Fresh style insights, tips and commentary by Michelle Tea, Michael Braithwaite, Leo Plass, Page McBee and Carrie Leilam Love.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hello World! Welcome to Rebecca Johnson

I'm going to say something that people in San Francisco are never supposed to say: I love Los Angeles. I love its sun-bleached shimmer, its self-referential culture and the ways in which the city pushes bizarre boundaries (the last time I was there I was given a Caipirinha snow cone from a bowl "smoking" with dry ice in a bar that looked like a mad science version of Alice in Wonderland).

LA is a rough town, though. For fashion. On the one hand, it has everything you might expect from a major metropolis--an abundance of boutiques, amazing shoe stores, unrivaled sunglasses opportunities, couture and cosmopolitan confidence founded in a rich and diverse history. Los Angeles is why Noir exists. Noir, people!

In the first half of the 20th Century it was the sparkling star in the West. Hollywood was replete with stunning coifs, artistically glamorous fashion configurations and eyebrow arches that could smother you in an enigmatic mix of desire and repulsion. Why, then, the masses of the City of Angels so often choose to drown themselves in ill-fitting embroidered jeans, belly rings, two-toned (and, oh god, the occasional THREE-toned) hair, gaudy Ed Hardy and Von Dutch is a mystery that may never be solved. Garbo and Gable must be rolling in their graves.

Enter (thankfully) Rebecca Johnson. Who is Rebecca Johnson, you ask? Rebecca is your new style hero and she lives in Los Angeles. Besides being your hero (GAWD, don't be so demanding), Rebecca is an actress on both stage and screen. Most recently she's been seen in Pippin at the Mark Taper Forum in L.A. and the critically acclaimed anniversary revival of Children of a Lesser God with Deaf West Theater (yep, she signs...and not just the bad words). She's the star of Easy Bake Lovin', a comedy web series co-produced/written with friend Annie Mebane and received rave reviews for her performances in Zanna Don't. Check out her newest role as a florist who has to deal with the awkward amorous advances of a dweeb in the WB series, Downer's Grove (she makes the best annoyed/disgusted faces I've ever seen).

Beyond being a gifted actress, Rebecca KILLS it when it comes to vintage style of the fashion and home decor varieties. Do you understand about vintage? Everyone thinks they do, but often doesn't really. It's one of those things that's become so commonplace in everyone's mind that they think they understand how to properly use it, like the wine key I only just discovered I've been using improperly for years now. True story. I almost wrote about it in a diary I'll never keep.

I'm going to be honest. I don't know how to choose or wear vintage, myself. I gave up the ghost years ago when I couldn't find anything that didn't smell like a foot or make me look like a version of myself that should have died in 1942 in a shack somewhere. Rebecca, though, Rebecca KNOWS how to use vintage. She knows how to wear it so that she looks like a sophisticated adult, with thoughts and insights, rather than a precious bourgeois "pauper" from the 70s, or worse, 80s.

I was lucky enough to be able to pick her brain about what she does and how she does it. Let's learn something, shall we?

When you were 16 would you have guessed that adult you would own a Victrola and part of a carousel?

Oh god no! I think I was still secretly collecting themed mini tea sets and Anne Geddes books! 16-yr-old Becky would probably look at some of my stuff now and think, “This is awesome, but where are all the dried flower and raffia swags?” My love for decorating and vintage stuff didn’t really kick in until I had lived in New York for a little while.

I remember the first antique piece I ever bought at a little flea market in Chelsea. I stopped by on a lark and found, buried in this old man’s jewelry stand, a beautiful antique ring. And it fit perfectly. It was the first thing I ever bought myself that felt truly special. Every time I wore it I would think of little stories about where it had come from, who had owned it. I felt as though I was honoring the history of the piece by taking it out on the town, giving it another life. I still try to do that with every antique I find, decoration or clothing. I try to buy things that really speak to me, things I can’t stop thinking about the moment I see them. The purchase then feels more worthwhile, as though that piece were somehow meant for me.

Your interior design style and your personal style are extremely distinctive, particularly in LA. How did your interest in Art Deco, historical ephemera and vintage clothing develop?

