Style is everything .... Style is a way of life

I recently watched the documentary ‘The Eye Has To Travel’, about Diana Vreeland’s extraordinary life in fashion.
The documentary makes much of Diana Vreeland’s looks. There are many references to how plain she was and how this affected her confidence as a woman. She mentions early on that her mother called her extremely ugly. Although the images we see of her as a child don’t bear this out and It is implied that her ‘plainness’ was a driving force in her ambition to be the best and which took her to the top as an editor of Harpers Bazaar and Vogue.

Our eyes haven’t traveled very far if this is what we are thinking.
Like other amazing women such as Dorothy Parker and Coco Chanel she is famous for her witty quotes.

‘A racehorse has a little extra pizazz’

‘The best thing about London is Paris!

One of the most quoted is

‘style is everything’…style is a way of life, without it, you’re nobody.

Her sense of style was the reason she landed a job at Harper's Bazaar writing a column called -Why don’t you? Why don’t you get a finger -length leopard skin cape to wear over your country tweeds… and other practical information during the Great Depression.

It was Diana Vreeland’s strong individual style that kept her at the forefront of fashion, dictating and predicting style throughout the decades. She is credited with launching the careers of many famous models, including Twiggy, and Verushka, and capturing the zeitgeist of a generation. She called it the ‘youthquake’. It takes a special canniness to predict the look of the moment, encompassing social mores, attitude and posture, mood and look, understanding something much more than hem lengths and widths.

As an older woman, coy phrase I know, my eyes are peeled for professional women who keep working in spite of their age. There is so much importance placed on youth and the insistence of youthful beauty in our society for women.

It is easy to become depressed, as you get older about your working life and the prospects open to you.  Like Diana Vreeland I cannot imagine not working. There are many older women working into their 70’s and 80’s but largely they go unnoticed.

Diana Vreeland was passionate and her passion for life and fashion inspired all around her.
At 69 years old after being sacked from Vogue she became the director of Moma’s Costume Institute bringing her style energy and vision to this role.

Diana Vreeland worked with a heady mix of people, some of the world’s greatest photographers, models, stylists and designers. She knew how to direct people to create drama and theatre. Fascinating footage shows her at work interacting with women generations younger than herself without fear of being uncool.

Diana Vreeland’s fashion was the sort that excites with its creativity. It wasn’t about the clothes but how you wore them and in what context.

‘A new dress doesn’t get you anywhere it’s the life you’re living in the dress’

Diana Vreeland reminds me of Dickens’s Miss Haversham, Imperious… a grand Dame to be feared and obeyed. She admired professionalism, talent, creativity and uniqueness. Although she died in the late 80’s she still remains inspirational to many women looking for role models out there in the boring land of the suit and blue tie.


Let's see a change and be inspired

Beautiful banksia and kangaroo paw textile print

Perusing the pages of one of my favourite Australian magazines, Frankie, I am often disappointed that our amazing native flora and fauna are often overlooked for Northern hemisphere colonialism choices. 

Young Australian designers need to look more in their own "backyard" for inspiration. I teach at a design school and I am always amazed at the lack of what is local that is represented in the students’ works. There are no possums, koalas, wallabies, potoroos, quolls, bandicoots…. etc to be seen. Instead we are presented with Northern hemisphere creatures foxes, rabbits, deer and bears, all well and good in their rightful habitat.
And as for textile prints that feature florals it is only a brave few designers that stand out, Cloth is one, that uses banksias, waratahs etc. They are not afraid to stand up and stand out, to use the amazing diversity and uniqueness found in the Australian continent, to carve out a niche in an ever increasingly blandly designed world….

Return of the Handmade

For those of us who make a living from making beautiful things by hand, the resurgent interest in the handmade and artisan is a good thing.

It is possible if you are not skilled in making things by hand perhaps someone in your family was. Maybe your mother knitted or your Grandmother crocheted or embroidered? If you are lucky and haven’t been subjected to the scourge of the purge where old things were thrown out to make way for the new and mass-produced, you might have some of these pieces left?
I have a few things of my grandmothers, a favourite is a linen tablecloth embroidered with budgies. And I have a dress that my mother made for my 9th Birthday. It is a lovely delicate cotton replete with trumpet sleeves, piped hems and lovely beaded detail. Do you remember having clothes made for you? Remember how the fabric was produced and then miraculously became a garment?  My mother was very fashionable and her ideas were forward thinking. I had a mustard coloured mini skirt with matching vest while all the other little girls around me were in predominantly pink ballet skirt dresses. (I was secretly envious of their prettiness.)

