Tuesday, May 31, 2011

the following is a direct quote from the original Je Ne Sais Quoi discussion group postings I made regarding my friend Vivienne:
12-Day Business Trip to London and Paris - Winter
Someone asked me what Vivienne thinks of my wardrobe - to put it mildly she thinks I'm 
crazy! Admittedly, she has never actually been in my apartment and seen the beautiful 
arrangement (by color) of my bounty, and I HAVE seen her apartment (but not her closet) 
but she assures me that she has about 4 linear feet of hanging space. (Well okay, slightly 
more than a meter)
 
But she thinks that I'm a genius packer - the last 2 trips I've made to Paris on business, she 
has come over to my hotel with me and hung out while I unpacked, pressed and otherwise 
got my act together. She describes her single-season work wardrobe as being very much 
like my 2 business weeks packing array - as follows:
 
2 pair black pants - one plain, one a relatively dressy (but still wearable for day) fabric
2 black skirts - same thing
1 black twinset
1 red twinset
1 black and cream tweed twinset (silk)
2 cashmere turtlenecks (maybe red and gray, or charcoal and b&w tweed)
black boiled wool jumper
2 cashmere crewnecks (turquoise and charcoal, usually)
 
I try to pack about 14 pieces of clothing for any trip that is two weeks or more. 

Monday, May 30, 2011



If you've got a yen to purchase a unique piece of jewelry, it could be worth your while to go to Santa Fe. I've never been to any city except Paris where there were more one of a kind items available.  And Santa Fe is not limited to just sterling and turquoise - craftspersons there work with all metals and stones.  


My personal coup de coeur was the above - a heat-treated stainless steel band (pitch black with an indescribable luster), and a pearl.  The most interesting thing about this jewelry is that it's interchangeable; the pin that holds the pearl in place is spring-loaded (think toilet paper holder) and can be removed and a different stone put in place of the pearl.  I also have a mother of pearl and onyx yin and yang, and a hematite cylinder.  Frankly, I wear the pearl about 99% of the time.


Visit the Charlotte website at http://charlottesantafe.com/ to admire all of the options the have available.  The manufacturer is German, and this jewelry is widely available in Europe, but I think the only distribution in the US is through the store in Santa Fe.

Image by Lynnette R. Cook


Way back in the early years of image consulting, circa 1981 or so, I had my colors "done".  I was working in a large department store as a department manager, and it was felt that management staff should all be exposed to the services of our personal shopper and consultant group, in order to help their business.  To nobody's surprise (except maybe my mother), I am a Winter:

part of the color pallette I was given 30 years ago...


This was reassuring, as I was already building a wardrobe of gray suits, white blouses, and brightly colored scarf accents.  (does anybody else remember Dress for Success?)  One of the coolest lingering pieces of advice, which I'm going to discuss at more length some day, was the advice to buy tee shirts, sweaters etc. in colors matching your favorite lipstick and blush.  Simple and obvious, but highly flattering.

I lived very happily with these colors and this advice for decades, until one day for no apparent reason, I decided to visit Josy Mermet at Printemps in Paris.  (http://www.josymermet.com/).  Aside from the overall completely supernatural insight the woman had into my life, I was also rattled by the VERY different advice I received.  Suddenly, someone was saying I was "Florentine", and recommended the following:


"Florentine" colors, and my cosmetic recommendations



If I had been in a situation where I was completely starting from scratch, this would have held great appeal.  But there's NO gray here, and (although it's hard to tell) no black - just really dark browns.  And I was at a point in my life where I had a terrifying amount of money sunk into handbags, shoes, and other investments of image which I couldn't really justify phasing out.  For a while, I tried to evolve from the first to the second set of colors, but found that it just didn't really seem to stick.  A big problem I found was that I could go into a number of stores and not even SEE a garment in the Florentine colors, let along find something that was of appropriate style, acceptable quality, and reasonable fit.  So as time has passed and my wardrobe becomes smaller and more carefully curated, I've migrated back to the most basic neutrals of the winter pallette.

I had two really seemingly authoritative consultations.

