Friday, November 13, 2009

I've gone completely Gaga

I've gone completely Gaga, originally uploaded by retrogemkitty7.

I am so out of the pop music loop. I do have my favorite artists, both from back in the day (Prince, ABC, Depeche Mode, etc.) and more recent years (Gogol Bordello, Stereo Total, et al) but quite a bit of newer pop just escapes me. I do, however, love to dance and I love fashion, so is it any surprise that I'm becoming a huge fan of Lady Gaga? Since last night, I have watched the video/promo for "Bad Romance" at least seven times. The tune and lyrics are catchy, the sets and costumes are outrageously fun, and the whole effect is one of celebrating fame and celebrity culture while giving it a big, very knowing wink. Lady Gaga is the kind of pop artist MTV loved in the early days, back when they took chances, artistically speaking, and played videos... please tell me I am not the only person who remembers that era!

Sandal straps at Morgan Miller, 2009

Recently, while strolling down Miami's Lincoln Road, my husband and I noticed a cute little store that claimed to produce custom-made shoes. Custom-made shoes? Really? The sample pair in the window was cute, but assuming that said shoes would either be low quality or cost about a mortgage payment, we went in feeling a bit skeptical. One look at this selection of straps, however, and my resolve began to melt. The variety of colors, materials, and even price points made my head spin. Which to choose - leopard patent? Emerald green ostrich? Rainbow snakeskin? Silver leather? I decided to be practical - relatively speaking - and go with the silver, since they'd work with almost everything in my summer/beach wardrobe. And so, my Cinderella shopping experience began...

Soles at Morgan Miller, 2009

Prices vary widely, from around $40 to over $100 based on style, heel height, and material.

Morgan Miller buckles & bling, 2009

These start at around $25 a pair and can cost over $100.

Cobblers at Morgan Miller, 2009

These guys work on your shoes in the store's front window, in full view of passersby on Lincoln Road. They're also very sweet about posing for pics.

Being fitted at Morgan Miller, 2009

At this store, when they say custom, they mean it. Shoes are ready in 1/2 hour or less.

Silver sandals on a silver platter, Morgan Miller, 2009

Morgan Miller's presentation is as fabulous as their shoes!

Beach pedicure and custom-made Morgan Miller sandals, 2009

Of course, I chose blingy ornaments with a Deco feel. It was very hard to walk out of this store with just one pair of shoes, but that means we have to go back to South Beach, right?

Sunrise over the Atlantic, 10-31-09

beach sunrise 2009, originally uploaded by retrogemkitty7.

Long time, no blog - sorry! Fall is always a crazy time for us. This year, we took a long weekend in Florida to celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary. We fell in love with South Beach in 2007. 1,000 painstakingly restored Art Deco buildings in a one-square-mile area, the most amazing beach we've seen this side of Hawaii, killer food at every price point, salsa or techno music thumping from every storefront, and great people-watching... what's not to love? I took this pic on our anniversary, while my husband was still sleeping.2009 has been an eventful year - not always in a good way - for us and for many people we care about. Corny as it may sound, this trip reminded us that there is still beauty and peace in the world, and that the ocean's salty waves do have healing powers. Thump-thump dance music can be pretty therapeutic, too.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Eat locally, dress globally?

As the daughter of an independent business owner, I like to support local merchants. In some ways, that's ridiculously easy; in others, not so much.

I'm a chain restaurant hater. Okay, I'll drink Starbucks coffee & will even eat breakfast there if we're on vacation & there's nowhere else to go. For a sit-down meal, however, I'd rather dine at a dive in a questionable neighborhood (or just stay home & eat microwave popcorn) than go to a chain. Why pay good money for frozen food - yes, chains often serve frozen meals! - that might pass muster as food court fare, but costs as much as dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant, where the food is delicious? Fortunately for our marriage, my husband feels the same way. As residents of a metropolitan area, we are also very spoiled for choice when it comes to great, locally-owned restaurants. Baltimore may not be New York, but it is home to a wide variety of eateries, serving almost every cuisine you could think of at many different price points.

