Fascinating Fascinators

Photo courtesy of FameFlynet Pictures

The past year and a half has been full of new experiences for the Duchess of Cambridge (the former Kate Middleton), as well as for those who love her from afar. The “Kate Effect,” as the infatuation with her fashion choices has come to be called, has influenced style across the globe. Dresses that she is seen wearing sell out in hours and the demand for them has even crashed lucky retailers’ websites. I have to admit, that I am one of the many who are obsessed impressed with the future queen’s style and grace.

The one element of Kate’s outfits that is most striking to American audiences is her headwear: we Yankees love those Brit’s hats. There was a parade of fascinators worn by nearly every guest at the royal wedding last year and Kate has dazzled us with her choice of fascinators from her first trip abroad as a royal to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. As Americans – and specifically Bostonians – get more familiar with the different ways to top off an outfit, the demand has grown for toppers themselves.

Photo courtesy of Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe

Boston’s only trained milliner (I tried to find another and was unable, which is why I have deemed her the “only,” speak up if I’m incorrect) has been the beneficiary of this spike in fascination with fascinators. Irish-born Marie Galvin of Galvin-ized Headwear has been making hats in Boston since 1998, and has been in her current location in the city’s South End since 2007.  She started out in fashion design (her grandmother was also a designer), but was struck by the power of a hat.

“You can go from drab to fab in a couple seconds,” Marie said cheerfully on the late summer afternoon I spent with her. She says a person stands taller when they wear a hat; they walk with more confidence and with an extra bounce in their step. I tried it, it’s true.

Marie was already living in Boston when she started her love affair with hats. She could not find any schools or milliners to learn from, so she bought old books on millinery and taught herself. Many of the materials and equipment she needed were not available in the States, so she had to order them from the UK, the mother land of millinery. It was a hard road, but hat-by-hat she got better and better. Today she executes her designs in the back of her boutique which looks like the Santa’s workshop of hats with Marie as the one and only elf.

Marie makes all sorts of hats: chic and warm winter hats, berets, fascinators and couture pieces for weddings and special occasions. Her creations are whimsical and playful, they can be sexy, and sometimes practical, but are always beautiful. Her shop is the place to go for Kentucky Derby toppers and increasingly spring and summer weddings.

Marie steaming the felt

To celebrate the start of Fashion Week and because we are inching our way into fall (I am shedding a tear as I type this), Marie thought I should try my hand (literally) at making a beret. Marie makes each of her hats by hand and it can take days to complete one piece. For this beret we started with felt, sounds simple enough right? Wrong! The felt, has to be flexible enough to be stretched over a form. To do that, Marie steams the material until it becomes malleable. Marie holds the fabric over a steam machine that spits out boiling vapor, which can be a little tricky…seriously…I scalded my fingers. Next, Marie and I stretched the fabric over the beret form and pinned it in place. This typically has to sit overnight to fully take on the appropriate shape. Much like a morning show cooking segment, Marie had berets at different stages of development set up for me. So instead of coming back the next day, we cut off the excess felt and moved on to sewing a thin wire to the edge of another beret that had already been left overnight. We used a huge needle because the felt is so thick. Much like my upholstery projects, it was one of those moments that I wish I knew more about sewing. The wire gives the beret shape and we then covered our work with piece of glossy black grosgrain ribbon.

On the mold

The hallmark of Marie’s pieces is the attention to detail, one look inside her shop and that is clear. For the beret we were working on Marie showed me how she hand-stitches beautiful jewel tone feathers to the top. This beret is perfect for fall and a perfect way to wade into the waters of fashion headwear. The beret fastens around your head with a thin piece of elastic that disappears into your hair, even my ginger locks. I was so happy to learn that this is how Kate’s hats stay so perfectly in place.

The process of making a hat – even a relatively simple one like the beret – is complex and takes a great deal of time. And Marie does all this after she has designed the hat…in her head she says. The real testaments to her talent are the fascinators on display in her shop. I am dying to get one, specifically the navy one at the bottom of this post. I just need the right party or wedding to which to wear it. Hint, hint my friends. Millinery is a lost art, as is, perhaps , the wearing of these elegant accessories.

My Beautiful beret

The making of this beret, and I am sure it is the case with all of Marie’s creations, requires a lot of my patience (a virtue that I am gradually acquiring week-by-week), it is similar to upholstery in that way. My generation of post-feminist daughters, were in large part spared the “Home Ec” classes that our mothers and grandmothers suffered through (or took joy in, I am not judging). As a result, I have had to get comfortable with sewing, cooking and other domestic tasks that were once considered women’s’ “jobs,” in my 20s and now my 30s, as opposed to in the middle school classroom.  This is an odd feeling at times, and an interesting cultural discussion to have.

Marie’s work will be featured in an exhibit opening this Saturday, September 8th, at The Peabody Essex Museum. The exhibit “Hats” will also feature the work of some of the world’s most well-known milliners. Marie will be on-hand on Saturday to lead a discussion on choosing and styling the perfect hat, she will be followed by a presentation by Stephen Jones, he is like the Chanel of milliners. So this is a big deal! This is sure to be an amazing opening day and I hope to see you there!

