Posted in Fashion Design, Style, Stylish Travel

The cruise collection in action: Days at sea, days ashore

Consider what comes to your mind when I say “Caribbean cruise.” If you’re anything like me, you probably have visions of open decks caressed by gentle, warm ocean breezes. Perhaps you can feel yourself sitting on a lounge chair gazing meditatively out at sea just as a sliver of a sand-ringed island comes into view. Then maybe you can see yourself walking along a powder sand beach in the shade of waving palm trees. Yes, this is a Caribbean cruise to me. So, what about that wardrobe for these laid-back days? In my last post I brought you up to date on how the evening little black cocktail dress design worked out. This time, it’s the day-time looks, that were inspired by a length of grey and white-striped seersucker.

I realized early on that what I called a “sunny day dress” would be at the centre of the daytime wardrobe. I can’t call it a sundress, because if you have read any of my past posts on my personal style, you’ll know that anything flouncy, flowered or otherwise flirty is so removed from my style as to be ridiculous. I’m one of those women who resembles nothing less than a reupholstered sofa whenever I make the mistake of wearing prints – especially floral ones which seem to be the mainstay of ready-to-wear sundresses. Anyway, my foray into print is always geometric or striped, and the fewer colours the better. So…seersucker.

There was a time for me when choosing the fabric came only after the design selection or creation. These days, I sometimes find a length of fabric that inspires the style. This was one of those situations. So, with a few metres of seersucker, and my inspiration/mood board in mind, I went to work on a couple of styles.

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Washed, dried and ready to cut. 

I was guided in my daytime dress design by a number of considerations (e.g. the fabric should be a natural fibre, light colour, sheath style because that’s who I am, sleeveless with a full back and it had to be tailored). This last consideration was the starting point for the design. I love a tailored dress. So this is where my sketching started…

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How did the design work out in the reality of a Caribbean cruise?  Well, here it is.

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Then, I used the same fabric for the little skirt that was so comfortable and useful during those hot days touring ashore – especially on Grand Cayman.

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Add a T and a pair of trusty Cole Haan tennis sneakers in pink…

One other piece that I designed for casual evenings or lunches in the dining room was the asymmetrical top. This is the kind of print that I will agree to wear from time to time – geometric, with few colours. I love how it worked with white jeans with or without the Joseph Ribkoff shrug that comes with me on every vacation.

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Notice how I matched the decor at Indochine one evening when I wore it to a casual dinner?

So, the cruise came to an end with a few days in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where we always enjoy a bit of beach and shopping time before flying home to the Great White North. As I write this, the calendar says it’s spring, but no one here in Toronto is buying that. So, it does seem fitting that I still have a few winter-like projects to complete before I can take my seasonal pilgrimage down to the Queen Street West fabric district just in time to make clothes for…you guessed it…next fall and winter! Until next time…Cheers!

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing, Style, Stylish Travel

Cruise collection complete: Let the packing begin!

It’s Valentine’s Day and for so many people out there it seems like this is such an important day, although to tell you the truth, I cannot really remember anything special about Valentine’s Days gone by. We used to do something like go out for a lovely dinner, and that was nice, but when you get to a certain point you realize that every day is a day to celebrate love. So that’s what we do. And in so many recent years, we have found ourselves on vacation anyway – which is pretty special in itself. This year, as it happens, we are still a couple of sleeps away from sunshine, palm trees and a cruise ship. But my cruise collection is finished and I’ll be packing it up momentarily. So, here’s the wrap-up.

Since we last “spoke” I actually added a few more pieces – some hits, some misses.

I added a second skirt. It’s based on the original design sans pockets, with a side zipper and a front seam. I went looking for the fabric at King Textiles in the Toronto fabric district because I wanted something particular, and came home with what is supposedly rip-stop, but it has an oddly shiny interior which has design possibilities, but I fear it may stick to me. Never mind: I plan to take it and wear it in the 28-degree Celsius weather and I’ll report back.

I also wanted two more, cool tops. Based on the design of the little black dress that will be the basis for many a cocktail evening coming up, I created a princess-line top from the seersucker that is at the heart of this collection. It fits me well, and is comfortable, but there is something about it…

It has a bit of a funky, broad-front look about it despite my careful selection of the placement of the stripes. We’ll see.

I added a tank made from the patterned (you know I rarely wear patterns) textural material as I work on creating my perfect tank. This one isn’t exactly what I’m going for on a long-term basis – the pattern still needs work – but it’s going to be great on the cruise.

