Sunday, May 31, 2009

I think I'm scared.

Yesterday, having finished the last of the silk/wool blend, I got out my one pound of Purple Trainwreck to have a go at. I figured I'd spin a bobbin or two between other spinning projects, and eventually have it done.

I don't know if most of you remember, but I've been saying for a year that we need to get Einstein or maybe Hawking on the job to explain how it is you can pull off a big wad of roving and there's no visible change in the volume of the original fiber. Fine example here. See this? This is a ten gallon storage container with a pound of roving in it.

No, wait. Let me put my foot in there for scale.

There. THAT is how much roving I'm looking at spinning up. (What possesses me to take on these projects? Seriously?) So, being brave, I pulled off a small portion of it, all along one side of the snake, for the whole length of it. That turned out to be quite a sizable amount of fiber.

That's it in the left, overflowing the orange bowl. See the rest of the roving back in the storage container?? See how there's no change in the volume of the stuff??!!? SEE??!

I'm very freaked. I'm telling myself that if I remain calm and keep spinning, eventually it'll all go away and this won't turn into one of those fairy tales where I spend every night of my life spinning nettles because I pissed off some house spirit or something. (Besides. I thought the pissed off house spirits were sending the cockroaches. Isn't that ENOUGH?)

I broke the little snake down into smaller snakes, ad nauseum.

This is what I've got so far.

Right then. No problem. Done in no time.

---

Meanwhile, the Goober says "I will wear the cupcake shirt for the rest of my LIFE!! Hey... where's the candy?"

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Books!

There are actually gonna be a couple book reviews around here... I got wild last pay day and someone actually sent me a book and ASKED me to review it (amazing, in light of the VK Issues), but it's a nice book so I wanna comment about that too. But today's review is gonna be about the fashion stuff mostly, because that's what I've been babbling about. The last pair of books reviewed ARE about knitting specifically, so you can scroll down if you wanna. As always, there is no test later.

First up, my current (really dry) read, "20,000 Years of Fashion" by Francois Boucher.

The scholarship is top notch, which I've gotta say is the only reason I'm reading it straight through. I've had this book for at least ten years, and used it for reference on articles and papers and blog posts, but I never sat down and READ it before. This is an exhausting survey of WESTERN clothing, starting off with stone age statues and stuff pulled out of burials and peat bogs and the like. Again, the scholarship can't be beat. It presents facts and points out similarities and admits there's not enough research done in many cases for further speculation. However. The prose itself is pretty brutal. (And remember, I'm used to text-books and tech manuals.) The book was originally written in French, and whoever did the translation I think worried more about word-for-word than 'give the gist and make it easy to read'. An example: "These analogies permit us to suppose, until fuller research has been carried out, that the various streams of Mediterranean trade and civilization gave Iberia styles borrowed from Eastern and Central Mediterranean costume, perhaps as early as the second millennium, but more probably in the course of the first." ...yeah. Not for the faint of heart. I've known chemistry text-books that were easier reads. For everyday normal people? Get it from the library, flip through it for the cool pictures, and keep it in mind for any time you want to look up something. Only lunatics would read this thing through, let alone buy it.


Next up? Some books on fashion design. I'm pairing this set and the next because in both cases the books are very similar, with one more casual and the other more technical and detailed.

For casual, "Fashion 101, a crash course in clothing" by Erika Stadler.

This is a cute, useful book, and I think anyone interested in clothing - like, say, knitters - would enjoy it, at least as a read from the library. Maybe not as a purchase, though I think it'd make a good addition to a knitting library. Anyway, the book is divided into sections: Dresses and skirts, tops and coats, pants and shorts, shoes, underthings. There are also accessory sections on jewelry, hats, belts, and hand bags. It's done in a casual, informal style, but it contains a big chunk of information. Each type of clothing is listed - A line dress, Apron dress, Baby-Doll dress, Ball gown, etc. Then within each heading are a description, a short history about who made it and who famously wore it, and then the fun bit "How to rock it", with suggestions for how to wear it. Unfortunately they don't get much into different body types and what flatters whom, but still, with half a brain, your own measurements, and this book, you can figure it out pretty well, yourself. Ever wonder what the diff is between pedal pushers, capris, and clamdiggers? It's in here.

