Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cubavera and the great shirt quest

by frédérik sisa

I confess my great shirt quest didn’t quite take me to the four corners of the fashion world. Mostly it’s because I balk at spending small fortunes on shirts that can only degrade with time…and are so nice and expensive that wearing them would make me paranoid about getting them dirty or damaged. But also because it IS possible to find good fashion design at non-Rodeo Drive prices.

The background behind my wardrobe upgrade was to stop being a lazy sod relying on t-shirts. (I know: ugh.) I wanted something a bit more professional, more stylish, more versatile. Among the requirements: short sleeves (because it’s mostly warm/hot here in SoCal), colour compliant (black, grey, sanguinary colours, the odd splash of white if necessary), and NOT simply a short-sleeve version of the usual dress shirts that give dry cleaners so much business. Hitting some of the usual spots let to results (Macy’s) and busts (Target), prompting me to go to not-the-usual spots like My Baby Jo’s only to be surprised and disappointed that bowling shirts rarely come in size small. And you read that right: bowling shirts, as in swing music, good times on the lanes, and rock ‘n roll. Long story short: there have been a few successes on the road to great shirts, and a few disappointments. We laughed, we cried, and kept on driving. Then a rather silly mistake. After perusing Topman USA’s catalog and finding a handsome number in black with white trim, I balked at the not-unreasonable price. Naturally, I ended up waiting too long and the shirt went poof in a cloud of pixels. Crumb.

So after much dithering it finally occurred to me to look up the brand of a comfortable, stylish quality Cuban-style shirt I bought at Robinsons May back in the days when they were still around: Cubavera.

As an associate brand of Perry Ellis International, Cubavera aims to translate the “ideals, joy and ‘sabor’ of Latin culture into apparel.” Cuban-born designer Lorenzo Ramos, who once ran his own company (Verge Clothing) and worked as an assistant designer at Kenneth Cole, is the key designer behind Cubavera. His work is clean, precise, with a judicious use of detail (e.g. embroidery). The products – which also include pants, herringbone jackets, Guayabera shirts, and a rather small but eclectic collection of accessories – are well-constructed and very affordable. Style-wise, the tropical-inspired look is classic in the timeless, refined sense – and the shirts are perfect for California’s bipolar beach-and-urban-jungle environment in that they can convincingly straddle the casual and the formal. In other words, these are shirts that dress up or down as the situation requires.

So I took advantage of a sale and bought two shirts, one of which has a similar aesthetic to that one from Topman’s I had my eye on. The venerable wardrobe workhorse, with the embroidered front white panels, is hiding on the left. (I apologize for the poor image quality, but I wasn't quite prepared to get a good photo. The middle shirt has a white front insert with a patterned border.)

All in all, my great shirt quest didn’t turn out to be an effort to tilt at windmills. Instead, it led me to rediscover a very appealing men’s brand that offers sensible, stylish design at accessible prices.

Friday, July 24, 2009

POP beauty

By Aqua Catlin

I've been trying out some Pop beauty makeup for the last week and it is such a nice, easy to use, quality, fun product. Ceator, Sara Strand, you know what the girls like! And the packaging is equally fun while subdued-luxurious and pretty. They conveniently provide application advice on each product at their website, too.

I know I've mentioned I love the Lip Cushion. Its prettily packaged in a pale iridescent tube and is applied with the pull-out brush. It makes my lips look and feel velvety and its so refreshing with a little minty tingle... I just want to put it on my whole body, (hint, hint Sara), to feel that way all over.

But here's what I really want to talk about... the Double Duty Bronzer - this has been a sweet little godsend. I use it on my face, my cleavage, my shins and now my arms. I keep finding new ways and places to put it because it looks so nice. Its natural and toasty looking but with a little sparkle hint that there's something special going on.

