What does it mean to be chic? Is it having a closet full of beautiful things? Jewelry your friends envy or the latest Jimmy Choos in your closet? Today, leading magazines and entertainment television programs try to convince us that being "chic" is about the latest celebrity look or what models at Fashion Week are wearing. Fashion Houses continue to hire celebrities as designers in an effort to convince us that we should wear what the celebrities endorse and say looks good. Too often, these collections have nothing to do with real style or ordinary working people who must save to buy the clothes. These collection are most often marketing collaborations rather than fashion collaborations. As 2010 starts, I've assembled an eclectic collection of quotes from fashionistas and innovators of the past who I have been inspired by. In 2010, I am reminding myself of their words of wisdom and their stories. To me, these ladies showed us what it means to be chic and to move forward in style.
Maya Angelou "If you have a goal in life that takes a lot of energy, that requires a lot of work, that incurs a great deal of interest and that is a challenge to you, you will always look forward to waking up to see what the new day brings." When she read her poem, "On the Pulse of Morning", at President Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993 she exemplified style. She looked so elegant in her beautiful coat and brooch as she reminded us of new beginnings.
Eleanor Roosevelt "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." I don't think that anyone believed that poor Eleanor, the classic ugly duckling, would metamorphosize into the beautiful swan she became as First Lady, newspaper columnist (My Day was the blog of the depression) and ambassador to the UN. She taught us all that beauty goes far beyond outward appearance.
Jennie Jerome Churchill (Lady Randolph) "We owe something to extravagance, for thrift and adventure seldom go hand in hand." This fearless lady knew nothing about the economies of style, but she was ahead of her time. Jennie lead a life that most women in her time could only dream of. She was a professional beauty, fashionista, author, magazine editor and an accomplished pianist. All achieved without the basic right to vote or own property. Jennie died after falling in her home in her fashionable new Italian shoes, breaking her ankle and later contracting gangrene. Definitely a fashionista who died with her boots on, championing style to the end. She was right, we do owe something to extravagance, and this is why I am continually questing for luxury for less. I want the adventure that she enjoyed, without the debt.
Charlotte Bronte. "I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward." Charlotte always did look upward. A poor governess from the north of England, she rose to prominence in her lifetime with her novel Jane Eyre, showing that a modern woman could speak her mind and still marry her prince. I saw some of her clothing at the Haworth Parsonage years ago. Her clothes were dainty, stylish and practical like the woman herself. She and Jane Eyre were both described as "plain" but her writing was anything but plain. It was a symphony of style.
Lillie Langtry. "Anyone who limits her vision to memories of yesterday is already dead." Lillie set fashion with her simple black dress with detachable collar. It was the only dress she owned when she arrived in London. She wore it over and over. Can you imagine a celebrity wearing a dress over and over today and not being derided by the media for it? This was true recessionista style. It's truly genius that Lillie was able to set fashionable London society on it's ear, be painted by Millais and written about by Oscar Wilde, without being able to afford the luxurious gowns and jewels other beauties of the day enjoyed. Her gift of looking forward served her very well. She rose from obscurity to become a famous actress, a race horse owner and producer of Sonoma County wine.
Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel. "I love luxury. And luxury lies not in richness and ornateness but in the absence of vulgarity. Vulgarity is the ugliest word in our language. I stay in the game to fight it." The designs of Chanel remind us of the simplicity of style. Her simple chic included strands of pearls and the classic little black dress. Way before "Project Runway", Coco Chanel rose from poverty by learning to sew and make hats. No corsets were needed to wear the comfortable garments that Chanel made. She showed us that you can have lots of money, but without style, you have no taste. She was still designing her trademark collarless jackets, straight skirts and costume jewelry in her seventies. For her, luxury did not equal wealth or outward shows of wealth via gauche jewelry or clothing. She was as fabulous when she was called Gabrielle as she was later when the world called her Coco.
As 2010 begins, remember that style is not just about what to wear or the size of your pocketbook. Attitude, individuality and the ability to put your own views forward play a large part. These iconic style leaders showed us that.