Browse Tag by claire stemen

We’re All Just Copycats: Style Icons

Style is as unique as it is a total sham. We copy, we remix, and we take from those in the spotlight, people otherwise known as style icons.

There are the staples, women that all women love and want to be like: Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor, Rihanna, Beyoncé, or whatever supermodel of the year is being indulged by Vogue Magazine…Karlie Kloss for some time, now one or both of the Hadids and so on.

If you speak with those entrenched in style you might find some cult favorites: Carine Roitfeld or Leandra Medine, for example. And as for men, I’m afraid I’ve not heard many of them claim to be inspired by anyone (dirty liars, they’ve got to have eyes on someone.)

Personally, I’ve got more than a few and I’m certain some of them are obvious, but today I want to tell a story about one of my icons. She keeps coming up in my mind and I suppose these days she’s emerging as my inspiration more than others.

caroline in menswear

Caroline de Maigret, Wanda Nylon, and my first Fashion Week

It was the year 2016. The month of March, early March. Still chilly in Paris, but with some bright sunshine attempting to filter through the city’s characteristic gray, especially beautiful during what the English call “the gloaming” and what the french refer to as “le crépescule.”

My first fashion show ever. I had popped into a presentation for a brand called Sixth June, but it was hardly fashion week caliber—this was the real deal. My friend Hannah and I, invitations late to our mailboxes, shouted our names and our publication at the bouncer amidst the beautiful people.

Inside the drafty and unfinished building I wondered how this was a venue just as much as Grand Palais, but I liked the grittiness.

hannah walking through show venue
Location of the Wanda Nylon show.

The show was Wanda Nylon. I had done very cursory preliminary research on her. Apparently she made some very interesting outerwear.

When we climbed the dark stairs we stumbled upon a makeshift runway, the lights necessary for good photos were all that seemed important. There was hardly anything else save for two or three rows of white benches for guests. I would be standing room, of course.

clear invitation on the floor
An invitation on the floor.

I huddled close to my friend, my only comfort. There might have been champagne, seemed to always be free champagne at these things. And then I gasped quietly and jabbed Hannah in the side. There she was.

Caroline de Maigret right here at the same show I was at. In the flesh. Wearing her typical look: the leather jacket, messy hair, and excellent jeans. She looked so casual, like she had just come in off of the streets to grace us at this show, hardly Chanel or Dries Van Noten. (That’s a thing to like at Paris Fashion Week, it’s not all about status.)

cdm street style
Caroline de Maigret—iconic Parisian model, music producer, and admirable person.

In my fervent excitement, I wondered if I should get a photo or video for our publication, but I thought no, that’d be exploiting this moment. And I couldn’t annoy her in this way, film her like a wild animal. I was jiggling with joy, my legs jittering and I think maybe she noticed because she looked up and smiled at me.

Looked straight at me and smiled. I’ll never forget it. That’s a kindness many who’ve made it in the industry wouldn’t bestow on a nobody.

Eye-skimming bangs, unbrushed hair, and je ne sais quoi

Caroline de Maigret is not your typical fashionista, nor your typical model. She’s not full glam and she has plenty of physical flaws on view. She does not work out, in fact she quite detests it. And, as a New York Times interview so aptly puts it:

“Ms. de Maigret…is a count’s daughter who left the Sorbonne to model, left modeling to produce rock music, and left music to return to modeling.”

Not your run-of-the-mill indeed.

More and more, I find I am reaching for the kind of style she represents, a look that says I don’t have to wash my hair or perfectly blend an eyeshadow. I’ve always loved the unstructured look of loose menswear—clothes that allow you to eat while you’re out.

cdm reading

I should mention too, that’s she’s written a book with her parisian friends, Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, and Sophie Mas, titled How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits.

And of course it’s one of my bibles, since my day to day lifestyle is attempting to be as parisian as possible.

cdm with wallpaper

To me Caroline de Maigret represents not only a style, but a lifestyle and her decision to write a book about being parisian shows me she understands this concept and is consciously considering her style as more than outward appearance.

There is a sort of preoccupation with the “je ne sais quoi” (the “I don’t know what”) of French women by American women. We’re obsessed with trying to find ways to be them, even if our lives and our culture make that almost impossible. This was made more obvious when I couldn’t even find a copy of the book in France, in french bookstores, that were written in french.

Caroline de Maigret wryly understands this and finds ways to pinpoint the paradoxical, complex, and hypocritical nature of French, specifically parisian women. I especially like her features in YouTube videos on the subject.

Light reading au café

It only makes sense that when I mentally return to de Maigret that I return to the book in question.

A lot of the blathering fashion and life advice I often give (unsolicited most likely…I send warm gratitude to friends who have amused me) is along the same vein of this book. The truth is out. I had to let you think it was all me for as long as possible.

illustrated page

The kind of particular advice in here is enough to make you consider your every move and I’d be confident in claiming that every style icon you follow or genuflect to follows the same kind of meticulous consideration, even if that attitude is to be seemingly carefree. After all, appearing to be careless takes a lot of work.

Parisian women, and I would venture to say this book as well, give us the sort of insight that can lessen the insecurities we may have about our lack of “Riri-ness” or “Chung-ness”, that all of us have a practiced look and attitude. After all, an entire city has a famous practiced attitude, why shouldn’t everyone else?

Pretenders pretending

The above quote caught my eye and its ironic appearance in a book telling me exactly how to be something I may not actually be is the essence of the parisian. She’s just grasping at her passions and trying to pretend she’s doing so casually. It’s exactly why I subscribe to my own blend of stolen icons. The reason we all pretend what we’re doing is natural.

And I think, much with any sort of art, that the art of being a person is rooted in this balancing act. It will be paradoxical, hypocritical, and fickle. It will change from full-glam to au naturel in mere months, days, or seconds.

Much like the constant minute changes in our personalities and philosophies, we have icons to look to, to find inspiration in and to formulate, at the very least, our outward appearance, our armor.

Because you can go to battle with the best ideology, but you’re nothing without some really excellent armor.






Who is your current style icon? Or icon in general?


