Monday, October 12, 2009

Weekly Feature #9

I is for... Inspiration (versus Imitation).

Lana Turner looks horrified at the suggestion that her Jean Louis original may be an Imitation of Life.

When we were clumsily forming our own taste and style, back in the Dark Ages prior to the Internet, we were pretty much on our own, armed only with movies and GQ magazine as guideposts. The results weren't always great (in fact, they were largely awful), but we made our mistakes, learned from them, and gradually developed our sense of self and, consequently, our sense of style.

In the 1980's, GQ was our life raft of style. Somehow, we survived.

Today, we marvel at the sharp, shiny, cookie-cutter pristineness of modern teenagers who flawlessly mimic the looks they've seen on Gossip Girl and The Hills. In some ways, we slightly envy the bevy of information available at their fingertips in this media-saturated age: simply copying, look for look and lock for lock, the "style" of these celebrities goes a long way towards smoothing out the bumps of what used to be the awkward years. We've seen 13 year old girls looking like eerie Rachel Zoe clones, and their 14 year old boyfriends sporting Zac Efron-worthy styled hair.

Reader, beware: choose your influences wisely.

On the flip side, such camp following eradicates any individual style whatsoever, in two ways: not only can a slavish copy of someone else's look (or, for that matter, a shop mannequin, or magazine layout) never be truly chic, because it won't have the intangible quality of individuality; but the generic style "icons" (quotation marks pointedly and emphatically used) most people are copying these days are themselves are largely products of stylists, and high-profile shills for designers hawking their wares to the engrossed readers of In Style and US Weekly.

When it comes to style, inspiration should never be confused with imitation.

Since we're not completely immune to the 21st century, and its insistence on sound byte-sized snippets of information, here is a list of what's been inspiring us lately. What has been, we emphasize, not who.

  • Interiors. Thanks to our darling Toby Worthington, our interest in the elegance of hearth and home has quadrupled. A well-ordered, well-proportioned, elegantly-appointed room is probably the most difficult thing to achieve, so now, when we see one that we like, we get inspired by its colors and lines. A magnificent New York townhouse done in shades of pumpkin and aubergine made our mouth water; Mr. Worthington's flawless living room in greens and yellows had a similar effect. Both color combinations have made their way into our wardrobe.

    Helena Rubinstein also endorses pumpkin and aubergine.

    Texture. We've been playing with this element a lot more lately, especially as the weather turns cool, and layering is possible. Our white-and-black mini houndstooth check suit, in luxuriously comfortable worsted wool, has such a soft texture, that it reads grey more than stark black and white, opening it to a whole vista of possibilities. We paired it recently with a rough-hewn lambswool vest in hunter green, moss green, and gingerbread brown argyle; a textured silk bow tie in plum with wide-spaced flecks of bronze; a wet silk pocket square in dark green, with repeating patterns in pumpkin, navy and bronze; medium-grey merino wool socks; and handmade oxford lace-ups in antiqued oak. The colors combined seamlessly, the textures played off each other beautifully, and we admittedly purred and preened in multiple compliments during the course of a delicious evening.

    Check, please: call out the houndstooth.

  • Music. Music has always been one of our ruling passions; but it's become even more of an inspiration lately. Our taste has always been quite catholic, and continues to be; but even though the Great American Songbook has long been a staple in our collection, it's taken on a greater resonance of late. More specifically, we've been paring things down to the simplest approach, and really listening to the lyrics. (The simple vocal stylings of Mary Cleere Haran, Carol Sloane, Fred Astaire and Bobby Short, for instance, in their straightforwardly soigne approach, as opposed to the brasher charms of, say, Mimi Hines. [Who still has a place in our hearts, and playlists, bless her socks.]) In these turbulent times, the eloquent, elegant, romantic lyricism of Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer and their contemporaries is a much-needed antidote, and helps us to envision the ideal gentleman we place on a pedestal.

    Mr. Astaire: dancing in the dark, never dressing in it.

  • Food. We've always been obsessed with food, too; but again, we've recently taken a less-is-more approach and have been luxuriating in the pleasures of unpretentious dishes, beautifully and simply prepared. It suits our state of mind right now, as well as, we think, the current state of affairs. Who wants to eat fussy foams, miniscule macrobiotics, or overpriced omasake these days? Our current favorites: braised tripe with chickpeas; lamb stew over polenta; thin-sliced pork belly steeped in olive oil and rosemary; boiled beef in its own broth; and any perfectly-executed pasta dish. Style, really, has so much to do with being comfortable in your own skin: it follows that we gravitate towards comfort food. It isn't all champagne and caviar, dears.