In a similar vein is "The Fashion Designer's Directory of Shape and Style" by Simon Travers-Spencer and Zarida Zaman.

Obviously, this book takes itself a lot more seriously, and concentrates more on the high fashion we've discussed around here. I got it for the detail. Unlike the other book, it does get into detail on body types and what cuts flatter what parts of the body, though they seem to labor under the delusion that every woman in the world is a size six or less. Still, it does hit the high points of the history of fashion, what looked good on who when, and the 'directory of shapes' is really cool if you've ever considered making your own designs. For instance, the sleeve section contains line drawings of eighteen types of sleeves and shoulder treatments, with descriptions of each. Then the next pages show sixty-eight (!) line drawings of classic types of sleeves - vest, coat, capelet, etc, with suggestions on what types of fabric suit each style best - woven heavy, stretch, woven light, sheer, etc. Then photo examples from runway shows (heaven help us). Further sections cover necklines and collars, waist bands, pockets, cuffs, closures, hems, and then discusses fabric types and what they're good for. A different kind of book, not 'fun' like the other, but helpful for design ideas. If you want or need design ideas.


Lastly, well, I've been looking into top-down knitting for the same reasons everyone else has lately. It's easy to tailor your knits to your body type, and iffy yarn requirements are easier to deal with (knit until you run out of yarn means shorter sleeves this way, rather than bottom-up when it means having no neck or shoulders). I've actually done top-down before (the notorious Blue Shimmer), but I knew straight off that was the easiest of all the top-down styles so I wanted to see how to do the complicated stuff like set-in sleeves. With that in mind, I wanted both patterns - to see how someone else does it - and philosophy - so I can figure it out and do it myself.

For patterns I went with "Custom Knits" by Wendy Bernard.

I don't want to gush, but this is the best book-of-patterns type knitting book I've seen in a long, long time. The garments are wearable for a wide variety of body types, the sizes are a good spectrum from small to extra large and then some. She uses a variety of materials; cotton, microfiber blends, merino/cashmere, merino/alpaca, silk/wool/viscose, alpaca/silk, silk, linen. All of it is yummy fiber that can be worn against the skin. Coats and jackets are made with warm fiber. Tanks are made with cool fiber. All are done at well-chosen gauges; small enough that the clothing will be flattering and drape, large enough that you won't spend the rest of your life knitting. There are even suggestions on ease, when it comes to deciding what size to knit. Then at the end she goes into theory and how to alter the patterns to fit your specific body type. Truly, an excellent pattern book. I intend to use the lavender cotton that's been in the pit for years to knit something from here, to get in the groove of top-down knitting before I fly off the handle and design my own. If you want one good book of classic patterns, flattering to a wide variety of bodies, this is an excellent choice.

Then I went with another classic. "Knitting from the Top" by Barbara G. Walker.

Because I figured I couldn't go wrong with Barbara Walker, and I was right. (Are we setting up shrines to her yet? We should be. Or mail her chocolate, that might be a preferred method of worship. Ha.) This is the book for design. Combine it with the EPS (Elizabeth's Percentage System) and you can knit the world. Sweaters/jumpers with every shoulder treatment imaginable. All sorts of neck lines. Skirts. Pants. Ponchos. Capes. Even hats, and a drawstring bag. An entire chapter on matching patterns, for when you do set-in sleeves (yay!) The last bit, "Assorted Helpful Hits and Other Miscellany" is like a quick, five page master class in knitting. As always, I am left boggling at the vast amount of knowledge this woman commands. She's amazing.


So there you go, hope all of you enjoyed the reviews. If my ears burn I'll know you're cursing me as you add some of these to your 'to buy' list. Enjoy! I did!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dear gods, the cuteness.

Please watch the volume control before you hit PLAY. I'm yelling for reasons that should become obvious.

At the end, what she says is "I gotta get outta here!"
video

...huh.