When it comes to grocery shopping, however, I'm not such a purist. I hate to admit it, but convenience is a big factor here.There's a major chain supermarket right by my office, a Whole Foods on the way home from work, & a couple of Trader Joe's locations near other stores we frequent. Recently, I have been making an effort to buy most of our veggies at the farmer's market. Produce prices generally compare favorably with those at the supermarket, and quality does tend to be higher. One of the bakers at our local farmers market makes truly amazing bread - seed-filled, grainy stuff that makes my sense of portion control go right out the window at the first bite - but at up to $6 a loaf, it's not the sort of thing I can afford to buy all the time. Besides, the farmer's market only happens once a week, so if I forget to buy a certain item, or if it won't be fresh when I need it in a few days, I'm out of luck.

Shopping for clothing locally is even trickier. Basically, if you aren't wealthy, good luck finding stylish, affordable basics (tailored work clothes, tees, etc.) at locally owned stores. Although Baltimore has some fabulous local boutiques, as an employee of a nonprofit organization, I can only afford to shop their clearance racks. I've gotten some of my best special-occasion outfits that way, but for everyday stuff, I often find myself hitting mall stores, or their websites. However, since my closets & dressers are quite full & my wallet is thinner than it's been in a while due to the loss of my second job, I'm trying to reverse that trend. For starters, I'm simply shopping less. I'm also buying more vintage/secondhand items, both on eBay & in person, & patronizing smaller labels like Trashy Diva as well. Okay, shopping online doesn't keep money in Baltimore any more than venturing into H&M does, but at least it can help support a small business somewhere.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Claribel Cone, Gertrude Stein, Etta Cone, 1903

I'm taking a few days off from work & decided to spend yesterday afternoon at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Since I'm a decorative arts fan, I wandered around the Dorothy McIlvain Scott wing & period rooms for quite a while, but I also had to visit the Cone collection, which is my favorite part of the museum.

Baltimore sisters Dr. Claribel Cone & Etta Cone came from a well-to-do Jewish family & lived lives that would be considered somewhat unusual even now, but were quite shocking back then. Neither ever married or had children, & they befriended & supported some of the most Bohemian artists of their time. Claribel became a doctor at a time when many considered such a course of study unnatural in a female. Even many physicians of the era, such as Dr. Edward Clark, thought that excessive education caused women's brains to use up blood that was needed for menstruation. Etta greatly admired her sister's medical career, although she had no such ambitions herself. She tended the family home on Eutaw Place & seemed to have no great passions until her brother gave her $300 to decorate the family home. The "Impressionistic" Theodore Robinson paintings she purchased with the money scandalized her family. For Etta, a lifetime of collecting had begun.

I've long been curious to know more about the Cone sisters, so after yesterday's visit to their collection, I stopped in the BMA Shop & bought "The Art of Acquiring" by Mary Gabriel. Ms. Gabriel is a journalist who also attended the Maryland Institute College of Art, right here in town, & her knowledge of & connection to Baltimore really come through in her writing. Since they collected jewelry, textiles, & many other objects in addition to fine art, it seems that some have, unfortunately, come to see denigrate the Cone sisters as mere "shoppers". Ms. Gabriel asserts that, had the sisters been men, they would not have received such a label, & I think she makes an excellent point. I've never heard William or Henry Walters referred to in such terms. At any rate, I'm very much enjoying Ms. Gabriel's book & highly recommend it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

50's rose skirt from NY

50's rose skirt from NY, originally uploaded by retrogemkitty7.

Again, making up for promised posts. So here I am in the fabulous 50's skirt I bought at the Chelsea flea market back in June. Bit of a splurge, but how often does one find little-worn vintage skirts with attached crinolines? This was purchased from Helen, who sets up on the first floor of the market and sells the most amazing vintage clothing and accessories. Her stuff isn't cheap, but it is gorgeous and in great shape (and, I must admit, very reasonable by NY standards.)

Yellow Rose Cake

Yellow rose cake, originally uploaded by retrogemkitty7.

I promised cake pictures a while ago, didn't I? Okay, here goes. This was my final cake for Course One. I think the roses and leaves turned out quite well, given that it is summer in the Mid-Atlantic and it's a miracle the icing wasn't completely liquid by the time it came out of the pastry bag. I was very pleased with the color palette for this cake - so Wayne Thiebaud, no? - and my husband's co-workers said it was delicious. The cake was vanilla spice (Trader Joe's mix jazzed up with Penzey's Cake Spice) with lemon curd filling; the icing was classic buttercream.

