Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Puzzle Rings

When I was in fifth grade puzzle rings were all the rage and a lot of the girls in my class had them in silver.  Puzzle rings are made of interlocking rings that you have to assemble in a certain way in order to wear.  They apparently originated in either Turkey or Asia a very long time ago and made their way to Europe and then the Americas.  They come in a variety of styles, but the most common seem to be the four ring variety, which is what we all had when I was ten.  I don't remember who taught me how to assemble them, but it's a skill I've never forgotten.  I've confounded many friends, dates and co-workers with my ability to assemble a puzzle ring.  Many people have never even heard of them, much less know how to put them together.  Everyone always wants to give it a try, but trust me, even an engineering degree won't help if you don't know the secret.

I doubt I wore my puzzle ring much after the fifth grade, but when I was around college age I went to a flea market with my parents and I spotted a 14K gold one, unassembled, in a display case.  When I asked to see it the sellers said they didn't know how to put it together, but if I did I could have it for $15.  About five seconds later that ring was mine! 

My puzzle ring

I wear it occasionally and have been wearing it more recently.  It's a fun conversation piece and gives me something to fiddle with if I get bored.  Once you know how to put them together it's a snap, but learning is harder than it looks.  Here are the steps below.  Apologies for the slightly out of focus photos, it was difficult to get good photos and hold the ring in position at the same time.

My puzzle ring, unassembled

Step one

Step two


I would like to get my hands on one of the twelve ring versions and learn how to assemble it. The design and assembly are totally different.  I've seen it done, but never done it myself.  And, I'd also like to find my original puzzle ring.  I'm not sure if I even still have it, but I'm now on a mission to look for it next time I'm at my mom's house.  

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Politics of Fashion: Wildlife, Wicker & Washington

My favorite gala of the year in NYC is the party at the Central Park Zoo to benefit the Wildlife Conservation Society.  The event is held in mid June and, if we're lucky and it's not raining, it's a beautiful night under the stars amid the animals who come out to play with us during the cocktail hour. I love all animals and I am a huge proponent of preserving wildlife and endangered species and I never miss a chance to talk to the animals.

Me with Zac, a female Moluccan Cockatoo at the zoo benefit
(photo courtesy of Daniel Colon)

Zac was very shy at first, even though I had met her last year at the party, but I have a cockatoo (I have two parrots) so I used my best cockatoo voice with her and she warmed up pretty quickly and talked to me. Zac is beautiful and very sweet.

Zac & Me saying 'hello'
(photo courtesy of Daniel Colon)

In addition to Zac we met an American Crododile that I got to touch, a giant lizard that stuck its tongue out at me, a sloth that was moving around way more than sloths normally do, and a fennec fox that was very soft, like a kitten.

I'll assume this was a lizard kiss
(photo courtesy of Daniel Colon)

A sloth
(photo courtesy of Daniel Colon)

Because this event is at the zoo many guests try to incorporate some sort of animal or jungle theme into their attire like a zebra print dress or a bow tie with monkeys on it.  I happen to have a collection of vintage wicker figural bags that I started collecting as a kid, most of which are animals, and the zoo party is the perfect place to carry them.  Many times my bags and I have ended up in the Styles section of The New York Times.  So many times, in fact, that a few years ago I decided to retire them, because I didn't want to it to seem like I was just trying to get my picture taken.  

My bags in The New York Times.  

I have also been thinking about selling the collection, because the bags are dust collectors and wicker tends to get brittle and break easily as it ages.  And, worst of all, the aforementioned cockatoo of mine has taken a shine to them in recent years and likes to fly by them and knock them to the floor.  But, since it has been a while since I carried any of them, I decided to carry my polar bear bag this year.  

Vintage wicker polar bear bag

The bag was a huge hit and a fun conversation piece.  I think it may also have been why that lizard stuck its tongue out at me.  Anyway, the bag, my buddy and I ended up in The New York Social Diary today! Here's the photo and the link with a great write up about the event.

