Sunday, May 16, 2010

When I was l6, living in Brooklyn and attending Erasmus Hall High School, alma mater of both Barbara Stanwyck and Barbra Streisand, my Sweet Sixteen Party was held at a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan - hey every Jewish girl in the neighborhood had her sweet sixteen at a Chinese restaurant – that was the cool thing to do. At any rate, something interesting happened there: they gave me a Chinese robe to wear for the night. You can see me in the red kimono in the picture with my parents. Fast forward to today, where I own at least l0 of

these Chinese coats, being obsessed with antique Chinese clothes. Of all the many things I own – varied and numerous as they are – the Chinese are my favorite. The embroidery, the quality of the silk, the vivid colors, the vibrancy, the feel, the peonies: these do me in and I swoon.

When I first saw Hou Hsiao-hsien’s film “ Flowers of Shanghai” I nearly fell out of my seat. I wanted them to stop every frame so I could examine the costumes more closely – both the men and women were gorgeous.

It’s all I want to wear.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

It is most fitting that I start this blog, stylishly yours, on Mother’s Day for it is my mother who started me on my journey of loving clothes, costumes, and all things pertaining to dress.

Ida Dina Berner was a Hungarian Jew, gifted beyond measure by hands that could do anything. She was an accomplished dressmaker, and made her living sewing for others, but in addition, she could embroider, knit, and crochet; her skills with clothes were second-to-none to her skills in the kitchen where she excelled as a cook and superb baker.

But it was her creativity with clothes that had its greatest impact on me. From the perfect accordian-pleated navy blue jumpers, to her delicate blouses, adorable sweaters, and gorgeous dresses, I derived the greatest joy and pleasure. I was her little doll and she excelled at dressing me up and adorning me. And her triumph came every year on Purim, a Jewish holiday in which children don costumes and here my mother’s creativity came bursting through. Every year she outdid herself in her choices and executions of the outfits so that over the years I was: an Arab girl; a Persian princess; Snow White; Santa Claus; one of the seven dwarfs. I was even a donut one year for Chanukah. Every costume was complete from head to toe, each was topped by a hat, and she made all of it. To this day, as I dress in my daily life, every outfit is complete from head to toe and each is topped by a hat. I am still doing Purim – everyday.

The other woman to whom I owe my creativity in dress was my aunt Jolly, my rich Doda Yoli from America. She was my father’s favorite sister, a Semitic beauty, and an accomplished dressmaker herself. She was almost a mythic figure in my childhood for she lived in America while I grew up in Israel so that I knew her only through her pictures and stories my parents would tell me of her. But I mainly knew her through her packages – that came regularly twice a year throughout my childhood. She was married to the Vice President of Neiman Marcus and hence these packages were filled to the brim with the most exquisite little girls’ clothes available in the world.

Needless to say, from day one, I was the best-dressed girl in town – and the happiest.

So, to you both, my dear Ima and my beloved Doda Yoli, I dedicate this blog. Thank you for your inspiration and creativity, your vision and generosity and your genius with clothes. I am the woman I am today because I stand on your beautifully-clad shoulders.



"SON," said my mother,
When I was knee-high,
"You've need of clothes to cover you,
And not a rag have I.

"There's nothing in the house
To make a boy breeches,
Nor shears to cut a cloth with
Nor thread to take stitches.

"There's nothing in the house
But a loaf-end of rye,
And a harp with a woman's head
Nobody will buy,"
And she began to cry.

That was in the early fall.
When came the late fall,
"Son," she said, "the sight of you
Makes your mother's blood crawl,–

"Little skinny shoulder-blades
Sticking through your clothes!
And where you'll get a jacket from
God above knows.

"It's lucky for me, lad,
Your daddy's in the ground,
And can't see the way I let
His son go around!"
And she made a queer sound.

That was in the late fall.
When the winter came,
I'd not a pair of breeches
Nor a shirt to my name.

I couldn't go to school,
Or out of doors to play.
And all the other little boys
Passed our way.

"Son," said my mother,
"Come, climb into my lap,
And I'll chafe your little bones
While you take a nap."

And, oh, but we were silly
For half an hour or more,
Me with my long legs
Dragging on the floor,

To a mother-goose rhyme!
Oh, but we were happy
For half an hour's time!

But there was I, a great boy,
And what would folks say
To hear my mother singing me
To sleep all day,
In such a daft way?

Men say the winter
Was bad that year;
Fuel was scarce,
And food was dear.

A wind with a wolf's head
Howled about our door,
And we burned up the chairs
And sat upon the floor.

All that was left us
Was a chair we couldn't break,
And the harp with a woman's head
Nobody would take,
For song or pity's sake.

The night before Christmas
I cried with the cold,
I cried myself to sleep
Like a two-year-old.

And in the deep night
I felt my mother rise,
And stare down upon me
With love in her eyes.

I saw my mother sitting
On the one good chair,
A light falling on her
From I couldn't tell where,

Looking nineteen,
And not a day older,
And the harp with a woman's head
Leaned against her shoulder.

Her thin fingers, moving
In the thin, tall strings,
Were weav-weav-weaving
Wonderful things.

Many bright threads,
From where I couldn't see,
Were running through the harp-strings

And gold threads whistling
Through my mother's hand.
I saw the web grow,
And the pattern expand.

She wove a child's jacket,
And when it was done
She laid it on the floor
And wove another one.

She wove a red cloak
So regal to see,
"She's made it for a king's son,"
I said, "and not for me."
But I knew it was for me.

She wove a pair of breeches
Quicker than that!
She wove a pair of boots
And a little cocked hat.

She wove a pair of mittens,
She wove a little blouse,
She wove all night
In the still, cold house.

She sang as she worked,
And the harp-strings spoke;
Her voice never faltered,
And the thread never broke.
And when I awoke,–

There sat my mother
With the harp against her shoulder
Looking nineteen
And not a day older,

A smile about her lips,
And a light about her head,
And her hands in the harp-strings
Frozen dead.

And piled up beside her
And toppling to the skies,
Were the clothes of a king's son,
Just my size.