I finished spinning the silk/merino blend last night. (The husbeast is thrilled. He's tired of picking silk filaments out of his food, off his chair, off his clothes. It's gotten everywhere. I'm tired of picking it out of my EYES.) When I'd begun, I tried to separate the roving evenly in two, so it could be evenly distributed between two bobbins and I wouldn't wind up selling two skeins, one 400 yards and one 200 yards. (I haven't quite done that yet but I've sent out some pretty badly balanced shipments.) Apparently that whole 'divide in half' improves with practice. Either that or I got lucky, which is probably the more likely of the two.

That's pretty good, if I do say so myself.


I've begun chain-plying it, and it's turning into a really beautiful yarn. It's hovering between heavy sock and light sport weight. I don't want to commit on the weight until after I wash it. The camera is having trouble capturing the color; it is the same shade as my beat-up jeans. A sort of indigo blue-gray. I think that knit into a scarf it would look magnificent against a black cashmere coat for a conservatively-dressed businessman. The way it's spun (worsted), it shouldn't shed like the loose roving did.

When this is done, I think I'm going to spin a bobbin of Purple Train Wreck before I start on a new project (I think the new project is lined up, too - Ten Carat Socks). Donna Lee is plying the PTW that I sent her, and she's inspiring me. Even though the dye job of my PTW went differently and has more white... still. I wanna see how it looks spun up. Donna Lee is making hers look really good.

---

See Sekhmet?

Sekhmet is wrecked. Totally exhausted. The Goober has been awake at night, has been waking up early (six this morning), has been staying up late in the evenings. Sekhmet tries to guard 'the kitten', as I'm sure she thinks of the Goober, and the Goober's not cooperating by sleeping enough. The poor cat has been exhausted. The Goober, of course, is fine.

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QUESTION FOR THE SPINNERS: Would anyone be interested in Purple Train Wreck, Summer Berries, or Dreamsicle roving for sale? You don't have to commit, but drop me a line if you think you might. I don't want to lay in a huge pile of shop stock right before we move, but on the other hand, well, if you guys want it, I'm happy to make it.

After we move I intend to find some new suppliers and pass the savings on to youse guys. If I get a dedicated dye studio away from my kitchen I'll also be able to use 'real' dyes and the palette will extend significantly. I'm also planning to see about that indigo vat (Hi, new neighbors! Smell? I don't smell anything. Clothespin on my nose? I don't know what you mean!) Ultimate goal: Pay for, if not tuition when I go back to school, at least books. That'd be nice.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Now that's talent.

Two clerks at FAO Schwartz play Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on the giant floor piano. And bring down the house. Rock ON.

Click here.

Fashion and clothing.

For those of you who've been around more than, oh, ten minutes, you know I've been doing a kind of retrospective of famous fashion designers. There was a method to the madness, actually, and what I was doing was laying the historic foundation for later discussions about clothing and the fashion industry. Our retrospective started at the dawn of what is the modern fashion industry, in the late 1800s with Charles Frederick Worth, who has a lot more significance than many people realize. Today y'all are stuck with the start of the 'later discussion'.

The other day, having finished reading my book on the history of fashion from the Kyoto Costume Institute (the book starts a little ahead of Worth at the beginning of commercial tailoring), I turned right around and started reading "20,000 Years of Fashion" by Boucher. (Nothing but light reading at MY house.) The book is a translation, which I don't think has done the prose any favors, and more, it is in a prissy, scholarly, treat-your-audience-like-morons style that's kind of hard to get through, but the scholarship itself is pretty good. So I'm slogging through the introduction yesterday (why, I know not, it's more prissy than the main text), and there it WAS. One single line that summarized everything, perfectly.

Clothing is clothing. Fashion is a status symbol.

That's it. That's it entirely. It explains beautifully all of the idiosyncrasies of the fashion industry and explains not only their reason for existing but why and how they do business.

Our old buddy Worth is largely to blame. (Though I'm betting the reason behind all his business innovation was to make a buck, and that's why businesses exist, so how mad can we really get?) Worth was one of the first designers whose clothes were a status symbol. It's fairly certain he introduced the IDEA. Before that, status and clothing had revolved around the value of the materials; with the advent of Worth, it came to be about WHO MADE IT. At this end of history, as far as we know, he was the first person whose clothes were called by his name. "A Worth gown," for example. There is the status. It's by Worth. Even now, cruising over at Vintage Textile, you can see that something with a Worth tag will pull in at least double the cash as something equally nice, equally old, and equally in good repair.

