Friday, October 30, 2009

Chanel No. 2

Sequel to Leader of Fashion - that could be you!

It's become a trend of 2009 for media outlets to celebrate the brilliant innovations of a designer who created fashion essentials we take for granted. Her name was Chanel (pronounced sha-NEL).

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (1883-1971) may very well have been the most influential and innovative fashion designer to date. As Christian Dior put it: "With a black pullover and ten rows of pearls she revolutionized fashion." Not only is Chanel known for her little black dress and her No 5 fragrance, but also her classic and timeless suits, shoes, purses, and jewelry. Her designs helped define women's fashion.

Coco Chanel

The Chanel skirt suit is the epitomization of classic and professional dressing, and many stores and labels have taken cue and produced a similar shape at all different price points. Whether it is a 1930s suit, 1960s suit, or a "millennium" suit, the classic Chanel tweed suit is boxy but never frumpy, always luxurious, and made to transcend fashion.

The typical suit has braided trim and a slim skirt, is lined in silk, and the hems are looped with a gold link chain to assist drape. The buttons often resemble coins or are gold with the double "cc" logo displayed amid them. There is always a ribbon sewed in the waist of the skirt to prevent the blouse from slipping and the zipper is placed on the side of the skirt to enable comfort. In a sense, wearing a Chanel suit is like wearing a customized ornate costume, made to fit so that when the wearer moves, the suit still maintains perfect grace and elegance.

Ohio State University offers an excellent view of the lining, gold chain, and other details of a Chanel Suit here.

To accessorize this classic suit, an excessive array of pearls, genuine and costume, simple and gold intertwined is often worn. A classic quilted Chanel handbag with the CC logo and gold chainlink shoulder strap would hang over the shoulder, and Chanel's trademark two-tone pumps or ballet flats would be worn on the feet.

Today the average cost of a new Chanel suit is $5,000 and can only to be purchased at Chanel boutiques or at high-end department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue. Although details such as exquisite fabrics, bias cuts and hand sewing contribute to the high cost, Chanel was a firm believer that if the costs of her products were high, then her obsessively perfect designs would truly be valued.

The ballet shoe-inspired flattie (that could be pulled tighter with a thread, just like a dancer’s) was another part of Coco’s crusade to liberate women – in this case, empowering us to stride, rather than teeter, along the pavements first of Paris, then the world. Today, imitation seems to be the sincerest form of flat-shoe-ery, as ballerina pumps are everywhere. But those in the know can spot the real thing at a distance: it features a mixture of patent and matt leather, with – somewhere – the handstitched CC logo. And the pumps are as easy to wear as slippers because, in the words of Coco, ‘Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.’

Here are a few items from 2009 fashion catalogues, items that reflect Chanel's classic style.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Zipper Tip 1

When you purchase fabric and trims, grab your zipper at the same time, even if you're not sure what pattern you're going to use. Fashion colours change unhelpfully, as I found with the illustrated fabric.

I thought there were so many shades of blue in the fabric I'd surely find a coordinating zipper once I'd figured out what style of dress I wanted. I was wrong.

Only one year after purchasing the fabric, light blues were no longer available in invisible zippers (regular zips offer a wider range), and neither was lavender (I tried 2 of the country's biggest fabric stores). I had a choice of white or dark blue, neither of which was ideal.

The zip pull is noticeable against my pale skin, and, something I hadn't anticipated, the dark colour highlights where the satin ribbons meet. These may seem like picky details, but if you're aiming for class, they're necessary considerations.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Stay-Dry Techniques, Part 2

Featuring the Boutique Narelle Rain Skirt

I love walking in the rain, but others have told me they hate it. I discovered they have good reason. Utterly devoid of rain repellent, they arrive at their destination completely saturated. I'm sure you'll agree that puts a damper on things.

Last week I discussed rainwear for those with active intent. The suggestions were not without shortcomings, so I sent the stay-dry technique to the workshop.

I knew my skirt hem was going to get soaked in a downpour. I figured I had three options.

1) Change into a skirt that I wouldn't mind getting wet, which still wasn't ideal because my full length chemise under that was likely to get hem-soaked, and what Kiwi [stout of heart but unacquainted with central heating] is keen to strip down to the basics in the middle of winter?

2) Change into trousers and wear waterproof trousers (easily purchased) on top. Er, there's still that chemise to deal with. Ever tried stuffing one into trousers? (While wearing both, I mean.)