Kate Spade "Off to the Opera" outfit

Long time, no see, or rather, no post. My apologies. Have been reading a lot, practicing for my upcoming cabaret performance, & trying not to wilt in Baltimore's infamous summer humidity, which arrived late this year but is making up for lost time. And what always accompanies the steamiest August days? Why, pictures of fall clothes, of course! This outfit, from the Kate Spade website, has me longing for lower temperatures. Besides the fact that it's named "Off to the Opera", I adore this look for its tailored lines and sense of fun. I'd wear this in a heartbeat and am already trying to figure out how to re-create it with pieces from my closet.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Oakenshawe Antiques, 7-18-09

We spent this afternoon vintage-shopping in Hampden & loved this window/sidewalk display at Oakenshawe Antiques. Oakenshawe hasn't always carried vintage clothing, but they've always had great furniture, housewares, & jewelry at good prices. I found a wonderful, never-worn petticoat to wear under evening gowns for $16. The sign in this picture sums up exactly how we felt about our hometown today. Lots of people love to run the city down, & it certainly has its problems (unfortunately, we've experienced its violent streak firsthand.) For us, though, the good still outweighs the bad.

I have noticed one very positive trend in the city this summer: many people are dressing better, even on weekend afternoons. We saw lots of women in cute sundresses today, & many guys looked good, too, sporting fun madras shorts & simple tees. Even better, there was nary a pair of Crocs in sight. I don't think today was an aberration... we've noticed people making more of a sartorial effort when we've gone to the Fells Point Flea Market, too. Maybe there's hope for Baltimore fashion. If we could just get jeans banned from the Meyerhoff & Lyric, & from restaurants where dinner for 2 costs over $100... I can dream, can't I?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A very Miami dessert - chocolate cake with coconut buttercream icing.

palm tree cake, originally uploaded by retrogemkitty7.

I'm taking a cake decorating class (Wilton, Course 1.) Here's my first attempt at a fancy cake. Since we went to Maui on our honeymoon & love going to the beach in Miami, I decided to do a palm tree design. The icing colors definitely remind me of the Art Deco district in South Beach!

I had a terrible time with crumbs showing through the icing, but a couple of the women in my class said the little flecks remind them of sand. Our instructor said I should have used more icing. What? More buttercream? No problem! The palm tree design is a stencil I found online (yay, Google!) You trace the design onto wax paper & then go over the outline (though not on the pencil marks, use the reverse side) with a wonderful goo called piping gel. Then, you flip the design over onto the iced cake & use a small brush to get the outline to transfer. Following that, you're ready to fill in the outline with your tinted buttercream.

At next week's class, we'll attempt to make buttercream icing roses... watch this space for the results!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dining room, July 11, 2009

We love going out, but we also enjoy entertaining & want to do more of it. I'm addicted to china & glassware, especially vintage stuff, & have amassed quite a collection over the years. What's the point in owning beautiful things if they only see the light of day a few times per year? With that in mind, we had friends over for dinner last night & pulled out the "good" china & our nicest stemware. The meal was simple - tzatziki, veggies, & sea salt/black pepper crisps to start, then salad, bread & grilled things (the boys had burgers, the girls chose tuna steaks,) and sorbet with chocolate-port drizzle for dessert. We had after-dinner drinks on the deck, & it's amazing how good even a Baltimore alley looks when you're sipping a delicious liqueur in good company. From a vintage etched cordial glass, of course.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sea Monkeys, Mermaid Parade, 2009

We went to the Mermaid Parade on Coney Island this year & had a blast! The costumes were great fun & the crowd was friendly & laid-back. These "Sea Monkeys" looked fabulous, didn't they?

Fish purse at Helen's booth, Chelsea flea market

New York has a well-deserved reputation as a shopping mecca. The Chelsea Flea Market, located in an old parking garage on 25th street, is one of our favorite haunts. This is an amazing place to shop for vintage clothing, jewelry, housewares, books, & furniture. Most dealers are very friendly & will bargain with you... the woman from whom Mr. Altocat bought a gorgeous silk suit kept dropping the price without being asked! These bags were on display at the booth of a lovely vintage clothing dealer named Helen. I bought a spectacular skirt from her, which I will post soon.