It’s Blinding: RiRi and Kim K’s Beauty Marketing

Newly crowned queen of fashion week, Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty, recently launched her own line of beauty products, two years in the making. Since the announcement of the launch, gurus and enthusiasts have been shaking with anticipation and I can safely say the megastar delivered.

rihanna doing someone's makeup at launch

And while Rihanna is insanely popular, her line’s popularity comes at least in part from its inclusivity. Fenty Beauty boasts a whopping 40 foundation shades with varying undertones for multitudes of skin tones. They retail for $34, along with other mid-priced items like a foundation brush, sponge, blotting papers, and a newly designed highlighter brush.

If you’re new to the beauty community or someone who doesn’t concern themselves with it (though it’s big enough that you might as well be aware of it) the lack of representation for women of color has long been an unwon battle.

40 foundation shades

This meticulously developed project in collaboration with Kendo (makers of Bite Beauty, Kat Von D, and Marc Jacobs; owned by LVMH) has been lauded by many for its diverse product. What’s more, the website boasts a widget for discovering your shade and the issue of selling out of products has been shockingly avoided due to back stock preparation.

Fenty Beauty launched duo-highlighters retailing for $34 and a single highlighter with a drooling social media adoration called “Trophy Wife”, as well as a universal gloss entitled “Gloss Bomb” retailing for $18.

celebrity beauty, killawatt highlighter
Trophy Wife, killawatt highlighter.

Are you sensing a theme here? If not, Rihanna’s philosophy towards her line might shed some light on it.

“She launched a makeup line “so that women everywhere would be included,” focusing on a wide range of traditionally hard-to-match skin tones, creating formulas that work for all skin types, and pinpointing universal shades.”

The cherry on top? It’s cruelty-free, paraben-free, mostly vegan (minus some beeswax, carmine, etc), and manufactured without ingredients that contain gluten though they can’t guarantee there aren’t any traces of gluten throughout manufacturing.

It’s the millennial’s dream marketing campaign: eco-friendly practices, lack of toxic materials, inclusive shades, mid-price point, and headed by a fiercely independent mogul. And it comes at the perfect time to be juxtaposed with another colossal launch that took an effective approach deeply different than Fenty Beauty’s.

KKW Beauty | Millennial Pink without the Kumbaya

Ah, the Kardashians. Since their foray into the beauty industry with Kim, Kourtney, and Khloé heading a family line for drugstores, they’ve slowly ascended to mid-range to luxury prices for their products. Their drugstore attempt wasn’t received well, as well as their rebranding of it years past its launch. Their real boost to makeup relevance came from Kim’s famed contouring and Kylie’s liquid lips that matched her newly filled lips.

Piggybacking off of Kylie’s line of liquid lips, highlighters, and shadows (though look no further than Colourpop for similar shades and formulas; their mother company makes her lip kits) and her famed makeup look, Kim released liquid lips, contour/highlighter sticks, and contour palettes under KKW Beauty.

kkw stick swatches
Swatches for the contour sticks.

One major difference between Fenty Beauty and KKW is the shade range. Obviously contour kits don’t require 40 shades, but surely they require more than fair, medium, dark, and deep dark, many beauty gurus and buyers have reasoned. This was the main complaint along with the travel-size like packaging and the retail price for the sticks: $48. Not to mention the price of the powder palettes: $52.

kkw powder contour
Powder contour swatches for KKW Beauty.

As for the liquid lips, many reviewers complained that they were nearly all the same variation of one shade and hardly encompassed the needs of most skin types. These retailed for $45 and were “made by Kylie Cosmetics” but all of this really means that the makeup is all produced under Seed Beauty, who makes Colourpop famously, though their brands tab mentions two “confidential” brands, of which I can only assume one is KKW.

Despite all of these issues, of course KKW products sold out in little to no time. What’s fascinating to me, however, is why.

Bringing it to the People

So how do you market your celebrity-backed makeup successfully? Your name creates some considerable hype, certainly, but that isn’t the only thing that floats a product.

These ladies have chosen different avenues and they’re effective in their own ways.

Kim K chose her typical means of creating hype—exclusivity. It’s a mainstream strain of exclusivity, if you can understand the sentiment. She wants to appeal to a large swath of people, but she wants to draw back that appeal with an urgency.

Her product wasn’t stocked enough to make it through a launch and subsequently, sold out very quickly, creating a frantic demand for her contour kits and also justifying her price: “you want them? pay for this exclusive product hand-designed by Kim K” and of course the fans and reviewers will pay.

However, not all reviewers paid, full press kits of all of KKW products were sent to the largest influencers on YouTube and on beauty blogs, ensuring that she got a wide volume of reviews (reviews which would be unable to be objective due to the free product and who knows if they got a payout.)

What’s more, Kim K invited the biggest and brightest YouTube stars with hundreds of thousands of followers to an exclusive launch party, where she took many photo ops and posted nearly all of them on social media. Try making a bad review after that.

celebrity beauty, kkw and influencers at launch party
Kim, Influencers Jeffree Star, James Charles, and Amanda Ensing.

These influencers all got their own tag and post on instagram on both Kim K’s page and her new beauty line’s page. There was a slight scandal when Kim K forgot (under debate) to tag Jackie Aina, a prominent black YouTuber famous for her blazing honesty and critique of brands who don’t represent women of color, in her photo. Aina had given an honest review that wasn’t quite shining, but not totally negative towards KKW Beauty. Eyebrows around the internet raised.

celebrity beauty, jackie aina and kim k
Jackie Aina and Kim K, the famed untagged picture.

On top of this brilliant hype creation and the inclusion of advertising new age influencers (much like fashion embracing fashion bloggers with front row seating and clothing brand deals), Kim K went as far as to show up on YouTube’s biggest beauty bloggers’ channels and show them with her product how she contoured.

I have to applaud her for her brilliance. Or at least her PR/Marketing team’s brilliance.

celebrity beauty, kim k and jaclyn hill
Jaclyn Hill, with Kim K on her channel. The video was largely regarded as awkward.

That’s not all, she uploaded to her own YouTube channel with a video entitled “Kim Does Her Own Makeup” and the third-person referential in the title, along with it being a remotely interesting video despite such a banal activity, is what makes all of it so effective. We’re held at a distance with a beautifully false “look” into her life. It makes viewers hungry to be like her and to get closer to her.

celebrity beauty, kim k youtube video

Again, it’s smart, very smart, but it isn’t immune to consequences and it certainly omits some ethical precarity. Besides Kim Kardashian being a hot topic for both supporters of her and those who disdain her, she has opened the floodgates for celebrity YouTube appearance, which could overshadow the already tapering “average Joe” presence on the platform (see networks like NBC, who are whittling away such views and revenue) and give way to more merciless advertising.