    A jug of wine, a plate of pasta, and Marcello Mastroianni: timeless style, effortless cool.

Of course, there are countless other influences and inspirations which present themselves everyday, usually having to do with color: the shade of a flower has sent us around town, determined to find it in a tie or pocket square or something, anything. Nature, artwork, a snippet of dialogue, poetry or prose - anything creative, which sparks the imagination, can be the catalyst for style. We hope that SSUWAT provides a little bit of inspiration, too. One thing we've resisted doing is posting photos of our own outfits; it seems dually self-serving (a commentary of which designers we're wearing seems so smug, not to mention indiscreet) and self-defeating: the very purpose of these posts is to encourage people to hone and develop and appreciate their own individuality, not to send them running to buy an exact copy of What We're Wearing, or even to ooh and aah over the labels. Have confidence in your own style - open your eyes, your ears, your minds - and, of course, continue to watch this space, darlings!


  1. Welcome back! It's great to know you had the time to work on SSUWAT again. When I saw Miss Lana's face, I thought that FINALLY you were going to reveal the "Guess Who?" from ages ago, one in which I thought perhaps I could, for once, be right! <:-P Who is it?!

  2. I know, I know, after the chaos of my life dies down, I'll return to more glamour, froth, starlets and beefcake AND reveal the month-old Mystery Guest. It's been a ridiculously insane month...I feel almost as tired as Shelley Winters after that final breaststroke...

  3. Being an offbeat Aquarius has meant a lifetime of quirky personal style, “Veronica Lodge NEVER does what everyone else is doing”. During this last decade of absolute conformity I’ve been an oddball of individuality for refusing to play along. The times have made an about face and the ‘shepherds’ have yet to inform the sheep as they still have vast inventories of the ‘excess cookie cutter clone look’ to peddle. I’ve said it for years now that there is NO fashion anymore only style. Style is something you either have or you don’t. You can’t just go out and buy it from Rachael Zoe. Good riddance to this ‘stylists’ version of the world, it’s not going quickly or without dragging, scratching or clawing. Embrace change and new. Think up the change and think up the new.

    *Steps down from soapbox and dodges tomatoes*

  4. Todd, you had me right where you wanted me, and then you mentioned tripe...and, pooh! ~Me makes the icky face~ But I will always let you have my portion.;-)

  5. There is much food for thought here and we must go away and ponder it all.

    *restrains self from covering household furnishings in aubergine satin*

    Thank you for Marcello.

  6. Brilliant advice on inspiration and style. I've recently redone my dining room and the basic inspiration was an African violet plant that sat in there for years. If you could see the room, you wouldn't automatically think, "oh, gawd - I wish his African violet fetish would end! The colors of the plant merely served as inspiration - they were were interpreted with different shades, hues and textures.

  7. Yeah, yeah, yeah...

  8. ayem8y: couldn't agree more. Perhaps it's an aquarian thing?

  9. You were lucky that you hopped on the GQ life raft in the 80s. They were still having unfortunate missteps in the late 70s, such as the mink sweatshirt over gray sweatpants.
    And I completely agree that purple needs more, not less, play in interior design. I had a friend with deep eggplant walls, which were a very lovely foil for bright canvases of Caribbean folk art and light birch furniture.

  10. atcc - When you visit me in NYC, and we have a ladies' luncheon complete with hats, I'm going to order for you, a la Joan Crawford. You'll ask, "Why, this is simply delicious! Whatever is it?" And you'll be startled to discover that the succulent, savory dish you've been enjoying is, in fact, tripe.

    Admittedly, every preparation and photo I'd ever seen of it looked awful, but I had it for the first time in a sort of cassoulet-fashion, and have been hooked ever since.

    MJ - Just don't pull a Crawford and cover everything in plastic. Except, of course, that hospital bed.

    Scooter - Photos, please! It sounds divine.

    MC - Oh, as if you didn't know already!

    marksparky - Were there matching mink headband and leg warmers to complete the sweatsuit ensemble?


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