Worth also is the first guy - that we know of, it's really impossible 150 years later to know for SURE - to have seasonal collections. Spring '08? Fall '04? His idea. It's damn good business. Produce an entirely new line of clothing every six months, and convince your customers that the new ones are better than the old ones. Guaranteed income. Life is good. It works so well that modern designers still use the same system.

Where it gets weird, where the whole thing goes sideways, though, is when you delve into why consumers put up with it. The vast majority of us let the whole thing roll over us, picking and choosing classic bits as we see them, or cheap knock offs of seasonal things we love and will wear maybe ten times. From a psychological view, I would say that is 'normal', the control, the average citizen.

The fashionistas? The ones who buy whole new wardrobes every spring and fall with each new collection? (I'm not talking about people who buy one or two Really Good Pieces every year. We all do that. I'm talking about the people who replace the majority of their wardrobe every season.) Those are the ones who are scary. They really BELIEVE that the new clothes are better than the old, that the spacing of buttons or the minor shift of a color or print or hem line MATTERS. This is known in psychology as "Group Think". To put it in a nutshell, at least half the human race would rather believe and feel 'right' because everyone around them believes too, than to examine the cold hard facts. (I once spent an entire summer reading up on human group dynamics, trying to figure out religious fundamentalism. Scarily, I have realized the same triggers explain the high fashion industry.) I put it more succinctly as "Herd Brain" but that's about it. TO BELONG YOU MUST HAVE THE CLOTHES. And by belonging, you are automatically a member of a Superior Herd (with nose firmly in air, of course). It is, all of it, about status. (I'm a star-bellied sneech and you're a plain-bellied sneech.)

Then we get into the boomerang effect, which is at least as disturbing as the high fashion group-think. All those designers, Big Names, models, heck, probably even the secretaries and accountants, BUY INTO THE HERD BRAIN. Oh yes. You must have the proper clothes to be part of the Superior Herd. And since they PRODUCE the Superior Clothes that define the Superior Herd, well hell, THEY'RE THE BEST OF THE SUPERIOR HERD! What they say goes. It's been 150 years of negative reinforcement and Herd Brain. You can't budge these people with a neutron bomb. They don't want to be budged. In their minds they're the best of the best simply for producing clothing and they will defend to the death their right to be superior.

Don't agree with them? Disagree? Call them on it? You'll find yourself ripped to shreds, and told you're fat and stupid.

What's this all mean to hand knitters? Mostly it's an academic exercise to follow the thoughts. And watching the high fashion industry - from a safe distance - is kind of like watching a train wreck. You just can't look away. Hand knitters usually are hand knitters in part because they've already thought this through, at least on an emotional level, and are interested in clothing that fits well, is flattering, fits into our budget, and can be worn for more than ten minutes without looking ridiculous. This is why "high fashion knitting" fails. Often by the time we knit it it's out of style already, but more, it's because, ultimately, it just isn't what we're looking for.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Quote of the day:

Sat dinner down in front of the Goober. She looked at it. Looked at me.

"You're supposed to say bon appetit."

Apparently, now she speaks French.

Pointy pointy.

Over on Donna Lee's blog, she's musing - marveling - over the difference a knitting needle makes. And since I got nothin' else to blog about (still spinning, still knitting, sold the silk/wool, eeee!) I thought I'd throw out a few comments on the subject of knitting needles.

What it really comes down to, for me, is the point. Sure, metal needles are 'fast' - the yarn slides along it quickly - and wood and plastic are 'slow' - yarn moves along it slowly. But beyond that, really, it's all about the point. That's' what you work the stitches with.

This is the point of the oldest set of knitting needles I own. I'm not much of a collector; these came from my grandmother.

I doubt they're older than WW2, because they're made out of anodized aluminum. I'm not sure when anodized aluminum became commonplace for knitting needles, but it's got to be fairly recent. (Methods used for aluminum refining are crazy complicated and it only became a matter of mass production when the airline industry got big and needed lots of it.) As you see, the point is relatively narrow, yet dull at the end. Not pointy. You won't draw blood with it unless you back it up with a hammer.