Second, a simple look on her website versus Fenty’s gives us the kind of view into customer satisfaction that we will (or won’t) be getting: all sales are final, don’t expect quick confirmation of orders because of the volume of orders, you can’t reserve product, and you can only buy online.

Questions are telling, because it’s either what they’ve heard the most or expected to hear.

Giving it to the People

There are plenty of marked differences between Rihanna’s strategy and Kim K’s; I certainly don’t have the time and space to cover it all and I’m sure if you’re brave enough to read this far you’re not looking to be here all day.

The main difference here is hyping with exclusivity and inclusivity. Rihanna announced her beauty line on Twitter in May, promising the launch in the fall. Her website was a black screen with a simple email sign-up to notify those interested when it was time to launch.

We heard nearly nothing until days before and then we had another smart move, but this time in the way of Rihanna:

It’s such a good move and the way a lot of consumers want to see the industry turn. A model with an hijab? Multiple women of color? Natural, but empowered?

The hype rose and at last, a launch party as well as a Sephora meetup took place and the products launched with social media tapping away.

People were blown away by the sheer amount of shades and the careful explanation Rihanna gave whenever questioned: wanted everyone to feel pretty, wanted shades anyone could use.

A glance at her Fenty Beauty website will tell you instantly: the line is about you. She’s not the feature, plenty of multicolored models dot the pages of product and information—you nearly forget you’re on a celebrity’s beauty site. At the bottom we’re treated with a social media widget asking us to share our “Fenty Faces” where you can see girls already sharing.

When we head to KKW, it’s Kim, Kim, and Kim with not a model in sight. Even her lip products are variations of her name: Kim, Kiki, Kimmie, Kimberly.

Fenty Beauty claims boldly that it’s the “New Generation of Beauty”, but it’s to be seen which of these marketing ploys plays out to be the winner.

Even if you aren’t fascinated with this as I am, it’s best to be aware of how, as consumers, we’re poked, prodded, and moved to purchase some things over others. So score the websites, read as much as you can, and discover where it is these items come from.

Because like Trophy Wife and KKW’s highlighters, the hype is blinding.




Work Wear

Labor day was yesterday and it struck me that I did not remotely know what Labor day was for and why we had it off.

So of course I googled it and scored through a few sources to bust that mystery open (if it’s still a mystery to you.)

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, it’s always the first Monday in September and it is in recognition of “the social and economic achievements of American workers.” (Source.)

Can you believe I didn’t know that? Especially given the name of the day! It got me thinking about how we take a lot of those achievements for granted, along with the day itself (I mean, some people ironically still work.) But this is a blog that concerns itself with clothing, among other things, and I thought about how a lot of our favorite styles come straight from the bodies of workers. So without further ado, here are some fantastic fashions that came from laborers themselves.

(And maybe next time you wear any of them, you can spare some silent gratitude their way.)

Boiler Suits

I know, I know. You have no idea what that is. Let me enlighten you.

Now clearly not all of these are vintage workwear, but the inspiration is clearly working class. The boiler suit’s origins are quite similar to their namesake: the men who maintained coal-fired boilers wore these to protect themselves. They are, after all, perfect for protection: rough materials, no gaps in the garment, long pocket in the front for tool storage, etc.

They are also fantastic one-piece fashion statements. Of course, like other borrowed pieces, you have to be willing to work with the lack of fit (or, if you’re very attached, tailor it to you) and to roll up your sleeves quite literally.

Mechanic Shirts

You’ve seen these. Likely on the backs of rebel teens from movies set in the 60s. Or in your local vintage store, waiting for someone to take up the name Earl once more.

The fun in these shirts is imagining who these people once were and taking up their name as a badge of legitimacy. Oh you have a cool tee? I have Earl’s shirt.

julian casablancas garbage collector shirt

The photo above is, if you’re a huge Strokes fan, a classic Julian Casablancas look. It’s unforgettable, this garbage collector shirt. You don’t even know.

The origins of these shirts are rather obvious as well: automobile workers wore these, embroidered with their company logo and name and the style spread to other professions with uniforms. It’s a classic look that bled into the rebellious counter-culture and then, of course, into fashion.

The Flat Cap

(You may be more familiar with its popular name, the Newsboy Cap.)

This headwear goes as far back as 14th century England and it really hit the ground running when parliament passed a law in 1571 to protect their oh-so-precious wool trade, decreeing that all non-noble men over six wear wool caps on Sundays and on holidays, lest they pay a fine.

You can imagine it became a popular look and the flat cap became The Look of all non-nobles and, in the 19th and 20th centuries, the working-class signifier.

With the working class in decline since the mid-20th century, the cap has found its home in the middle-class and sometimes the upper class, despite its peasant origins.


I do hope you enjoyed your day off and all the work that people in the past put in to get you that day off, as well as all of the fabulous clothing they brought us because of their jobs.

Try not to feel too guilty while you’re wearing a flat cap and thinking about how it was the signature look of the plebeian types! Eek.




The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco | BOOKTHS

Welcome back to another book analysis and review of a book so difficult to read it took me far longer than expected.

Eco is not for the faint of heart, this is something I knew ahead of time, since he is a genius with prose. His writing is long and syntactically complex, his subjects expansive and developing at a micro-level. His works are absolutely re-reading material.

Nevertheless, Eco’s writing is a delicious experience for the linguistically-obsessed.

Let’s begin.

Who are you talking about?

Good question. This is Umberto Eco.

umberto eco smoking

I love this man. You don’t understand. I love him. Look at him.

eco with a magnifying glass

This sweet old, pot-bellied italian genius makes me so happy I get so excited to see one of his books in a store, what have you. Unfortunately he died in 2016 and it has saddened me to yet again be bereft of a favorite living author.

I’d recommend him to anyone, but I also know he’s very academic, so it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s work.

Some quick info on Eco: he was born in 1932 in Alessandria in the Italian region Piedmont (recall that Italy only became a democratic nation in 1946 post-WWII). Despite his father’s wish that he pursue law, Eco pursued medieval philosophy and literature at the University of Turin. After that he was a cultural editor for the state broadcasting station where he met some avant-garde artists.

