Quite Continental Charm School: Day 15 – Brew Your Own Bitters

13/03/2013 § Leave a comment

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

QC Charm School: DIY BittersGreta Garbo, Beatrice Lillie and patrons at a New York City speakeasy, 1933.
Photo by Margaret Bourke-White for Life Magazine.

Editor’s Note: I’m very pleased to introduce today’s guest speaker!  Please meet Lani Zervas, the exceedingly fabulous and fashionable lady behind the blog Mon Petit Chou Chou.  While she’s a Boston native, I had the pleasure of meeting Lani in New York two years ago and we’ve been fast friends ever since.  She’s been such an amazing partner in crime at Brimfield and New York Fashion Week, that I am more than a little upset with myself that it has taken me this long to feature her brilliance!  Her charming blog encompasses her interests in fashion, interior design, art, cooking, two very lovely dogs and all things Boston — but wait, there’s more!  She’s also getting ready to be the most fabulous mommy the world has ever seen!  I’m sure that you will find her to be as lovely and as funny as I do.  If you are not yet familiar with Lani or Mon Petit Chou Chou, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Without any further ado, Lani’s tip for a charmed life.

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Day 15: Brew Your Own Bitters
A proper lady knows when she has had too much, and likewise should know how to speed the road there when the occasion calls for it, with an arsenal of tried and true recipes to mix it up, at the bar and in life.

To that end, embrace your inner mixologist and commit to memory the recipes for some basic tipplers. I would suggest you have the classic Manhattan, Aviation, Martini, and Daiquiri in your repertoire and ready for the mixing at your home bar. Practice makes perfect and you’ll find your friends willing participants in your ‘research’ for cocktail perfection. When you have mastered these basics, time to take on more advanced studies, in home brewed simple syrups and bitters.

Simple syrup is, as the name would lead you to believe. painfully simple to make. It is a one to one ratio of sugar, water, and what ever you decide to steep. I personally like ginger, rosemary, cinnamon, and a turbinado, or raw, sugar syrup. These also make easy and chic gifts, appreciated by all hosts, and often immediately employed at social get-togethers (recipes and more on simple syrup here). Ahh, but the bitters, now these are more involved, take a bit more time, and are worth every ounce of effort. Not sure what bitters are? Or how they fit into the equation?

“People say bitters are the salt and pepper of the bar, but really, they’re like the spice rack,” (per Brad Thomas Parsons, author of Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-all).

QC Charm School: DIY Bitters

Bitters are a type of infused high-proof alcohol, with flavors derived from plants, barks and herbs. Originally brewed for medicinal purposes they evolved into flavorful additions to cocktails, via the classic brands Peychauds and Angostura, both of which rely heavily on gentian (a bitter herb for flavoring). You don’t need these store bought staples though, not when you can wow people with your home brewed batches.

It will take some initial effort to gather the more exotic ingredients — if you count ordering from Amazon effort — but once your pantry is stocked, you will have more than enough to make batch after batch of the home brew. The recipe below for Cranberry Anise bitters from Food & Wine is a personal favourite, and makes use of gentian root, an ingredient that usually repeats in all bitters recipes and which is a good foundation to start experimenting with your own creations.

QC Charm School: DIY Bitters

Cranberry Anise Bitters

2 cups high-proof vodka (like Stolichnaya Blue 100 Proof)
1 1/2 cups fresh or thawed frozen cranberries, each one pierced with a toothpick
1 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
2 star anise pods
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
One 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 teaspoon gentian root
1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns
2 tablespoons simple syrup
  1. In a 1-quart glass jar, combine all of the ingredients except the syrup. Cover and shake well. Let stand in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks, shaking the jar daily.
  2. Strain the infused alcohol into a clean 1-quart glass jar through a cheesecloth-lined funnel. Squeeze any infused alcohol from the cheesecloth into the jar; reserve the solids. Strain the infused alcohol again through new cheesecloth into another clean jar to remove any remaining sediment. Cover the jar and set aside for 1 week.
  3. Meanwhile, transfer the solids to a small saucepan. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes; let cool completely. Pour the liquid and solids into a clean 1-quart glass jar. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 week, shaking the jar once daily.
  4. Strain the water mixture through a cheesecloth-lined funnel set over a clean 1-quart glass jar; discard the solids. If necessary, strain again to remove any remaining sediment. Add the infused alcohol and the syrup. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 3 days. Pour the bitters through a cheesecloth-lined funnel or strainer and transfer to glass dasher bottles. Cover and keep in a cool, dark place.
Bitters can be stored at room temperature indefinitely. For best flavor, use within 1 year.
QC Charm School: DIY Bitters QC Charm School: DIY Bitters QC Charm School: DIY Bitters QC Charm School: DIY Bitters QC Charm School: DIY Bitters
In short, stir up high proof vodka, cranberry’s, anise, gentian, along with cinnamon sticks, anise and white peppercorns.  Allow to sit in a cool dark space for a few weeks. Then strain, boil, strain again, add simple syrup, and allow to sit some more. Finally, once everything has melded to perfection in this mysterious cool dark space, you have a rich, deep, aromatic elixir to bottle, and share (or hoard, I won’t tell).
I often keep a bottle in my purse — one never knows when cocktails will be needed and best to be prepared! As every proper lady and fledgling mixologist should be.

