Check Yes or No

She reminds me of my best friend in third grade, Carey. She had the same glasses, and we wrote notes to each other with little boxes at the bottom of the page for checking.

Do you like me? check yes or no.

Are you mad at Cindy? check yes or no.

Do you want to come over after school? check yes or no.

Did you do your homework? check yes or no.

Life was so simple then, and I wonder if we could make it simple again by going back to the old ways:

Being one of those annoying people who see the world in black and white, I would enjoy receiving a straight-forward note like this. It would, at least, make me laugh, and you know what they say about men with a sense of humor…

You can order it (the pad of paper, not the sense of humor) by clicking here.


A Colorful Couple

When I see interesting people on the street I often think how I’d like to invite them to dinner, but when I saw this couple outside the Abbesses metro station in Montmartre I didn’t think that I wanted to meet them, I thought that I wanted to meet her closet. I bet it’s really large. Perhaps she even sleeps in her closet while using her bedroom as an armoire (something I would do).

Her outfit is  a smorgasbord of colorful, draping, interesting, vintage threads, and to do this she must have quite the selection. I imagine that some of it she’s pilfered from her grandmother, other pieces have been carefully selected from the numerous vintage shops in the area, and still others she picks up on her travels, because yes, I think she’s the kind of girl who travels, probably with a set of matching, vintage trunks.

Fashionable or Elegant

Last night I was out to dinner with a gentleman, the kind that wears pince-nez spectacles, gold cuff links and wouldn’t dream of driving his car without leather gloves. We spoke briefly about fashion, and he said that in his opinion to be fashionable was to lack elegance. I’ve been thinking about that as I wander the streets of Paris, and I wonder if he’s right, and if he is, how can we define the difference?

There are plenty of women on the Paris streets in  fantastic get-ups that hint at stacks of fashion magazines on their coffee tables and personal shoppers on speed dial, but are these women elegant? They have interesting clothes, but are they even stylish, or do they just have the ability to mimic what shows up on fashion blogs and magazines?

And speaking again of elegance, if someone wears all the right clothes and yet looks decidedly undernourished or slightly drugged sagging on a lamppost, they can be called fashionable, yes, but elegant?

Possibly this is the beginning of a good method of distinction.

Bryant Paul

I thought at first it was a woman’s voice, that he was miming along with a recording from an earlier, more romantic time.

Bryant Paul’s voice is clear and beautiful, and it filled Montmartre with an easy melody that made me glad I woke up early, glad I took a Sunday stroll and oh so glad that the world is home to people like him, people living their dream, singing because they were born to, because if they didn’t the music would just push its way out through their pores.

An Elegant Friend

Well, she would be elegant if she would put her tongue back in her mouth…

With You By My Side

A best friend is like a smile. She completes your wardrobe better than red lipstick or a new pair of shoes.

Oh My Sweet Darling

Without obsession, life is nothing

– John Waters

Whether it be an ex-lover, slimmer hips, curly hair or the slice of triple chocolate cake in your local café’s glass case, if you can’t have it, you can’t live without it. The more everyone around you says, “no,” the more you are convinced you need it; you must have it; you might die without it.

Obsession is humanity’s most powerful motivator, and for artists, it’s their life blood. It takes an obsession, a passion, an unrelenting search for the essence of a desire to spur an artist into choosing creation over comfort, and such was the case with Marina Calamai, a Florentine artist and self-professing sugar addict.

When Marina developed pregnancy diabetes and was forbidden to eat any sweets, thinking and dreaming about it did nothing but frustrate her. When she couldn’t stand it any longer, she began to paint… cakes.

Soon her house was filled with paintings of pies, sculptures of candies, and hats made to look like stacks of profiteroles. There were triptychs of fruit cakes, multimedia “sound paintings” of doughnuts, 2-meter-high sonorous and olfactory installations, and now, finally, Marina has converted her passion for sugar and art into a passion for jewelry, starting with a line of rings. Cupcake rings.