He wrote a book piggy-backing off of his thesis on Aquinas and boom, we have a fantastic semiotician and writer.

The important note here is that he was born pre-Mussolini AND he lived during that angry meatball’s reign. The man knows fascism, he knows censorship, and he writes extensively on those subjects and how they manifest.

Oh and best of all, he had a personal library of 30,000 books in his Milan apartment and 20,000 in his Rimini vacation home (goals.) He died last year at the age of 84.

He used to teach at Bologna University which is 1088 years old. I once stayed in Bologna in a 1000 year old student-housed monastery. I regret not tracking Eco down just to meet him.

They collected passport photos of guests.

What even is the plot?

Glad you asked.

To put it simply, if I even can, in 19th century europe everything is much as it is and has always been: rife with conspiracies and plots. Behind many of these conspiracies and forged documents and domestic terrorism is Simonini (our main character), an agent of the French and Italian secret services.

We follow Simonini in a very, very complex manner, as he wakes up positively flabbergasted by the fact that he appears to be sharing his apartment with a priest he does not know. He begins to write in his diary, noticing that Abbé Della Piccola—the mysterious priest—responds in kind with the same amnesia.

The narrator clarifies sections for us, since he is reading the diary decades after its actual use.

Very complex, you see?

Eco in his library.

From Turin to Paris, Simonini uses his grandfather’s teachings on anti-semitism and hatred for Jesuits/freemasons as fuel to incite violence for the government, as he slowly begins to write a document that will change the world for the worse.

His incendiary document is titled the Prague Cemetery. Simonini writes the dramatic piece with borrowed scenery and ideas from older, racist and extremist writings to build an illusion of truth as he creates a scene of rabbis meeting to plan their destruction of the modern world.

As Eco says in his Paris Review Interview that I highly suggest reading, “Simonini is a forger, and understands that in order to tell secret information to a secret service you always have to tell what is already known. Otherwise they will not believe you.”

That’s all well and good, a book about a forger who feeds governments fake information and secretly works in his hateful agenda—very interesting.

I’ll let you in on a secret. The documents in this book, as well the characters, are nearly all real. The Prague Cemetery? The forged anti-semitic document? It’s based on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Guess who referenced that fabricated anti-semitic piece in his book?


“How much the whole existence of this people is based on a permanent falsehood is apparent in the famous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Every week the Frankfurter Zeitung whines that they are based on a forgery: and here lies the best proof that they are genuine…When this book becomes the common heritage of all people, the Jewish peril can then be considered as stamped out.” Hitler, Mein Kampf

Now that’s juicy….and scary

Yep. I audibly gasped at the conclusion of this novel. I couldn’t believe it that in all the despicable events and thoughts I had read, sometimes disgusting enough for me to put the book down in horror, I was reading truth. Eco only created one character: Simonini.

“All the others (except for a few incidental minor characters such as Notaio Rebaudengo and Ninuzzo) actually existed, and said and did what they are described as saying and doing in this novel.” Eco, The Prague Cemetery, “Useless Learned Explanations”

Even the illustrations in the novel are real portraits half of the time or real propaganda. Eco says it creates an “oscillatory function” in which you are shocked to discover that the normal, fiction-like function of a story is suddenly very real.

And of course it’s real. Of course there are all kinds of forged documents fed to governments and the masses to create fear, motivation, anger, what have you. The instances of planned violence in this novel—the bombings, the use of extremist students and groups as pawns to make public arrests or create safety or discontent. Of course it’s real.

You see it everyday. The note at the beginning of The Prague Cemetery says the reader will “look anxiously behind him, switch on all the lights, and suspect that these things could happen again today. In fact, they may be happening in that very moment.”

Nothing is new, is it? Nothing is ever new.

The book featuring my dog, who wanted to sniff literally every page.

What is the reading like?

It is not easy. Not solely because it’s Eco, since he is quite readable after being a pop culture author from The Name of the Rose, but because our main character is a bigot. He hates women, he hates Jewish people, he hates Jesuits and Freemasons, he even hates French people and he lives in France for many years.

“The German lives in a state of perpetual intestinal embarrassment due to an excess of beer and pork sausages on which he gorges himself.” (Eco, 6.)

“Priests…They are idle and belong to a class as dangerous as thieves and vagrants.” (Eco, 12.)

“I hate women, from what little I know of them.” (Eco, 14.)

And I could not forget his hatred of the Jews.

“My grandfather described those eyes that spy on you, so false as to turn you pale, those unctuous smiles, those hyena lips over bared teeth, those heavy, polluted, brutish looks, those restless creases between nose and lips, wrinkled by hatred, that nose of theirs like the beak of a southern bird…” (Eco, 5.)

Simonini also has an erotic obsession with food, so at the very least we encounter many beautiful descriptions of foreign foods that you’ve likely never heard of. At least the bigot has nice thoughts on restaurant meals.

We must mire through a rather despicable mind, we must go where we never want to go, to the place where angry and motivated people wallow. I can assure you it’s not a breeze, but I do think it’s vitally important.

Like this passage, which is chilling and horrible, which details Simonini’s “contribution” to mass genocide of the Jewish race:

“I wouldn’t have to destroy them myself—I am (as a rule) a man who recoils from physical violence—but I knew how it had to be done, since I lived through the days of the Commune. Take gangs of men who are well trained and indoctrinated, and drag anyone you meet with a hooked nosed and curly hair straight up against the wall. You’d end up losing a few Christians but, in the words of the bishop who had to attack Béziers when it was occupied by the Cathars, it is better to be prudent and kill the lot. God will recognize his own.

As it is written in their Protocols, the end justifies the means.” (Eco, 426.)

First: Simonini has murdered multiple times by this point in the book, ironically, for a man who “recoils from physical violence.”

Second: Reading this makes me uneasy and queasy.

And so?

Ultimately, this novel on 19th century conspiracies, written in 2011, is uncannily relevant. I would highly recommend it to anyone seeking understanding in the realm of false information or the dissemination of mainstream information.

Of course after Charlottesville and in this tumultuous time, some wonder how things got suddenly bad and, of course, any oppressed member of society will tell you it did not suddenly become tumultuous. Indeed, the soup of hatred has been simmering and boiling over and simmering again for centuries.