 I got two somewhat different sets of recommendations.  

Which I guess, at the end of the day, means you have to make your own choices.

But if I completely were starting from scratch - had nothing but the workout clothes on my back and had to re-purchase EVERYTHING, Josy's advice would be tempting.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Portrait de Mademoiselle Chanel
Every time I go to Paris, I force whomever is traveling with me to go to Musee de L'Orangerie, near the Louvre.  This is the home of the oval rooms which house the Monet water lily series, but also where I get to visit some of my favorite paintings, those of Marie Laurencin.


Les Biches


I could give you a biography of Laurencin, but you can Google all those things.  Suffice to say that she was divorced long before it was acceptable to do so, the lover of the poet Guillaume Appolinaire, and a friend to just about every cool and influential artist and performer in Paris from World War I through World War II. So in additional to being talented and innovative, she lived the life of a pioneer of art and feminism.


Portrait de madame Pal Guillaume


I'm in love with the world she creates.  The colors touch me deeply; the contrast of the grays and occasional black against the muted pastels are the pallette in which I wish to paint my life.  I'm terribly smitten...


Danseuses Espagnoles

Thursday, May 26, 2011





One of the things I love about the internet is the serendipitous nature of finding interesting new ideas and information.  Recently, I stumbled across the blog http://the-burning-house.com/.


The premise of Burning House is to photograph what you would grab to save from your home if it were on fire.  Now a big disclaimer here - I don't for a New York minute believe that the things photographed are what most respondents would REALLY grab in a pitched emergency.  But taken in a larger sense, I look at the choices the participants have made as more a "what would you grab if you had 10 or 20 minutes, and a carry-on bag?" i.e. what do you own that means the most to you? The responses are fascinating, and really beautifully presented; the site has a large number of photographs and stylists among those who have chosen to offer their answers to this provocative question.


I thought so much about this site that I decided to try to answer the question myself.  I have no children, nor pets, so nothing live needs my help.  My computer is completely backed up onto a thumb drive on my key ring, plus it's just too old and too BIG to carry around; getting an insurance payment and buying a new computer wouldn't be a terrible fate to face.  Therefore, I was left to look for things just for me that would help me to feel like myself after a small crisis.


Above is my summary of what I would grab.  Note that I own no family heirlooms, and all my photographs are backed up with my computer contents, so that simplified things for me.


Realistically, I would grab ALL of my jewelry (which is stored in a weird padded sleeve-like thing about the size of a small laptop) and ALL of my scarves.  This would still leave me enough time to grab a plain black dress with a couple of changes of shoes, a cardigan and a turtleneck, some lingerie, and my handbag.  My toiletries are always in my Tumi carry-on bag, so that would be easy...  Assuming I'm wearing jeans and a top of some ilk, I would either put on or carry my trench coat, and that would be all.


But I reserve the right to change this.  And to continue thinking about it for a long time to come.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A close-up photograph of a weave knot, with EASY instructions on how to tie it
This is NOT the Bayeux tapestry! It's just a very simple knot...

This scarf knot has been receiving a lot of attention in the blog world recently; I saw a NINE step instruction diagram/hieroglyphic on how to tie it!   Rest assured, it's not at all complicated - it's really just a clove-hitch knot, which any self-respecting boy scout could tie blindfolded.  So in the interest of beautifying the scarf world, I'm going to tell you how to tie this knot, in five steps, in less than one minute, without a mirror.


1.  Arrange the scarf with the two ends hanging down in the front - the left side reaching to about your waist, and the right end (now fondly called the long end) to your right.


2.  Cross the long end under the short end across your chest.  You are now finished with the short end.


3.  Toss the longer end over your left shoulder.  Where the scarf comes up over your left shoulder blade, grab it with your left hand in a sort of overhand fist, as if you're going to punch yourself in the left jaw.


4.  Reach around the back of your head with your right hand and grab the long end.  Pull it around the back of your neck, to the front, past your right ear.


5.  Take the (now rather shorter) long end and pull it across the front of your body, and tuck it through the gap that is currently being maintained by your left knuckles.  Adjust all squishy parts to suit.