These domestic skills were nothing out of the ordinary back in the day but today they command oohs and aahs of amazement and following by

"did you make that? Wow, that’s amazing you are so clever."

This new fascination with the handmade stems from the  fact that we don’t make anything ourselves anymore. It is similar to our collective fascination with cooking and culinary skills. We live in a society and culture based on production of raw resources and providing services…there are not many products apart from food these days that we make. It is almost like a new arts and crafts movement, the original Art nouveau movement  was a reaction against the ugliness of the industrial revolution, so this nouvelle arts and crafts movement is a reaction against the unreal and intangible, a consequence of the internet.  Tumblr and instagram are full of images of handmade items salvaged from vintage and junk shops, and flea markets. But these products exist in the ether, they are not tangible.

There are courses where you can make the things that we often made as part of school classes, candles, aprons and tie-dye bits and pieces. They have become fashionable again,attached to the nostalgia of our childhood.  There are knitting groups that meet in pubs. The once daggy is now cool.  Just spend a few hours trawling etsy and you will be convinced hat the world is turning its back on mass production and is embracing the quaint, quirky and whimsical…but I’m forgetting that the population of the world is now 7 Billion and my perspective is not everyone’s…

I lost my mother at age 9 and that vital connection to those skills, but fortunately she had instilled a fascination and interest in the handmade that has never left me and has become an important part of my life. I saw that she valued these old pieces and I learnt from her. There are still lengths of fabric in my collection that must be 60 years old or more just waiting for the right moment to be made into something special. A fine piece of wool tweed, hand dyed slubby silk, hand beaded evening crepe. Hanging on to these kinds of things can be called hording but it can also be called resourcefulness.

What do you think?

Braided and Beaded

Dressing up in old wedding dresses is fun, even if you are wearing inappropriate footwear. Yes that is the toe of a converse peeping out from under the hem as beautifully modeled by my daughter Lena.

This vintage dress was made by hand. No label to reference but the handiwork is all over it. A lining attached by hand and a Cleopatra type braided and beaded decorative neckline. The dress is made of a heavy crepe and hangs stunningly.  The beauty shines through without the clutter so many brides prefer today.

Pearl Button cleopatra dress

Love Vintage Fair Finds

I found some vintage collars at the Love Vintage Fair in Sydney. They are delicate, the fabric and yarn has yellowed with age and there are charming quirks like small pulls and runs. All signs of true vintage beauty being worn and pre-loved. All the more they were hiding in a huge pile of doilies and napkins at one of the stalls. It was very exciting pulling them out one by one of the lucky dip.
Collars were made like this so that they could be laundered and finished separately and attached to garments when necessary. Lost arts, drawn thread work, embroidery, lace-making, lace insertion were skills used to make them. Quiet skills that don’t require machines, just an idea and old, old techniques.

Replacing a collar was a way to extend the life of a garment and create a new look for a dress, a shirt or a jacket. It could transform by hiding worn edges, stains, add interest to, and represent a new mode. It was also a way to wear your skills, so that they could be appreciated outside of the home (not just relegated to doilies). These collars would have framed the faces of the women and girls that wore them, drawing attention to their faces.

Pearl Button drop collar
Pearl Button work collar
Pearl Button sailor collar
Pearl Button net lace collar


My Aunty Pat had a great eye for beauty and style and made lovely domestic interiors for her family to enjoy.

One of the many creative things she did was flower arranging. Pat was influenced by Ikebana and I wish that I had taken the time to appreciate her work better. My lovely neighbor Dottie also practices Ikebana and produces exquisite arrangements, small unassuming elegant combinations of  plants, a flower, a stem, a leaf. They are an extension of her beautiful poetry.

Dottie lent me some old postcards that a friend gave her of  Ikebana.
Aren't they beautiful!

Ikebana postcard 1
Ikebana postcard 2


Pearl Button Crystal Veil

a sprinkling of crystals along the edge gave this wisp of a veil the weight it needed

Carrickmacross  is a beautiful Irish form of lace which is made by darning into net fabric which creates opaque areas against the transparency of the net.

I have been playing around with this idea in a much less intricate and  (skilled) way. There are lots of possibilities with this technique … for this veil I overlaid lines of hand stitching along the edge with an a sprinkling of crystal beads. This gave the wisp of the veil the weight it needed. To finish off the veil I roughly snipped the raw edge below it.

There are some great websites that specialize in information on this beautiful fabric. You can find out more about it here.