Prairie Chic: Interview with Designer Kara Johnson

Interview Kara Thoms Boutique

Designer Kara Johnson (left)

The embodiment of ease, infused with an uncontrived yet refined feeling. Driven by the attitude that life should be embraced and enjoyed without boundaries, and that it should be lead with intention. Breathing simplicity, appreciating authenticity, honing quality and versatility, encouraging local production, and inspiring a deeper meaning. Kara Thoms is for the woman who wears what expresses her style, but also what represents her values.

When, in our interview, Kara Johnson used the phrase “something old and something new” to capture the essence of her brand in words, I thought, yes, this is it. Because isn’t this what we are looking for in that new piece of clothing we purchase with the intention of keeping it forever? A soft, ultra-comfortable feel of a much loved favourite, something to weave your own story onto. It’s like when youth and adventure meet experience and a well-lived life. Kara Thoms seems to meet the best of both worlds.

But what has probably sealed my full admiration and appreciation for Kara Thoms, the woman and the brand, is Kara’s philosophy’s of working for yourself/being a mum. And, indeed, this is a brand that inherently projects the image of a beautiful, natural, talented and brave woman, one who weaves her life around family and passion work. Read on for my full interview with the designer, who talked to me about growing tired of fashion trends while modeling and challenging herself to design her first collection (while she was pregnant), about staying true to yourself and remaining positive no matter what, and about the future of the fashion industry.
Interview Kara Thoms Boutique 
Kara, why a fashion brand? Why not something else? What drove you to fashion in the first place?
I’ve just always loved clothes. My mother sewed all my clothes when I was younger, living in New Zealand. We would pick out fabrics and patterns at the material store and I’d watch her put it all together. Each piece was one-of-a-kind. I feel this is what planted the seed in me.

I’ve always been that girl who had quite a collection of clothes. I lived in a lot of different places around the world while modeling (17 years) and would get inspired by the surroundings, whether it be a city, people, or some open landscape, and I’d buy the hidden gems. I’ve always had a tailor so I could alter the clothes I bought – always changing up the designs, making them more flattering, shorter, a tuck here, a tuck there. I eventually felt unfulfilled with my modeling career. I wanted to take a leap of faith and challenge myself. So, I designed my first collection when I got pregnant a few years ago. But, first and foremost, I love being a mom. If I can work for myself and not have to leave my little girl, that’s the most important thing to me.

What are the core values of Kara Thoms?
Something old and something new. My designs have this old-world feel and quality but with a modern twist. Personally, I love wearing things that bare a hint of nostalgia. I use linen and linen blends which add a more clean and understated aspect to my vintage inspired designs. I do small batch quantities and everything is sewn by small, family-run artisan businesses. All the dying is done by hand with non-toxic mineral dyes.

Who do you design for? Is there a particular type of woman you design for?
I design clothes that I want to wear. It’s essentially a resort line for that woman who loves to travel. I like the idea that all the pieces can be worn at a variety of occasions for that classic, understated look. Kara Thoms is probably best described as ‘prairie chic’.
Interview Kara Thoms Boutique

Interview Kara Thoms Boutique 

From reading the story behind your brand, it’s clear that your mother was a huge influence. Who and what else inspires you?
I’ve always been inspired by the ‘Nana’, you know, when you see that sweet, old lady on the streets of New York dressed in a complete outfit she’s had since 1940? The matching shoes, dress stockings, and hat… When I’m back home in New Zealand I see a lot of ladies wearing their old, homemade house dresses – just classic.

I love old movies and movie stars like Grace Kelly, and westerns like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I love simplicity and quality. Over the years I have become more drawn to minimalism. Not to say I don’t consume. I just try to consume less.

Your clothing line is produced by a small family-run business handpicked by you on a trip to visit your brother in Bali. What are the perks and challenges of an ethically produced fashion brand on the island of Bali?
I love the people I am working with in Bali. They are so talented and hard working. I like the fact that my clothes are not made in a factory but by these small, family run businesses; tailors to sew and artisans that are dying the fabrics by hand, trying to match my color choices. Sometimes they get it so wrong and sometimes the colors are better than I expected. It’s also a fun place to visit, like I’m on some sort of adventure. I’ve always loved traveling and different cultures.

