J Pinturier - Paris, 1992

OK, now here's a great little story. Years ago I was window shopping (and by window shopping, I mean looking through the window at people shopping) somewhere on the rue Cambon when I spotted an elderly woman carrying a hat box. She looked and was dressed just like Bette Davis when Davis started appearing on the late-night/early morning talk show circuits waaaayyyy over-accessorized ("What's that, Bette?  You say you want to bring your purse on stage with you? And your stole? And your hat has a what? Hmmm. We'll be happy to hold all that backstage if you like. OK, OK! No worries! You can take it all with you if you really want to. What? Who said you looked like The Riddler?!?!? Oh, they're just jealous!!! Yes, of course we would tell you!"). Anyway, the hat box had a great-looking signature on it so naturally, as most people would, I tried to catch up with her.  I got the address off the box and found a building with no storefront, but a giant three-dimensional sign of the signature. 

Tentatively, I entered the building and started climbing the stairs of what seemed to be a private house. Just as I started to knock on the door, a man opened it and I came within a split second of pounding his head with my fist. He seemed thrilled to see me and started putting hats (crazy, wonderful, whimsical hats) on my head before I even knew what was going on. This went on for about fifteen minutes and probably would have kept going had I not started to worry that he thought perhaps I was a scheduled client of the house. Sheepishly, I said I had to leave, asked for a card, thanked him and left. 

Chantal Thomass - Paris, 1992

Here the doyenne of ultra-frilly lingerie and umbrellas that look like they were spun from a cotton candy machine uses her own iconic bob silhouette as logo.  If you haven't been to her boutique in Paris, run, don't walk. 

Annick Goutal - Paris, 1992

This is from the Annick Goutal parfumerie and has the weight and feel of a fairly sturdy coaster.  The embossing on this is so deep it that in person it looks as if it were chiseled. Even though the Goutal boutiques and products have become almost disappointingly ubiquitous in France, I still can't resist a quick look in when I'm there. 

Perfume Store - Paris, 1992

If this hadn't been in my scrapbook for such a long time and wasn't permanently stuck to the page it's on, I would have taken it out and checked the name of the store. I vaguely remember picking it up in a store in the Palais Royale arcade, but don't remember which one.  As you can see, it's a little perfume sample that I never actually used. (I thought it was so elegant-looking that I just couldn't get myself to open it.) At the time, I was very into perfume; now all it takes is a sprite walk through the cosmetics section of a department store and I'm mad into the Claritin. That said, since perfume plays such a vital part of the country I call home (I just call it that--it isn't really my home), I leave you with this fun article on the subject. 

Jullien Cornic - Paris, 1992

It's certainly not elaborate, but I've always thought this was one of the most stunning business cards. The lettering always reminded me of something Aubrey Beardsley or Edward Gorey might have come up with. 

Incidentally, did you know that Edward Gorey loved the Mary Tyler Moore show? Somehow that seems as incongruous and strangely refreshing as if Marilyn Manson were a devotee of Gimme a Break.

Ines de la Fressange - Paris, 1992

I'm not sure whether the Ines de la Fressange boutiques were casualties of the economy or the fickleness of its founder and former Chanel muse, but sadly, these whimsical (and shockingly pricey) stores are no more. Luckily IdlF is now the spokesperson for shoe legend Roger Vivier and stars in a series of fun videos about what to do and see in Paris. (Tap the lower, right-hand corner to see Ines' Paris tips.)

Maire Mercie and Anthony Peto - Paris, 1992

At a certain point I was dropping by the Marie Mercie boutique so often that the sales girls started giggling a little when they saw me open the door. Most of these hats are of the "too crazy to wear anywhere but here" variety (BTW, how great is it that they prohibit back fat?), but still, it's one of the city's truly great boutiques.

Ghurka - New York City, 1993

This is from the leather goods company, Ghurka, which now has a boutique in the Plaza Hotel in New York. I got this bag around 1993 or 1994-ish and had no idea back then that the company started as a result of an estate sale. I got this by buying a small pack of note paper with punch holes in it for an organizer. When the salesman gave me a small bag for them I used the old umbrella trick to get this one. 

I'm just sharp as a fox, aren't I?

Emilio Pucci - New York City, 1990

This was the bag that I got when I bought myself a bottle of Emilio Pucci perfume for a big birthday. It was the year that Pucci came heavily back into vogue and the designer's patterns were everywhere. A salesgirl at the time, I scoured thrift shops for otherwise unaffordable vintage Pucci that year and found an astounding amount of it. I vividly remember how much fun it was to walk into that ultra-glam boutique and actually walk out with something. 

If you're ever in New York, I strongly suggest making a visit. It's such a throwback to the 60s you fully expect to see Jacqueline Susann swing open the fabric-covered dressing room doors, enjoying a mid-afternoon martini crawling out on her hands and knees in a drunken stupor, begging for someone to hand her that week’s bestseller list. 

While you're at it, you might as well check out this Pucci as well. 