For more ideas and recipes, check out the full Food and Wine article here, and the aforementioned bible on bitters, Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-all.

Sante!

By Lani Zervas, of Mon Petit Chou Chou.

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The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
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Quite Continental Charm School: Day 13 – Watch Screwball Comedies

23/02/2013 § Leave a comment

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

QC Charm School: Watch Screwball ComediesKatharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Baby in Bringing Up Baby, 1938.

Editor’s Note: I’m very excited to introduce today’s guest speaker!  Please meet Michele, the brilliant writer behind the blog Tales of a Madcap Heiress, a witty compendium of silver screen stars, arty pursuits, and her experiences living in New York City.  I’m sure as soon as you lay eyes on Michele’s blog you’ll understand how pleased I was to discover it.  While I like to think that my classic film smarts are pretty good, I am constantly bowled over (and educated!) by this lady’s encyclopedic film knowledge and I couldn’t have been happier when she suggested today’s topic…and then she topped herself by sending me the picture you see above!  If you are not yet familiar with Michele or Tales of a Madcap Heiress, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Without any further ado, Michele’s tip for a charmed life.

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Day 13: Watch Screwball Comedies
I’ve often said that if life were a movie, I would want to live in a screwball comedy. The reason? In a screwball comedy you can be a madcap heiress who gets to wear lovely clothes, live in a huge Art Deco apartment, have a group of glamorous friends with whom you drink loads of cocktails and frequent nightclubs, and have crazy adventures with the likes of Cary Grant who ends up falling in love with you. Who wouldn’t want to live in that movie?

QC Charm School: Watch Screwball ComediesMyrna Loy and William Powell in The Thin Man, 1934.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the genre, there are a few general rules you should know to help differentiate a screwball comedy from other films:

  1. Though there have been attempts to label some modern films a screwball comedy, the term really refers to a genre of films made during the 1930s and early 40s.
  2. The film’s setting is urban (usually New York or Paris if it’s in Europe) with the closest thing to the countryside being a weekend home in Connecticut. If any scenes take place at the office it’s either a Wall Street firm/bank if you’re wealthy or a newsroom if you’re not (a lot of characters are journalists in these films).
  3. The story usually revolves around a courtship of sorts that begins with either a one-sided infatuation (My Man Godfrey) or a mutual loathing (The Awful Truth). There’s lots of yelling and even physical fights, which the women always win (Twentieth Century). In fact, the women in screwball comedies tend to always have the upper hand in the relationships (The Lady Eve). Yet, like in most films, love prevails in the end.
  4. The plots will include at least one of the following: a case of mistaken identity (Easy Living), the search for a missing person or thing (a leopard in the case of Bringing Up Baby), or somebody on the run (It Happened One Night). All of these serve as an excuse for the leads to go off on a crazy adventure during which they get into all sorts of trouble.
  5. The dialogue, besides being hilarious, is fast paced and clever (His Girl Friday is the gold standard by which all other films are judged). In fact, screwball comedy directors often relied on their smart scripts to help skirt around the rigid rules of the production code (case in point: screwball comedies that openly talk about divorce).
  6. Class plays a big part in screwball comedies with the upper class usually shown to be inferior to the working class (My Man Godfrey). If the storyline involves an heiress (there are quite a few in these films) she will often reject her privileged background (It Happened One Night). As for the servants and staff who populate the stories, they are routinely shown to be wiser than their employers.

It should be noted that within the screwball genre there is a sub-genre that can be called the screwball mystery (The Thin Man, The Ex-Mrs. Bradford). These are just as funny as your standard screwball comedy but with murder thrown in. Basically, there’s something for everyone!

Screwball comedies also give you a chance to see some of the greatest stars of the silver screen acting silly and showing off their comic timing. The list includes Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, Joel McCrea, William Powell, Jean Arthur (my favourite screwball leading lady), Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne, and Carole Lombard. And then there is Cary Grant who probably portrayed the screwball leading man better than anyone. And supporting all of them were some of the best character actors of the day including the great Franklin Pangborn, Edward Everett Horton, and Robert Greig.