This week, I tried an airbrush tanning session trying to out-do my Mystic Tan. There is no hiding from the lady who sprays you. I decided to keep my unders on the bottom, but its still awkward and intimate and left me with contrasting white bum. I asked for the darkest tanner, but I didn't want it near my face - too fake-Hollywood looking. Now my face matches the buns for pale, especially with my mineral foundation. I got 2 quite diplomatic comments on how white my face appeared when I forgot to bronze it. I was so self-conscious! Thank goodness the Double Duty Bronzer gives a relieving natural pink/bronze tone to my face - no crazy contrast. From eye-brow raisingly white to sunkissed and pretty. It even looks so much more natural than the Bare Minerals All Over Warmth that is sold with my foundation to combat the whiteness.

And note the cool bronze alligator effect packaging. What you don't see on their webpage, is how much product you get. Its a value for the money!
Also for uneven moments on the rest of my tan, (why why why?!), it works well to even it out. Its been such a savior. The Double Duty Kabuki Brush is SO SOFT, it feels like your'e fluffing a cloud all over.

Pop beauty is value for money, a quality and a fun product. Professionals use it or we can use it equally effectively. Loves it! Totally femme experience.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

menswear and the blogger: Male Mode...and a few thoughts on fashion revolutions

by frédérik sisa

Past featured bloggers have focused on women’s fashion; Male Mode, as written by Cillian O’Connor, lives up to its name by keeping an eye on what’s going in menswear.
In a nutshell, tell us about Male Mode and your blogging ambitions.

Male-Mode is the online destination for musings on menswear so, essentially, it's a place for me to opine/rant/laud on topics pertinent to men's fashion and style. I started the blog in 2007 since I found that menswear was underrepresented online. So, my ambition is to fill that void.

What are you seeing out there in men’s fashion – the good, the bad, the ugly?

Well, it's certainly good that menswear is undergoing a revolution in the current climate. No, it's not happening at breakneck speed but it's changing all the same. Many young and innovative creatives have turned to menswear to break down the boundaries which existed up to a few years ago. The bad is the prevalence of skinny jeans - yes, they're sartorially spot-on every now and again but not every day of the year.

How would you characterize the difference, if there is any beyond the obvious, between men and women’s fashions? How do you think this difference plays out in people defining their own styles?

Womenswear is much more subject to change and is often entirely overhauled from season to season. Menswear exists upon the structure of the classic silhouettes and fabrics but undergoes subtle changes from SS to FW e.g. the manipulation of a collar, a switch from crewneck to v-neck etc. Regarding the defining of styles, it can be difficult for men to mark themselves apart from others due to the limitations of much of men's fashion. However, that could understandably be perceived as an excuse. Men may not have the same range of garments as women for use in defining their style but it still shouldn't hamper an effort.

What inspires and influences your personal style?

Everything and nothing. Sometimes I'll watch a film and try to incorporate details of costume I've noticed. Characters from novels and their idiosyncrasies also make an impression. Often, however, there's no particular reason I'm wearing something, other than "This was the first thing I found when I fell out of bed." And that, too, is fine by me.

Cillian’s point about menswear vs womenswear sums up very neatly the “problem,” as it were, of men’s style. But every so often designers try to shake things up and overhaul men’s fashion – by (re)introducing skirts, for example.

There was a time when skirts were worn by both men and women – here's the kilt-like shendyt from Ancient Egypt:

Yet – and I suspect the reason has to do with the cultural reinforcement of gender roles through the control of fashion – men’s skirts disappeared. Women’s fashion, however, significantly expanded with World War II when the realities of working in factories brought about a need to wear trousers – an expansion that built on previous instances of women wearing pants I won’t get into here. Instead of going back, women gradually adopted trousers until they became as much a wardrobe staple as the skirt or dress.

But back to men: whenever designers attempt to introduce skirts on the runways, the trend doesn’t catch. Browsing images from the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Men in Skirts exhibit, featuring pieces from Jean-Paul Gaultier, Burberry, and Dolce & Gabana, it’s not hard to see why. A cream-coloured cotton sarong and jumper? A grey/pink/lime tweed overcoat with a sweatpants-grey dress? As a flight of fancy, maybe – but in the context of the real world and culture, none of these hold any appeal. Seriously: ick. So much for re-appropriating the skirt for men. The best efforts to shake things up rest with American-made Utilikilts – I’ve actually seen a few blokes strutting around in these rugged kilts – and, on the other side of the ocean, AndersLandinger (formerly Men in Time) with designer skirts of various lengths and materials.