It all started in Boston. During my year at Emerson College, I was inundated with a town full of history and ghosts, places I could actually walk to and touch that had been a part of some of the most incredible stories. Most memorable though, was when I worked on a musical in the city’s historic Majestic Theater. On my lunch breaks I would sneak up to the second balcony and sit in the old seats with the original upholstery, stare into the rafters and just daydream about what the place must’ve been like in its prime. There was even a little crawl space around the exterior of the theater dome that had all these leftover scraps of history (newspapers and such from the 30s and 40s) that had been forgotten and left preserved there. I was in love. Suddenly I was poking my head into antique shops, flea markets, thrift stores…I felt like an archeologist, uncovering and preserving things that seemed to find me as much as I found them. And for the most part they all seemed to come from around the same era.

I'm a little bit in love with your wardrobe, I don't think that's any secret, but I have a hard time finding vintage clothes worth spending money on. Where do you find such fantastic pieces?

There are some AMAZING vintage stores out here, namely Playclothes in Burbank and the downtown St. Vincent de Paul’s thrift store. But the key is to get out of town. If I get the chance to travel, that’s my first stop. For the most part though, a lot of my clothes come from places like Anthropologie, Urban, J. Crew, Target, etc.

This summer I was determined to change it up a bit. Everything is pretty casual here, it’s really easy to get stuck in a t-shirt and jeans black hole. So I went deep-sea closet fishing and found an old pair of seersucker pants, a navy ruffled top from Christmas (thanks Mom) and an old pair of stacked wooden platform sandals from the Gap. I thought, what the hell, let’s see if I can actually wear this, and surprisingly, it worked.

A pair of saddle shoes, a blouse-y white shirt, and a linen vest later I felt like I was successfully pulling off a “style”, kinda 1920s-day-at-the-shore vibe. For me, the most important thing, especially with a piece that’s really wild, is that it will pair with at least two other things I already have, so I know I have a couple of options for it.

How do you view your style (decor and wearables) in relation to your personality?

I’m kind of old fashioned. I really appreciate when people take the time to be polite. I think it’s a forgotten art. Social graces. When I go out to a nice dinner I enjoy putting on a dress, getting ready, the whole thing. I think it makes my companion appreciate the fact that I’m treating the evening like its special. The same goes for different events. You’d be hard-pressed to find me in a pair of jeans at the theater. Listen, I know it happens sometimes, but all of the time? The last Broadway show I attended, I was surrounded by tube tops, flip flops and gratuitous texting. Guys, you’re sitting in a velvet orchestra seat, chomping your gum while thirty or so people are singing and tap-dancing their hearts out for you. Grow some manners!

I think it’s respectful to the artists and the art itself to make a little effort with your appearance. When people are dressed nicer, they act nicer.

Ok, enough venting. Back to fun stuff. Interior-wise, I try to incorporate things that I find interesting or striking but that don’t detract from a homey environment. I have formal pieces all over my house, but everything is pretty useful and/or comfortable. My only wish is that everyone be at ease and feel as welcome in my home as they do in their own. I never want someone to sit and feel like they can’t curl up and put their feet on sofa…maybe just take your shoes off first!

What's your favorite thing in your house/closet (I'm going to put out there that those peacocks are my favorite thing of yours)?

The peacock family is definitely one of my absolute favorites, lord it took me forever to find those suckers! And the carousel board above the door in my bedroom is pretty delightful, especially at night with the lights off and just that hazy, blue glow. It’s magical… ghostly. Like that feeling when the carnival is completely empty and the lights are all turning off one by one. Wait, that’s scary…ok, like that but not slasher film-y. No killer clowns or anything. I’m searching for the history on that piece. I would love to dig up a picture of the actual carousel to hang below it!

As for my favorite piece of clothing…it’s actually something I haven’t even worn yet. For about a year or so I was obsessing over this late 40s, early 50s evening gown from my favorite vintage store. It was sea green with a kind of mermaid bodice on it, and it came with the matching long silk wrap. It stopped me in my tracks the first time I saw it. I just kept thinking, I really don’t need it, it’s kind of impractical…ugh, I would leave the store and constantly think about it. And then, suddenly, it was gone. I figured, alright, it wasn’t meant for me. Six months later, for my birthday that year, my friend Annie and I were exchanging gifts and lo and behold, there was the dress. She had heard me talking about it so often, she knew it would be the perfect surprise. I don’t think I’ve ever treasured a gift like that dress. Someday, when an appropriately big event happens, that’s what I’m going to be wearing.