Now that you know about screwball comedies, which ones should you watch? Below is a list of my personal top ten, all of which are available on DVD and are a good representation of the best of the genre.

  1. The Awful Truth (1937)
  2. Ball of Fire (1941)
  3. Bringing Up Baby (1938)
  4. Easy Living (1937)
  5. His Girl Friday (1940)
  6. It Happened One Night (1934)
  7. Midnight (1939)
  8. My Favorite Wife (1940)
  9. My Man Godfrey (1936)
  10. The Thin Man (1934)

So mix up some martinis, fire up the DVD player, and prepare to laugh yourself silly. And don’t be surprised if afterwards you too want to live in a screwball comedy.

by Michele, of Tales of a Madcap Heiress

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The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 12 – Make the Ordinary Extraordinary

22/02/2013 § 3 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
QC Charm School: Make the Ordinary Extraordinary
Sophia Loren in Italy, 1961.
Taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life Magazine.

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest speaker Jen McCabe is the writer, blogger and marketing genius extraordinaire behind Honey Kennedy, one of my absolute favorite places on the internet — I liken it to falling down a lovely rabbit hole of vintage-infused pretty, with tons to explore and love.  Aside from getting the lowdown on what’s going on in the Pacific Northwest and being introduced to some truly unique and gifted artists and designers hailing from the Portland area, Jen’s constantly discovers some of the most beautiful imagery and fashion collections I’ve ever seen — and did I mention that she’s completely lovely?  I am very happy to include Jen in this year’s Charm School.  If you are not yet familiar with Jen or Honey Kennedy, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Without any further ado, Jen’s tip for a charmed life.

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Day 12: Make the Ordinary Extraordinary
To me, leading a charmed life doesn’t mean that everything is handed to you in a perfect package. I think life requires effort and thoughtfulness in order to make it truly charmed. I’ve lived life in a variety of income brackets through the years and I’ve always managed to find a way to feel like I’m treating myself to a bit of luxury. I’m glad that my husband and I have more security now, but a lot of my daily rituals haven’t changed much from when I would have to decide between bus fare and groceries. Even during times when I was barely scraping by, it was important to me to try to have rituals that made me feel like I was pampering myself and that mundane routines could be turned into something special. Here are a few simple things that I like to do to make my days more cheerful and charmed.

Put a little cardamom in your morning coffee.
I also enjoy maple syrup, cinnamon, honey, or nutmeg. It’s just something to look forward to that gets you out of bed in the morning. Or whatever your beverage of choice! Lemon or basil or cucumber in your water is always good, too. Lavender or earl grey in your hot chocolate, special imported honey in your tea, a little soda water in your juice, etc. Add your own fancy twist to a morning ritual.

Buy yourself some flowers.
Whether they are roses from a nice flower shop or hot pink grocery store carnations (LOVE—and they last such a long time!), flowers make your home a nicer place to be. The color and shapes of the petals are such an inspiring visual break. Taking a trip to buy yourself some flowers is always something wonderful to look forward to if it is once a month or every couple of weeks. I like to split a bouquet up in order to have pretty petals in each room. Waking up to a a bright bloom or two on your nightstand can make a hard day ahead seem a little less daunting.

Give yourself home beauty treatments.
Paying some mind to your fingers, toes and visage is lovely way to pamper yourself. It’s a fun respite on your own or with friends. Years ago, my friend Alice and I had both been laid off from our jobs one month. We lived in the same building and after rough days of job hunting we would rent movies from the library and try different natural beauty treatments on our faces while we studied Hollywood classics. We put banana peel pulp and oatmeal on our faces and made an apple cider vinegar tea infusion toner concoction that I still make today. So fun! Also, when I paint my nails I like to give my hands and toes the full treatment with coconut oil or shea butter cuticle massage.

Have an afternoon break—even while at work.
Whether you work from home or in a shop, restaurant or office, I think it’s important to have something you do for yourself midday. I feel like just taking the time to make a nice cup of my favorite tea and eating a square of dark chocolate does me a world of good. When working in office jobs or retail jobs in the past I would bring boxes of tea to work (I was notorious for having an entire beverage shelf with teapots and coffee presses) or sometimes I like to get out and run to a nearby cafe. Just close your eyes for a minute and just think about the tea you’re drinking. Everything else seems to dissipate—at least for that moment. Then get back to work feeling at least a little refreshed and more centered.