The main setbacks are the time differences, the language barrier, and the amount of holidays they have – there’s a lot! But it’s all worth it.

You started your career as a model and then grew tired of trends, which is what lead you to start your own clothing business. How do you see the future of fashion? Because so many of the people I admire and who I come in contact with prefer mindful shopping and meaningful brands, such like yours.
My hope is that the fashion industry, as a whole, becomes more mindful. We live in a world of such excess and the worst part is the effect that has on the natural environment. I believe there is a draw to ethically produced brands. It’s like supporting your local farms and buying organic food. I’d rather spend more money on something I know is high quality, ethically produced and not mass-produced. Unfortunately, there are always going to be those people that don’t care and would rather not spend the money.
Interview Kara Thoms Boutique 

You’ve been working in fashion for many years. Are there any fashion designers you look up to? How about favorite photographers?
When I was younger, I used to love Karen Walker, being a fellow kiwi. Her designs were really vintage inspired back then. She used lots of beautiful colors. I was also a big fan of Chloé and Marc Jacobs for the same reasons.

I definitely went through an 80’s resurrection period in New York back, in 2003, which was hilarious, and a moment of hippie while living in Topanga canyon in 2008. But asides from these times of fashion gone rogue, I’ve always stayed pretty true to my style.

My current fashion loves are Isabel Marant, Zimmermann, Rachel Comey, Jesse Kamm, Ulla Johnson and I’m always inspired by pretty Valentino gowns.

My favorite photographers are Lauren Ross (who shot my entire website), Will Adler and my husband, Jeff Johnson.

A life lesson modeling has taught you:
I feel as though there have been many life lessons along my career path, especially with all that lonesome travel, living in foreign lands, understanding different cultures, the people, the language, making a home of it. Lots of self discovery. I think you need to be very self-sufficient and somewhat courageous to navigate it all. It helps if you don’t compare yourself to others.

One really positive lesson I have learned through modeling was learning to ride out the highs and slows, believing there would always be consistent work flowing in and trying to not go to that place of feeling stressed out or desperate. As long as you’re looking after yourself and radiating from within with positivity, trusting that it’s all going to be great, the universe always seems to come through. It’s almost like this mental, spiritual dance.

How much talent, how much hard work and how much luck would you say that are involved in a successful fashion brand?
I think the key is to have a clear vision for your designs and style, and always evolve.
It takes lots of time, blood, sweat and tears. If you’re lucky enough to gather the right people around and create a dream team, you’re half way there.

What advice would you give someone with their own idea or dream?
Take small steps, and lots of positive affirmations.
Kara Thoms Boutique interview 
What does style mean to you?
Tapping into the creative brain, self expression, not following the mainstream, but molding the ideas that are out there to create your own thing. You actually have to care enough about style to have any and, in some cases, being courageous in your approach.

Has your working in fashion influenced your personal wardrobe?
It’s funny, up until moving to the USA I would say it influenced my style in a really positive way. Living in New York was so incredibly inspiring, but my agency would tell me not to wear my vintage dresses and boots to castings. They wanted me to wear a plain white tank and a jean skirt, which I thought was totally boring. I also had to blow out my hair everyday! They said it was because my look was more commercial and it wasn’t in my best interests to look like I had just stepped out of an editorial shoot. So I always had my ‘work clothes’ and my ME clothes.

What are your ME clothes? What do you feel your best dressed in?
One of my own designs.

You are now living in California. How has your moving there influenced you creatively?
I feel like I’m surrounded by a great, creative energy. People here are creating and doing really unique things. They are driven and excited – that, in itself, has influenced me.
Interview Kara Thoms Boutique 

What is your one favourite thing to do in California and which you would miss if you lived anywhere else in the world?
California is where the sun is always shining. I love to be outside, road trips, camping out at the beach, or in the eastern Sierra around Yosemite with my hubby and our little girl and our dog. I would really miss that.