Is there something you've been looking for, but can't find (I mean this in a literal, purchasable sense)?

Finishing my bedroom is my next project. I would love to find a pair of antique round-back (Louis XIV/Bergere style) chairs, and an old cheval mirror to make a sort of sitting parlor area. Maybe an antique apothecary cabinet for the guest bathroom, and a really beat up old industrial rolling cart to use as a bar in the living room.

And a pony.

LA folks, for the most part, don't have the most... a-hem... classy sort of style. Do you feel out of place there, or do you enjoy standing apart from the masses of Ed Hardy?

Geez, listen, if bejeweled tigers on your butt make you feel glamorous, go for it! I don’t necessarily feel out of place, just different.

I miss New York a lot, especially in the fall. That was my time of year out there; I wore hats every day, and everyone was breaking out their new coats and boots...the leaves all started to turn. It was a spectacle. Out here, it’s just a different sort of spectacle. I still wear an amalgamation of my NYC style, but of course it had to be altered to be functional. Hats are not so practical sometimes. And some of my vintage coats only get a few evenings out a year.

But I never feel like I don’t belong style-wise here, the beauty of living in a city is that there is bound to be someone else wherever you are rockin’ something unique. When you catch sight of one another, you both nod, like, “nice to see you."

The elements of your home and your fashion are extremely complimentary to one another. Do you have an overall buying strategy, or do you just find things here and there?

I am blessed to have incredibly stylish friends, one of whom is a fabulous interior designer. I love to pick her brain for ideas and see what kind of fun stuff she’s finding…a lot of my favorite pieces (the old mammal chart above my desk, a fantastic antique globe) were given to me by her.

For the most part I am an ebay scavenger and love architectural salvage yards. The carousel piece I found at a warehouse in downtown LA, which I swear, you walk into and you’re suddenly Alice in an industrial treasure wonderland! Random antique stores in small towns too are gold mines for amazing and cheap finds. I have a few original prints from etsy. And there is a website that absolutely kills it, I would like one of everything, please.

Do you feel that your style has evolved/is evolving as you get older?

My style is constantly evolving! I suddenly have a hankering for antique nautical pieces, old star charts, globes, heavy industrial objects that are functional and just really different. I hope my tastes continue to bend and twist into new things.

I want to be able to look back at what I’ve amassed and feel as though I have a tangible scrapbook of myself through this collection of weird, fantastical objects.

Does your Victrola bring all the boys to the yard?

Damn right, it’s better than yours…I can teach you, but I’d have to charge.

*All images in this post courtesy of Rebecca Sapp Photography

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tits Out!

By the time you read this post I'll be baking on a beach full of homosexuals in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the gayest spot in New England. I lived there for a month in 1991, smack in the middle of my Lesbian Feminist Nervous Breakdown, when I lost my mind due to exposure to sexism, misogyny, etc. In Provincetown I basically did nothing but eat little containers of cruelty-free hummus and obsessively read American Ground Zero: The Secret Nuclear War, a really intense book about how the U.S. government nuked the shit out of Nevada in the 50s. Living a hummus-only Low Blood Sugar Lifestyle encourages paranoia; throw in the details of a bonafied conspiracy that killed a bunch of people via radiation poisoning - easily the creepiest way to get killed by your government this side of syphilis - and I was a wreck you guys! To relax I liked to walk across the street from the boarding house where I rented a room and try to sunbathe topless without experiencing gender oppression from the pigs.

On one such day I was lying on the shore in a pair of bikini bottoms (okay maybe they were underwear) and no top, just minding my own business sunburning my nipples when suddenly a shadow was cast upon me, blotting out my sun and totally ruining my tan. I cracked open my eyes. It was The Man! A copper, standing scornfully above me, ordering me to put on my top, even though there were men with their tits out all over the place, being free and getting evenly tan. Such injustices were so difficult for me to swallow in those days I routinely lost my mind over it. The cop was sort of hearing my protest about it being unequal protection under the law - I was lecturing him as I pulled on my bikini top (which I am completely sure was actually a black lace bra), but when I likened him to a Nazi, he told me, I lost him. No one likes being called a Nazi. In the near-mystical mental state of heightened consciousness my low-calorie cruelty-free diet of veritable starvation was providing me, I could see a very clear lineage between Nazis enacting genocide on official orders and, um, this cop making me put my shirt on on the beach.