Light a scented candle.
I love to light a favorite fragrant candle before I crack open a book or magazine, slip into a hot bath or start a new writing project. Lighting a candle always seems to make me feel more focused and breathing in the lovely scent makes me feel charged and in the moment. I love Diptyque candles, but for me they are just an occasional splurge. Some other brands I enjoy are Voluspa, Tatine, Catbird and the Paddywax Library Collection. Truth be told, in leaner times I have been known to put a few drops of essential oil in a small pan of water and stick it on top of an old steam radiator in my house or apartment or simmer it on the stove before resting it on a trivet close by. Just make sure to watch it carefully while it’s on the stove!

by Jen McCabe, of Honey Kennedy

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The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 11 – Craft Your Written Signature

21/02/2013 § 2 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

QC Charm School: Craft Your Written SignatureSophia Loren signing autographs in Italy, 1961.
Taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life Magazine.

Editor’s Note: I’m very pleased to introduce our next guest speaker! Christine Mitchell is an exceptionally talented artist and the founder of the blog N’East Style, where she explores an aesthetic that is modern, yet rustic, with a deep admiration of all things New England, independent and handmade.  But aside from all the cool stuff Christine introduces me to on her blog, and her amazing talent as an artist, the main reason I asked her to participate is because she is one of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.  I knew whatever she chose to share would be heartfelt and charming, just like she is, and I was right.  If you are not yet familiar with Christine or N’East Style, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Without any further ado, Christine’s tip for a charmed life.

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Day 11: Craft Your Written Signature
I remember watching my mum doing bills and accounts on our dining room table. As a little girl I saw that as being the height of sophistication, almost more so than a fancy new bag or shoes. She would sit there with stacks of paperwork, a mug of piping hot Earl Grey tea, and a black ink pen handy for signing checks etc. And her signature was perfection. Loopy cursive with the ideal slant. Mature without being too feminine, it was exactly what I thought a real lady’s signature should be. I remember signing my own name over and over again on lined pads of paper as she helped me to develop my own John Hancock. It was like a coming of age ritual for me. So since I was about 12, I’ve signed my name exactly the same way. It’s a mix of traditional cursive and hurried scribble (the FedEx delivery guy actually complimented me on it the other day). We live in an age where you don’t have to use your John Hancock as much, most everything is online now. But I think perfecting a signature is a true sign of being an adult and it’s an important attribute to your identity. And to ensure that your signature doesn’t go to waste, be sure to keep good paper and an excellent pen on hand.

QC Charm School: Craft Your Written Signature

by Christine Mitchell, of N’East Style

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The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 9 – Overhaul Your Wardrobe

19/02/2013 § 5 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

QC Charm School: Overhaul YourWardrobeJazz trumpeter Charlie Spivak and his extensive wardrobe, which contained
28 suits — even more than Duke Ellington!  Photo via LOC.

Editor’s Note: I’m very pleased to introduce our next guest speaker! Kelly is the skilled and stylish mind behind the personal style blog Alterations Needed.  I’m not sure how I first discovered Kelly, but I know it took only two nanoseconds before I realized I had met a sartorial soulmate.  This girl knows her way around ties, blazers and smoking slippers, and her innovative menswear-inspired style constantly inspires me.  Plus, she’s got curly hair and is from Los Angeles — do I really need to say anything more?

Inspiration aside, Alterations Needed is also a really great source for tips on fine tuning your wardrobe though skillful shopping, styling, tailoring and even “faking it.”  Moreover, if you’re petite, please meet your new style maven.  Completely user-friendly and fun to read, Kelly frequently documents her experiences before and after as she adjusts her various wardrobe purchases to perfectly fit her.  While I’m definitely not petite myself (hello, six feet!), I’ve found that Kelly’s pursuit of fit has caused me to cast a more critical eye on my own wardrobe.  If you are not yet familiar with Kelly and/or Alterations Needed, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Without any further ado, Kelly’s tip for a charmed life.

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Day 9: Overhaul Your Wardrobe
Most people wear 20% of their closet, 80% of the time. Sometimes, the items that are hiding in the depths of the closet are old favorites that have lost their luster, never quite fit right to begin with, or just victims of the urge to shop without a real need for the item in the first place. Here are some tips to help take a fresh look at some of those items and breathe some new life into old favorites:

– Pull your favorite blazers from your wardrobe and have a tailor slim the sleeves for a snugger fit (just not so tight that you can’t bend your elbow). A nice fitted sleeve on a blazer is the quickest way for a modern and expensive look.

– While you’re at the tailor, also have them nip in your pants and trousers right at the back of your knee. This helps make your legs look longer and your pants look better fitted.

– If pant or skirt pockets ever bother you or add too much bulk to your hips, have them sewn shut and/or the pocket lining removed.

– Replace buttons that look dated, cheap, or overly trendy with new ones that are more your style. Scour flea markets for interesting vintage buttons that can really make an item of clothing special.

– Check blazers and coats for working breast pockets (ie they have a pocket lining) that are still sewn shut. Open them carefully with a seam ripper, and now you have a fun pocket in which to stuff such things as your sunglasses or a small colorful scarf.