 

I also wanted to make a floaty tunic top from some Indian cotton I bought for the project last summer while we were in Portsmouth, Hew Hampshire. I designed a tunic with short sleeves, and know I will wear it, but it looks more like a bathing suit cover-up than a top that should be worn on the street. It is such a heavenly comfortable fabric, though. Beach walk here it comes.

I started this project back in September. September?! Wow, that’s a long time. I wanted to enjoy the whole process from concept, through design and then execution. And I have done that.

I started by researching a capsule versus a collection. So many people online seem to create, through either shopping ready-to-wear or making it themselves, what they are calling a capsule collection. That wasn’t exactly what I was going for, so I decided to design a collection.

I created a “mood board” for lack of a better term so that I could visualize where I was headed. It was a very creative exercise that I will probably repeat  seasonally. It forced me to really consider my personal aesthetic, which included colours, textures and eventually fabrics I loved.

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But for a cruise collection that will actually cruise, there is more to it than aesthetics – there is also functionality.

We will be spending almost a week in San Juan, Puerto Rico where we expect the daily temperatures to be around 28 C with a humidex of 31C or so. We do love San Juan. We’ve been there several times, but this is the longest stay for us. We stay in an area called the Condado, named for the miles-long beach it borders. It’s about 5 km from old San Juan in a lovely, upscale residential neighbourhood. We’re staying in a new hotel for us, but the area is familiar. Then we’ll board the Silver Spirit, a 604-passenger Silversea Cruises ship – a bit large for our taste, but Silversea provides a wonderful experience. This will be our fourth Silversea cruise. This one is doing a historical-cultural tour of Cuba and a few other islands, ending in Fort Lauderdale.

 

[Some images from our last visit to San Juan]

Silversea has interesting wardrobe expectations. We will have two formal nights on this one (I will wear a gown and my dear husband will take his tux – not so many opportunities to gear up for a formal occasion these days, so we have to get some mileage out of the wardrobe). Not everyone aboard will go long-dress-and-tuxedo, but they will be dressed up. Even on the informal nights, most will be in cocktail dresses, and I will be wearing the LBD from my collection. There are only three casual nights on this cruise where I’ll be attired in white jeans, beautiful tops and appropriate sandals. This is not a T-shirt and ball-cap kind of cruise. And there are generally no children so that’s great, too, at this point in our lives.

Anyway, the new cruise collection, in concert with my favourite ready-to-wear pieces, is about to get its work-out. There will be photos.

Stay warm!

Silver Spirit here we come!

[photo from http://www.silversea.com]

silver spirit

Posted in fabrics, Style, Stylish Travel

In praise of luxurious fabrics: Alpaca

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My favourite shot of our tour up into the Andes. All the places alpacas love!

What’s in your closet? In terms of fabrics, I mean. Do you have more natural fibres represented, or are you a synthetics lover? Do you even know the precise fabric content of every piece of clothing? If you fabricate your own clothes, do you always ask about the fibre content if it isn’t clearly indicated on the bolt? I’ve always been interested in fabrics and never buy a piece of clothing without checking the label. Of course, one reason to check is to see how to care for it. Dry clean only? Hand wash? Machine wash and dry? It makes quite a difference. But for me there’s much more to it than that.

When it comes to sewing my own clothes, I am always working at improving my ability to figure out which fabrics work well with which designs. Does it drape? Wrinkle? Stretch? Should it drape, wrinkle or stretch? But there’s another important factor: I’m interested in how a fabric feels next to my skin; this has always been important to me, but even more so as I get older. From a style perspective, feeling good in one’s clothes is almost as important as a flattering colour or a perfect fit in my view. When I’m uncomfortable, I fidget with my clothes, and I wager that you do, too. That’s why when I have an opportunity to examine a new-to-me kind of fabric, I’m there: feeling, scrunching, gently pulling. You know, just what you do.

It’s not that long ago that learned about cupro (I know, I’m late to the party), and most recently I made it a point to learn about alpaca. My husband and I have just returned home from a trip that took us through the Panama Canal and down the west coast of South America, spending a week or more in Peru and ending up with eight days in Chile. Before we left, I had already done some research on alpaca because I knew that in all the world, Peru is the hot-spot for alpaca fibre and clothing.

For years I have coveted alpaca outerwear…

[A Max Mara alpaca coat on the left; a Sentaler – a favourite of the Duchess of Cambridge – on the right]

The drape and softness of alpaca and alpaca-blend fabrics make for some of the most luxurious coats on the planet as far as I’m concerned. And there’s that warmth-without-weight that is so welcome in those cold Toronto winters.