Chanel - New York City, 1989

The top one is a Christmas bag given to me with much reluctance (and eye rolling) by one of the "Chanel Girls" I worked with at Macy's. Since she was already so disgusted with me for asking for the bag I decided to throw caution to the wind and ask for some wrapping paper as well which probably sent her into a life of therapy and pills. (The Chanel girls were always the snootiest which sort of made me want to be one.) At the time, the perfume Égoïste had just been launched and they were playing that famous commercial on a loop behind her. I can't tell you how much I wanted to just flick her on the forehead and say, "Um, hello?! Monitor! Right behind you!"

Bergdorf Goodman - New York City, late 1980s

One of my all-time most favorite places to "window lick" as the French say, Bergdorf's (or Bergdoff's as most New Yorkers pronounce it), can't be topped for "of the moment" merchandise. In spite of the fact that I applied for a job there when I was 19 and was turned down (I ended up working for Macy's), I'm proud to say I've never let bitterness or hurt stand in the way of walking into BG's as if I own the place. (Although I was a little embarrassed, when, after they broke the news to me that I wasn't hired, I was discovered rocking back and forth in the shoe section, yelling, "You are lying, Chino! Make it not be true! Please, make it not be true!!!" I guess all hindsight is 20/20.)

Estée Lauder - New York City, 1989

This is a Estee Lauder promo bag from some point during my stint as a Macy's cosmetics girl. I kept it because it reminded me of the work of one of my art (and life) heros, Gerald Murphy

Mr. Anthony's Dry Cleaners - New York City, 1980s

It may not be the snazziest bag in the collection, but I still love it. As you can see, it features a sort of 1960s college freshman (probably named "Judy") just home on a surprise visit from Smith or Sarah Lawrence or Swarthmore, reuniting with the family cat she named "Snowball" in the sixth grade. I especially love the way Luxuriously is in italicized cursive as if whoever designed the bag wanted to really distinguish this dry cleaner from other, more casual dry cleaners. I'm a little disappointed by the kitten reference, though. I'd prefer something a little more creative and a little less arbitrary like, "Cuddly and soft as an albino koala smuggled through customs" or "Cuddly and soft as a rack of Fendi furs being rolled down fifth avenue just before they're destroyed with fake blood by PETA members," but that's probably because I'm allergic to cats.

Anyway, this is from Mr. Anthony's, the dry cleaners my family has been going to for years and I can tell you that while we may have our problems, we're as clean and luxurious as people can be.

Fiorucci - New York City, early 1980s

If you've never heard of it before, Fiorucci (or Fiorucci's as we used to call it) was pretty much the standard for the hip and cool of 1970s New York (think influence on the level of Kitson but much, much more cutting edge). For a while, these little angels where everywhere in the city (including on a Fiorucci sweatshirt I had in junior high), but somehow at some point in the 80s, they flew out of Manhattan with not half the fanfare with which they had arrived. 

Joan Didion called the day of the Manson murders, August 9, 1969, the day the 60s ended. If I had to say when the 70s officially ended in New York, I might pick the day Fiorucci left town (even though that didn't happen until some time in the early 80s). 

Kenneth Cole - New York City, early 1990s

I've always thought this bag form Kenneth Cole was so cute and always reminds me of this book cover. (GREAT book, by the way.)

Coach - Various Locations, early 2000s

Most of my favorite Coach items are clear descendants of the company's Bonnie Cashin era so forgive me if I use this opportunity to tout one of my all-time favorite designers. (Be sure to check out 1955 in her "Timeline" tab. Those oranges are incredible.) The top bag looks just like something they would give you to take home one of her delicious sherbet-colored purses. 

Dune - New York City, 1989

I always have such a visceral reaction to this bag because Christian Dior's Dune launched just before I arrived in Paris for the first time and you could smell it EVERYWHERE. In the metro, at the supermarket, in banks, in bars, in prisons, at the movies (OK, I don't really know about the prison situation, but the rest of it's true) and so I couldn't help but associate it with the city. Now, even when I just get a whiff of it in a magazine or in a department store, I instantly think of Paris. 

ABC Carpet and Home - New York City, late 1990s

The Sex and the City gals spent much of their time perusing the colossally over-priced but admittedly innovative home department store, ABC Carpet and Home. If and when you get over the shock of the prices, I'd hightail it uptown to the Museum of the City of New York to see the dollhouse from which the picture on this bag is taken. 

I'm not quite as crazy about the bag below. It's a little Natalie Merchant for me. 


Z Gallerie - Los Angeles, 1993

This is from Z Gallerie, circa 1993-ish. At the time, there were just a handful of stores and they carried very unique things. When I first heard the name, I thought it was a play on a French accent, as in "Ah, ma chère, let's go to zee gal-ar-ie zis evening and zen to dinnuhr under zee moon!"

Kate's Paperie - New York City, late 1990s

This place is so dangerous--you walk in thinking "Why the hell would anyone spend this much on paper?" and before you know it, you've got an opinion on pulp ratios. 

Waterworks - Pasadena, late 1990s

Every time I set one foot in Waterworks I think "Yes! That's what I'll do! I'll just simplify my life through tiles!" and then I realize that at that much money, my life can stay nice and complicated. 