This is the point from one of my beloved Boye crap needles:

As you can see, it's got the same hallmarks; narrow, but with a fairly blunt tip. These needles are also anodized aluminum and have been available at discount stores (Woolworth's, Wal-Mart, K-Mart) for at least twenty years. For all I know, my grandmother got her needles at the same place and they're the same brand.

But notice the blunt tips.

This is the point of a set of plastic needles I've got, that I consider to be the ideal point:

Wooden points are much the same.

You see what I'm getting at here, I think. Narrow is good; sharp is bad. I think, for a lot of beginner knitters, the thought is that for difficult yarns you need a pointy needle to show it who is boss. In fact, usually you need the opposite. The sharper the point is, the easier it is to split yarn with.

The sweater I'm currently working on, the circular cardigan, is knit with Lara from Elann, which is eight thread-like plies of mercerized cotton, twisted together. I love the stuff. Out of curiosity, I went to Ravelry to see what other people had to say about it. Apparently, knitters consider it 'splitty'. I sincerely wonder what needles they're using to knit it with. I'm using an Inox circular:

I'm not having a problem. And half the time I'm reading a book while I knit this stuff, 'cause I'm doing straight stockinette. A pointy needle would split the living hell out of the yarn, that's true. But a nice blunt needle? No problem that I can see.

Super-pointy needles seem to be a favorite for lace, too. I'm not quite sure why. Yes, you need something narrow, so you can dig into stitches for K3tog and other craziness. All those dozens of doilies I knit over the years? I knit them with these:

That's a double-point on the top and the circular on the bottom. Both narrow with blunt points. Rarely, I do have trouble digging through stitches with them. But I've never split yarn while using them.

So, food for thought. Ultimately, the best needle is the one that works for you. But I think a lot of knitters out there need to try a narrow-yet-blunt point before they really decide for sure what works best.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Tedious commercialism.

The yarns have been posted over at the shop. I was waiting until I finished a couple other dye jobs thinking I'd post them all at once, but what the heck. A Memorial Day treat. I've still got some sock yarn dyed with cochineal and some Summer Berries roving to finish up, but I'll post those later this week.

And of course there's the gray silk and wool I'm spinning.

But for now, knitting the cardigan!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Quote of the day.

"Why is there a rat in your pants?"

Went in to check on the Goob at nap time and she had put her stuffed rat up the leg of her pants. Kids. What are you gonna do?

Creativity. I has it.

I've no idea what triggered this great burst of creativity, but I'm not gonna fight it. If I wind up wrecked and tired in two or three weeks, I may have some sweaters and fiber to show for it, so screw it. I'm riding the wave. Among other things, I've been getting ready to put up a bunch of stuff in the Etsy shop. Mostly hand spun yarn, but I'm trying to finish up some roving, too.



Some of it is older, and I'm selling it more to not have to move it, than anything else. Prices will reflect that; some of this isn't my best work. Got a custom sock yarn order to work on, got some roving I'm gonna dye and turn into another pair of socks for myself. Got some merino I think I'm gonna spin with gold metallic thread.

I'm also still spinning the silk-merino.

I finally figured out what color it is; it's the gray-blue of really faded indigo-dyed denim. Nice, but not really blue. I can't want to be done with it, because I'm sick of trailing silk fibers all over the house and leaving them stuck all over. Last night I picked silk fibers out of the hamburgers I was making. NOT appetizing.

I also dug out the circle cardigan and am finishing up the sleeves. I think I can get it done soon enough to wear it this summer, which would be very cool. All else aside, it will just be FINISHING SOMETHING.


Love the yarn. (Lara from Elann.) I'm betting it could be used as a substitute for reeled silk yarns. I should do a review. I bought enough of this to do a knit-on edge, changed my mind back to the crochet, and now have enough to do a tank or tee to go under the circle cardi, like a funky twin set.

And as if things aren't crazy enough, I got books. Woohoo! Top-down knitting. Barbara G. Walker. Wendy Bernard. Fashion. History of clothing. Design. Mwahahahahaha.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Not bad.