Anyway, in 1964 the Austrian designer Rudi Gernreich - who had come to the U.S. to escape the Nazis - debuted his brilliant swimsuit, the monokini. Rudi was a faggot libertine freedom fighting genius who coined the awesome term Unisex. Really, one of the best terms in the whole world. Rudi wanted to free women from always having to keep our excellent cute tits under wraps, and his first valiant effort was this cool, high-waisted one piece with little straps that slingshot between the breasts and around the neck. It totally does the trick of looking risque and sophisticated at the same time, daring for sure but amazingly not sleazy or cheesy. It's actually classier than a lot of suits that cover more territory. How did he do it?! How I wish I could get one! Here, let's look at more wonderful monokini pictures together:

What, just drinking a juice box poolside in my monokini, stop making such a big deal about it, Dad! Don't they look weirdly wholesome?

I really, really love these girls.

In mustard! One of of my favorite colors.

Rudi made other, less controversial bathing suits like this super cute boy-short onesie . . .

And this one-piece that has such a terrific design, and I love the depressing gray shade for a swimsuit, but it is made out of WOOL! It's like he's trying to punish you for going on vacation or something.

Okay this is the best legal bathing suit ever. The tan lines would be ridiculous, but it comes in a strong second after the contraband monokini. The MODel is Peggy Moffitt, who looks just like Karen O with a dash of that crazy bitch Danielle from Real Housewives of New Jersey thrown in. Can't you see it, just a little, in the face?

Rudi predicted that the 1970s would be all about Unisex, baldness (unisex baldness - duh!), and nudity. He really did his part to make the dream real by designing the above unisexxxy swimsuit. Perfect for an impromptu dance sesh on the beach with the hottie you're having a very egalitarian summer fling with.

Rudi took his tits-out design philosophy off the beach with these glamorous evening numbers. With how badly the burlesque revival has ruined the pastie for me, it's stunning that this look feels bold and daring and cool. The one on the right is a bit schlumpy (you just don't want to look schlumpy with your tits out), the one on the left is too titty for me, a bit like a joke or a Linda Montano performance piece, but that number Peggy Moffitt is sporting in the center, casually smoking a Nat Sherman in her avant-garde hairdo and aggressive couture, is just right.

What is happening in this picture? Only some lucky LIFE magazine photographer knows for sure.

Here are some other amazing things Rudi Gernreich did during his stint on planet earth: Designed the costumes for Space 1999, a show I was super into as a kid, though I did NOT want the toy Space 1999 spaceship for Christmas, I wanted Star Wars like everyone else,and I was bummed when I got the cut-rate Space 1999 job with its little generic orange-suited action figures that were most definitely not wearing Rudi Gernreich, and were gender-neutered rather than exoticly unisex.

As if Rudi didn't do enough to advance civilization with the creation of the monokini, he went on to co-found and dump money into the fucking Mattachine Society, the first ever Gay Lib organization. He was lovers with the Society's more prominent founder and Radical Faerie Harry Hay! Rudi Gernreich is an OG - Original Gay. Additional swimsuit concepts we can thank him for include the pubikini, a garment even more delusional than the monokini, with a sheer fabric window to feature a lady's healthy pubic bush (can I have a merkin to go with my pubikini?)and - get ready - the thong. Try, if you may, to imagine a time before the thong. A thong seems eternal, surely thongs just always existed, like trees and gravity, but no, there once was no thong, and then there was Rudi Gernreich, and now there are thongs. Good job, Rudi! I don't even care about a thong, I'm just impressed with how much thought this guy put into our nether regions.