They are  handcrafted in Italy using sterling silver with gold and enamel accents. Light and fun to wear, unfortunately they don’t conquer sugar cravings (at least not mine), but they do come in a variety of “flavors” and are available at the internationally acclaimed concept boutique Luisa Via Roma in Florence, as well online at Luisa Via Roma (click here to enter).

You can learn more about Marina Calamai and her art here.

Black and Brown

She’s military grunge with her beret, wrinkled bomber jacket, missing trouser button and gold-rimmed aviators. Crossing all sorts of fashion boundaries and breaking all kinds of rules, she still comes out looking put together — almost like she cut that pesky trouser button off herself (and who knows, maybe she did).

What’s more, I love her black, brown and gray mixture. I grew up believing that black with brown was a fashion no-no, but here, where nothing is forbidden (except a cappuccino after noon), Italians don’t live their fashionable lives by our small petty rules, and black goes as well with brown as it would with any other color… how refreshing!

The Real Sartorialist

She’s ugly now, she says, and old. How I would be surprised, she says, if I had only seen her before, a  famous sarta (dressmaker) for the most well-dressed ladies of Europe. She owned her own shop on this very street, and oh, she was so elegant then.

She blots together her pink lips excitedly and tells me of her famous Parisian teacher and the life of glamor she lived. Now she’s tired, though, and she points to her glasses saying she doesn’t see so well anymore.

Behind thick lenses her eyes sparkle, and I wish I HAD seen her then, but I’m awfully glad I know her now.

Florence, Italy

Smells Like Revolution

The women of Florence are starting to revolt. It’s in their brightly colored tights, their amber lens Ray-Bans and the way they leave winter coats at home even if it means wrapping wool scarves up to their ears.

“I can’t take it anymore!” they say, because we’ve all had enough of winter.

We’re ready to send our heavy coats to the cleaners and polish our boots for next year. We’re ready for bare knees and little dresses. Spring is so close we can smell it — or we could if it were warm enough to unwind our scarves a few inches.

On-The-Go Chic

Meet Luisa, quickly now because she’s in a great hurry and worried about something, something she carries in the crease between her eyes and the constant movement of her tongue. She barely has a moment, so use it to notice how a seemingly thrown-together outfit is actually a carnival of intentional contrasts. Relaxed and battered jeans hover above dress socks and prim loafers. A white undershirt peeks out from beneath a cropped, cashmere turtle neck, and a classic pea coat frames a long gold medallion.

Her lack of earrings, missing belt, beat-up jeans and white undershirt could have pushed Luisa over the slouchy/sloppy edge, yet her style is unquestionably chic with the addition of Ray-Bans, jewelry, popped collar and rolled jeans. It says, “I did this on purpose, and I feel good… but please, now I have more important things to do”.

Carrying It With You

Once upon a time there was a woman who never stayed anywhere very long. She loved beautiful things and hated the idea of missing anything, so she lived out of suitcases, and people called her “adventurous”, “unleashed”, “crazy” and “not everyone’s cup of tea” (which she always thought was a very kind way of saying they didn’t like her).

After eleven years of traveling the woman didn’t have a home, but she had her own skin, and so she wore a pair of earrings given to her on her wedding day and a watch bought four years later the day of her divorce.

She wore two rings: one that had been given to her mother by her grandfather before it had been given to the woman, and one ring that used to belong to a stranger before her ex-boyfriend bought it for her the day they broke up.

Everyday the woman wore the same pair of her sister’s hand-me-down purple gloves regardless if they matched her coat or not because she loved her sister and her hands were always cold.

The sweater dress was given to her by her friend who designed it for the clothing line Indah, and she wound a hand-woven green scarf round and round her neck so that she would stay warm and remember the beautiful hiking trip she took by herself in Sweden when she jumped in the frozen lake naked and learned to walk on water.

When the woman, with her home on her back like a snail, walked alone through the borrowed apartment she was accompanied by memories. She could smell the people she loved and hear their laughter, and thought that one day she might just settle down, find a closet in which to hang her clothes and a storage space where her suitcase could peacefully gather dust, then she would like to invite those people over and hear their real laughter and smell their real friendship and for once in her life, try out what it would be like to be bored… and smiling.