– The wrong hangers can ruin your hard-earned wardrobe, so consider the needs and aesthetic of your wardrobe. Toss out wire hangers, as they can leave marks on your clothes and even rust if they get wet. Use thicker hangers for blazers and coats to maintain shoulder structure. If you’re especially narrow or broad shouldered than average, consider “petite” or “oversized” hangers to better fit your clothes. And never underestimate the power of a beautiful set of matching hangers to make you feel like you’re shopping in a boutique every time you get dressed (not the mention help curb the urge to over-shop).

by Kelly, of Alterations Needed.

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The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 6 – On Table Manners: Fork Technique

06/02/2013 § 1 Comment

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

QC Charm School: Table Manners

Editor’s Note: I’m very pleased to introduce our second guest speaker!  Lizzie Garrett Mettler is the exceedingly talented journalist, writer, and founder of the amazing blog Tomboy Style.  She’s also a dear friend who I love to pieces (and force to hang out with me whenever I am visiting Los Angeles).

It goes without saying that Tomboy Style is one of my absolute favorite places on the internet.  It has been a daily read for me for years and I always marvel/get jealous at the amazing things Lizzie discovers and discusses.  A compendium of all things adventurous, rebellious, fashionable and female, the blog is an expertly researched and magnificently cross-referenced guide to embracing your inner Françoise Hardy or Diane Keaton.  If you are not yet familiar with Lizzie and Tomboy Style, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Without any further ado, Lizzie’s tip for a charmed life.

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Day 6: On Table Manners: Fork Technique – American vs. Continental
Over the years, I’ve toggled between the two ways to properly hold a dinner fork. Before this riveting topic puts you in a boredom-induced coma, let me first say that although there are technically two acceptable ways (according to traditional etiquette masters), I also feel that it’s a free God Damn country, so hold a fork in a way that makes you happy. So yes, there’s two styles, the Continental Style, which is favored in Europe, and the American Style, more prevalent stateside. According to Forbes Magazine, some say the American Style is actually traditional to pre-Napoleonic Europe, while others argue that the pioneering Americans created it to be different.

A quick refresher: the American Style, also known as “Switch and Switch”, demands the diner cut her food with the fork in the left hand and knife in the right, then puts down the knife and switches the fork to the right underhand position before taking a bite. The Continental Style allows the diner to cut her food in the same manner, but then can go directly from fork to mouth while still holding the knife in her right.

Emily Post, if I recall correctly, like other authorities of etiquette, note that both styles are equally acceptable. Growing up outside of Chicago, literally in the middle of America, I was watched like a hawk at the dinner table by my mother. If I didn’t put down my knife and switch hands, I was made aware. So naturally, once I was out of the house, I switched from the American Style to The Continental Style— if there’s a better way to rebel against your mother in your late teens, I’d love to hear about it.

Today, being the open-minded and well-grounded adult that I am (one who opines on minor differences in fork grips), I have to say there is a time and a place for both. If you’re looking to have a nice leisurely metered conversation while eating, go for the American Style. If you’re aiming to be less clumsy and more efficient, opt for The Continental Style—this is great, for example, if you’re eating a Croque Madame with a fork and knife, or if you like to gesture crazily like an old Italian grandmother while holding a steak knife in your hand and suffer no social (or legal) consequences. If you’re a “When in Rome” type, take on The American Style here and switch styles when traveling abroad, because, that would of course be so quite continental of you.

by Lizzie Garrett Mettler, of Tomboy Style

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The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 4 – Unexpected Compliments

05/02/2013 § 1 Comment

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

QC Charm School: Unexpected Compliments“Why sir, that is an amazing hat!”
“Funny, I was just about to say the same thing to you!”
William Jennings Bryant and friends. Via SDASM.

Editor’s Note: Today I am very pleased to introduce our first Charm School guest speaker for 2013!  Stephanie Madewell, the brilliant mind behind the exceptionally erudite blog even*cleveland, is with us this morning for her second Charm School appearance (you can find her 2012 entry here).

It is difficult to describe even*cleveland, which is probably why I love it so much.  Somewhat thematic in nature, Stephanie explores various topics (e.g., swans, works in miniature, Louisa May Alcott, winter) through the lenses of art, literature, photography, museum collections and fashion, connecting dots I didn’t know existed.  I find I am frequently staggered at the breadth of this lady’s knowledge about…well, pretty much everything!  Aside from that, she’s also a great source for information on cultured happenings in New York and usually posts awesome weekend tunes.  If you are not yet familiar with Stephanie and even*cleveland, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Without any further ado, Stephanie’s tip for a charmed life.