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A close-up of a Robert Allen blend of 80% alpaca and 20% wool

In the case of fabrics for coats, alpaca is almost always blended with virgin wool (100% alpaca fabric is very expensive – see below!). Where I’ve often seen 100% alpaca is in knitwear, and when we headed to Peru, it was knitwear that was on my mind. I wasn’t disappointed.

While we were in Lima, we had the pleasure of having a private guide (if you want to read about our experience more fully, you can click here and you’ll find yourself smack in the middle of the travel blog I keep with my husband). One of the great advantages of private guides is that the tour you get is a bespoke one based on your interests and desires. One of my desires was to see if I could find an alpaca scarf and/or sweater in a high-end shop. The reason I stipulated high-end is that there is alpaca of a wide variety of qualities on offer in Peru. You can buy a sweater from a kiosk on the street (or the cruise ship pier) where, at best, you might find a design that will forever remind you of your Peruvian adventure (while you scratch yourself vigorously), or you can plan to pay more and find a baby alpaca sweater, hat or scarf that is a dream to wear forever. I am firmly in the latter camp.

Anyway, on that day in Lima, our guide deposited us at the end of the day at Kuna, one of best known alpaca purveyors in Peru, Chile and beyond – they have an online shop that I had spent some time perusing long before I ended up in Lima. That day, however, as nice as the shop was, I didn’t find the right piece in the right size.

I did find a wonderful baby alpaca scarf (60% baby alpaca, 30% pima cotton, 10% nylon), though, at a converted mansion filled to the brim with artisanal, hand-woven baby alpaca among many other beautiful things.

 

But we still had almost two weeks in Peru and Chile and I knew there would be other opportunities. Then I found myself in Arequipa.

Some 7700 feet above sea level in the Andes mountains, Arequipa is a city that you can reach only after a two-hour drive inland from the coast through the Atacama Desert. Our first stop was Sol Mundo.

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We visited a few alpacas and lamas, the origin of the fibres, then we learned about the sorting and combing process. Like sheep, alpacas are sheared yearly and their wool obviously replenishes itself – a renewable resource if ever there was one! Baby alpaca wool is the finest of all, so soft to the touch.

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Here I am feeling the raw alpaca wool! So soft…

 

Then we found ourselves in their shop. What a beautiful feeling to be surrounded by garments crafted of some of the finest alpaca wool in the world. I was on the hunt for a cardigan (I know, that makes me sound old, but cardigans are the next best thing to soft, tailored jackets. Just ask Chanel!).

I was trying on my usual plain black and navy in the midst of a riot of colours when my husband, one of the best shopping companions in the world – I think I could make a lot of money pimping him out as a shopping companion/consultant – beckoned my over to the opposite side of the shop. He had found what he thought was the perfect compromise for me – a compromise between my penchant for plain neutrals and the riotous colours on offer. He was right.

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Fabricated of the softest baby alpaca, the sweater displayed muted shades of grey and black in a print reminiscent of the sweater’s Andean provenance. The fact that it has interesting design details, too, was cause for celebration. There were details of grey, felted baby alpaca down the front button placket, in triangles on the cuffs and as elbow patches. We had a winner! And they threw in a hand-crafted baby alpaca scarf in my choice of colours – of course I chose neutral beige!

I won’t lie: I’m still hankering to find some lengths of alpaca or alpaca-blend fabric to make a coat. Yes, there are online places I can get it (Mood offers a 100% alpaca coating for $99.99 a yard! Also a 65% wool and 35% alpaca blend for $35.00 a yard). But that’s a project for next year. This winter I’m gong to try to take apart my husband’s old tuxedo and refashion it for me. Yeah, really.

Sol Alpaca: https://www.solalpaca.com/store/

Posted in Couture Sewing, Fashion, Fashion Blogs, Fashion Journalism, Style, Stylish Books, Stylish Travel

Just another fashion blog for women of a ‘certain’ age

I don’t suppose the world needs another blog about anything. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t care less! This one’s for me, but I’m willing to share it with you, too, if you’re a bit like me:

  • A woman of a ‘certain’ age (it can be whatever you want it to be);
  • You have an interest in fashion but mostly in style;
  • You are interested in other things other than fashion & style – things like travel, wine & reading;
  • You’re past caring what everyone else thinks.

If this is you, then join me from time to time. I’m planning to write about fashion journalism, what I’m learning about style throughout my life, fashion and style-related books I love, my pet peeves about fashion, how travel is a style statement and whatever else I think is relevant to a fabulous life at this stage. I’m also obsessed by Gabrielle Chanel, her life, her work and mostly her LBJ (little black jacket) so my research and project on recreating her LBJ will be the focus of the Coco files.

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