made up largely of well-to-do Italians, brought an added sense of elegance to the stores, but what really set Gucci apart back then was the Gucci Galleria – the ultimate shopping experience, where limited edition pieces were displayed among contemporary paintings and sculpture to create a truly unique environment.

The Gucci headquarters are still based in Florence, where the craft of the Gucci traditions is rooted, and where your father, and grandfather, always intended the company to be based (although there was a time when it was moved to Milan). Do you think this can contribute to the brand’s not losing its identity and honouring of its past? Do you believe the location is still important to the craftsmanship and design of the label as it once was?
Yes, I think the brand’s Florentine identity carries an important symbolism that must be maintained. My father, and Guccio before him, always intended the business to be family-run, and that meant staying in Florence. Of course times change and we all move along accordingly, but we there is much to be said for legacy and tradition.
Interview with Patricia Gucci 
What is the most valuable lesson your father taught you?

If you could describe your father in one word, what would it be?

How would you define luxury today?
The Concorde used to be my idea of luxury, but today it’s having more time to myself as well as peace and quiet – the kind of stillness I have at my house in the desert.

How can fashion make a difference in the world?
By making the world less vulgar.

The fashion world has been praising Alessandro Michele’s work at and revival of Gucci. He has succeeded to imprint his own mark on the brand, but do you think his designs are also referencing the Gucci legacy, that timeless appeal that your father was so determined and devoted to create? Do you think it’s important for a designer at the helm of a legendary fashion house to have boundaries, to do what he wants to do but to do it in the mindset of the brand’s aesthetic?
Alessandro Michele has taken Gucci to new heights and his references to the Gucci legacy are plain to see in the way he weaves in the old with the new. He has a difficult task; craftsmanship seems to be less important nowadays and the ‘Made in Italy’ factor has all but gone.

What do you think your father would think about the brand today?
I think he would be happy that the company is enjoying great success, although I’m not sure he would identify with the design trends that have propelled the brand to such heights.

What is your Gucci wardrobe piece with the most beautiful story?
I’m not attached to anything in particular, I had a lovely collection of handbags from the 1960s & 70s, but they were stolen years ago.

Italians have an innate sense of elegant informality, easy elegance, or ‘sprezzatura’ as it’s known in the case of men’s style. Was your father a man of style? What is the most important style lesson you learned from him?
Style is the slow distilling of its culture – art, music, literature, religion – that over time seep into our being and give us a sense of who we are. Aldo Gucci certainly embodied that and even today the fashion we see all around us is a manifestation of that same process.

Would you mind sharing with us an insider tip on your favourite place to visit in Italy, a place that is not on every tourist’s radar?
There is much of Italy I have yet to discover, predominantly in the south – Puglia, Sicily and the Aeolian islands – but the place I always return to is a stretch along the Argentario coast in Tuscany. Little has changed there since I was a little girl, the tourism is mainly Italian, and there is an authenticity about it that I really like.

What do you wish people appreciated more in this day and age?
That each and every one of us is connected to the source of all creation.

Thank you, Patricia, for your openness and willingness to answer all my questions.

photos: courtesy of the author, including the ones in the book, except for the jacket photograph, by Roger Powers_HP/copyright Houston Chrinicle; photos of the book taken by me

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Blow Out

Blow Out 1981 
A couple of nights ago I saw Blow Out (1981). I think it’s both Brian De Palma’s and John Travolta’s best film. And whenever I see good movies past the 1970’s, I am somehow happier than when I watch a good classic. The surprise is considerably more pleasant, because you expect it less.