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Day 4: Unexpected Compliments
I don’t know about you, but for me, nothing saves a crummy day like an unexpected compliment, especially the kind that comes totally out of the blue from a total stranger.

Since I’ve moved to New York, I’ve noticed a lot more random compliments zinging around. My theory is that they operate on some kind of karmic exchange, and that you have to pay them to get them. Funnily enough, I’ve found paying strangers compliments is almost as good as getting a compliment myself. Brightening someone’s day is pretty awesome.

Simone Weil said that “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Paying a compliment to a stranger may seem like a small thing, but telling someone you notice their kindness or even their cute shoes is a small but mighty action that adds a little light to the world. What’s more charming than that?

by Stephanie Madewell, of even*cleveland

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The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 28 — Be Enterprising

28/02/2012 § 2 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
Photo by Nina Leen for Life Magazine, 1956.

Editor’s Note: I’m very pleased to introduce our next guest speaker!  My good friend Jessica Goldfond, is the founder of the accessories and fashion PR firm and showroom called The Shiny Squirrel, as well as her blog by the same name where she shares her discoveries in style, art, fashion and aesthetics.  She is a lovely, hilarious and giving person, who I feel lucky to call my friend.  Hanging out all over New York aside, I also had the good fortune to travel with Jessica in California this past fall, when we drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco, with an amazing stop over in Big Sur (you can see that trip here).  Along the way we ate amazing tacos, sang classic rock at the top of our lungs, spied on sleeping elephant seals and took in the amazing beauty of my home state’s coast.  She happens to be quite the traveller, with trips to Turkey and Germany on her list for this year.  Of course I am very jealous she’s not taking me along.

When I began the Charm School project, I approached a disparate bunch of individuals, fully aware that they would each bring something different to the “curriculum.”  Confession: I actually had an idea in mind for each of them, ready to delicately suggest, just in case they had trouble coming up with their own topic.  I will admit that I sort of strong-armed Jess into my topic of choice.  I most hoped she would participate because I wanted to hear how she founded her very successful business, because she truly is an inspiration for all the would-be entrepreneurs out there, and because she doesn’t often tell her story.  If you are not yet familiar with Jessica, or The Shiny Squirrel, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Editor’s Sidenote: I have widened the topic only a bit, only because I believe you can derive a lot of personal satisfaction from your life by simply being enterprising.  Here I use enterprising to mean motivated, venturesome, being resourceful and showing initiative.  While this may manifest itself in the founding of a business like Jessica, it doesn’t necessarily require it.  In fact, I’d even include things such as the founding of a book club, a church group, a blog or even using Pinterest under the enterprising umbrella.  The point is, find something that is completely yours, that will excite you, and throw yourself into it.  A charmed life is a motivated, satisfied life, and if money happens to follow, that’s icing on the cake.

Without any further ado, Jessica’s tip for a charmed life.

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Day 28: Be Enterprising
I can’t say I have any great wisdom or a formula as to how to make it work or even where to begin. I started my business or the concept that would be my business 6 years ago and been organically letting it evolve ever since. I decided to launch a PR company and showroom because I was tired of working for other people and wanted to feel 70 years from now that I really accomplished something with my life. I have been striving and working on that feeling everyday since.

I think the best way to start a business is to look at what you love and think about how you can formulate that into a plan. It’s important to ask questions, always take calculated risks, and develop the ability to recognize an opportunity when it presents itself.There are no failures if you learn from the mistakes you made along the way. I think a bit of self-reflection always helps to build the foundation of a company and let it take shape. Passion, Hard Work, Kindness, Generosity and patience are definitely some of the key factors in making something successful.

It is always important to remember that a business is built in a series of blocks or stages. Slowly but surely it all comes together over time.

Here are a few things I think would be awesome for building a business:

Present and Correct has some of the best office supplies around and I would love to use this little pad to take invoices if I am writing an order.

I find Fort Standard’s work and products really inspiring and would love to add these building blocks to my growing collection of their work.

I never seem to have a nice pair of scissors on my desk so these are a beautiful shape and have a nice feel to them.

I love having plants around me especially in lovely containers like this.  It is inspiring and refreshing if you have to sit indoors all day on a computer.

by Jessica Goldfond, of The Shiny Squirrel

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 The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 26 — How to Score Vintage

26/02/2012 § Leave a comment

 The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Editor’s Note: I’m very pleased to introduce our next guest speaker!  My good friend Jahn Hall is a stylist, photographer and the co-founder of the amazing men’s vintage clothing and effects seller BKLYN Dry Goods.  While you must remember to check out their next pop-up shop, BKLYN Dry Goods also has a number of exciting collaborations to supplement your love of vintage in the meantime, namely a kit bag with Loren Cronk, a fragrance called “Spent Musket Oil” with D.S. & Durga, and two beautiful watches (the “Insignia” and the “K-1“) with Dedegumo.