Meet My Sister

I LOVE red lipstick. With a tube of Chanel, Givenchy or Mac red lipstick, baggy jeans are suddenly stylish, a simple black dress becomes stunning, and you look completely put together, even if when you didn’t have time to grab clean socks.

I LOVE my sister. Her name is Elizabeth, she always looks put together, and she always wears clean socks. When she was six she started stealing my red lipstick, and now that she’s visiting me in Europe she’s stealing it again! It really bugged me when we were little, but now that she steals my lipstick and looks better in it than I do, I guess I’m sort of proud.

I’ll Never Be You, Ginevra

For a long time, I have had this desire, this NEED to be everyone and do everything. No matter how much yoga I practice and how many books I read about reincarnation, life just seems too short, too linear and too limited. All the people and places I’m not, and all the things I never do… it’s a sad, sad waste. People tell me this is weird. I tell them I AM weird.

In keeping with this idea, I would like to be Ginevra. It was a dreary day in Florence when I saw her leaning against a stone wall, texting someone on her Union Jack iPhone and smoking her cigarette. I loved her hair: shaved on one side, pieces of it crimped on the other side with a long-lost crimping iron (dear god, are those coming back?! I nearly burnt down my parents’ house with mine the first day of 6th grade, and I think it’s better for humanity if I’m never allowed to own one again). Ginevra managed to have wispy pieces fall purposefully over the shaved side of her head and brush the rim of her leopard print glasses. She was soft and hard in equal proportions.

She was just so perfectly European, and it got me thinking about that something European women have that we American women just can’t emulate. If Ginevra and I were to have swapped clothes, makeup and hairstyles right there in the street, nothing would have changed (except that we would have shocked quite a few umbrella-toting tourists). There would still have been something about her that softly chanted EUROPEAN and something about me that screamed AMERICAN.

I think it’s in the way they hold their heads (and cigarettes) and the way they look out at the world through their eyes. Here in Florence, I can spot an American from the other side of a crowded piazza. No matter how they’re dressed or how long they’ve lived in Europe, their American-ness is built into their DNA. It’s the way they walk. It’s also in the way they look at the person they’re talking to: with an intensity, an interest that suggests they might jump out of their eyeballs and eat the other person. I love this about Americans. I love this about myself.

So no matter how many books Americans read about French women not getting fat, and Italian women always having style, we are just different. We can emulate, but we can never be, and that’s fine. Actually, it’s FANTASTIC. With all the world homogenizing into one big Starbucks inside an H&M, it’s nice to know that even if we all carry an iPhone, smoke Marlboro Lights and wear Uggs, we will never all be the same. There will always be a reason to travel and when we do, even if we eat at a McDonald’s and gravitate towards the things we recognize, there will always be something different surrounding us. A “Je ne sais quoi” that we could never have seen at home.

Killing Vampires in French Silk

Recently, Pedro Zozaya photographed A Welcome Guest’s Caitlin Andrews for Spanish Vogue.

See the article here.

It may be flimsy, but it’s presence, overwhelming on every runway, in every magazine and on every rack, makes for hundreds of ways to implement transparency in your own wardrobe. At first, these emperor’s clothes might seem too “out there,” but I encourage you to try them.  Whether you wear the red bra and see-through cardigan from Josefin Strid’s A/W 2011 collection, the transparent trousers in Cheap Monday’s newest line, or your own invention (like my tailor-made skirt, shown above), the sheer trend can go in any direction you choose–from an eyebrow-raising, nipple-showing turtleneck to a modest(ish) long skirt with legs clothed in wool tights.

I’ve always been a pushover for long, flowing gowns, and after falling in love with a piece of gorgeous French silk at a fabric shop in Bali, I decided to have something made, something versatile that I could pair with a plethora of different tops and shoes.  This skirt goes from daytime to evening, from sexy and risky to feminine and demure.

When I wear this outfit, I become a cross between a fainting Jane Austin character and a powerfully edgy heroine–maybe an international spy who kills vampires. (I didn’t say it made any sense, it’s just who the skirt turns me into… in my head.)