One thing you can not start the day without:
Cuddles with my little girl.

Where would we find you when not working?
At the beach.

Latest book you’ve read/ latest film you’ve watched / latest song you’ve been listening to on repeat:
Film – 10 (1979)

Book – African Saga, by Mirelli Ricciardi

Song – Shady Grove, by Taj Mahal

You wish people appreciated more:
Our natural environment.

What makes you happy at the end of the day?
Family story time together. | Instagram: @karathomsboutique

photo credit: Lauren Ross

Posted by classiq in Beauty & Beautiful Living, Fashion, Interviews, Style | | 2 Comments

Tennis on Film: My Five Picks

Favourite tennis movies Strangers on A Train 
There is a reason why I haven’t tried to put together my passion for cinema and my interest in tennis until now. There are simply not many films about tennis. And, to be completely honest, there are no good films about tennis whatsoever. Films that have tennis as background, or a main character as tennis player, yes, there have been, and some of them are very good movies – these are the ones that are the subject of this very article. But the reality is that filmmakers have shied away from taking on the challenge to portray the world of tennis and add cinematic drama to the game. I doubt this is a sport any less geared towards providing plenty of excitement of its own than other sports which have been themes for some great cinema pieces, like, for example, baseball (The Natural, 1984), boxing (Raging Bull, 1980), skiing (The Downhill Racer, 1969), basketball (Hoosiers, 1986), American football (Any Given Sunday, 1999).

With Wimbledon starting today, here are my five picks of tennis depictions on film.
Hard fast and beautiful 1951 
Hard, Fast & Beautiful, 1951, directed by Ida Lupino

Ida Lupino’s films (I love her noir work) were all made by her own production company for less than $160,000 each. Her films are remarkable for their complexity (Roberto Rossellini inspired her production aesthetic and she cited the neo-realist film making of Vittorio de Sica’s Sciuscià (Shoeshine), 1946, and Rossellini’s Roma, città aperta, 1945, as models). Hard, Fast and Beautiful is one of the greatest dramas about teenage stars, a sports star, and the only one from my selection that comes close to qualifying as a sports movie. Millie Farley (Claire Trevor) devotes herself to making sure her talented daughter’s tennis exploits are well paid. As the movie advances, it becomes clear that Millie uses her daughter’s sporting prowess to gain access to a life of luxury, travel, and freedom from the domestic life for herself, and that she plots to keep Florence (Sally Forrest) athletically and economically productive. Set first in a small town, then in fancy hotels and European locations, Hard, Fast and Beautiful ends with Millie sitting alone, rejected by daughter and husband, in an empty stadium.
My Favourite tennis films The Royal Tenenbaums 
The Royal Tenenbaums, 2002, directed by Wes Anderson

Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) is a former tennis prodigy whose career has spectacularly flopped – his meltdown on court, when he finishes the match in tears at the US Nationals, after 72 unforced errors, underhand serves, and the removal of his shoes, is a moment to remember – but he is still clinging to the prime of his success. It is a Wes Anderson movie, so the characters all wear their personalities on the outside. In the case of Richie, he still sports a retro band, arms bands and Fila logo t-shirts, his style taking direct cue from Björn Borg’s 1970s and 1980s tennis-court attire (beard and lustrous locks included), even when his tennis whites grow into a camel toned suit. I also particularly liked how Richie’s clothes are interconnected with Margo’s (Gwyneth Paltrow’s) tennis dresses, suggesting their mutual affection.
Pat and Mike 
Pat and Mike, 1952, directed by George Cukor

What I like the most about this George Cukor classic is the spontaneous comedic elegance and the relaxed yet precise performances of both Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Katharine plays a sporting heroine, whose tennis and golfing (a ‘sport’ I don’t quite understand, to be honest) skills matched her own. Hepburn was a gifted athlete, which made her 100% believable in her role. It’s a light comedy that allows the audience to enjoy the stars’ chemistry on screen.
Favourite tennis movies Match Point 
Match Point, 2005, directed by Woody Allen

Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a young tennis player, recently retired from the professional activity, trying to make a new living for himself as a tennis coach. Match Point is a rich psychological thriller and is not at all a stereotype Woody Allen movie that you are prone to recognize from the very first scenes, which makes it one of my favourites from the director’s filmography. Hunger, lust, ambition and greed are the aspirations of the main character, and even from the beginning of the movie we feel a rising tension regarding his moral status. It is such a dark film that pulls you in and revolts you at the same time, keeping you on the edge of your seat.
Favourite tennis movies Strangers on A Train 
Strangers on A Train, 1957, directed by Alfred Hitchcock

One of the best films from the Master. On a train, there is a chance encounter between social-climbing tennis champion Guy (Farley Granger) and sardonic playboy Bruno (Robert Walker), who is a fan of Guy’s and who seems to know all about his personal life. Bruno suggests the perfect crime by switching murders. Alfred Hitchcock once again demonstrates his virtuosity in the area of suspense thrillers, as the film is shot with all his usual invention and style, and a couple of scenes rank among the director’s most visually memorable. One such sequence involves a tennis match, when Guy scans the crowd and observes that all of the heads are swiveling back and forth to follow the game, except for one head, Bruno’s, whose focus remains relentlessly set on Guy. It literally gives you the shivers.

photos: movie stills from Hard, Fast and Beautiful (Everett Collection/Rex Features), The Royal Tenenbaums (Buena Vista Pictures/ Everett Collection) Pat and Mike / Match Point (BBC Films/Thema Production/ (as Thema Production/Jada Productions/Kudu Films) / Strangers on A Train (Warner Brothers)

Posted by classiq in Film | | Leave a comment

One Day That Summer: Pienza, Tuscany

Todd Ritondaro photography Pienza Tuscany 
To celebrate summer, in the course of the following months I will be collaborating with various photographers and photography collectors to bring you exclusive stories from behind the lens. Whether travel photography or pictures from the movie sets, One Day That Summer is an invitation to discovery, to open your mind and eyes, to live life like you stole it.
Italia. Even if I haven’t seen you in too long a time, you’re never far from my thoughts. Sure, with its magnificent scenery, historic monuments and architecture, and cultural heritage, Italy is arguably better stocked than any other country on the planet, so it’s easy to understand why I am probably not the only one who would say yes whenever a trip to Italy presented itself. But it’s more than that. We honeymooned in Italy and road tripped about half the country (without GPS and Google maps), turning off the beaten path, getting lost, opting for locations where Antonioni’s, Fellini’s and de Sica’s (I could have named an impressive number of other Italian artists here – read on and you’ll see) motherland is at her most tranquil and authentic. There are so many places I have yet to see, but Todd Ritondaro’s photograph above whisks me off to Tuscany, to its unique, quiet early morning light, to the smell of the evergreen cypress trees, to the terraced olive trees and ancient stone pathways; a beautiful reminder that the take-home from Toscana is the view and the experience of being there, and that it’s about time I plotted my return there. Va bene, I’m in!

Todd Ritondaro is a screenwriter, director and photographer living in California and in love with all things Italian. And I am sure this is just the first of the conversations Todd and I are going to have on the subjects of photography and film here on the blog. For now, we’ve talked about the story behind this picture that keeps pulling me back to Italy, some of the hidden gems of Tuscany, and the Italian cinema, naturally.

“Usually there is an emotion that is triggered,
or a quality of light or a composition that inspires me,
and my goal is always to try and shoot what it feels like
rather than capturing a true-to-reality photo.
Although sometimes they overlap.”