All vintage aside, I am exceptionally happy to host Jahn and BKLYN Dry Goods on the blog today.  Jahn is one of the nicest, most giving and most genuine people I have ever encountered, and I count myself especially fortunate to have met him.  Icing on the cake: he’s also hilariously funny and shares my love of classic films and 90s music.  If you are not yet familiar with Jahn, or BKLYN Dry Goods, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Without any further ado, Jahn’s tip for a charmed life.

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Day 26: How to Score Vintage
The notion of wearing Americana, wearing heritage & wearing Made in USA isn’t new despite Tumblr’s attempt at sexing it all up over the last couple years.  In fact, my love affair with the aforementioned really came to life around 2005 with my Alden bluchers, my Filson bag & my 45RPM jeans.  Since then, that tight corral of brands living up to they hype of Americana has spiraled out of control spawning literally thousands of brands using Americanaheritage & Made in USA as buzz words to hock their company wares.  At a time where Wal-mart alone imports more cheap crap from China than all of Russia & Taiwan combined, this is certainly good news.  Sadly, this also means thousands more brands have launched selling you their Americanaheritage & Made in USA without the consideration of offering consumers any real Americanaheritage or Made in USA.  Take for example, L.L. Bean’s launch of Signature, a range of L.L. Bean products meant to instill the nostalgia of L.L. Bean’s storied past.  Instead it’s a range of clothing made to look vintage without the commitment to domestic production.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love L.L. Bean.  In fact, the brand’s ubiquitous Bean Boot is still made in the same factory they were years ago & their famed Norweigan sweater is still made in Norway.  Despite the few bits in L.L. Bean’s range still made domestically, the range ultimately fails to genuinely live up to it’s claim of thoughtfully recreating some of the brand’s most iconic pieces & suddenly we’ve tired of hearing Americana, heritage Made in USA because they no longer carry the same weight they once did; nothing more than marketing fodder.

Admittedly, this isn’t supposed to be all about the crooked posture & slick wording of modern marketing.  Instead, one’s left to wonder what’s happened to all that good stuff from back in the day in the first place?

It’s definitely out there & the notion of wearing vintage apparel isn’t new.  I remember rummaging through my grandfather’s closet in the 80s when I was in 7th grade looking specifically for flannel & workwear.  I thought there was something inherently cool about wearing clothing that had already lived a life, something you could have imagined Steve McQueen or Marlon Brando wearing.  Unfortunately, the kids at school didn’t always agree & I’d have to temper my newfound love of vintage with Guess jeans, Nike Dunks & these crazy Adidas sweatshirt hybrids that celebrated each of the Olympic games.

Fast forward 25+ years & I’m still wearing vintage.  I’ve made it my livelihood, launching a vintage menswear pop-up brand called BKLYN Dry Goods with a friend & fellow vintage enthusiast.  In fact, a good portion of my career in fashion came from brands that made product like they were in the good ‘ol days or for vintage vendors whose collections were worthy of a show at the Met.   In that time, the world of vintage has evolved drastically.  Once relegated to garage sales, thrift stores & flea markets, vintage has turned to collectors, eBay & high-street shops pandering vintage wares to a much broader audience than when I was donning my first vintage digs making the prospect of finding vintage a much more sophisticated & involved (read intimidating) affair than before.  There’s still a ton of amazing vintage stuff out there from the Americana, heritage & Made in USA to decades worth of designer duds.  It’s just a matter of getting yourself acquainted with some of the ins & outs before you head out on your first vintage haul.

01:  Take a good look at condition.  Sure, that cashmere sweater may seem like a bargain at $40 but if you’re dealing with stains or moth holes, you may find yourself spending just as much in repairing it.  Other things to look out for?  Linings, buttons, zips & any previous repair work.  If it’s a pair of shoes, check the sole.  If you’re anything like me, it’ll be months before you actually address the needed repairs.

02:  If you are looking to get your heritage on, check the labels to see where it was made.  Most noted American brands like L.L. Bean, Ralph Lauren, Land’s End & Eddie Bauer stopped producing a good portion of their goods domestically in the 70s & 80s.  This may not matter much to some.  Either way, it’s a good way to estimate the age of an item.

03:  Be wary of designer labels from the 70s & 80s from brands like YSL, Dior, Halston & Bill Blass.  The aforementioned, alongside a host of other designers sold their souls (and their names) to mass retailers back in the day to turn a quick buck making these items a modern-day equivalent to a Target or H&M designer collaboration.  Sure, they may be cool, but they’re not really designer & are often made like a Target or H&M collaboration.