Asian Bakery - Los Angeles, 2003

There are many wonderful things about being an ESL teacher:
  1. It's easy.
  2. If you're bored you can teach your students slang and not tell them that's what it is. 
  3. Your students give you things; really cool things like interesting foodstuffs they get at ethnic supermarkets you didn't even know existed in your own city. 
This bag came from a Los Angeles bakery. A student of mine brought in a cake that tasted like quail covered in steering fluid (seriously, whatever it was still haunts me when I'm alone) and this is what the cake came in. Yes, I felt as if I'd just eaten rubber cement, but at least I got a bag out of it. 

By the way, there is one really bad aspect of teaching ESL:
  1. You start accidentally correcting the speech and grammar of people who are not your students (like tourists and relatives). It's a good way to really tick people off. 

Kate Spade - Various Locations & Dates

Doesn't it just seem like it would be so much fun to be Kate Spade? The Doris Day of the handbag world, her sunny outlook on life is beautifully reflected not only in the shiny patent leather of her shoes and purses, but in the vibrant colors of her packaging. What could be better than skipping out of her store and on to the streets of SOHO swinging this happy, oversized green bag on a lovely spring day? Nothing, that's what.

BTW, those Spade kids came up with my all-time favorite ad campaign ever for the fall of 2002. Set to Billie Holiday's Autumn in New York, "Visiting Tennessee" was about an older couple visiting their daughter, Tennessee, in her adopted home of New York City. They went to the Carlyle, the museum, and judging from the bags dad watched as Tennessee and Mom shopped, the Strand bookstore. I loved it so much, I named my dog Tennessee. The Museum of Modern Art loved to so much they included it in their "Fashioning Fiction" exhibit a few years later.

Marie Sara - Arles, France, 1997

I know what you're thinking--the last thing the world needs is yet another girl bullfighter-turned designer story, but quite honestly, I'm not sure how to get around it. After conquering her opponents in the the bullring, bullfighter Marie Sara Bourseiller really got brave and took on some of the world's most vile opponents: women trying to find clothes that fit. This bag was acquired in her boutique in the bullfight-wonky town of Arles, France (a city I hate and can never wait to leave). An interesting but completely unrelated side note: Ms. Bourseiller is the goddaughter of French director Jean-Luc Godard. 

Ron Herman - Los Angeles, early 1990s

Well, if for some reason you get up tomorrow and can't decide what to wear, why don't you log on to the Ron Herman site and have a live chat with one of their stylists? Yes, like J.Lo, Jen and Kate, you, too, can have someone tell you whether or not its acceptable to pair your gladiator sandals with cargos or if empire waists are still in. (Sadly, I think the answer to that one is "yes.") Not only that, but if you're having a fashion emergency, they have something called Red Phone. Just dial it, and they will send an experienced, probably slightly bitchy stylist running around the store who will swear off food, water, and human contact until they find what you need. (I don't know if that last part is true or not, but considering what stylists make, it should be.) 

Galeries Lafayette - Paris, 2006

One of my all-time most favorite places to be in the world, Galeries Lafayette is to France what Macy's is to America. One of the things I love most about it, aside from its incredible ceiling, is that when the workers take their lunch break (which they pretty much all do at once), they put brightly colored tissue paper over the merchandise so the whole store looks like a giant piñata. 

Bonpoint - Paris, 2001

Spend five seconds in Bonpoint and you'll see why the French grow up to have such great fashion sense. It sounds a little creepy for a children's clothing line to have a "concept store," but when you see how incredible the concept is, it becomes sort of understandable. 

Kenzo - Paris, 1992

Back in the 80s, French Elle, which I used to read the way divinity students read the bible, was featuring a lot of Kenzo-designed clothing, so needless to say, the boutique was high on my list of things to do when I got to Paris. A few weeks into my trip, after spending the better part of a freezing cold, rainy JULY day, looking for a laundromat with functioning machines, I decided that instead of cleaning my clothes, a much better and infinitely more exciting option would be to just buy new ones. Not realizing that this was the start of the famous twice-yearly Paris sales season, I headed to Kenzo to find roughly half the world's female population slugging it out over scarves and kaftans. Somehow I managed to wrangle a pair of jeans out from someone's hands (although she was ultimately unable to prove that in court) and bought them for the equivalent of $40, which was an astounding amount of money for me back then. I can't tell you how heartbroken I was when, on Bastille Day, just trying to celebrate the liberation of a people with whom I feel an unhealthy level of kinship, I fell and ended up with a big, gaping hole in the right knee. Vive la France indeed. 

Alfa Romeo - Unknown

Alfa Romeo always sounds to me like either some kind of highly expensive organic lettuce or the older, more dominant brother of Caesar Romeo but that's not going to stop me from carrying around their bags. 

Strathmore - Unknown

This is a stunning Strathmore bag happily led me to the Strathmore site which led me to this blog apparently written by paper addicts (great, just what I need--another hobby) and now I'm about a ream away from looking into a membership with this group. 

Gucci - Unknown

As much as I love this bag, I have to admit that it brings back terrible memories of once spying (and passing on) a pair of beige and white spectator Gucci shoes in my size for $30 at the thrift store. This is a syndrome I now call, "Leavers' Regret" and is a feeling I hope never to experience again.