What’s the story behind this photo?
Much like you, Italy is my absolute favorite country to visit (a close second being Kenya – editor’s note: we’ll talk about that later this summer). I was lucky enough to study abroad in Florence when I was in college and I take every chance to go back. I’ve been very lucky to go back three times over the last two years. I love speaking the language (although I’m far from fluent). I love the food, art, architecture, the people… did I say the food? Let’s face it, they have all the best stuff. I love all the small towns of Tuscany, and Pienza especially because it is one of the smaller ones.

The first time I visited Pienza, three summers ago now, I met this older man who has a small leather working shop in town and I bought a wallet from him (he does custom work, too) that I carry everywhere. I really wanted to stop by again on my trip there last fall, but when I got there, he had a sign on his window saying that he’d be out the next few days picking olives for his own olive oil. I just thought that was so cool.

I finally caught him when he was in his shop one very cold night on the way to dinner and bought a belt from him and had a wonderful conversation. He told me all about his olive oil and recommended some wineries to hit that were far off the tourists routes.

The photo you like I took one morning in Pienza walking around at dawn trying to catch the fog in the Val D’Orcia. After taking photos I had a cappuccino in the local café with a bunch of old men and workers getting ready for the day, and, for a moment, felt like a local.

What do you always take home from Tuscany?
The first thing I take home from each trip is a deeper appreciation of the people. They can have a tough exterior at first, but, in my experience, they are some of the warmest and most inspiring people you’ll ever meet. I’ve had so many wonderful conversations with locals, and I’m grateful that most of them let me ask tons of questions about what their lives are like, their favorite spots, where to find the best food, what they like to cook, and recommendations that are off the beaten path.

For example, the older gentleman I was mentioning above, who is a wealth of knowledge if you can get him talking.

There are a few food staples I love to bring back that also make great gifts: olive oil (best bought fresh in the fall), a small wheel of pecorino from this little shop on the road between Pienza and Montepulciano, and I like hunting for obscure amari. It’s always fun to hit up Italian grocery stores, too.

A few other favorite things: there is a great Legatoria, book binding shop, in Montepulciano, that makes beautiful sketchbooks and journals with hand made paper. And, in Florence, I always stock up on soaps and and a scent or two from Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella.

I’ll say it again, Italy has the best stuff.

And of course, I always hope to make a few photographs that I’m happy with. But the experience of just being there, walking around, talking with people, and taking everything in is the best thing to bring back.

If Italy has all the best stuff, would you ever consider living in Italy?
I would absolutely live in Italy. I was studied in Florence for a semester in college and felt like I was just getting started with exploring and learning. Granted, it was a pretty idyllic experience and far from the realities of moving there permanently. But I’d love to spend a lot more time there, if not move there.

You said ‘make’ a photograph. So, is it make, not take, a photograph? Do you wait for a good photo? Are there times when you simply witness the moment without shooting any picture?
Yes, I favor the ‘make a photo’ approach. It’s important for me to have a point of view and know what I’m trying to communicate. Usually there is an emotion that is triggered, or a quality of light or a composition that inspires me, and my goal is always to try and shoot what it feels like rather than capturing a true-to-reality photo. Although sometimes they overlap.

I used to make a shot list for myself, but I realized the best pictures came when I was just wandering and fully present letting things unfold. However, I do have a loose idea of what I’m after and do some research beforehand. I also use apps like Golden Hour and a few others, to increase the chances of getting some great light while still being open to what is in front of me.

I’m always torn between making pictures and witnessing the moment while traveling. The minute you put a camera in front of your face, or hold up a phone, it changes the experience. The photo above, as I was saying earlier, I took one morning in Pienza walking around at dawn trying to catch the fog in the Val D’Orcia. After taking photos, I had a cappuccino standing at the bar in the local café with some old men and construction workers getting ready for the day. For a moment, I thought about asking a few of them if I could take their picture. Instead, I decided that I’d rather enjoy the moment as it was, practice some Italian, and savor the coffee.