That's it.  Short over long, grab, wrap, tuck.


Simplicity and ease are an essential part of elegance.  Scarf tying that's a cross between origami and gymnastics does not qualify, nor is it really necessary!

NIC+ZOE

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

If your derriere says RAW, JUICY or PINK, it will be assumed that you are indeed a piece of meat, and you will be treated accordingly.
Tourist season in Paris is in full swing, and Vivienne is seeing some truly unattractive looks walking into the lobby of her hotel.  Top of her list of vetoes for today is any garment with writing across the... backside.


As she points out, if you have a really unattractive tush, the LAST thing you want to do is call attention to that fact.  And if you have earned (or been blessed with) buns of steel, the LAST thing you want to do is detract from your... assets. 


On a related rant, Vivienne questions if anybody in the English-speaking world knows what couture means.  And she's right -  the word couture used to describe a ready-to-wear brand is an oxymoron, as well as an insult to the craftsmanship and artistry practiced by couturiers and their staff.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pig and bacon cartoon about sunscreen.



My dear mother has a divot on her forehead the size of a small ravioli (or maybe a cocktail-sized crab cake - I'm really hungry!).  She had a malignant skin cancer removed a few weeks ago, and she is going to have a pretty severe scar for the rest of her life.  Happily, they are confident that the entire cancer was removed, and they don't at this time believe that she has any other "spots" that will become a problem.  But from now on, she has to be checked head to toe every six months.


She never was a sun-bather, but she worked in our yard and garden throughout the year.  I never saw her wear a hat, and I don't remember her ever putting what we used to call suntan lotion on her face.  She never seemed to be tanned, nor burned, but this is definitely sun damage.


I was told years ago that, if the streetlights weren't on, I needed to be wearing sunscreen.  Our ozone protection isn't getting any stronger, and we now have the ability to protect ourselves from at least one disfiguring and potential deadly cancer.  


So consider this a loving reminder from a dear friend.

Neiman Marcus Last Call (Neiman Marcus)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Leinster Rugby team celebrating their 2011 Heineken Cup victory




Rugby is a BIG spectator sport in Europe - there are two professional rugby teams in Paris, in a league of 14 teams nation-wide.  Their matches draw tens of thousands of fans;  I recently attended a match at the Stade de France with an attendance of over 70,000.


Within the last hour, a team from the Dublin province, Leinster, won the European championship, which is formally called the Heineken Cup (because of obvious sponsorship), but which has to be called the "H" Cup in France because of the prohibitions they have on alcoholic beverage advertising in sports venues.  An amazing project, separating alcohol and sport...  


The Leinster team beat an English team, Northampton, who were winning with a commanding lead at half-time, but who were blown away in the 2nd half.


As a former resident of Ireland, I'm enormously happy about this.  Rugby is a fast moving game that combines finesse and brute strength, and is played by some of the most attractive men walking the face of our planet.  A nice way to spend a couple of hours every now and then!

Neiman Marcus Last Call (Neiman Marcus)

Thursday, May 19, 2011



I've had pneumonia.  Well, for all I know, I might still have it - when it actually goes away isn't a clear concept in my mind right now.


More doctor appointments tomorrow, and as soon as I'm back among the (relatively) healthy, more news and thoughts from all things French.


Sorry for the unanticipated interruption - I have been thinking of you all every day!

Thursday, May 12, 2011


The first time I met Vivienne, I was unpacking my suitcase, and she was opening a bottle of wine and torturing the room service staff to find us some food. (she works for the hotel, so it wasn't really torture, more like good-natured teasing to challenge them to feed us on the sly...)

It was November, I think, and the room I was going to be staying in for the week had not been occupied for some time.  So Vivienne, very helpfully, tells me that I should get out my hot water bottle (La bouillotte, as she would say) and tuck it into the bed now to take the chill off the sheets.

Well, I was NOT travelling with une bouillotte at the time, which didn't terribly surprise her, and so it passed from my mind.