Rudi Gernreich also made a bunch of pieces that had nothing to do with butts or boobs. Check them out, being modeled by little miss Moffitt, who looks like she had her makeup done by Man Ray:

If I wasn't getting up at the crack to drive to the Cape I would spend another three hours researching exactly how Rudi's designs influenced the red and white polka dot one-piece with intense cutaways I got at Target and will be wearing poolside tomorrow. I would get the dirt on the monokini Victoria's Secret made that looks pretty interesting but gets points deducted for being too sexy. I would be dredging up Peggy Moffitt's life story. I would cite the above boots as a major influence on the thigh-high leather waders Miuccia Prada sent down the runway, what, last year, with photos to back up my thesis. But I've got to get to sleep, people. The days ahead promise visions of washer-dryer Ptown gays on vacay, cheap thrills at Marine Specialty and luxury longings at Map, plus a peek into Marc by Marc Jacobs while all hopped up on an espresso shake from Spiritus, plus, fingers crossed, a glimpse of John Waters peddling down Commercial Street in a seersucker suit. That's what happened last time! Tune in next week to see what I saw, and for now, content yourself with this vision of pure inspiration: Peggy Moffitt like a couple years ago!

An argument for picking a look and sticking with it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Designer Sweatpants? Think About It.

Even for a (relative) fashion traditionalist, this is appealing. Do I rock bling bling neon? No. I am interested in slim, clean lines and gentleman's accessories. I like updated classics and small signals of rebellion. The high tops I purchased several years ago were a leap in aesthetics that I am still not entirely comfortable with.

That being said, two words: DESIGNER SWEATPANTS. They are like your sweetest dark denim Italian jeans but way more comfortable. You can dress them up, for God's sake. Who even knows why this works? Fashion alchemy.

Tons of men's lines experimented with this look last fall (there is a similar trend happening in women's fashion that I think, frankly, is a lot less successful) but if you are not up on this and/or not convinced, take one look at these beauties from those genius hipsters at Band of Outsiders:


Oh, I'm sorry. Do you want your sweatpants to look magically like stonewashed 80's jeans? No problem! Thanks, Topman.

The store/label Ssense renamed their sweatpants "sweat trousers" which I think is both adorable and kind of gross sounding. Their update, awesomely, is like the sweat pant/trouser version of the tapered jean.

And good old Diesel! Despite their recent bizarre ad campaign, they have pulled off an impressive move with their Prigel "pant" (skinny sweatpants!)

What makes this work is the element of surprise. I think the Band of Outsiders approach is perfect: smart, fresh and edgy. They're expensive-looking, as they should be, and the effect is a kind of crazy camouflage mindfuck.

Sweatpants! Not just for slobs anymore.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Onesies Forever! Battle Cry of the Stylishly Comfortable

Let me start by saying that I wholly disagree with the hat pictured above. Nor do I really care for those socks, though I can imagine gradually developing some sort of affection for them under the right circumstances. At any rate, we're not here for hats and socks, NAY, we are here for onesies. We have come for the adult jumpsuit, and that safari-style jumpsuit by Gaspard Yurkievich is heaven in the form of continuous fabric that mimics shorts, a skirt (do NOT confuse this with what your mother might call "coolots") and a jaunty top all at once.

Jumpsuits found their beginnings, as so many of our couture bits do, in the workplace of the early 20th century. They've been donned by mechanics, pilots, swimmers and Batman, but you can thank the official NASA space suit of the late 1960s for providing the inspiration for the first fashion onesies.

Pretty sexy!

Sam Frenzel

Maybe that's a fashion rumor. Either way, jumpsuits are crazy versatile and comfortable, making them one of the most alluring outfit choices of all time. That's right. Of ALL TIME. What other mess of fabric can make its way from Major Tom, to Hamptons garden party?

If it's Summer wedding wear you're looking for, there's a jumpsuit for that. Check out Jil Sander (who always kills it) and Stella McCartney for more conservative onesies. You'll be the only stone fox in neutral tones at your cousin's happy (hopefully) occasion. I typically don't like Stella McCartney --her designs generally range from "uptight London business woman," to "a prom queen threw up this outfit I'm wearing"--but I'm 100% into her Spring 2010 elegant onesie worthy of someone with less creepy shoulders than her model sports.

Forget about the unfortunate slouch of the redhead pictured and this jumpsuit by San Francisco's own House of Hengst takes the cake for "moody onesie for the intelligentsia." Sadly, this perfect onesie is from their Fall 2009 line (which was on impressive sale as of May).