Courtesy of Anna Sikora, one of Marie’s satisfied customers

One of Marie’s more whimsical creations

My favorite! It has my name on it, just waiting for the right occasion

I was not compensated in any way for this post, and the berets I worked on are on sale at Galvin-ized Headwear.

Hail, My Fellow Passion Chaser

It feels like spring has sprung in Boston this week! This warm weather perfectly coincides with the launch of a great spring line for women designed by a friend of mine. So this week I am not writing about chasing my passion, but I am taking this opportunity to support someone who has found her’s and made it a reality.
Lindsay Jeanloz launched her line, Port Winsor, just last August with some great looking and great feeling tunics in an array of bright colors and patterns (two of my very favorite things). Like me, Lindsay is a part-time passion chaser; she runs her growing company on nights, weekends and whenever she’s not at her full-time job.
I bought this one for my Mom!

Port Winsor grew from Lindsay’s desire to find the perfect tunic. She, like many of us, owned an assortment of tunics from a variety of designers, but each had their shortcomings.  She set out to create a tunic that would flatter figures, be easy and elegant to wear and simple to care for.  Each tunic has darts in the back and at the bust to flatter, a hidden side zip that runs the length of the garment to make getting in and out a cinch, and bracelet-length sleeves. These design innovations coupled with the line’s bold colors and pretty patters really sets her tunics apart. Best of all, the entire line is machine washable. As someone who always ends up with part of her dinner on the long bell sleeves of her Tory Burch tunic, I really appreciate Port Winsor’s bracelet-length.

This spring Lindsay has added beach cover-ups and dresses to her line.  I’m eyeing a dress; they would be perfect for a summer weekend away (can you tell I am impatiently awaiting winters departure?).These tunics look amazing on women of all ages and sizes. I got myself a Port Winsor tunic, not that big of a stretch. But I also got one for my mother and she loves it.  Now, to understand what that means, my progressive, almost hippy, college professor mother thinks “preppy” is a four-letter word. So I repeat, she loves her tunic!

“It’s these seemingly small design details that make all the difference in creating the flattering, classic lines of our tunics,” Lindsay says. “It’s that easy-breezy style and sensibility that have won us so many fans in such a short time.”
I love this one!

It has been energizing to have a front-row seat to Port Winsor’s success. This is really a passion project for Lindsay and she has dedicated herself to it in a way that leaves me in awe.  I embark on my “adventures” on nights and weekends because it’s fun for me, I inevitable learn something new (quite often about myself) and at the end of the day, I get to go home and write about them.  Lindsay loves designing, but in addition to the fun stuff she also has to take care of billing and shipping, details that may be fun, but I don’t want to try them to find out. Lindsay is a model for me.  Following my passion may not always be fun and easy, but it will always be rewarding.

If you would like to check out Port Winsor’s tunics, cover-ups and dresses you are in luck!  Lindsay is having a trunk show this Sunday, March 11th at The Green Room on River Street in Beacon Hill from noon until 2:00 p.m. You can meet the talented designer, plus I’ll be there, in case that sweetens the deal!
Full disclosure: as stated above, Lindsay and I are friends and I own a Port Winsor tunic which I love, but I was not compensated in any way for this post.

St. Tropez Beach Cover-up
Green is my favorite color…

Boston Fashion’s Best Kept Secret

The tents in Bryant Park in New York are being taken down following Fashion Week. And on Sunday night I was live tweeting my style judgments on Hollywood stars walking the red carpet at the Academy Awards.  I say that to prove my (modest) fashion credentials.

One of the many things I loved about living in Manhattan was that I always felt that I was at the epicenter of so many industries: news, TV, food, fashion.  Don’t get me wrong, I have quickly fallen in love with Boston, but I do miss my style-centric former home, especially this time of year.

In honor of Fashion Week and the Academy Awards, I decided to investigate Boston’s fashion scene, and in the process I uncovered the man whom many designers consider their best kept secret: Roger Hinds.
Roger at work

Roger does it all: he designs, cuts patterns, sews.  He brings designers’ ideas and sketches to life…by hand. Roger does not advertise and does not have a website.  It’s not necessary, fashion word of mouth is all he needs.  Roger’s talent matches his personality; he’s got heaping helpings of both. The list of designers he has worked with is long and impressive. Sorry, I am not naming names. I promised I would not give away any secrets, but to give you an idea of his caliber, he recently created three dresses for Grammy Award attendees.  Yes, he’s that good.

Roger has been sewing since he was a child growing up in Trinidad and studied tailoring at F.I.T. Even though fashion is one of my passions, watching Roger work quickly convinced me that, despite my serviceable sewing skills, I will never be involved in fashion in a hands-on way.  I quickly focused my attention on Roger’s story, how he followed his life-long passion and in 1994, finally took the leap to strike out on his own.

He told me he had thought about starting his own business since he was 16-years-old. “It takes a special personality to do this,” Roger observed about starting your own business.  “You just have to say, ‘I’m going to do this.’  It will give you strength.”
Very talented, very funny

He has a healthy attitude about the winding road he took to get to his current position as Boston fashion’s go-to guy. “All the companies that fired me, I thank you. They got me to do this.” Hearing Roger tell his story was inspiring.  Roger’s insight into taking the leap and following your passion will stay with me.  It’s never too late, you’re never too old, you are never too imperfect to follow your heart, and your gut.  Striking out on your own, whether it is in business or in life, is never easy, but it is always worth it.