I think you have just captured one of the essences of Italy: ‘enjoy the moment’. What is the most important lesson that Italy has taught you?
At the risk of giving a cliched answer, the most important thing Italy has taught me is indeed to slow down and enjoy the little things. I love how there is such ceremony to everything Italians do and the attention to detail. Everything from the way they dress, to preparing food, to packaging something, to having a coffee in the morning at a café/bar. It’s all done with a meticulous elegance that makes even the smallest things better.

I’m also very inspired by Italian sartorial style and a lot of the modern culture.

And I never get tired of studying the art, history, and cinema of Italy. So much of what I’ve learned about lighting and composition has been directly from the Italian masters.

The Italian masters, would you name a few who have influenced you? How about a few favourite Italian movies?
I suppose all the usual suspects, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphaelo, Caravaggio, Bernini, and many others. Most recently, Tintoretto and Pietro da Cortona. The way I like to study them is to take a small sketchbook to a museum and do little thumbnail tonal three value studies. By looking just at the tonal shapes, the darkest darks, the lightest lights, and where the midtones are, you can learn so much. I’m always looking for the graphic statement so to speak. It’s a great way to study paintings, photography, and film stills.

Some of my favorite Italian films I keep going back to are 8 1/2, L’Ecclise, La Notte, La Dolce Vita, Cinema Paradiso, Umberto D, Bicycle Thieves, I Vitelloni, and, recently, La grande bellezza.

The photo above was taken at dawn. What is your favorite moment of the day to shoot? Do you swear by the ‘golden hour’?
I do prefer the golden hour, both at dawn and dusk. Even though I hate getting up when it’s dark out, I’m always happy I did. The mornings usually have more atmosphere and there is a meditative quietness that I like, especially in touristy areas. In the evenings, there always feels like a longer, more gradual change in light and you have more of an opportunity to figure out where to be.

Does Italy have the best light?
Italy definitely has some of the best and most unique light. And it’s different depending on which part of the country you’re in. I love shooting in Italy because almost everywhere you point the camera, there is something beautiful. So much of it has to do with the buildings and landscape as well.

You are also a filmmaker. Which is, in your opinion, the most beautiful film shot in Italy?
There are so many beautiful Italian films, and films shot in Italy, that I love. If I had to pick one that has had the most influence on me, it would be The Talented Mr. Ripley. Anthony Minghella’s version of Italy is such a rich character unto itself in that film. Each shot is layered with atmosphere, texture, and color to play up the sensuousness of every frame. Plus, John Seale’s cinematography is absolutely beautiful. Minghella’s commentary on the DVD is a master class in filmmaking, too.

I also recently watched La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty), which was fresh, and touching, and stuck with me long after I watched it.

If you could be anywhere in the world right now (old or new location), preparing to make a photo, where would you want to be?
It’s a toss up. I really want to explore Calabria, in the south of Italy. I’ve never been, but my father’s side of the family is from there. The other place, which I have been, is Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Northern Kenya. For me, a morning game drive in the bush is heaven.
You can keep up with Todd’s photography and work here:
Instagram: @toddritondaro
Website: Todd Ritondaro

For more photographer interviews and stories, click here: One Day That Summer

Posted by classiq in Interviews, One day that summer, Photography | | Leave a comment

My Summer Style Muse: Penélope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona

It was not until I saw Penélope Cruz in Volver that I fully understood why she is Pedro Almódovar’s muse. Such depth and remarkable ease in playing, such a pleasure to see her on screen. It took one great director to discover her real talent and introduce us to a great actress at her highest performing capacity. “Pedro would push me to the limit. He really knows how to press all my buttons. You can only go into something like that when it’s somebody you really trust.” And it took another great filmmaker, Woody Allen, to further explore her acting skills and win her a well deserved Oscar. Or, better said, watching Cruz in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona is, simply put, a lesson in the art of acting. Her role is so intense that it left me a lasting impression of her untamed passion, power of attraction and volcanic temperament. A torrent of a performance. Vicky Cristina has a natural vivacity and sun-drenched splendour, the luscious beauty of Barcelona playing a major role (the cinematographer was Javier Aguirresarobe), but it’s Penélope who brings it to life. The film belongs to her. “I don’t want to look at Penélope directly. It’s too overwhelming”, Woody Allen would say.