The trick with any onesie is understanding that they emphasize your midsection, which means short torsos have to work harder to look like something other than a truncated boobs-meet-hips-too-soon region. Those with longer torsos look great in the Hengstian style, while those with the boob/hip issue might want to look into the more seamless Givenchy style.

Additionally, you need shoes with some lift. Flats, sneakers and certain types of sandals can turn your fashion jumpsuit into an oil change uniform like THAT (imagine fingers snapping here).

Dries van Noten makes these leather and fabric heels that make me want to stab myself in the eye so that I don't know the difference between perfect beauty and what I can reasonably afford.

Finally, don't think that fashion onesies are befitting of runways, cosmopolitan landscapes and garden parties, alone. Fellow Ironing Board Collective blogger, Michelle Tea, found this fantastic casual summer onesie at Urban Outfitters and promptly wore it spelunking.

I myself own a velour onesie from American Apparel (I know, feminists, I know) that works great for sipping bocce balls on my porch. Onesies forever! Onesies forever, indeed.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

4 Eyes 4-Ever

About two years ago, I began what has felt like a never-ending quest for the perfect pair of glasses. I think it all started when in Bolinas, CA, a couple summers ago I met this cute little surfer girl at a party who was donning a killer pair of tortoise shell vintage frames that she had “found at Good Will.” She made it sound so easy…

Hers were kind of like this:

They were big but not “geeky” per se. Very unique in a 70s Mom kind of way – so cute! I too wanted to be The Girl with the Cute Glasses! And thus my never-ending quest began.

I think that ideally I would like to be someone with an obscenely large & diverse collection of glasses that I switch out constantly. I would keep them in an enormous walk-in closet filled with velvet-lined glass cases, and I would go through them as frivolously as one would pieces of gum or nail polish colors or $4 earrings from H&M. I could have a different pair to go with each of my awesomely creative outfits. Kind of like Thora Birch as Enid in Ghost World:

Searching Bay Area thrift stores for a used pair did not prove fruitful – everything is always so picked over; it would take days and weeks of adamant searching to stumble upon anything good, and I have a job, people! Shopping for them online was just too risky ­– we all know that what looks like a cute pair of glasses online so often takes on the effect of “Bug-Eye Goggles” or “50s Halloween costume” when actually placed on a human face.

So then I went to LA, and entered the wonderful eyewear fashion porthole that is LA Eyeworks, where I saw these:

Very cute in theory, but alas, on my face – I looked like I was “going 50s.”

Then these:

A classic, streamlined plastic frame in a color deliciously named Apple Drop. Yum. Okay, certainly material for the Extravagant Walk-in Glasses Closet, where I prance around like a near-sighted Carrie Bradshaw, trying on pair after pair and flinging them haphazardly into piles.

LA Eyeworks’ “Drive In” frame almost had me sold. A thick frame in metal? Such an ingenious combination. I can’t find them in gold/pink (the color combo I LOVED) but here they are in also-cute black:

And perhaps awesomest of all:

“They’re aviators, but sexy because they’re for girls,” the saleswoman told me. Uh huh. Also, they come in "Forest Green." Like, you know, the forest? Visceral color names really get me.

Rims & Goggles in Marin & San Francisco also have some really great, fun, unusual frames. These kinda blow my mind:

They remind me of the vintage pair that my friend lovingly calls her “Joan Didion glasses.” And they only come in about a bajillion different colors. Unlike Joan Didion, though, I could not pull this style off. I looked like I was wearing… bug goggles.

Dita also makes some pretty knock-your-socks-off frames. Like these:

Put on these glasses, and it’s like… yeah, you’re super hip & put-together, but you’re also just gonna go sip some milkshakes at the roller rink before heading over to the sock hop in your fav poodle skirt – no big! They are pretty near perfect.

Kind of like these, from Zenni Optical, an online store that sells glasses for as low as $8, prescription lenses included!

Oh, beloved material possessions. With cheap online glasses boutiques like this at my disposal, the Walk-In Glasses Closet may be more than just a dream after all…

Ultimately, it’s simply too hard for me to decide on just one pair. Someday, when I win the lottery and stuff, I just might have every one of these gorgeous frames in my Extravagant Walk-In Glasses Closet. Until then, I’ll have to settle for the vicarious thrill of the perfect-glasses chase to keep me going.