I'm meandering; these are best discussed in a future post, For now, menswear is what it is and we’ll have to make do with seasonal refinements and tweaks with the occasional splash. Check out Male Mode to stay on track.

Shoes and Lnon-BDs

I'm searching for the perfect, silky little not black dress and heels for the weekend and I'm going shoe shopping later. I also want some simple, elegant platform black pumps. Ok, maybe I also need more red sandals...I sense trouble. I'm hoping to get so many deals that I have to put the top down on my car so the shoes boxes will all fit. I envision boxes flying out as I drive and other women waving their support.
Its a fantasy but my search for the perfect outfit will end today in smiles and sighs. Tomorrow I'll go back and perfect my Mystic Tan pat-dry technique.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Post Production Post

By Aqua Catlin

I've been on a shoot this week so my time to try products and review them has been limited. Today I'm trying a few new to me products. One is POP beauty Lip Cushion and Double-Duty Bronzer and, a tipoff from the makeup artist on my shoot, who also likes POP beauty: Covergirl Exact Eyelights Eye-Brightening Mascara.

The POP beauty products seem great, and I'll be reviewing them in full on my next post after I've had time to learn the correct application techniques. Can't wait to get to know this fun and quality brand. I'll just say this: My lips are velvety and my cleav looks deep and summery : )

The mascara has hints of color throughout - the idea is that you buy the one with the tints that are opposite to your eyecolor, (ruby black for my green eyes). It works. My eyes are poppin'. That reminds me - I've got crazy-eyes in my picture here because of resizing it - anyone any good at shooting head-shots?

I've already been told today that I look cuter than ever before - a bit of a worry since I've tried harder and longer in the past and look pretty simple today, but still, I'll take it any time I can get it... all good.

One final note: I tried the Gilette Venus Spa razor - I never thought I'd be posting about a razor but - its got 2 giant soft pink shavegel pads on it, eliminating the need for that wasteful foam that you can't see through to be accurate in your shaving efforts. The razor also has 3 blades and got every awkward angle with ease and success. I bought the lovely White Tea scent and it will now be my standard.

Talk to you all about POP next week!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

beach elegance! Beach Bride Jewelry and Jewels by Michele

by frédérik sisa

Barefoot sandals are a bit of an oddity in that, even as ornaments go, they aren’t especially practical. You can’t wear them with shoes (which is the point, but more on that in a bit) and going barefoot is a pleasure limited to foot-friendly environments. (You can wear them at home, of course, were there are no sharp objects or gunky residues to deal with, but what’s the point of being ornamented if you can’t show off the bling?) In other words, these are not a universal accessory. One of the most innovative work-arounds was the topic of a past blog post: barefoot jewels paired with topless sandals, soles that adhere to the bottom of the foot, to achieve a distinctive look.

However, artisan Michele Roberts takes a different, simple, and elegant approach with Beach Bride Jewelry: barefoot sandals as the ultimate accessory for a beach wedding. It’s inspired, really. A romantic setting, warm sand between the toes –why not dress up the footsies with beautiful jewelry, especially for a special occasion like a wedding? Barefoot sandals are not only lovely for the bride, but could make for nice gifts for the bridesmaids. At the least, it’s the sort of accessory that will tie and ensemble closer to the wedding’s beach setting.

With prices ranging from $50 to $200, these are not the $10 cheapies you can get at other stores – the kind better suited, in some ways, to casual wear since you can beat them up and replace them as necessary. Michele’s elaborate wedding-oriented pieces are wearable art crafted from a variety of materials including Swarovski crystals and pearls, freshwater pearls, sea glass, fossil coral, lava, and the quintessential gold and silver. The cords are either Soft Flex, which consists of woven stainless steel wires that resist wear, or the elastic Stretch Magic. From the Monaco sample I examined – the piece Michele sent me featured a custom jonquil color – the construction is just as robust as the design is lovely.