Fast forward to living in Dublin, the coldest temperate climate I've ever seen.  Before the hot water heater would go off at night (yes, it was on a timer - if you wanted a shower at 2 a.m., you were out of luck) we would always have some hot water in the tank.  Lo and behold, pretty much every general store in Dublin - Tesco, Boots, Dunne's - had RACKS of hot water bottles of every color, shape and design.  (including some pretty alluring ones with torsos of hottie guys on them).

So the habit, about fifty weeks out of the year, was that the last thing we did before the hot water heater timer shut off, was to fill the hot water bottles and tuck them into bed.  Magically warm, curiously comforting in their weight and their rubbery squishiness, and one of the better investments we made while living there.

I know some people in the US who own these, but I think we need to make these a much more widely used product!


Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I could easily have found a photograph to go with this post (just Google long toenails and you will be enormously creeped-out), but I thought I'd just share a beautiful night photograph of Notre Dame to accompany Vivienne's latest rant.

She works in a hotel in Paris that is very large, and she sees both tourists and business travelers from around the world.  Thus, she is... lucky.... enough to see all sorts of fashion statements, both good and bad.

But this morning, I heard from her, and she was pretty inflammatory in her criticism of a guest who was checking in, who had toenails which extended at least an inch beyond the ends of her toes.  The guest of course was wearing sandals, which Vivienne pointed out ALSO extended well beyond the ends of her toes, in order to keep these... claws... from touching the ground.  I'm still waiting to hear the nationality of this taloned tourist.

The nails were manicured, so neglect can't be an excuse.

I've asked Vivienne for some more of her least favorite looks, so I'm hopeful that the Veto can become a regular part of The Vivienne Files. Please note that I don't for a heartbeat believe that anybody reading this blog actually does the things that Vivienne sites; this is more a way of sharing the indignation of our tasteful friend with the world.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Every list of "essential" garments for women includes the trench coat.  And I've tried, believe me, I've tried.  Two years ago I picked up the lovely thing pictured above, and....

I look like a sausage with a rubber band around it.  Deeply and profoundly NOT flattering.  I should have known that double-breasted is not a good idea for me, and belting isn't something that I do very often either.  But I was determined to take the fashion mavens at their word and I believed that if I just did.... something..... ANYTHING.... differently, this would be the coat of my dreams.

Nope.

So I sold this beauty on ebay, waited 'til I saw the right thing, and I scored the women's version of this:

from Burberry.  Okay, it's not the traditional trench of our dreams, but it makes me look like I'm 6 feet tall and weigh about 100 pounds, which isn't all bad!  It will last the rest of my life, and yet again it's forced me to take a hard look at myself and not be overly influenced by my fantasy fashion life.  

And it keeps me warm - not a bad deal, overall!

Monday, May 09, 2011




Talk about anti-glamour!  Camille won a number of awards for this album when it was first released, and it has remained in frequent rotation on French radio since then.

While I can't take a steady diet of the odd noises that she makes, this song never fails to make me laugh, and having this album randomized in my French pop playlist is always good for keeping things lively!

Banjo & Matilda $ 25 Off - Use the code WELCOME

Friday, May 06, 2011

best. day. ever.




Vivienne taught me years ago that it is essential to only buy things you really love - for which you experience that elusive "coup de coeur".  This is a phrase I particularly love, because while it is generally understood to mean love at first sight, it has a more... physical?  feeling about it.  After all, a coup de pied means a kick, and a coup d'etat means overthrowing the government, so to me, a coup de coeur is like a kick in the heart, or your heart being overturned.  What we're looking for here is a really deeply felt, visceral reaction.

And this is something that I've struggled with for a long time.  I've always been very influenced by other people's opinions about the right things to own and wear, and so I've frequently found myself thinking that I really loved something, when it was more a "well, I'm supposed to love this, so I think I do".  Big mistake.  Costs money, costs time, keeps you from having the things that would really make you happy.

So what wisdom can Vivienne and I share with you about having a firm grasp on your inner coup de coeur?