Cruz, as the emotionally unpredictable ex-wife of Javier Bardem’s Juan Antonio (the film belongs to Javier to a certain extent, too), artist María Elena, is stunning in every sense of the word. Woody Allen starts building her character even before she appears on screen, through the conversations of the other characters about María Elena. We get a strong sense of her tempestuous temperament and magnetic beauty even before we see her. But her presence on screen – her stance, her body language, her eye contact – is enticing. The switching between Spanish and English (her lines with Javier Bardem are ferociously funny – the director let them improvise in Spanish – and she never lets up on the constant verbal exchange), the chain-smoking, the mood swings, the uproar she causes; she is quick-witted, and manic, and untamed. But also erotic, touching and possessed of a beguiling, devastating beauty. And she brings on screen an equally tumultuous, somptuously disheveled style, largely consisting of running mascara, Bardot hair, nighties as dresses, and black dresses as summerwear.
Penelope Cruz style Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Lingerie as daywear. Costume designer Sonia Grande found the pink satin slip dress at L´Arca de la Avia, a vintage store in Barcelona.

What would Woody Allen’s films be without their vibrant, odd, beautiful, and unique women? But as far as Allen’s heroines’ fashion is concerned, his movies have not exactly been renowned for spawning style icons, not since Diane Keaton in 1997’s Annie Hall (and maybe Mariel Hemingway in 1979’s Manhattan), anyway. But Penélope’s María Elena has been my summer style muse ever since the release of Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

María Elena’s clothing consists mainly of vintage finds, her costumes indicating her creativity and bohemian soul. It was the most difficult character in the film to conceive for costume designer Sonia Grande, who wanted to give her a look that was visually interesting and contemporary, as she was confessing in this interview. Grande, who would continue her collaboration with Woody Allen on Midnight in Paris and To Rome with Love (also starring Cruz), had, interestingly enough, previously worked with Penélope on one of Almódovar’s films, Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces), where Penélope’s demanding character goes through several transformations which require a great emotional strain from the actress, and clothes helped to tell the story: “Her character had to be beautiful, without us forgetting that elegance can be a direct route to sadness”, Sonia Grande told Elle.
Penelope Cruz as Maria Elena 
In Vicky Cristina, Grande once again did a great job, managing to perfectly portray the spirit of María Elena, but also the beatnik spirit. Two signficant items that announce her bohemian status are a large leather bag emblazoned with a tiger’s face and a white antique linen and lace chemise with a hint of transparency. She reveals her essence, but also her erotic, dangerous, rumpled allure through her clothing choices.
Penelope Cruz style Vicky Cristina Barcelona

“Say something in Chinese. […] Do you think that’s beautiful?”

Penelope Cruz style Vicky Cristina Barcelona

“Not talent, genius.”

Penelope Cruz style Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Penelope Cruz style Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Penelope Cruz style Vicky Cristina Barcelona  
The costume designer further explains the starting point of the inspiration for building the character of María Elena: During filming, “I went to the bar on my street once, and the waitress caught my eye. I really liked what she transmitted, not what she was wearing, but the inside concept of her. Then I started thinking about the character as I was drinking a glass of wine, watching this girl’s gestures. From that, I thought of Frida Kahlo” – and how rightfully The New Yorker described María Elena as a “Frida Kahlo without the discipline to work” – “and she reminded me of a friend my mother used to have from the Cafe Gijon. That woman lived with the painters and artist of that period, she had no money, but she had a very interesting style. That kind of woman that creates her own image in flea markets, things she borrows, etc. She generated a very special artistic feeling. I took that concept to what a person would do nowadays, an artist that has no money. And I thought that vintage clothes would help. If a person with good taste goes to a flea market, and she’s an artist, she will recognize the good items. Maybe she’ll buy them for five cents. I designed that character from there.”
Penelope Cruz style Vicky Cristina Barcelona  
Bohemians are intriguing personalities, but I love it how Sonia Grande conveys the unconventional, original and authentic nature of María Elena by keeping her style simple, through carefully chosen, rare antique garments. “I think that the simpler you look, the better. The viewer needs to be paying attention to the message the actors are expressing.”

