Hip to be uncool

I'm questioning
my work, questioning today, questioning yesterday, wondering is it good, is it not good, is it too much, is it not enough? I take everything seriously, not like, 'Well, whatever, let's do it, and try to be cool.' I'm not a cool guy."

--Lanvin lead designer Alber Elbaz, in a good interview with C Magazine (which I bought yesterday on a whim to pass the time on a Wi-Fi-less flight and am now seriously considering subscribing to.)

On being impressionable

"Her nails are unmanicured, which on her looks like the last word in efficient chic, and I suddenly find myself wondering why I bother with a weekly polish."

--from a recent New York Times Magazine article about Cate Blanchett written by Daphne Merkin

I'm certainly a fan of the weekly polish, but I can totally relate to Daphne Merkin on this: When I come into close contact with a smart, compelling, put-together woman, I'm liable to call every single one of my current sartorial choices into question.

If I'm wearing flats and I meet a cool woman in towering heels, I instantly wish I were literally in her shoes. Suddenly I want to swap my trendy pastel polish for her understated beige manicure, or vice versa. This happened most recently while covering the Women in Tech panel at Facebook, which featured some really brilliant (and amazingly dressed) women.

I recently read a memoir by Carole Radziwill that focuses in part on her friendship with the late Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy. I was too young to really appreciate CBK's style in the early 90s, but reading about her personality, and looking at her photos now, is enough to make a girl want to remove all her nail polish and toss out 90% of her wardrobe, jewelry, hair products, and makeup.

On great clothes and funny lines

“I attribute the longevity of my career to the fact I didn’t have to carry that [sex symbol] mantle. I was never beautiful so I’m not unbeautiful. I may not have been a leading lady, but I had great clothes and funny lines. I think I had more flexibility.”

-Christine Baranski in the NYT's new monthly feature, "Main Course"

I've always loved the simple, direct, yet sensitive writing of the NYT's fashion journalist Cathy Horyn (think Steve Jobs' memos, but on the topic of runway fashion rather than consumer technology.) But I haven't read as much of her as I'd like, since her beat often isn't of very much interest to me.

Sure, I like to read a monthly women's fashion magazine or two (Elle is my favorite), but that's more for the pop culture than for the clothing spreads. I'm not interested in keeping up with the constant treadmill of multi-city, multi-season "fashion weeks" that Cathy Horyn writes about for a living.

That's why I was happy to see that the Times has given Horyn a new monthly column called "Main Course," which is billed as "a conversation over lunch with a notable public figure." For the column's debut, Horyn sat down with the actress Christine Baranski at storied Manhattan media power lunch spot Michael's (Horyn notes that during their lunch Barbara Walters was naturally sitting one table away, and, just as naturally, Baranski didn't notice.) Needless to say, I thought the whole article was fantastic.

P.S. Although I'd beg to differ on Baranski's assertion that she's not beautiful, I get what she's trying to say. I'd take great clothes and funny lines over youthful sex symbol status any day.

Things I've Bought that I Love, Vol. 2

A little roundup of recent material acquisitions that have made me happy. For previous entries, click here.

Shopsin's General Store 5-year diary

To be fair, I didn't buy this-- it was a going-away gift I received from my former office-mates last year. It's a 5-year diary that lets you view past entries as you write new ones (so five years' worth of February 9ths are all on the same page.) There's also a space to log the places you've traveled and the books you've read.

I started filling it out with my simple daily activities on January 1st, and I really look forward to keeping it up. It's a great gift, especially for someone embarking on a new phase of life.

Everyday Shea Moisturizing Body Lotion

Paraben-free, all natural, free trade, independently owned, pleasantly scented, and cheap enough ($14 for a huge 32 ounce bottle) that I can use it all over, every day. Plus they give 10% of revenue to charity. Basically the holy grail of body lotion.

Clinique Almost Lipstick in Black Honey

Did reading those words just give you flashbacks to the mid- to late-nineties? I know, I know. But trust me, I just bought a tube of this, and unlike other relics from that era (wide leg jeans, Tommy Girl perfume, Mike's Hard Lemonade, the Dixie Chicks) I actually liked this more the second time around. It's like the makeup version of the movie Clueless-- definitely worth a revisit.

Mary Green Sleepwear

I know it's a white whine, but even if you're willing to spend some cash, it's hard to find actually nice things. I've been bummed to venture into fancy lingerie boutiques and find that European luxury brands have taken to using synthetic fabrics and outsourced manufacturing (i.e. this $100 La Perla bra, made in China out of polyester.)

Thank goodness for Mary Green! Mary Green is a San Francisco-based designer I discovered a few years ago when searching for a nice slip to wear under skirts, and I've been a huge fan ever since. She has a refreshingly basic website (no flash! no music!) and her prices are very reasonable for 100% silk. I don't love all her designs, but she has a huge selection and some really beautiful basics. She makes men's stuff too.

I recently bought a bunch of Mary Green things during a big after-Christmas sale. The silk romper and kimono are my new favorites for lounging around the apartment, and I'm feeling very Liz Taylor in Butterfield 8.

Her products are made in China, but at least she passes on the money she saves in manufacturing to her customers with low prices. It's also not a sweatshop situation: Mary Green was recognized by Congress in 2008 for "ethical and sustainable entrepreneurship" and a "commitment to creating better lives for people living in the shadow of poverty and deprivation throughout the third world."

Custom Probiotics CP-1

If you don't care about probiotics, you can kindly skip to the next item. But if you do (and if you've ever taken antibiotics, you should) you ought to know about Custom Probiotics. I've been taking acidophilus since I was a kid, and the CP-1 formula is the highest potency I've found anywhere (50 billion micro-organisms per capsule, ten times more than Jarro-Dophilus' 5 billion.)

Nexus S Android phone from Google

I'm pretty sure I was one of the last people in San Francisco without a smart phone (prior to getting the Nexus S in December, I was still using the Nokia that came free with my calling plan in 2006) but it was worth the wait. I've been really happy with the device and really have no complaints about it.

I didn't technically buy this either (it was a gift) but I am paying for my calling plan, so it halfway counts? Anyway, it's a product I've acquired that I love.