Window at Bagel Boss, LES, NYC

Window at Bagel Boss, originally uploaded by retrogemkitty7.

Now you see why Mr. Altocat & I insist on running while we're on vacation. We had breakfast here on Sunday, 6-21-09... best bagels I've ever eaten. I highly recommend the multigrain bagels with reduced fat lox & scallion spread. Unlike the pink, vaguely-fish-flavored goo served up at chain bagel shops, this snow-white stuff has actual pieces of salmon & scallions in it & the flavor is divine. We did quite a bit of eating on this trip, so much that I'm a bit scared to try on certain outfits at the moment! Other places where we noshed & enjoyed: Nathan's (the original location, on Coney Island), Two Boots, Malatesta, Empire City Bagel (we actually had pizza, but I bet their bagels are good, too), Pinisi Bakery, & Dosa Hut. We also had spectacular (& very strong) Manhattans at the Algonquin Hotel, which may well be our favorite NYC spot for tippling. Great drinks & service in a beautiful, storied setting... can't beat it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lulu Guinness

Lulu Guinness, originally uploaded by retrogemkitty7.

This outfit certainly won't be to everyone's taste, but I love it and might even wear it, given the opportunity. I love Lulu Guinness' retro-girly-whimsical designs. To me, she's a latter-day Elsa Schiaparelli. I first discovered Ms. Guinness' work in the 1990's and found her creations a much-needed departure from that decade's oh-please-take-me-seriously minimalism. (The mere thought of teeny, tiny Y necklaces & backpack purses still makes me shudder.) Turns out 2009 is the 20th-anniversary year of the Lulu Guinness brand; this is the outfit she wore to celebrate. Not too many stores in Baltimore carry her line, alas, but Mr. Altocat and I are planning to pay her New York boutique a visit this coming weekend. This could be hazardous to my wallet and is sure to be a feast for the eyes.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Poufffff at Killer Trash

Poufffff at Killer Trash, originally uploaded by retrogemkitty7.

Crinolines & other retro finery available at Fells Point's Killer Trash, one of Baltimore's best-loved vintage clothing stores.

Day-of-the week undies!

Day-of-the week undies!, originally uploaded by retrogemkitty7.

Ah, the amusing stuff one can find at flea markets. Mr. Altocat & I spent this afternoon in Fells Point, a historic Baltimore neighborhood unfortunately known (at least in recent years) mostly for attracting crowds of drunken young suburbanites on weekends. There's much more to Fells Point than that, however. The area is home to two well-regarded community theatres (Vagabond Players & Fells Point Corner Theatre) as well as an eclectic assortment of shops & restaurants. You can find all kinds of clothing, shoes, home decor, and more down here, vintage & new, & most items are very reasonably priced. If you MUST own a "Don't Bother Me, I'm Crabby" t-shirt, they sell those here, too, but please don't wear such a thing around locals. That's the sartorial equivalent of riding a Duck boat. (With regard to the latter, take the Water Taxi instead.) Dining options range from cheap to high-end. We recommend B.O.P. (Brick Oven Pizza) or Burritos en Fuego for the former. If you want to spend a bit more, Mezze offers delicious Mediterranean fare, & their sister restaurant, Kali's Court, is lovely for special occasions. Pitango Gelato is a fabulous place to indulge your sweet tooth.

Back to the pic - the Fells Point Preservation Society's Second Sunday Antiques Market runs the 2nd Sunday of every month through October. There are GREAT deals to be had here on vintage clothing, jewelry, books, housewares, and other items. More information is available at 410-675-8900. One of the clothing dealers had these day-of-the-week undies for sale today; aren't they a riot? Granny panties aren't my style, but at least these are new in the box (a/k/a/ unworn!)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Eugene Hutz in "Everything is Illuminated"

Ever since my husband and I heard Gogol Bordello live, I can't get enough of their music, and it turns out their lead singer, Eugene Hutz, is a very talented actor as well. We watched "Everything is Illuminated" last night and I can't remember the last time I laughed that hard at a movie. Based on Jonathan Safran Foer's book of the same title, the film covers familiar territory - a young man seeking to understand his family by making a trip to the ancestral homeland - but does it in hilarious, moving, & original ways. All of the performances are terrific and the soundtrack is a must-have. I'll be picking up the book sometime soon, too.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel, originally uploaded by retrogemkitty7.