3) Figure out how to keep a skirt dry all the way down.

I set to work on Option 3. Have you ever heard of a rain skirt? Modern stores haven't. I remember back to my very youth when my mother wore a rain skirt when she cycled. It was made from shower-proof parka fabric and had a split worn down the back for ease of movement. However, I don't want a split flapping about when I'm walking, letting in the rain (something that isn't such a problem when you sit on a bicyle).

1st CHALLENGE: How can I make a skirt that is easy to get on and off when wet, but doesn't gape or flap?

2nd CHALLENGE: Where to find waterproof fabric my sewing machine can handle? Spotlight sells the polyurethane type. Not what I'm looking for.

In the winter of 2008, I purchased 2 meters of waterproof fabric from, at a cost of NZ$35.50 including postage and packaging. The fabric is available in a range of pretty colours and several different weights. I chose aqua PUL for my prototype.

The Boutique Narelle Rain Skirt

I used a regular skirt pattern, leaving the side seams of the yoke open so I could get in and out of it. I fastened the waist with velcro strips, meaning there was room for me to expand should I put on weight (unlikely)(sigh of frustration) or to add more layers underneath. It also means someone not quite so bean-pole-ish as myself can borrow it. When it's dry, I can step into it or drop it over my head, and when it's wet, drop it to the ground and step out of it.

TO MAKE RAIN SKIRT: Stitch side seams up to a handspan from waist. Pin, tack, and then top stitch the two sides of the openings.

Topstitch curved hatband tape or Petersham ribbon to form the waistband.
Leave a portion of tape sticking out each side.

Turn under ends of tabs, place velcro strips, and stitch.

Add cotton tape hanger loop/s if desired (below).

The piece de resistance is the fabric -- what sew-it-yourself women use to keep their babies dry. Yes, it's nappy (diaper) fabric. The fabric is soft on one side, shiny and waterproof on the other. Babies need to be dry on the inside; I need to be dry on the outside. I cut the skirt with the softness inward and the shiny waterproofness outward. It drapes nicely, has a leather-like appearance (trendy!) and is reflective (a wise feature to have when out walking in dull, stormy weather).

I'm very happy with my creation. It's superbly practical and attractive, which is more than I can say for a lot of wet weather gear. Looks like I'd better buy more fabric to make a practical and attractive coat to match!

Extra Stay-Dry Tip for Feet

Water descends to the lowest common demoninator and nobody likes leaky boots, so here's another way to help prevent unauthorized liquid filtration. Chunky knit pure wool leg-warmers from Norsewear are great for keeping out upward drafts and downward drips, and they may be dried by the fireside (which boots should not). See Part 1 for other stay-dry tips.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Stay-Dry Techniques, Part 1

"Rainy days are here again.
The skies above are grey again.
Let us sing a song of drear again --
Rainy days are here again."
(With apologies to Jack Yellen, lyricist of "Happy Days are Here Again")

"I stopped walking on rainy days because I hate getting wet!"

Are you familiar with this sort of frustration? I am, and I've been working on ways to solve it. I don't have a doctorate in weather control, so I've focused on how to keep my clothing dry when out in the rain.

An umbrella is out of the question for two reasons. 1) I live in a windy climate. 2) I like to swing both arms when I'm walking. It keeps me balanced, and enables a more efficient muscle workout.

The first rain-resistent outfit I put together consists of the following.

Peaked Cap. If you wear spectacles, I recommend you find a cap with a good curve to the peak. The one I'm wearing cost about $12 from The Warehouse, 80% acrylic, 20% wool. It takes 20 minutes in a torrential downpour before any dampness penetrates through this.

Rain Coat. A shower-proof parka won't do -- you'll be soaked in 2 minutes. Polyurethane rain coats are available in a variety of cheerful colours, but they're stiff and I find them creaky and uncomfortable to wear. They also don't breathe, which in my opinion encourages dripping on the inside whilst being dowsed on the outside.

I wear an oilskin lined with brushed cotton (Eidex Kiwi Stockman) which I purchased to wear on my newspaper delivery job when I was 16. The oilskin fabric is getting a bit ragged now, but the coat is still just as comfortable and functional. One feature I really like is the length of the sleeves. I've got unusually long arms, but even so this coat allows me to keep my hands dry without wearing gloves. Provided I'm not on a bicycle or chucking newspapers around, of course.