Me with the polar bear bag & my friend, Daniel Colon
(photo courtesy of Patrick McMullan via the NYSD)

Now, getting to the politics of the situation:  this year's gala was about the plight of the African Elephants and how poachers are, disgracefully, hunting them to extinction.  The conditions have gotten so dire that the Wildlife Conservation Society decided they needed to call in the big guns (no pun intended) and they asked The Clinton Foundation to get involved to help spread the word and bring some attention to this horrible situation.  The Clintons did get involved and the other night Hillary and Chelsea Clinton were honored for their work to try and help save the elephants.  Former President Bill Clinton was also in attendance to support his wife and daughter.  New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio was also there and he introduced Hillary Clinton who then spoke about the plight of the elephants. Thankfully the evening was non-partisan and the politics were put aside to benefit elephants.  Despite the Democratic headliners, I suspect that many in the well to do crowd were Republicans, and in fact, I spotted a very well known Republican supporter, David Koch, in the crowd.  Saving our wildlife and our planet is a must for both sides of the aisle and it was a fun evening when everyone joined together for this important cause. The Clintons and Mayor De Blasio were surprisingly photo accessible and we took full advantage of that!  We even had a conversation with the Mayor and I took the opportunity to thank him for all he is doing to get the poor, overworked carriage horses off the streets.  

Daniel Colon, Hillary Clinton & me (Alison)

Daniel Colon, Chelsea Clinton & Me

Daniel Colon, NYC Mayor De Blasio & Me

And, it turns out the polar bear bag was a good neutral, apolitical choice for the evening.  I do, however, have a Democratic donkey bag and a Republican elephant bag, that even came with its own politcal buttons.  It must have been a convention souvenir.  So, if I'm ever invited to an inaugural ball in Washington DC I'll be ready.

Donkey bag & elephant bag with Barry Goldwater political buttons

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Buying Tomorrow's Vintage Today

If you're like me and you love vintage jewelry you know how expensive it can be, especially if it's made by a designer of haute couture.  Ornate necklaces by designers like Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino run into the thousands of dollars, and good luck getting your hands on something truly fabulous.  Not that their current jewelry is cheap by any means -- contemporary Chanel necklaces cost thousands-- but rare vintage pieces will set you back.  As much as I would love to own a piece like the ones I photographed and blogged about from the Barbara Berger Collection Exhibit in September 2013 I don't have the means to be buying up lots of vintage haute couture.  So, I've been adding to my collection and getting the same look by buying the signed designer pieces I can afford that I know will be collectible in the future.  I know I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating.  Some designer jewelry is surprisingly affordable, in the hundreds of dollars vs thousands.  Oscar de la Renta, for example, makes beautiful costume jewelry every season to complement his gorgeous gowns and cocktail dresses.  The pieces are signed and made in the USA.  And, if you stalk them, you will eventually find them on sale for 40% off, especially in early June. I bought this necklace at the Oscar boutique in Bloomingdale's, on sale.  It's going to revitalize some older dresses I have.

Oscar de la Renta necklace

Close up

There were two small cases of sale items and I couldn't believe people weren't snatching them up.  I wish I could have bought it all, but alas, I picked the most beautiful necklace and consider myself lucky to have it.  I think most people go into the boutiques for the dresses and don't really think about the jewelry, especially in the department stores, which is a shame for them, but great for people like me.  I suspect there are still some beautiful pieces on sale.  There was a matching necklace and bracelet of green stones that looked like leaves that was stunning.  I hope they get a good, couture loving home.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Wave Of The Future: A Purse On Wheels

Purse on wheels

When I first moved to the City I complained to my mother that it was hard carrying my groceries home and that my friend got hers delivered for a small fee and I was thinking about doing that, too.  Of course, my from-humble-roots mother said that was ridiculous and she would give me her grocery cart she used to use when I was a baby and we lived in an apartment some twenty five years earlier.  I sensed immediately that was going to be a bad idea and when I saw the cart my fears were confirmed. The cart was of the metal cage variety often used by homeless people and old women with babushkas on their heads.  I think it was also rusted, but my memory of it may be distorted by the horror of having to go out in public pushing that wobbly, antiquated monstrosity.  I ended up using it a couple of times and then hiding it in the back of my closet.  If only I had a photo to scare, I mean share...