The violence of white men is old. It’s in Colombine, in Timothy McVeigh at Oklahoma City, in the extremism of masculinity, in colonization, and in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I don’t have time to type it all out. But if you need a way to understand the age of conspiracy, of forgery, and of the libel of the “other”, perhaps begin with The Prague Cemetery.

I should say Eco has a sister collection of essays titled Inventing the Enemy. I will do my best to get to it as soon as possible.

Bisous à tout le monde et tout qui souffre,


Sources used:

Eco, Umberto. The Prague Cemetery. New York, Mariner Books, 2010.

“Umberto Eco.” Umberto Eco Biography, Accessed 17 Aug. 2017.


Away in Marblehead

When I travel somewhere I have the opposite sort of social media presence that most people do. This is not to say that one trumps the other, but that in the midst of being in another place I notice I don’t keep up with my phone as normal.

This is tremendous for my personal goals, which is always to minimize moments on my phone or computer. I dislike being distracted from the day to day occurrences happening around me.

It’s been many years since my family has been gathered together, so we rented a house up in Marblehead right near the water with Cedar Point in view. It is a beautiful place with the uncanny quality of being so very close to home and feeling so far at the same time.

Views from our porch.

I documented some of what I wore, because the clothing I adopt in relaxation is a different monster than the day to day. So without further ado, here is my suitcase (and other special guests’ suitcases) in action.

I’m bikin, I’m bikin, slow-mo

There’s an art to bike-ready clothing. It has a lot to do with ratios of material that look nice in the wind and reducing that material to a safe amount that won’t get caught up in your wheels. This is a dress I bought back when I was obsessed with clearing out aisles of H&M. It was $10 and it shows that even the cheapest sundresses can be miracle workers for more than 5 years.

Will is featured here. When asked to comment on his bike ensemble he said they were “Just what I was wearing earlier in the day. They fit nicely into my backpack that I brought to work.”

Sometimes fashion is as practical as it is aesthetic.

Bike views.

We biked a lot at Marblehead. The wind there has the kind of freshness that makes you wave your head around like a dog in a car.

Secret sandbars

My aunt and uncle brought their kayaks with them, so my arms got a well-needed workout on the regular when we embarked on early morning or mid-afternoon kayaking adventures. Will and I swung around a point in the bay towards the lake and discovered a small sandbar rife with birds and with a really interesting view of Cedar Point.

We watched the rides go up and down from very far away and, because he works there and because he is an enthusiast, Will knows all the goings-on even if I couldn’t tell.

Here he is; enraptured. I’m sure he’d wrap up his swimwear in similar terms as his bike-wear. But don’t be fooled by his flippancy, the boy has style.

Scarf in hair

There is a particular charm to tying a scarf or a ribbon around your head. It’s childish and innocent, it’s the action of a little girl in a field of flowers, or at least that’s the way I think of it. I love the colors in these photos and their delicacy—beachside color palettes are pastel and soft on the eyes and I like the way they look like breeze might.

My cousin Kathryn is featured here. She was rightfully excited about her mustard yellow crop tee here and I think it couldn’t have been a better accent to the colors I was vibing about in these photos. I went with a classic button down I bought in Galleries Lafayette (same with the scarf in my hair) that I remember trying on in a dressing room while this song played. It’s such a random, dated song but I was struck by it at the time.

The jeans are Ann Taylor Loft, which has excellent options for itsy, bitsy petit girls like me (not too long, not to loose on the hips). My eyes are colored by the Marzia Bisognin’s Natura palette from Winky Lux, which is a New York based cruelty free brand that features fun colors.

It felt wonderful to play, swim, and take time to breathe in Marblehead. I know everyone always tells you to take time and pause, so I will just say “same” and hope you listen.

Toujours bisous,


Working With My Hands

First, it must be said, that the prospect of posing for photos can be difficult for me. You’ll have to bear with me as I try to come to terms with that bizarre bashfulness. I don’t know what I’m doing.

I went to the Cleveland Museum of Art with Will to catch the Alex Katz exhibit right before it was over and, thankfully, I could squeeze it in.

My knowledge of the art world lies mainly in 20th century french art, so an American artist of the pop art movement wasn’t exactly in my repertoire. I’m beyond happy that I went, as his pieces are beautiful and the exhibit flowed to best show his work as it evolved.

paper flowers
Wildflowers in Vase c.1954-55 Collage with cut and watercolored paper  27.9 x 21.3 inches

I saw Matisse in him (some flatter looking portraits of his muse Ada in colorful palettes, some paper collages of bright coloring) and some strange elements of Pollock (dripping paint, Katz is said to have studied Pollock intently despite rejecting abstractism), among others. At one point, a man who came up to me and Will said “that one on the right reminds me of Renoir when they eat in the grass” and then he pointed to a farther portrait saying “she’s the new Mona Lisa.” It was strange having someone ignite a conversation like that and it reminded me how rare and, bizarrely, how nice it is.

Alex Katz, Black Suit (Ada) 1958 Oil on linen 48 x 32 inches

We were particularly drawn to a portrait of Ada (again, his wife and muse) that seemed to be burning from within. The portraits had a strange quality of existing and not existing, of feeling real but uncannily void.

Knowing little to nothing about Katz beforehand made me a little apprehensive at first (I’m the kind of person who dives into research before I do anything) but it proved to be rewarding. There was enough context for me to suddenly see the conversation Katz was having with other moments in art and that is, in my opinion, really ridiculously amazing.



If you have a sort of specialized disdain for artspeak, this is the section that you would probably enjoy more.

This is where Claire tells you about clothing choices.

I made a dress in my last semester of college, as I had suddenly decided sewing was something I needed to know (I had a stinging guilt about writing about clothing and knowing squat about why it was couture.) This dress, however ill-fitting or rudimentarily produced, is a point of pride for me and I finally got the guts to wear it when I went to see Katz. Seemed vintage pop-art enough.

lime green paisley dress

And here it is, in all its bright green glory. I wanted to make something interesting out of the choices I was given in class, so I went with the 60s shift complete with a tie belt. It’s a simple cotton with a cool slit in the back and a boat neck.

You should know it took me weeks to produce this. And don’t even get me started on that zipper. But it sure felt good to finish, to claim that I had made it with my own hands.

At the end of college, I needed a skill that required my hands and a tangible result.