As in the case of many of De Palma’s films, there are references to classic movies in this one as well, mainly Antonioni’s Blow-Up, although, unlike Antonioni, De Palma doesn’t question reality itself but, instead, Travolta turns out to live in a distorted reality from different reasons. John Travolta is Jack Terry, a sound man for a B-movie company in Philadelphia. Late one night, while he’s standing on a bridge recording owls and other night sounds, he becomes a witness to an accident. A car has a blowout, veers off a bridge and plunges into a river. Travolta jumps in after it, rescues the girl inside, Sally (Nancy Allen), and later discovers that the car’s drowned driver was a presidential candidate. After he reviews his sound recording of the event, Travolta becomes convinced that he can hear a gunshot just before the blowout, but everyone, police and high officials included, advise him to leave the conspiracy theory to himself. The plot thickens, Travolta’s character digs deeper and deeper, and a great film emerges, with an epic ending, that has a lot to say. And it got me wondering, who was more naïve, Terry or Sally?

In what may be the best scene in the film, Travolta comes across a series of photos of the fatal accident and we are shown, step by step, how he assembles the photos and his recording into a film of the event. It is a brilliantly crafted sequence, one that not only reflects De Palma’s skill, but his love for films, too, and a sequence that also invites the viewer to take part in the action. I do love directors who respect their audience and make movies for an intelligent public.

photo: film still, Filmways Pictures

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Autumn Moodboard

What to watch, read and listen to this season.
Autumn moodboard 
Watch. Good movies season is here. After months and months (about six, to be exact) when good, and even watchable films were on hiatus, it’s time for the big premiers of the year. Many of the movies of 2016 that I am interested in were launched at Cannes and Venice (you can read my thoughts about all of them here and here) and I hope they will arrive in our theaters, too, as soon as possible. Apart from all of those listed there, Manchester By the Sea, directed by Kenneth Lonergan, and starring Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck, and Gold, directed by Stephen Gaghan (the screenwriter behind Traffic and director of Syriana), with Matthew McConaughey in one of the leading roles, may be two other films to keep your eyes on this season. And, lastly, there is one other movie I’d like to mention, Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply. The trailer is meandering, but that really does not matter, because Beatty is finally back after 18 years as director (he also acts in it, as Howard Hughes, no less), after that wonderful Bulworth.

Now, that I am trying to squeeze in a classic as often as possible goes without saying. There is still to go until “Noirember”, but the truth is any time of year is a good time for film noir as far as I’m concerned. Shadow of A Doubt remains a favourite and I love to revisit it the most in fall. I have watched it many times and the thing that still intrigues me the most about it is the contradiction between the strong sense of family life depicted and the dark underlay, something very unusual for the genre, and for Hitchcock, as a matter of fact.

Listen. I am gearing up to start my own vinyl collection. I had a few vinyls in my teenagehood, then got rid of them, because I wanted to replace them with something more “modern” (although I am pretty happy about our cd collection at the moment). But the idea is that I hadn’t yet learned that classic is the way to go, always, and that a classic will forever remain timeless. Starting a vinyl collection from scratch is very intimidating, not to mention time- and money-consuming, but the good thing is that the start is always the most difficult part. So, I think this list is a good starting point, as it also includes movie soundtracks, like American Graffiti (I watched it only a few months ago for the first time and loved it, with music being such an integral part of the storytelling), as well as albums such as London Calling (one of the greatest music albums and album covers ever), Tommy (The Who), Surfer Rosa (Pixies), It’s Too Late to Stop Now (Van Morrison), and the omission of The Beattles (sorry, not the biggest fan).
PS: I just won’t admit what I am listening to the most these days (and weeks), thanks to my son.

Read. Books on films, design and art in general, travel memoirs and biographies/autobiographies of all sorts are my thing right now (they have been for quite some time actually – in the past couple of years I simply haven’t been keen on re-reading classics or even try new fiction). New in my library are:
Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema (very philosophical, just like his movies, and although I may never come to fully understand his movies – is it a must, really? – I will keep on trying). Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema, by Robert Bird, is on the way, too, and I think it will be a good companion to the first one.

John Huston: Courage and Art, by Jeffrey Meyers. I can’t say that John Huston is among my favourite directors, but The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is among my favourite movies of all time, and there is something about Huston’s persona and work that pushes me to keep looking, like I may be missing out on something. This tome has proven to be an interesting read so far.