  1. Look at things your dreamed about purchasing, and then found disappointing.  What went wrong?  Try to learn from these errors.
  2. Conversely, look at things which you weren't really certain about buying which turned out to be absolutely perfectly brilliant for you.  What was going on there?
  3. Don't rush into purchases.  I've started to trick myself - if I see something that I'm thoroughly convinced is perfect for me, I force myself to wait one week to buy it.  More and more, I find that I don't even remember what that fabulous item WAS after seven days.  That's a depressing but educational experience.
  4. When you have something in your life that's not ideal for you, do your level best to get rid of it as soon as reasonably possible.  (I'm not saying that you should recycle the majority of your possessions, but there are somethings that you know you'd be happier without).
  5. When you get around to replacing the item you eliminated in step 4, think long and hard about WHY that thing wasn't right for you, and what you now prefer in its place.  You may find that you don't need to replace anything; you could be better off with nothing for a while, until your preferences have settled down and you can clearly feel the cry in your heart for the perfect thing.
How does this work out for others?  Do you share my bad habit of making foolish purchases?  

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Of course everybody in Paris wears scarves almost all the time!  (seriously, it's true, at least in cooler weather)  But these aren't the square, Hermes style silk scarves nearly as often as it's the more relaxed rectangular "echarpes" loosely looped around the neck.  And where do these millions of scarves come from?

Diwali - yes, the same word as the Indian festival of lights.  There are at least three or four of these stores scattered around Paris - I know of one on the Rue Mouffetard, and also on on the Rue Soufflot just down the hill from the Pantheon.  These stores are the absolute mother lode of scarves in any color and any fabric you can imagine!  You have to go in with some sort of a plan or clue about what you're looking for, or you'll be completely overwhelmed.  (it usually takes me at least 3 visits before I settle in on my choices)


In general, Paris is an amazing place to find scarves.  If you're willing to brave the shopping adventures of little shops in neighborhoods out of the center of the city, you can find piles of beautiful paisley silk and wool scarves that cost a fraction of what you would pay (if you could find them at all) in the United States.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

How far could I go in the world with just these shoes?


Just a quick snippet of the original Vivienne today...

"As to the matter of shoes - she usually has 3 pair in "rotation" and has 12 pair total.  But these shoes are (just like her clothes) the best things she can get her hands on.  $300 for a pair of shoes is reasonable to her.  But she has them resoled and re-heeled repeatedly; she estimates that shoes last her at least 10 years.  I know she's wearing one pair she has had since college, and she's 34 right now."


Tuesday, May 03, 2011



I spent all day yesterday ironing.  Well, okay, I took a break and baked some banana/chocolate chip muffins, but I spent most of the day unpacking my summer clothes, checking them over, and ironing them.  (also working in reverse, packing away all things winter)

So I emailed Vivienne and told her what I was doing, and she wants to know "why does it take you so long?"

And I explain that I've got X number of garments that I don't wear in the fall and winter, but that I need for warmer weather.

First response from Vivienne - of course - you've got too many clothes.  I concede that.

And THEN, the killer question:  "Why don't you wear the same suits all year around?".

I explain about the weather here - it gets much hotter than it does in Paris etc. etc.

The devastating response:  "Doesn't your husband wear the same suits all year?  Why is it different for women?"

sigh....  Why don't I get a really amazing black wool suit and wear it 12 months out of the year?  Something Loro Piano, Briani, Armani - any of those would be perfect.  Why don't I think this way yet?

If I could do this with just some of my things, I could have really top quality suits.  I've got to go back and start from scratch on this planning thing.

NIC+ZOE

Sunday, May 01, 2011


This is another one of those songs that I always seem to hear when I'm in Paris; and it has the virtue of being the song that finally convinced me that you really never needed to learn the "nous" conjugations of verbs, because you can always use "on" for first person plural.

And the best lyric of the day "we will all be in heaven, even me!"  (on ira tous au paradise, meme moi)  What a cheering sentiment.

The crowd here is infectious.  I know that they handed out sheets with the song lyrics on them earlier in the day (long before dark).  But wouldn't you love to be lost in the middle of the madness?