I want to make more things and I’ve found that I have plenty of ideas now for cutting up, repurposing, and stitching up things I would have disregarded. I hope to show you more of these projects in the future, as I try to figure out how to further personalize what I own. We’re all obsessed with self-expression anyway, might as well tailor it (literally) to you.

Claire laughing with green dress on
Laughing off the fear at Cleveland Museum of Art.


I am glad you all enjoyed the last post so much, even if you simply glanced (it’s why I add so many pictures) and I hope you like this one too. Please comment what you want to see or maybe something you’ve always wanted to know, should a suggestion come to you.

I’m figuring this whole style blogging thing out and honestly it took me a long time to do it because I never felt ready or that I knew what I was doing, but after researching Katz I found this quote which is as much an encouragement as it is an affirmation that we’re all okay.

“If you know what you’re doing, you’re doing dull stuff.” 




The Case for Predictability

In high school I had a rather astonishing promise that I made to myself: I would never wear the same outfit twice. I did not and, even when I wore the same clothing combination, I would switch up accessories or shoes or the little tucks and folds here and there. Below is a horrifying example of my “style”.

scary diagram of my high school style

People thought I possessed a monster collection of clothing and they weren’t totally wrong about that, but they also weren’t exactly right, as I played with my clothes in unexpected ways. A skirt was a dress, a dress was a shirt, etc. Some of it worked quite well, while a good number of these creative ideas went as well as they went above.

Fast forward to my days abroad and the decidedly less lucrative years in college and I find myself in a different conundrum.  I hardly like buying the clothing I used to, as much of it was the sort of chemically-stenched polyester nightmare popular for a teen on a budget with a thirst for trends, and I hardly have the income to spend as much as I used to.

In the spirit of Parisian dressing and of the unsavory knowledge one learns about the fashion industry (see the documentary “The True Cost”, the book “Overdressed” by Elizabeth Cline, etc) plus the increased appreciation I have for a good quality piece of clothing, I am wearing the same things over and over. Thus I present to you my newest philosophy: wear the same good stuff again and again.

The White Shirt (preferably a man’s)


It’s true that everyone always talks about the unlimited potential and joy that comes from a good, old Hanes undershirt. They’re not wrong and I can’t stop wearing the thing. It looks cool under dresses, it works well with skirts, and it’s an absolute victory when paired with denim. It’s amazing ability to drape casually on the body it wasn’t meant for is what makes this shirt the overlord of everything. I’m having issues not wearing it daily.

The Black Turtleneck


You should know that I wear this thing at every possible chance. I wore it in June. I’ll wear it the second we hit fall weather. I don’t know of a moment where a black turtleneck isn’t the most elegant and attractive item to wear. I don’t have much else to say other than that owning one of these is essential to feeling classy with literally no effort. Also it goes with everything.



Finding amazing, blog quality photos of my clothing is weirdly harder than it would seem, but I’m fresh in the style blogging world, so you’ll need to forgive me immediately. I bought this strange, 90s-style pair of overalls about three years ago and I never looked back. They’re incredibly wide-legged, with ripped off pockets and other rip details—the back is entirely torn to pieces save for the connecting pieces. They come from an excellent woman in Cleveland who tears apart and bleaches old denim to make really cool pieces—she’s one of my older secret sources. These are SO comfy, very cool and unique, and they go with—you guessed it—pretty much anything.

A Good Pair of Cutoffs


Get on the cut-off train, you hipster. You purchaser of pre-cut shorts. The best thing I ever did was take scissors to my jeans and it would be the best thing you do too, if you’d just take the leap. Shorts are impossible to buy, in my opinion. I have stupid short legs and I’m quite petite, so everything in the store finds a way to fail me. When I do score, it’s usually with jeans and when my jeans have too many rips in the knee, the only logical move forward is to amputate their legs and let the fraying gradually become excellent with washes and wear.


That’s all folks. I hope you enjoyed my foray into more “style-related” things. If you want more of this, please tell me and if you want me to do something in particular, again, please tell me.

Bisous à vous,


Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf | BOOKTHS

Bookths is back after a whirlwind of graduating and life changes.

I also bought about 30 or more so books at a fill-your-own-box book sale at CASE in Downtown Cleveland.

claire with a box of books
Pictured: me downplaying my pride and trying to make copious literary purchasing seem cool to the youth.

So, I will have plenty more material to work with in the future. As of this moment, let’s talk Woolf.

I wrote a story in the last semester of college and drew some inspiration from Virginia herself, drawing some parallels to her rather upsetting suicide, when she filled her pockets with rocks and let herself sink into the river before another war broke out.

As she is one of THE MOST influential authors in history and of the modern (20th century) period, people are often shocked that I haven’t read any of her novels. Which, considering the amount of classic novels and must-reads out there, you’ll have to cut me some slack as I try to sprint through them all.

In the middle of a rather desperate moment of self-doubt, I had driven to the library to ease my mind (something 13 year-old me was fond of) and went traipsing through the fiction section, saw Mrs. Dalloway and its relatively small stature, decided I could fit it into my eight other current reads (I don’t know how, because no, I couldn’t) and here we are. Let’s break it down.

The Author:

Virginia Woolf is one of the big dogs of literature. If you want to talk literature, you better talk Woolf (and I certainly didn’t until now.) As I mentioned, her contribution to writing happened in the 20th century, so her work is considered modernist. And, if you’ve ever read The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, you know about the stream-of-consciousness style of writing, which is something Virginia Woolf pioneered.

Profile of young Virginia Woolf

She was London-based, born of a rich family, and went to Kings College London—a smart cookie! Between WWI and WWII (sheesh what a time to be alive) Virginia Woolf was a central part of London’s literary scene and, later on, became a figure for second-wave feminism with her works highly regarded world-wide and translated into over fifty languages.

Who is Mrs. Dalloway, what’s going on?

Now that my Wikipedia explanation of Woolf is over, we can get to the story. There are a whole lot of characters in this book which covers a single day in our titular character’s life, as she prepares for a party. Sounds like it’s going nowhere, right? Oh how incorrect one can be.