It’s not easy to change  jobs or fix problems, but if I can change personalities with a long piece of silk in the wind… In fact, I think it’s time I go fall in love with a new piece of something sheer. Maybe this time I’ll go “Mad Men” with crinoline.

Meet Francesca

Meet Francesca. She stopped by a tiny salami and wine bar in Santo Spirito with the pretenses of saying hi to a friend. Really though, she was there NOT to talk to a particularly handsome man, who had been acting poorly as of late. It was obvious, even to me, that he deserved to be intentionally ignored, which she did with skillful ease. Don’t let her curls and sweet smile fool you, she was one tough Hunter-boot-wearing sweetheart, and her matching nails and overnight bag say she’s as good at details as she is at clipped words and a slightly turned head.

Once she was satisfied that she’d made her point, she climbed into her itty bitty Fiat and was off to her grandparents’ farm in the Chianti countryside, wondering why men weren’t simple like horses.

Van Deurs at Snickarbacken 7

The snow looked harmless enough as it whirled through the air, but with the sidewalks covered first in ice and then with half a foot of new powder, people (meaning me) were slipping all over the place. I was wearing my black Sergio Rossi knee-high boots, and they are gorgeous, but I bought them because they have a vibrant purple lining, not because they make good snow boots. They don’t make good snow boots. They actually make pretty terrible snow boots, though…they might make good ice skates.

I was on my way to Snickarbacken 7, a cool café-cum-boutique with an eclectic mix of rusty-chic antiques, new Japanese designs, contemporary art installations and clothing by Swedish designers. It’s the sort of place you walk into and instead of buying one thing, you decide you just have to move in. The couches, the chairs, the light fixtures, the collection of knick-knacks on the coffee table–it was all so interesting and…warm.

I was wandering around, oo-ing and aw-ing over the lemon yellow Eames chairs, sipping my hot coffee and listening to live music performed by Automat, when, with electrical-tape makeup and crazy, crimped hair, the models entered wearing jumpsuits, dresses, tunics, kilts, leggings and scarves all made from van Deur’s signature pleated fabrics in black, gray, navy and olive.

The fabrics are so soft you’d want to dress your sweetheart in them, but the attitude and cut of many of the garments, especially those of the brand new men’s line, have a hard edge that would cause me to hesitate before asking the wearer for directions if I were lost on a dark snowy night.

It’s playful dichotomies like these that inspire Susanne Beskow’s designs: she drapes the shoulders with touchable pleats and cinches in the waists with reindeer-leather corsets. She uses simple, classic cuts and layers them to create an edgy style all her own.

“I like playing with what happens if I drape a fabric here, if I pleat it in this direction, or if I do this…” Susanne said. “I’ve been designing for so long, and I still have so many ideas, so many things I want to try. Sometimes I wonder if I’m crazy.”

I don’t think she’s crazy, but she is very excited about what she does, and she’s not the only one. It’s just February, and already her Spring line is almost sold out all over Sweden.

It’s a style she calls “slow fashion,” and it’s the answer to the current fashion culture based on over-consumption.  “A thing of beauty is a choice forever,” she told me, and I wished I’d thought of saying that.

You can buy it online at their webstore, but I recommend you come here, to Snickarbacken 7. Have a coffee, sit in the lemon yellow Eames vintage chairs and try on the van Deurs.

I can assure you, you won’t be sorry you came, but I promise you’ll be sorry to leave… especially if it’s snowing outside.

Written by: Caitlin Andrews

Edited by: Elizabeth Andrews

Photos by: Caitlin Andrews and Armand Dommer

Vurma, Where the Staff is Cooler than You Are

With chincy wallpapers, colored lanterns and vintage-dressed mannequins seated on Victorian settees, my favorite cafe in Stockholm is best described as the result of your ex-prostitute grandmother setting up a tiki bar in the middle of snowy Sweden and populating it with all her overly-pierced and tattooed grandchildren. (With a name like Vurma, it even sounds like a grandmother.)

It was Sunday morning the first time I stumbled in from a bright and freezing Stockholm to the warm ambiance of the cafe, and something about the juxtaposition of red brothal-type lighting, big plate-glass windows and colorful bar stools made me like it instantly.