Truly a unique, stylish touch for a wedding.

But of course my eye caught on to the men’s collection as very ably represented by Sumatra:

This handsome piece is made of black lava and natural coco beads, with black seed beads forming the toe loop. It’s solid and masculine, and feels hefty to the touch without being heavy. A great idea for the groom, in that it’s an unusual and classy accessory that will add spice to an ensemble – I can picture this with an ensemble of neutral to nature-inspired colours and relaxed cottons or lines. And maybe a nice gift for groomsmen too?

There are three other barefoot sandals styles available for men, along with necklaces and anklets. The women’s collection also features more than the sandals, from anklets and bracelets to earrings, hair pins and brooches. All are available in a range of colours…and Michele does custom work as well if you have something specific in mind.

As an attractive alternative to the Beach Bride Jewelry, Michele also offers a collection of lovely lower-priced jewels at Jewels by Michele. And there you have it: something for everyone, something for every barefoot occasion...and more.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Review Updates

By Aqua Catlin

Thought I'd take the opportunity to do a couple of product updates based on recent Q & A sessions I've had with curious women.

First the Curves brand version of the MBT sneaker. I posted here about purchasing them to help me get an extra 10-15% more toning after not being able to workout for a couple months. 10-15% is intangible, but I'll never go back and that I think they're working. The rounded bottom (heehee. that too), forces you to use your entire body including core muscles to balance. Smart. They ARE hideous but wear long pants, they add height anyway - an added bonus. Your posture will be improved and they make walking smoother than in regular sneaks. A
fter extensive consumer research I bought the Curves exclusively through Avon and I highly recommend them for the skeptical and budget conscious.

Mystic Tan: I haven't mentioned this here before but if you know me, you know I've been un-naturally beautifully bronzed recently. And the "tandoori" like stain on my foot... Well I consider it a self-sacrifice so you can learn from my mistakes: Always remember to pat dry your feet and toes (!) too even though you wore booties and can barely breath in the booth. See the image for what remains of the stain. Still I will definitely be doing more of this.

Now, the MySkins product I posted on here... As I've mentioned, its not a neutral hue so, NO, it will never match my skin as they claim. To be invisible under white, it does have to be neutral. So: HUGE marketing mis-step there. However, they redeemed themselves with the brilliant structural mystery material they use to hold and present the lil' ones.

BUT: Quality-control issues! I bought the Convertible that allows you to remove and re-attach the straps differently. We need this and reliability. At the most inconvenient time, the little fabric stip the strap slides into tore. I was on a date, wearing a fabulous bold strappy top with double-stick tape hiding the bra straps so I would look "just so", and I felt the snap. Embarrassing! He wondered why the sudden gasp when all was calm around us. What could I do but fib? How do you have a normal evening after mentioning your boosies are no longer properly protected? Analysis: a worthwhile product after its perfected.

Thanks, and please make requests for reviews and comments by commenting below, rather than emailing, thanks!!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

the great shirt quest and My Baby Jo's

by frédérik sisa

I’ve been taking dance lessons with my wife and, after a few months of waffling over which style I prefer – not really a good question since I tend to like everything not called merengue – have come to something approximating a decision: rumba/waltz and swing. Yeah, swing; if it ain’t got it, it don’t mean a thing. So what, you may ask, does this have to do with my ongoing quest of finding great shirts? Answer: swing brings to mind not only syncopated rhythms and rock steps but also a sweet, sweet retro/50s style (I don’t want to use the word vintage) that can work on its own or definitely add flavour to a modern wardrobe. Pleated pants, bowling/lounge shirts, front panel shirts, fedoras for the gents – full circle skirts, dungarees, tie tops for the ladies. That’s just the tip, and doesn’t even touch on the ground tread by los pachucos y las pachucas.

The problem, of course, is finding the goods.

There are a few websites out there that can hook a fellah (and lady) up with the proper attire to swing dance the night away or jazz up the daily wear. As it happens one of them – My Baby Jo - has a brick-in-mortar in my general vicinity. Full of optimism and hope for a nice new shirt, I went. I saw. I left empty-handed. Sniffle.