So last year when a friend of mine started raving about the knapsack like shopping carts at Whole Foods (WF calls them 'trolleys') and how adorable they were, I was understandably skeptical.  Every time I saw her, including on a couple of shopping trips to Whole Foods, she would mention the trolley and how quintessentially French it would be to wheel it around with a baguette sticking out of one pocket and a bottle of wine in another, and wild flowers poking out of the top.   No thank you I thought, I'd rather dislocate my shoulder carrying heavy bags than humiliate myself again over a juggernaut of a grocery cart.  And, seriously, how dirty would that baguette be with NYC soot by the time she got home?  But, she was obsessed with these trolleys, so I eventually bought her one as a gift.  They come in a limited supply of different colors that always sell out and when they had an unobtrusive navy blue one I got it for her.  She was thrilled.   Perhaps too thrilled.  For an entire year I've been hearing about how wonderful her trolley is and how I should get one and how some guys stopped her on the street and told her how French she looked (the beret on her head on her way home from French class didn't hurt either), and I've been countering with one excuse after another why I shouldn't.  I've also been seeing countless other people in my neighborhood with these trolleys.  They're fast becoming a ubiquitous status symbol in my hood.

So, finally, I became a convert.  Yesterday while at Whole Foods on line to pay for my groceries, I saw the color in stock was what I'll call periwinkle.  I like periwinkle.  And, it had a neon green drawstring as an accent. Green is my favorite color.  I also didn't feel like carrying two heavy bundles home so I caved and bought one and wheeled it home.  And, as the featherweight trolley and I glided down the street I realized that if I take this with me to run errands my handbag is redundant because the trolley has four outer pockets, including one with a zipper and a spacious inside for whatever I buy.  So, really it's not a grocery cart, or a trolley, it's a purse on wheels!   A purse on wheels that comes in a variety of limited edition colors that can hold all my stuff, sort of like a Louis Vuitton Neverfull tote bag, except much cheaper.  I can live with that!


Friday, June 6, 2014

Botanical Gardens & My Oscar de la Renta

Me wearing an Oscar de la Renta necklace (and dress)

I attended the Botanical Gardens Conservatory Ball last night.  It was a fabulous event on a beautiful Spring night.  I've been to the Garden's Winter Wonderland Ball quite a few times, but never this one before.  It was quite an impressive crowd!  Even former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani was there.  I went up and said 'hello' because I had planned a couple of events for the aviation industry, years ago when he was the mayor, where he was the guest speaker, including one right after 9/11.  It was nice to meet him again under more festive circumstances.

I also got to meet two famous fashion designers:  Adrienne Vittadini and Victor Costa. Adrienne Vittadini is one of my mother's (Barbara) favorite designers and she was quite lovely in person.  I was actually standing next to a table at the event and looked over and saw her place card.  I was so excited and was about to turn to my friend and tell him when I realized she was whom he had been speaking with for the past five minutes.  When he had introduced us he just said "Adrienne" so I didn't immediately make the connection.  Thankfully I didn't blurt out "OMG, guess who's here tonight!"  That would have been embarrassing.  Blogging about it publicly is much better ;-)  In all seriousness, it was a real treat to meet her and I can't wait to tell Barbara.

Victor Costa and his beautiful wife, were also quite lovely.  Victor Costa paid me the highest compliment when he said he liked my necklace.  It is always totally thrilling to have an iconic fashion designer compliment something you are wearing.  So, when I got home I took this selfie to share......I love my necklace, too!  It is Oscar de la Renta.  Oscar did a home accessories collection for the Botanical Gardens this Spring that I blogged about when I attended the party at his Madison Ave boutique. And, he made some beautiful pieces of floral costume jewelry, like the necklace I'm wearing above.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The "Handbag Closet" Makeover

I've managed to collect quite a few handbags over the years, but my closet space is limited.  It's fortunate that my apartment has several spacious closets (one of the reasons I rented it), but still not enough for someone with handbags that multiply like rabbits, so I'm always looking for ways to maximize the space I have. However, since I don't own my apartment I can't make any structural changes, like knocking down walls, nor do I want to invest a lot in making improvements I can't take with me if I move.  So, when I have a space constraint and need to reorganize I turn to simple solutions and end up buying inexpensive storage boxes and shelves at places like The Container Store and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