A scarf is helpful for stopping 'giraffes' (as my father calls sneaky breezes) and keeps your chin dry if you're facing into a slanting rain.
You've probably been thinking, "What is that thing around her middle?" It's half a drycleaning bag. My mother, a teacher who rides 7 minutes to school in all weathers on a motor scooter, invented this method of keeping her skirt dry. She uses a full length bag (the sort that drycleaners place over your clean garment) which comes down to her ankles. I found this too restrictive for walking.

My solution was to reduce the length of the bag to half, then tuck the top edge of it into the waist of my skirt. The length reaches to just below my knees. This gives me enough freedom for a brisk stride, and counters the drip line created by the hem of my oilskin coat. Yes, the hem of my skirt does get soaked, but it's much easier to bear a wet hem than it is to bear soaked thighs. That I find particularly uncomfortable, especially in a gusty wind.

Rain Skirt

In my experience, perfectly dry feet is only possible with gumboots (rubbers). My feet need more support than gumboots provide, so my preference is leather ankle boots. They're sturdy and keep most water out provided I don't go wading. They do get leakier as they age, which means I'll probably have to change my socks when I get home.

But what if my socks are the only ones that match the outfit I'm wearing that day? Solution: I change into a pair for getting wet, and change back to the dry ones on my return.

The damp leather boots are opened up and put to dry in an airy space. (Do NOT place footwear to dry on the fireside hearth or close to a source of heat. If you need to speed up the drying time, stuff them with scrunched newspaper. See for more tips on drying wet boots.)

I realize this outfit is not ideal for those burdened by fashionable opinion, nor does it keep one entirely dry. I sent my stay-dry technique to the workshop... next week, find out what came out!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Leader of Fashion - that could be you!

Having the Wisdom and Courage to be Individual

"My mother always said, 'Be original!' but I didn't understand until I changed to be like everyone else. Once I did fit in, I was like, 'What have I done?' "
-- Actress Sandra Bullock

I'm sure we all have at least one memory of not fitting in due to what we're wearing. I have a memory that features the great discomfort of a close friend at being associated with me in a public place -- not because I was inappropriately dressed, but because I was individually dressed.

Wearing a BN polyester punjab/tunic suit at a summer outdoor concert,
cool but covered.

I decided in 2001 that tunics enabled me to wear trousers modestly.* Ezibuy's Spring 2007 catalogue caught up with the charm and practicality of the garment, declaring tunics to be the IN thing. I smiled. I'd beaten them to it.

*For tunic examples, see BN's Outfit for Summer Outdoors, Tuning in to the Tunic Suit, Fashion Forum on the Farm II (the latter half), or The Great Shirt Hunt continued.

Six years ago I began to focus on stocking my wardrobe with dresses. They were comfortable, I liked the look, and I enjoyed the feminine feeling they gave me. Surprise, surprise, fashion pundits declared that Summer 2007/2008 was for dresses. I already knew that, and had the garments to prove it. I laughed at myself for doing so, but I got quite a kick out of my sense of triumph.

It's hugely ironic that the fashion of the masses brings such pressure on individuals to dress alike when garments they treat as uniform were made fashionable by an individual who dared to be original.

Coco Chanel (1883-1971)
20th Century Fashion Entrepreneur

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel's appearance was always different from her peers. Her individuality caused her to stand out from the crowd, but that same characteristic spawned a clothing style that women have loved and copied for nearly a century since.

A Chanel design from 1938

The Chanel Look

A standard form of feminine elegance today, when Coco introduced the Chanel Suit it was wildly radical. Coco's style guidelines were simplicity, comfort, and yet perfect grace and elegance.

Unlike most designers in Europe at that time, she kept the woman inside the clothes at the center of her creations. "I gave women a sense of freedom; I gave them back their bodies: bodies that were drenched in sweat, due to fashion's finery, lace, corsets, underclothes, padding."

A Chanel Suit, circa 1955

Coco was highly practical, but she also had a shrewd understanding of the way that the fashion world operates. She said, "In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different."

Coco Chanel is proof against the adage that you must conform in order to be valued. She had the wisdom and courage to be herself. What about you?

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
-- Akeelah and the Bee

The Chanel Suit, still popular in the 21st Century
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