  1. Mrs. Dalloway (Clarissa): Our main character, the woman who is throwing a party later. She is often described as having buckets and buckets of charm but also as all too stiff and strict in her character. During her day, she reminisces on her marriage to Richard in lieu of Peter and, if after all, one made her happier than the other.
  2. Peter Walsh: Clarissa’s old flame, he worked in India where he fell in love with a married woman. Peter has a habit of opening and closing a knife while he’s nervous and often projects a desperate and loathing energy towards Clarissa, whom he still loves but recognizes the impossibility of their match. Others describe him as adventurous, smart, and interesting, but far too desperate to be in love to ever be successful. No one wants to help him get a job, which reminds me a bit of Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illyich, when a man dies and at his funeral everyone spends time dividing his possessions and position in lieu of mourning him.
  3. Richard Dalloway: Clarissa’s husband, a clear-minded man who isn’t nearly as romantic as Peter Walsh, but does indeed love Clarissa even if he misunderstands her. There is a lovely scene regarding Richard’s purchasing of flowers for her and wanting her to see that it means he loves her, because he is incapable of saying “I love you” to her (which raises the question: does he in fact love her?) This is after he chooses not to purchase her jewelry, not knowing her taste—a heartbreaking hint to how they are strangers to each other.
  4. Septimus Warren Smith: War veteran and husband to Lucrezia Smith, he suffers from what appears to be PTSD or a form of depression (much like Woolf herself) and, after promising his wife he would kill himself, is presented to a doctor. To the  first doctor, he attaches all of human error to, a living symbol. Septimus is unable to feel reality, sees it all as something false and the people in it as unaware of the tragedy they live. He is coded as Clarissa’s foil.
  5. Sally Seton: Clarissa, Peter, and Richard’s old friend, albeit closest to Clarissa and Peter. She is fun-loving, wild, and openly passionate. She seems to facilitate communication between stubborn and prude Clarissa and to obstinately romantic Peter, acting as their medium. She works quite well as a contrast to them both, but also as a hint as to what Clarissa and Peter desired and what everyone else expected of them.
  6. Miss Kilman: A deeply religious and deeply spiteful woman who instructs Clarissa and Richard’s daughter in history, as she is among the British experts of history. She is well-educated, but poor and plain-looking. Using her religious fervor as a self-righteous justification, she is openly rude to Clarissa whom she sees as materialistic and vain.
  7. Sir William Bradshaw: A premier doctor for mental patients, of whom he says over and over again, simply need to realign their sense of “proportion.” I can’t say much about him, because of how he manifests in this story…you’ll just have to read it!
  8. Elizabeth Dalloway: The daughter of Clarissa and Richard. Someone I deem important in relation to her parents and thus, their characters. She is not her mother by all accounts and is used against her mother by way of Miss Kilman, yet there are moments where she and Clarissa collide and make sense of each other.

The plot of this book is relatively difficult to describe, it being mainly a hop-skip-jump from character to character as we swim through their thoughts. To sum it up Clarissa Dalloway is having an important party, Peter Walsh is back from India to get a job and try to bring back his lover from India, Sally Seton shows up, Septimus gets hospitalized, and we finally get to have our party at the end. As for the rest, the details are beautiful, the phrasing immaculate, so that I can’t do it justice. (See: read it.)

What of it:

Who cares about the day in the life of some rich old white lady in England? Why bother with a book of no chapters and hardly any paragraph indentations? What is the meaning of this single day?

“She had the perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very, dangerous to live even one day.”

Honestly, it’s a dense and complex piece that requires re-reading (the best kind of book) and my impressions at the moment are as follows: Woolf is a masterful writer, her turns of phrase and her figurative language is appallingly rich in meaning. This is a novel that reflects a modernist conundrum—remember we are pre-WWII and post-WWI, the game of world politics and violence has changed—in which the frivolity of modern life is set against a backdrop of astounding violence. The utter meaningless nature of a party, a marriage, and the past are pit against the overwhelming weight of what it means to live and exist.

Or, at least that’s how I saw it.


That’s two down: Nemesis by Agatha Christie and Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. I’m in the midst of The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco, so I hope to have that wrapped up soon. Warning: it’s a doozy.

As always, thank you for joining me, if you did.



Nemesis by Agatha Christie | BOOKTHS

nemesis, agatha christie


I know I promised to read a book a month and post about it and I know February was a really long time ago. There are a number of excuses I could spout here but there’s really no point in doing that. My mom always says “what did you learn from this?” when I screw up…

…therefore: it is not always possible to do things as originally planned. I said Nietzsche and I guess I really, truly meant Agatha Christie!

“Any coincidence,” said Miss Marple to herself, “is always worth noticing. You can throw it away later if it is only a coincidence.”

I picked one of her books, an interesting murder mystery from a library sale titled Nemesis, as it looked quick and easy to read (I don’t have all the time in the world to analyze philosophy on top of classes!) The books is especially strange, since I suppose in 1972 books like these had ads in them. They were trying to sell readers cigarettes and perfume mid murder mystery!

The Author:

Agatha Christie is the strangest woman. She wrote 66—sixty-six—crime novels in her lifetime and 14 short story collections. That’s a lot of writing. 

Also she happens to be the best-selling author of all time.

This is all very impressive, but the wildest thing about this famed and damed (she was honored as a Dame after her enormous literary success) author is that she disappeared mysteriously for 10 days.

To make a long story short: Agatha and her husband were fighting and preparing to divorce, when he left to go hang with his lover. Agatha wrote a letter saying she too was going to hang somewhere chill (Yorkshire) but she was not in Yorkshire or seen anywhere really; her car was found empty and abandoned on a road. For those 10 days mass hysteria ensued with a giant police force searching for her—she was even featured on The New York Times  front page!

Then—she was found in the Swan Hydropathic Hotel under the name of her husband’s lover. She never explained or referenced the disappearance in her own memoirs. Many theories floated about: publicity stunt, trying to embarrass her husband, a result of her overworked state and her mother’s recent death, some doctors say a Fugue state…but none of these have explained the strange disappearance and blasé reappearance of Christie. At the very least, it made for some good writing material for those 66 books, of which I would encourage anyone to pick up at any time. But now, onto one of those, a Jane Marple (one of her serial detectives) mystery, Nemesis.