A couple of years ago I decided that I needed a better storage system for my handbags because they were piled on top of one another in organized disorder in my "handbag closet."  (The handbag closet is where I keep my winter clothes and my handbags; sadly I can not devote an entire closet to handbags, but perhaps one day.)  I knew where everything was, but I ended up mostly using the bags at the top of the pile because they were the most accessible. I don't have the time for an archaeological scale excavation as I'm running out the door so digging through layers of bags is just not an option.  I bought pretty storage boxes from The Container Store,  however, I then had to stack the boxes, which meant digging and a hernia if I wanted the bags at the bottom, so that wasn't working too well either.  I do want to point out that I stuff all of my bags with small pillows to keep their shape.  Good for the bags, but plump bags take up even more space.

Storage box with bags inside

These were piled on top of each other inside my closet

Mini pillow from Pottery Barn Kids for stuffing a bag

A couple of weeks ago I realized it was time for a permanent solution for bag storage and I have to have easy access to all the bags and a clear view of all the bags so when I open the closet all of my options are right in front of me and I can just grab one bag and dash.  I got the idea that stacking shelves might do the trick and I found what I was looking for at, once again, The Container Store.

Four stacking shelves

Then, of course, came the not so fun part of removing everything from the floor of the closet which included a lot more than just bags.  I also decided I needed a better system for storing extra hangers and a small stepladder.  I was fortunate to have two helpers to assist me.

Dusty guarding my handbags in the hallway while I clean the closet

Misty sitting on top of the old Hermes box that housed my spare hangers

New triangular shaped storage bag for hangers!

Every closet needs a folding step ladder, even if it's just this one step from Duane Reade

Once I got everything out of the closet I put the stacking shelves in.  Although I took closet measurements before buying the shelves I had forgotten about the ancient floor to ceiling telephone wires that run through one corner of my closet.  I don't even know if they are in use anymore, but I can't move them so I had to place one stack of the shelves slightly more forward than the other.  I used the space behind to store long rolls of wrapping paper.

I can see the floor again!

First level of stacking shelves

The four shelves stacked and ready for my bags

Aside from the pillows in my bags to keep their shape, I like to keep my handbags in the cloth bags they come with when I buy them.  I call them dust bags.  If I had a big house with room for a huge custom built closet I would have built in shelves with glass doors so no dust (or cats) could get on the bags.  Even though I can't see all of the handbags themselves because of the dust bags I know which is which and they are so much more accessible now.  Here are the dramatic before and after photos....

The ultra embarrassing before shot

The organized after shot

My new system is working great.  I have already used several bags that I rarely ever carried before the closet makeover, because they were in the back of the closet, on the bottom of the handbag pile.  Now I'm like a kid in a candy bag store every time I open the closet.  I feel like I have lots of new bags now that I can see them all, and shopping my closet has financial benefits as well.  My only question is why did I wait so long to do this?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Hidden Treasures at the MET

New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art is not a place I usually think of when it comes to bargain hunting, but last week when I was there to see the current Charles James exhibit at the Costume Institute my friends and I stumbled upon a "hidden" treasure in the MET's basement:  a clearance shop! The shop sells merchandise from the Museum store and from the exhibit shops when the exhibits close.  The clearance shop is small, but they did have a lot of fashion accessories like scarves, jewelry and tote bags.  Most items seemed to be 50%, but I saw one for 75% off and if you happen to be a member of the MET you get an additional 10% off.  If you've been to the MET stores, or even perused their catalogs, you know that can be a significant savings.

I picked up this pin at 50% off, plus an additional 10% off because I'm a Museum member.  It was the last one in stock and I liked it because the outer petals have a very Art Deco look.  The photo doesn't do it justice, it's shiny and well made.  It's very striking and I think it will look amazing pinned to a crisp black suit or cocktail dress.

Pin from the MET clearance shop

And, don't forget to check out the new installation and the beautiful view from the MET's roof.  The Museum is open late on Fridays and Saturdays and there is a bar on the roof top.  One of my friends took this incredible shot of the Manhattan skyline when we were up there last Friday evening.  

Manhattan as seen from the MET roof top
(photo courtesy of Kara Dober)