Next on my list:

WKW : The Cinema of Wong Kar Wai, by Wong Kar Wai and John Powers. The first volume on the film-maker’s entire body of work (released last year) is structured as six conversations between Kar Wai and Powers, discussing the director’s films and distinctive elements. I believe In the Mood for Love is one of the most visually stunning and best films of all time.

Making Movies, by Sidney Lumet, and Cassavetes on Cassavetes. Have been reading good things about both these books and I have a good feeling about them.

Frank Sinatra Has A Cold , by Gay Talese. The synopsis reads: Talese’s “profile Frank Sinatra Has a Cold went down in history as a tour de force of literary nonfiction and the advent of the “New Journalism.” Its incisive portrait of Sinatra in the recording studio, on location, out on the town, and with the eponymous cold, revealed as much about a singular star persona as it did about the Hollywood machine.” I have read passages from the magazine article, but the idea of a book, in a limited edition, is so much more appealing, especially given the subject.

Also on my radar:

Derujinsky: Capturing Fashion (out in October), the first monograph to celebrate the major contributions of photograher Gleb Derunjinsky to the history of both fashion and photography. I have been looking forward to this one for a while, since Andrea Derujinsky, the author and daughter of Derujinsky, kindly dropped me a note in spring to tell me about the up-coming release of the book. This is a title I am very excited about, and from the incredible response I have had to this blog post over the past two years, I know others will feel the same.

Giorgio Armani (out in October). Armani’s long awaited biography, published in the fall of last year, is now available at a new, lower price.

collage by me, photos: clockwise from top left: 1,4,5: by me (4-of the book John Huston: Courage and Art) / 2-Depot 96 AW 2016 / 3-Heidi Merrick (edited) / 6-movie still from Shadow of A Doubt (Universal Pictures)

Posted by classiq in Books, Crafts & Culture, Film | | Leave a comment

Take It Easy

Back to school 
It’s here. That time of year when you reconnect with style. After months of taking everything more lightly and carefree (including your way of dressing), the need for change comes almost unexpectedly. But I like to ease into the new season. The weather helps, too, because only the crisp air in the mornings and evenings reminds us that Autumn has indeed arrived.

The jeans are, naturally, by my side, helping with the transition process: distressed, paired with a classic blue shirt and varsity jacket – I don’t think I will ever get tired of this particular preppy look.

Anything khaki, but preferably not a parka. A short jacket in the same colour, with elements of pea coat, makes a much more individual statement.

Structured dress over jeans. A dress in geometric shape over ripped jeans pays a beautiful homage to the elegance of the season that it is well known for, while keeping it pared-down. It’s currently my favourite way to approach the smart-casual conundrum.

Light layers. And by that, I mean placing a silky dress at the heart of an outfit; over a pair of skinny jeans (and high heeled sandals), and topped off with a thin sweater (and a light coat when the temperatures will call for one) – it’s like summer and fall are playing hide and seek, and let you take the best of them both. I do love the tailoring and elegance of fall fashion, but downplaying them makes the styling game so much more interesting.

Sandals for as long as possible. Because once I put my boots on, chances are I won’t take them off sooner than six months. Plus, I like the giddy feel of a look that tosses together sandals on bare feet, jeans and a well covered-up upper part of the body.

The mini saddle bag, in one of autumn’s timeless and richest tones (be it burgundy, camel or scarlet). It’s “the hero bag of this season and beyond”, according to Cuyana. It has certainly turned into my hero bag since I became a mother, helping me understand the meaning and appreciate the benefits of streamlining.
Autumn essentials

Autumn essentials

Autumn essentials

Autumn essentials - Cuyana saddle bag

photos: 1-Garance Doré / 2-9to5Chic / 3-Fash n Chips / 4-Maja Wyh / 5-Cuyana

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