And because I know you are all interested in my picks for best dressed at the Oscars here you go…

Best Dressed: Michelle Williams in Louis Vitton.  I wish I cold pull off a pixie like her!
Credit: Kevin Mazur/Wireimage
Runners up: Octavia Spencer in Tadashi.  She could have gone with a bigger name, but she stuck with the guy who has dressed her all award season.  She looked fantastic! Credit: Alexandra Wyman/Getty
Gwyneth Paltrow in Tom Ford. I am a huge fan of the cape, and the white, but her hair was a let-down.
Credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage


And I Call My Activities “Adventures?”

I have been following the updates of two friends who have set off on a huge adventure, and it has made me second-guess my use of that word in this blog.
Camilla and Ali in Vail
Through pictures, videos, and a fun and fabulous blog Camilla Bradley and Ali Pearson have been documenting their cross-country adventure.  Camilla is the founder — and namesake — of CK Bradley, a line of colorful dresses, bags and accessories that I have loved for years.  She has now moved on to more wintry wear: Après by CK Bradley.  She packed up the preppy prints in favor of pom-poms.  She has launched a collection of retro-inspired ski apparel for women that’s sure to turn helmets on the slopes.  And launching a new venture in a still-troubled economy isn’t even the adventurous part of the story.  She packed a Suburban and an Airstream with Après goodies, two dogs and Ali and set off on a three month road trip to spread the word about Après at mountains across the country.  
The idea behind Apres had been brewing in Camilla’s head for a few years.  Last year she worn a sample — inspired by her mom’s ski suit from the ’70s – while in Jackson Hole.  “People would stop me on the chair lift, on the slopes, on the street to give me their emails for the upcoming ski line,” she says.  “It was the same enthusiasm I felt when I first started making belts for friends at Trinity a decade ago.”

But a road trip across the country in an airstream with a friend and two dogs?  “The road trip had more to do with what I wanted to do than what the business should do.  The idea of hitting the road and amazing destinations for work rather than vacation was a dream come true.  I mean, who doesn’t want to go from mountain to mountain wearing ski apparel that makes everyone smile or comment while living in an Airstream with a good friend, your dog and no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow?!”

In Ali, Camilla found the perfect wing woman.  “I have a hard time sitting still,” explains Ali.  “I love the open road, and am always up for an adventure, so when Camilla asked me to join her on the road, I didn’t blink an eye.  I’m not sure either of us had a clue what we were getting ourselves into, but I have loved every minute of it.  I feel alive.” 

Apres in Action
“Launching Apres has really defined living for me,” Camilla explains.  “Every day brings a new adventure — be it stranded on the side of the road or meeting ski legends on the slopes — and I’m excited to see what next month, let alone next year brings.”
The response to Apres – and the road trip — has been overwhelming.  “One of the most surprising things is hearing that we are really living a lot of peoples’ dream right now,” says Camilla.  “We meet so many people who look at us and say, ‘Do you realize you have the best job in the world?’  We, of course, realized that this was a dream come true for us, but not that so many other people dreamed of such an adventure as well.  What’s more, we have been overwhelmed by how welcoming the ski community is.  People we have never met are constantly offering their houses to us (AND our two dogs!) or trying to figure out how else they may be able to help.  We have found that everywhere we go, people want to help.  Whether they are lending their driveway, their shower, their press connections or their expertise in changing tires, everyone offers a helping hand.  We are so grateful to each and every person we’ve met.” 
How can you resist?
Camilla and Ali’s three-month-long adventure makes my afternoon as a circus performer seem down right boring. In this way the Après gals have inspired me to take it up a notch, take a bigger risk. Stay tuned!  And while you wait for me to pull something exciting out of my blogger’s hat, why don’t you order yourself some chic ski wear for that last ski weekend of the season: www.apresck.com

I’m Crossing Supermodel off the List

That is exactly what I thought when I saw my doppelganger, Maggie Rizer, in the pages of Town & Country, “Well, I don’t have to see if being a supermodel is the career for me because the fair-skinned, strawberry blond market is saturated.”  Of course that is not the only thing holding me back from becoming the next Gisele.  I’m simply not built like a supermodel.  Ms. Rizer — who I have been mistaken for on the streets of New York (the truth, I swear) – is two inches taller than me and two sizes smaller (I am referring to shoe size of course).  But this got me thinking about the parameters of my adventures to come.  I may look good with a stethoscope around my neck, but starting medical school isn’t a realistic option at this point in my life.  So I have decided that whatever the future holds for me, it will not include any additional (formal) education.  Whatever knowledge or skill required for my next career I must already possess.   In addition, I will experiment with experiences regardless of the salary attached, but if I realize I was made to be a mime, I may have to cast it aside if donations on the street corner won’t pay the bills.  A girl — even as she explores the great wide open — has to be practical after all.

All images courtesy of Town & Country