Though the staff looked too cool to move, they were incredibly friendly and offered to customize our coffees and bring us warm cinnamon buns followed by a full brunch with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. The girl with the sides of her head shaved and a full sleeve tattoo brought us our coffees in cut-glass, Scotch tumblers and poured for us tall glasses of water flavored with our choice of cucumbers, oranges, bell peppers or lemons. For being so punk, the place was decidedly homey, and when she learned we had a fashion and lifestyle blog, she happily ushered baby strollers and extra chairs out of the way so we could take photos.

Vurma was a very interesting combination of decades, ambiance and clientele, and since I love interesting combinations, it became my go-to place for a warm drink and place to jot down notes.

Next time I’m here (hopefully without Gucci-boot-ruining snow drifts), I’m going to make sure I swing by after dark when Vurma apparently turns into a hopping night bar with live music.


Fashionably You

I love everything about this woman, from her burgundy hair to her crazy, vintage trousers. She is a whirlwind of patterns and colors, and it all comes together seamlessly. Her trick?

Confidence and intention.

As I go from show to show and country to country, it’s becoming massively clear to me that no one agrees about what should be “in” for next season. The silhouettes go from boxy and false to sexy and clinging, from layers of draped jerseys to one transparent, barely-there covering. No one agrees on colors either, except where black is concerned (yawn).

But instead of being confusing, this smorgasbord of choices is handing us the freedom to pick what WE like. It means we can choose wide-leg trousers or skinny jeans, poofy chiffon skirts or figure-hugging satins. We can snuggle into cowl-necked cashmere sweater dresses or bare our bright red underwear with an open-back dress. Everything is “in” as long as we choose it with purpose–with intention.

No one will look at the cuff of your jeans, see your ankle bones and say, “Oh, well, SHE obviously doesn’t know what she’s doing. Where are her floor-scrubbing, flat-fronted, wool trousers?” No. Gone are the days of every pair of jeans needing to be bootcut. Gone are the days of everything in your closet needing to be slung so low it shows a strip of razor burn (can we all say, “THANK YOU GOD!?”).

Pick something you like, something you feel looks good on you. Find a vintage jacket or a brand new, digitally printed dress and make a statement by combining it with something unexpected. Wear whatever you choose, and wear it with pride and confidence.

If you can pull off a purple fro, then go for that too. We’ll all love you for it.

The Body Shop and London College of Fashion collaborate with William Tempest

In Stockholm, the red carpet was a bright candy pink as The Body Shop and London College of Fashion unveiled their newest collaboration: “Brush with Fashion.” It’s a limited-edition line of sustainable, cruelty-free makeup, which is available for one month as of yesterday, Valentine’s Day–so you’ll have to hurry!

Each of the products includes an integrated brush, which makes making-up on the go a breeze.

There are lip glosses, cheek tints, eye shadows, an illuminating face base and, my favorite, the under-eye lightener, which sweeps away any sign of tired eyes and brightens the entire face.

The launch party was a total pink revelry with platters of darling cupcakes, flutes of champagne and models clothed in William Tempest’s Spring/Summer 2011 evening wear collection. They wore various makeup looks created exclusively with The Body Shop’s new line…with the addition of a little neon war paint that gave super feminine and flowing dresses an almost tribal feel.

(Have at look at our video interview with William, and see for yourself the Body Shop-Tempest collaboration in all its backstage and runway glory!)

The foundation, lip glosses, eyeshadow palates and under-eye lightener all come with integrated brushes, perfect to tuck in your purse or coat pocket, ready for touch-ups throughout the day–super easy. The colors are a glamorous mix of china doll pinks, corals, browns and blacks, all with a slight metallic sheen.

The illustrations for the packaging were created by Katarina Voloder, a talented young fashion illustrator, also from the London College of Fashion. She said her inspiration was a cupcake, which really seem to be in the air this season–maybe it’s a return to frivolity after months of cold gray winter and financial crises.

Written by: Caitlin Andrews

Edited by: Elizabeth Andrews

Pictures by: Caitlin Andrews

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