The Who, the What, the Where, the Whatever:

In this particular piece, we have a number of humans to keep track of. They are as follows:

  1. Miss Jane Marple: an older woman with a penchant for crime and a serious intuition for evil, she is our main character and obsessed with gardening.
  2. Verity: our corpse, a schoolgirl of the teenage persuasion, she began to live with three sisters who were friends of her deceased parents, after falling in love with a boy she mysteriously disappeared and was apparently found with her head bashed in!
  3. Mr. Rafiel: the newly deceased friend of Miss Marple from an earlier novel, as a rich and clever man he led Miss Marple to Verity’s case in his will for mysterious reasons…
  4. Michael Rafiel: the son of Mr. Rafiel, wicked by nature and always getting into trouble, he’s imprisoned for the murder of Verity of which the details are still unknown as he claims to be innocent.
  5. Clotilde: one of the three sisters and the loving caretaker of Verity when her parents passed suddenly, she loved Verity like a daughter, Miss Marple thinks of her as an “Ophelia-type” constantly.
  6. Mrs. Glynne: one of the three sisters and “plain but pleasant-looking” according to Miss Marple.
  7. Anthea: one of the three sisters, definitely has issues: she can’t look at people straight and says strange things.

Of course, I couldn’t put every character on here, but just enough to paint a picture.

Miss Marple, according to the will of Mr. Rafiel (with whom she prevented a murder in the West Indies before his death) finds herself on a paid-for garden tour where she is to stay with the three sisters and learns of Michael Rafiel and the violent death of young Verity. Strange things begin to occur: another death and a foreboding feeling in the town where Verity died. Miss Marple enjoys gardens and walks, as she slowly untangles the complexities of Verity’s death…

And so?

This is a lovely light read and a very pretty, retro-looking novel. I would really recommend Agatha Christie to anyone. She’s likely a good gateway drug to crime novels. The book is no Tolstoy but it’s got some good language and dialogue. I especially appreciate the copious descriptions on gardens which is a fun juxtaposition to death and murder and also, in a way, an appropriate one (can you say life from death? hope for justice? this metaphor has legs.)

However, I always try to read critically and I would be remiss to ignore the glaring differences in attitude towards crime during this time. Christie is a traditional woman from middle-class England, born in the early part of the twentieth century. The attitude towards rape in this book is astonishing and also interesting for that reason.

Only recently has punishment and public shame for this crime been so fervent (you could still legally rape your wife in the eighties, after all), but the mention of that part of this murder in this book is strange…

First, the jarring attitude comes from male characters, which is an interesting choice. What does Christie mean by putting these words in these mouths?

Second, these rapes are painted as frivolous and motivated by social shame (which could very well be true, but perhaps not in the way they are explained here.)

One male character says: “Girls, you must remember, are far more ready to be raped nowadays than they used to be. Their mothers insist, very often, that they should call it rape. The girl in question had had several boyfriends who had gone further than friendship.” (Christie, 111.)

While a lawyer later affirms: “Well, we know what rape is nowadays. Mum tells the girls she’s got to accuse the young man of rape even if the young man hasn’t had much chance, with the girl at him all the time to come to the house while Mum’s away at work or Dad’s gone on holiday. Doesn’t stop badgering him until she’s forced him to sleep with her.” (Christie, 134.)

Interestingly, Mrs. Glynne later says in reference to Michael Rafiel and the rapes he’d been accused of: “Once assaulting a teen-ager—other things of that type. Of course I consider myself that the magistrates are too lenient with that kind of thing. They don’t want to upset a young man’s university career. And so they let them off with a—I forget what they call it—a suspended sentence, something of that kind. If these boys were sent to jail at once, it would perhaps warn them off that type of life.” (Christie, 141.)

I can’t quite discern what Christie is doing here…if she were condemning the 70s attitude for rape, you’d think she wouldn’t continually define it as a nagging-mother’s solution for prudency or as a device to slut shame teenage girls for accepting their sexuality. Conversely, the mention of a girl forcing a boy to have sex is, in fact rape, but just in reverse order of sex. Either way: these men are quite lost on what is and isn’t rape!

It could, however, be a subtle critique. I think it’s telling that the men in these dialogues condemn rape as an inconvenient blame game, while the women are either skeptical (as Miss Marple seems to be) or critical of those who remain lax on punishment for assault.

I have to applaud Christie if this is the case; she both appeals to those who side with the gentlemen (at the time, authority figures) while also slipping in a solution that is reasonable: let’s jail them first and stop them before crime is their career.


One really ought to follow their gut. That’s what Miss Jane Marple does and that’s what I did when I knew I couldn’t finish all that Nietzsche in one month (the shortest of the year too!) This post is later than I wanted to post and I’m already reading March’s book, which will hopefully be posted about by April.

If you would like to join me in reading, by all means please do. I’m doing The House on Mango Street right now (SUPER quick read if you want to pick it up and tell me how you feel about it) and then I’m working on a two-parter: Inventing the Enemy which is a series of essays by Umberto Eco (one of my all-time favorite writers) and the novel that is its friend The Prague Cemetery also by Umberto Eco, which I’m finding to be a thick and complicated text. This is a good thing: it means it has a lot of re-reading to it!

Or, you can just read my Bookths series where I’m just going to talk about the experiences I have reading these books, which is as unique the first time as the next. I hope maybe if you’re looking for something to read, I can help!

Thanks for joining, bisous et plus bisous,


Works cited:

Christie, Agatha. Nemesis. Pocket Books, 1973, New York, New York.


What’s Next: Monthly Notes

While musing about my blog’s future after a semester of more regular writing, I reached out to you to ask what you would like to see from me. Said survey is below:

twitter survery screenshot

An interesting 9% faction of you (approximately one of the eleven who answered, so hardly a faction) do not care about me. Heartening to see my sense of humor has a taker.

So! For each month ahead of us, I will be rolling out at least two posts (more when the fancy or topic strikes). They’re tied to some of my year-long goals in cultural self-improvement and general detachment from mindless technological distraction.

You can join, watch, or blissfully ignore Bookths. 

I’ll be reading one book a month of various classics, modern staples, and whatever else I need to scratch off my ever-growing book list. You can follow along, I will be posting what I’m working on, and I’ll write my impressions and include whatever other interesting tidbits are wrapped up in the reading. It’s very broad and very eclectic (on purpose).

Outside of Bookths, I’ll write up my monthly fixations—aesthetic and otherwise. Those are my Monthly Tidbits.

I really hope you enjoy reading them or follow along! Or at the very least, I’ll enjoy reading more books than usual.

If you have any suggestions or want to read other things from me, I’d be happy to oblige. (You just have to let me know.)