I just finished reading "Chanel: A Woman of her Own" by Axel Madsen. It's a wonderfully detailed account of the life & times of one of my favorite designers... a woman who came from an impoverished background & was left at an orphanage by her father at an early age, yet eventually ran an internationally acclaimed fashion house & created iconic pieces that are still in vogue today (think: 2.55 handbag, little black dress, &, of course, the Chanel suit.) Madsen goes into great detail about Chanel's numerous amours, who included English polo player "Boy" Capel & the German spy "Spatz". Chanel counted Igor Stravinsky, Jean Cocteau, Winston Churchill, & many other 20th-century luminaries among her friends. She strongly disliked Dior's "New Look" & the designs of Elsa Schiaparelli - styles of which I am a great fan - but I have such admiration for Coco's work that I guess I can forgive her. Almost. At any rate, I would call Madsen's book a must-read for those interested in fashion. Now if you'll excuse me, I must go & spritz myself with Chanel No. 5.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Music & passion are always in fashion...

Gogol Bordello 6-4-09, originally uploaded by retrogemkitty7.

Over the past two weeks, I've heard some amazing live music... tango, opera, & gypsy punk. Yes, my musical tastes are all over the map, & I'm fortunate to live in a region where I can hear such varied performances. There was a common thread in all of these shows, however - passion. People who truly love what they do getting up on a stage & putting everything they are into their art. It's so strange & sad to me that some performers expect audiences to pay top dollar to watch them lip sync. I've been told "It's HARD to sing & dance at the same time!" Really? Tell that to Ann Reinking or Bebe Neuwirth. Or to Gogol Bordello, pictured here during their June 4th appearance at Rams Head Live in Baltimore. They played for two hours, & while their moves may not be as choreographed as those of the average blond pop tart, they're every bit as energetic, if not more so.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

18th c. blue glass - Jane Fletcher - WOW

Ah, enamel. 18th-century parure in a custom case. Again, many thanks to Jane Fletcher for allowing me to take & post pics of her wares. If you want to read more about adornments of this period, I highly recommend "Georgian Jewellery, 1714-1830" by Ginny Redington Dawes with Olivia Collings. Beautiful photography & highly informative, engaging text.

Micro mosaic, etc - Jane Fletcher

More fabulous vintage bling, courtesy of Jane Fletcher... I spy Georgian, Victorian, & even some 20th-century pieces.

Georgian on my mind...

I re-watched "Dangerous Liaisons" the other night & was amazed at how well I remembered the costumes, and even the jewelry. Of course, the clothes & gems in the film were spectacular, & I've always loved 18th-century fashion. Since I just can't get enough sparkly Georgian eye candy, even if I can't afford it, I thought I'd share a few pictures of the stuff with you. These were taken at The Baltimore Summer Antiques Show in 2008. The dealer whose booth I photographed is Jane Fletcher, a very funny, intelligent Englishwoman with a wonderful staff.

Whitby jet necklace

Whitby jet necklace, originally uploaded by retrogemkitty7.

I've wanted a piece of Whitby jet jewelry for years; recently found this on eBay, for an insanely low price! The pendant is carved Whitby jet (fossilized wood) & the beads are a mixture of Whitby jet & "French jet" (black glass.) Whitby jet comes from England; jewelry made from it was immensely popular during the Victorian period. Ladies who were in mourning wore Whitby jet jewelry as well as pieces made from vulcanite, hairwork, & gutta-percha. Whitby jet jewelry is still being made, but this is an older piece.


I have been obsessed with fashion & design from an early age... perhaps since birth. I adore vintage looks, but am also a fan of truly ground-breaking modern styles (makers of $3000 jeans need not apply.) My fashion icons include Miuccia Prada, Diane von Furstenberg, Coco Chanel, & Elsa Schiaparelli. I love bargain-hunting, mixing "high" & "low", & combining vintage pieces with new ones. Besides fashion, I love the arts, movies, travel, architecture, great food, cats, & interesting people. I'm completely new to blogging, so please be patient with me & watch this space!