What María Elena’s clothes also project is an antithesis of middle class respectability, the underlying context of tensions between art and conventional society being an ever-present preoccupation of Allen’s films. And the vintage lace-embellished pink satin slip worn as daywear is the key element that defines her look. She frees from conventions and rules by ingeniously reinterpreting the past. Not only that, but her dress simultaneously divulges her fractured mental state and vulnerability through uncovering the protective layers of outerwear.
Penelope Cruz María Elena

Black summer dress with split sleeves. A summery floral dress wouldn’t have been fitting for her character.


Discover our movie stories shop – inspired by the fascinating world of cinema
and by the never-fading beauty of the tangible

sources: W Magazine / The New Yorker / Style Lovely / Costuming the Middle Classes, Anti-Fashion as Aspirational Fashion in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris, an essay from the University for the Creative Arts Rochester / Elle

photos: movie stills captured by me | Weinstein Company/The Mediapro /Gravier Productions | cinematographer: Javier Aguirresarobe

Posted by classiq in Style in film | | 4 Comments

Terry O’Neill: The Storyteller

Romy Schneider Terry O'Neill

The face. Romy Schneider

What do you do when you find Terry O’Neill’s photography book, Terry O’Neill: The A-Z of Fame, on huge sale at a street book fair? Grab it looking over your shoulder, pay for it in a hurry (almos feeling guilty, but mostly giddy for such bargain) and run. I ran with a story book. Because each photograph has its own story to tell.

But there is no face like Romy Schneider’s. And there is no portrait of Romy like the one shot by Terry O’Neill. Her natural, sculptural beauty, her mystery, her sadness, her self-regard, her hidden depths, her fragility, her sensitivity, her tortured soul … it’s all in this photograph, everything Romy’s face seemed to transmit, then making you question everything you thought you saw on her face.

Black and white has always been Terry O’Neill’s chosen medium. And it’s always his black and white photography that makes me linger over one image or another. He photographed everyone from Robert Redford to Sean Connery, from The Rolling Stones to Frank Sinatra (having compiled his pictures in the book Sinatra: Frank and Friendly). Terry O’Neill has many a tale to tell. And he has told the tales behind many of his legendary photographs (and, somehow, by doing so, he doesn’t take from their mystery, but adds to it). But with good-natured tact, charm, discretion. Always the professional, never intruding. It’s the approach he has also used in his photography. “I suppose I get on with these people because I never wanted to be up front.”

“I’ve been repeatedly asked to write my autobiography
– I have seen an awful lot of famous people at their best and worst –
but I’m not interested in making money trading their secrets or mine.
I want my pictures to tell a story, not sell a story. […]
I have always tried to give people dignity in my pictures.
That is what it’s all about for me.”


The photographer. Norman Parkinson

Jane Fonda Terry O'Neill

The Hollywood actress. Jane Fonda

Dustin Hoffman Terry O'Neill

The seeker. Dustin Hoffman


“I’m not really interested in photography anymore. I’ve semi-retired;
there’s nobody I want to photograph now. Nobody as great as all the people I used to photograph.
Standards have fallen where photography is concerned. Now when you go to a film premiere, the photographers look at their pictures as they take them and when they have ‘the shot’, they just stop shooting.
Photography is all about shooting and capturing a moment spontaneously,
not worrying about what picture you have already taken.”

Monica Vitti Terry O'Neill

The Michelangelo Antonioni muse. Monica Vitti

The Rolling Stones Terry O'Neill

The band. The Rolling Stones

Clint Eastwood Terry O'Neill

The legend. Clint Eastwood

photos of the book by me; Terry O’Neill: The A-Z of Fame was published by ACC Editions

Posted by classiq in Books, Photography | | Leave a comment