But first, they do have a lot of cool stuff from 40s to rockabilly – online and off. For the ladies, dresses, blouses, capris, shoes, accessories…oh yes, they have good stuff. And for guys? The selection is good too – bowling shirts by the likes of Tarantula and Da Vinci, jackets, trousers. And hats. Lots of hats. Fedoras. Porkpies. Panamas. Contoured caps with or without boning. They even offer a rebel trousers customization service – hand-painted cuffs, made to order.

If you’re online, have at it 24/7. If you’re in LA, this is a good place to visit in person, which begs the question as to how I managed to leave without getting anything for myself. Part of the problem was simply that they didn’t have shirts in my size, a problem that goes beyond stock to the frankly strange fact that some brands, like Da Vinci, don’t make shirts in size small. Medium? You’re gold. XXXL? You’re covered. But small? Sorry, bub. No better luck at internet store Daddy O’s, whose depressingly impressive medium+ shirt selection is greater than My Baby Jo’s. One other thing: not a great selection of belt buckles. I mean, c’mon, not even a belt buckle I could dig?

Oh well. My quest for great shirts and a bit of retro styling continues. But don’t let my setback deter you from checking out My Baby Jo’s.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


By Aqua Catlin

All, hope your holiday was safe and fun. I shopped for a client today and rediscovered Lucky Brand. All American. Very cool menswear, what a resource - espesh at the outlet price point. They offered cool simple long sleeve tees - got one for my client and a great pair of pants. I found their pants to be really unique. They had black linen cargo pants for blokes... did NOT get that for my client but they were really interesting... Anyone have thoughts on where to wear? I can't stop thinking about this. Are they for sophisticated / Italian army men on leave and if so, where are they vacationing that they want black linen?! This is what happens when I'm presented with such a conundrum - this piece is messing with my head.

I also had a bikini weekend that was a blast but I want ideas on where to find the perfect bikini. I have 2, wear 1 and I'm totally bored with it. My 2 stops this week came up dead end. Send ideas... keeping in mind if I wanted to spend hundreds, I wouldn't be asking. UPDATE: Now I need one for a shoot project... send your fave brand ideas please, this is your chance to influence the media, Ladies.

Back to work...

Friday, July 3, 2009

Secret for When You Need It

By Aqua Catlin

Due to my triple booking myself every day and night for the last little while, I'm posting late and little. But its important that you know this. If you desperately need something to wear:
Buy Theory.

Its safe to assume that you'll look sophis, clean, elegant and in the know. If you need something for work, or something for a date, an important meeting - whatever it is, you'll find something impeccable. This will make you feel "Audrey Hepburn gorgeous & kind," which is why we do any of this, afterall.

Theory is considered a bridge price-point - too cheap for some and too expensive for others but ultimately doable and totally worth it, (and secret #2 is if you buy at Loehmann's you can buy twice as much of it.) Really though, their pieces last forever and you can buy one every now and then and know you'll have and love it long. Value + beauty + casual chic. Its win win win win.

Now for the best part, their famous pants (bum)... Back when I was 21 and on the budget of a 10 year old, I bought a pair of their famous and loved trousers/slacks/pants. What they can't do for the bum does not need to happen. I still have those trousers and every now and then when I can fit in them, my round white girl bum becomes the high and proud booty of a strong black sistah. The cut is well known for some kind of wonderful magic in the bottom.

Their menswear is crisp and modern with lots of urban looks to offer but I don't have personal experience here. We do know Theory is always sexyish and safe - no need to question if you'll find something. You will. They have their own retail locations as well as being widely available in department stores. I'm so sure of all this, I'm not even going to give you images. Just go to them whenever you have a need.

What have we learned here?
1. When you need something you can be sure of, chose Theory and as a bonus included in the price, your butt will look adorable
2. Shop at Loehmann's for amazing designer deals and don't tell anyone
3. Always plan your blog post in advance of 1am
4. If you feel great, you look great no matter what you're wearing

Happy and safe holiday people. Fireworks rock.