04:  Before you drop the dough on any must-have, double check that the item isn’t available for less online.  While a long shot at times, items sold on craigslist sell for considerably less than other on sites so it’s often worth the look.  Case in point?  A vintage Case knife I was on the hunt for made it’s way to craigslist & was more than 75% less than I’d seen it priced a week before at a flea market.  Etsy & eBay also boast an impressive stock of vintage.  While Etsy’s selling prices are often lower than eBay, the auction site will contact you for up to six months if the item you’re searching for shows up on the site.

05:  On a similar note, unless you’re a serious collector (or just willing to empty your wallet) avoid destination flea markets like Brimfield in Massachusetts or vintage shows like the Met Show held in New York.  Odds are, the average selling price is much higher & in some cases, you’ll spend up to $20 just to get in the door.  With that, don’t nix the idea of shopping at spots like this altogether as in many cases, vendors bring their very best out making the hunt a little less arduous.  Well, except to your wallet.

06:  Know the lay of the land.  Vintage stores litter just about every major city & the costs associated with running the business are always part of the selling price.  Avoid high street neighborhoods & stick to areas where you know rents are cheaper — odds are, you’ll find the cheaper the rent is in the area, the better the deal you’ll get.

07:  Don’t be afraid to negotiate price.  Many vintage sellers price their items expecting you to negotiate a lower price & ultimately, what’s the worst that could come from it?  Getting a “no” now & then is completely worth the cash you’ll save when you get a “yes”.

08:  Nothing drives me crazier than a vendor who chooses not to price their product leaving me to believe their sussing you — and the size of your wallet — out.  Sure, we always want to look our best, but leave the flashy watch & bag at home & odds are you’ll get a better price when you’re dressed for a quiet night in vs. a night out on the town.

09.  Make nice with your tailor.  Most vintage clothing was originally tailored for someone else…meaning not your size…however if the fit is close, it’s worth every penny to have your tailor nip & tuck your latest find.

10.  Make nice with the guys at BKLYN Dry Goods.  I hear they’ve got some ins on some pretty great vintage stuff.  In all honesty, we work with clients to address specific requests.  Most great vintage vendors do so if it’s not us you make nice with, make nice with someone who’ll be on the constant look-out for you.

by Jahn Hall, of BKLYN Dry Goods

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 The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 22 — Eat Chocolate

22/02/2012 § 2 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
Taken at Fort Myers in 1940 by David Scherman for Life Magazine.
Even the US Army understands how important chocolate is.

Editor’s Note: I’m very pleased to introduce our next guest speaker!  Sarah Seilbach Brasher is the amazingly talented designer behind Edelweiss by Sarah, a line she started in Brooklyn in the summer of 2008 after spending time at Vena Cava, Maggie Norris Couture and Elise Overland.  I can’t remember how I first found Sarah, but immediately after seeing her collection, which is heavily influenced by the styles and silhouettes of the 1930s and 1940s, I demanded an invitation to her atelier (you can view my post on our afternoon here).  It was then that I was able to discover how delightful a person she is, as well!

After you peruse her shop, you’ll quickly notice how remarkably well she incorporates an air of nostalgia into her completely wearable and feminine designs.  My love of Edelweiss by Sarah is a complete no-brainer.  If ever you are in need of the perfect party dress, Sarah’s your girl.  If you are not yet familiar with Sarah, or Edelweiss by Sarah, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Without any further ado, Sarah’s tip for a charmed life.

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Day 22: Eat Chocolate
To me nothing is more mysterious and intriguing than eating chocolate.  Chocolate was said to have come from the Amazon some 4,000 years ago but it was the Maya and Aztec people who really brought cacao to us.  Using the cacao bean as money as well as using if for offerings to their Gods, they would make spicy chocolate drink during their most sacred ceremonies.  It symbolized life and fertility.

I own and run a small fashion business.  I find that work can get stressful and overwhelming to which I find myself looking for a little outlet.  Chocolate.  I believe that a woman taking the time to really enjoy a piece of chocolate is not only fabulous but also captivating.  That afternoon chocolate will give me a burst of energy that will get me through the rest of the day.

Photo from Sarah’s instagram. Find her at @edelweissnyc

Find what chocolate excites you.  To be honest most of the time I only have the Lindor dark chocolate truffles on hand. They are still delicious but if I could, I would keep a box of Voges Chocolate Truffles in my desk.  I would either go with an exotic assortment or a box of their Aztec Truffles.  I would eat one a day and take the time to step away from my work and enjoy that piece of chocolate.

We all need to take a little time to enjoy the beauty and mystery of chocolate.

by Sarah, of Edelweiss by Sarah.

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The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

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