Finished them last night. These came into the house as undyed roving, and so today I'm feeling all clever and self-reliant. They fit and everything. I think I'm gonna do another pair, soon, with twisted ribbing all over (except the sole which will be reverse stockinette). That should help the fit significantly; I've got weird feet. Already have the undyed roving here. Bwahahaha. I'll probably also dye some Summer Berries roving for the shop, while I'm at it.

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The Goob's been entertaining lately. We finally got her some real crocs, and we had the silly "croc charms" as I think of them, from a previous shopping trip when they were given to us for free. So we let the Goober pick where she wanted them on her shoes, and we ended up with this:

I call them the tutti-fruity shoes. (Like the Tutti-Fruity hat, only without Carmen Miranda and the fun song and dance. Personally my favorite Carmen Miranda is Tico Tico, and I imagine a day will come when the Goob sings it. Though she still won't sing Dean Martin with me.)


She has also taken to putting together puzzles all on her own. It's her new big thing; we can't get puzzles into the house fast enough.

She's up to 48-piece puzzles on her own. I turned her loose on a 100-piece yesterday and that was a bit much (she needed help), but give her a week and she'll be at it. FYI, Target has their own in-house brand puzzles, Circo, that are cheap - $2.99 for a 24 piece puzzle - well made, and cute. That's what she's putting together there with the butterflies and flowers. They sell tractors and stuff too, for little boys. (Or little girls like mine.)

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Finished spinning all the Summer Dusk, as I'm calling it.

Have now started on the other non-blue fiber. It's actually steel gray and so far from blue I'm thinking of dropping the seller a note and telling them their terminology on their website is really misleading. I know I'm the color freak, but I stare at this stuff and I can only see the faintest hint of slate blue. It's gray. It should be labeled as such. It'd make an awesome plain scarf for a guy to wear with an overcoat, though.

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Otherwise, I'm looking about for the Next Project, now that the socks are done. I'm dithering between finishing the Pinwheel Sweater (that has been on the needles since freaking 2006 and only needs sleeves and I would WEAR IT THIS SUMMER), or casting on "Cameo" (Rav link) from Wendy Bernard. Cameo would use yarn from the stash (the lavender cotton that's been in there for five plus years), so either would be virtuous. But I'm leaning heavily toward finishing the Pinwheel. Honestly. 2006. Good grief.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel

"May my legend prosper and thrive. I wish it a long and happy life." -- Coco Chanel

That, in essence, is what makes Coco Chanel the single most famous fashion designer of the 20th century. Legend. Sure, she did some innovative stuff. Sure, she had some good ideas. Sure, she broke some rules. But ultimately, what Coco Chanel is most remembered for is being Coco Chanel - and not even herself, but the legend she made of herself. The real woman was something else entirely. But smart. She was damn smart.

Coco Chanel was born in 1883 in rural France. She had it rough; her father died when she was young, and by age twelve she was put in an orphanage, where she was taught to be a seamstress. On vacations she was sent to distant relatives, who showed her a bit more of the world. Eventually she went to work for a tailor, where she had an affair with one of the customers, moved to Paris, and decided the good life looked pretty good.

In 1913 she opened a millinery shop in Paris, and it didn't go so well. She went into bankruptcy and was forced to leave the city, taking up residence in the resort town of Deauville. Soon, with the help of another lover, she was back in the business of selling hats. Like Schiaparelli (who was a blood enemy and rival), she soon branched out into sportswear. She scandalized the fashion world by using jersey (tee shirt material; a very thin, super-small gauge knit fabric that is cut and sewn much like a woven) to fashion casual wear. Up until the advent of Chanel, jersey was only used to make underwear.

Very early on she had already settled on her signature style which, ultimately came down to simplicity. Simple fabrics, simple lines, and simple cuts. Occasionally she went wild and added some lace. By the early 1920s she'd begun producing a fairly extensive line of clothing. (Remember you can mouse over these for the year they were designed.)





And, by then, she had already introduced one of her very few original ideas: The Little Black Dress.




The LBD for short. Seriously. You read about fashion you will see it referred to as the LBD. It's that iconic.

You have to remember that when the LBD was introduced, mourning for loved ones was still very common (no antibiotics, no modern disease treatments, many more losses of young, vital people), and there were RULES about how long to wear black, and then going to 'half mourning' in gray or lavender, and well, you DIDN'T wear black unless you had to.

Until Chanel told women black was chic and elegant. And, well, I've got a couple little black dresses in my closet... don't you?

By the 1930s, Chanel was dressing - and SOCIALIZING - with royalty, in particular the British royal family, most notably the Duke of Westminster and the Duke of Windsor (one or the other of whom she was supposed to have had an affair with, possibly both; I can't keep up on who all she slept with and I doubt what she said in public about her conquests was the truth anyway). The thirties was a good era for Chanel, and she cranked out a lot of good stuff:





She did make stuff in colors other than black, just not that often. You can see, though, that she kept it simple and minimalist. Chanel said a lot about how fashion should be about the woman, not the dress. Of course in a more pithy, quotable way. "Look for the woman in the dress. If there is no woman, there is no dress." and like that.

World War Two hit, and most designers closed up shop and headed out, or dug in in Paris to hold on until they were liberated. Chanel? Chanel looked out for number one and shacked up at the Paris Ritz with Hans Gunther von Dincklage, a Nazi officer and spy. There are conflicting, muddled accounts, but it seems that Chanel once tried to lure a distant relative of Winston Churchill's to Paris during the occupation. Reasons why are argued, but I can't see how it would be for something GOOD, considering Nazi Germany held the city at the time.

After the war, Chanel moved to Switzerland to lay low. At one point she was chucked into jail for war crimes, but was eventually let out and nothing more was ever said of prosecution; most historians agree that she got off through intervention by the British royal family.

In 1954 Chanel returned to Paris (that takes some nerve, and I'm amazed no one ever firebombed her atelier or attacked her; memories of the occupation were long and still live on even NOW) and re-opened her shop. The French never again really wore Chanel clothing. It was the Americans and English who kept her in business. Chanel settled in, still at the Paris Ritz, though without her Nazi boyfriend, and proceeded to put into motion the tales and stories that eventually became the legend that is Coco Chanel.

Among other things, Chanel is often credited with inventing the women's suit, but it's not true. The suit, as in skirt-jacket-shirt, had been around for hundreds of years; in the court of Louis XIV, they wore a similar combo:

Obviously this isn't by Chanel. It's from the 1750s and is, essentially, a women's suit. There's a skirt, the 'petticoat' as it was known then, with a long shirt/coat over it, the 'robe', and instead of a shirt, a stomacher (a heavily decorated V shaped piece of fabric) was pinned or tied to the front of the corset. Dunno about you, but to me that's a really francy suit (typo on purpose). This style was known as the 'robe a la francaise'.

All Chanel did was update it in a big way. From 1927, in her usual black:



By 1937 - possibly earlier but this is the earliest one I could find - she had settled on that trademark four-pocket jacket:


From 1958, when she was still using it:


And on into 1994, when Karl Lagerfeld had taken over and was basically creating Chanel knock-offs:


The suit became the fallback for any kind of day wear semi-formal to formal occasion, and just like the LBD, we all have at least one of these in the closet. I've even got one in the trademark tweedy woven with the four pockets. I got it because it'll never go out of style; they've been making the damn things for going on a CENTURY. All that changes is the skirt length and the shirt under it.







In the 1970s, Karl Lagerfeld took over the reins of House of Chanel, and Chanel settled into semi-retirement, still gleefully swanning about at all sorts of social events. She passed away in her suite at the Paris Ritz in 1971, leaving behind a legacy of scandal, larger-than-life legend, and minimalist design principles. Say whatever you like about her methods or ethics, the woman was a survivor, and I think that ultimately, that is what made her so famous; she just bloody well outlasted everyone else.

Chanel was one of the first to advocate comfortable, functional clothing. Not just for sportswear, but evening too. And while little of what she did was truly original, she did set in motion some set-in-stone traditions that are still followed today by most women in the western world, namely the day suit and the little black dress.