If you haven't noticed by now, my 2015 calendar was subtly inspired by New York City. It was produced by one of the oldest stationers in the city, Dempsey & Carroll, and was painted in my old Christie Street studio on the Lower East Side, while I looked out over the sweeping views north toward bustling mid town and the Empire State Building.
New York is practically perfect in all seasons. It's radiant and renewed in Spring with it's residents finally stepping forth for brunch outside, it's jubilant in summer with long weekends stretching temptingly around every corner, it's majestic in fall erupting with foliage in bright reds and yellow and in December, New York just might be the merriest place on the planet.
Forget the North Pole. It always sounded a little cold and like I'd have jet lag by the time I got there. New York is my North Pole. A real life Santa's Workshop. Each December the entire city erupts with an economy fueled by millions of elves all eager to bring forth the best, the brightest, the shiniest, the most magical sugar plums that could ever dance through your pretty little head.
Every store window puts on a show. An evening walk in December through dressed up New York City is really more of a waltz through the pages of a glossy magazine filled with gift guides. And of course...
All roads lead to Bergdorfs.
Whether you've lived here for twenty years or you've just come to manhattan for Christmas, you may have to see the big tree on the plaza, or ice skate in central park. But if you're anything like me, all of that can wait. You've come for the big show. The Bergdorfs Christmas Windows.
And it's not just the windows. Once you've soaked in their majesty, and felt swept away on the stories they tell, it's time to go inside. And you head straight for the elevator to rise through corridors of enticing sea foam green mirrors, past floor after floor of couture, as you levitate higher and higher riding the faint scent of truffled mac and cheese until you're there on the top floor, weaving your way through the $1500 childrens' cashmere and diamond cardigans, twisting through rooms of estate silver and John Derian decoupapge trays until you've found the hallway that leads to the land of the Whisper Chairs.
I swear the Bergdorf's Cafe is the place I meditate on when my yoga teacher tells us to "think of a place you feel most at peace" while we're in a headstand. There's something about that place that turns me into an 8 year old again who believes in all there is to believe in.
I always feel sentimental when painting the final piece of the calendar each year. So it was fitting to close this year's calendar, which was a love letter to the women of New York, with a sketch of two friends decked out in winter white and luxuriant furs, surrounded by their Bergdorfs haul nestled cozily in the Whisper Chairs in the cafe at Christmastime.
So without further ado, I give you Christmastime in the City! The elves are waiting for you! Happy December!
Robert Frost begins a poem about this month, "O Hushed October morning mild" just as today began in the city, with a pearly gray sky and the gentle coolness we've been waiting for.
The new season arrives humble, reverent, with head bent and arms out-stretched. The Earth is surrendering its bounty selflessly, asking nothing in return from us, as it sinks into its season of quiet stillness. There's something about this vulnerable season of change that calls on us all to be nurturing stewards to preserve Earth's offerings. To cherish the last wisps of warmth and light, to send the summer off with a fond farewell, watching until the sun has set.
The October Calendar Girl, did not begin her morning in New York City, but I'm sure she too felt the hushed chill on the morning mist hovering above the vines as she set out to harvest wine grapes, dressed in a vintage Pucci gown. A Bacchanalian nymph, prepared to usher the fruits of summer's labor on to begin their metamorphosis into an elixir of merriment hearty enough to warm us through the darkest parts of the months that wait beyond October's golden glow.
She winds further and further through the rows of vines, lost amidst the ripened beauty, paying no mind to being barefoot with cool earth beneath her feet. Enchanted by the season of change, willing this day poised between summer and winter to stretch on forever, knowing that partly why it feels so delicious is just how fleeting it is. At any moment the first fiery red leaf will shudder on his branch and break free.
"Beguile us in the way you know, release one leaf at break of day"
Do you remember the 21st night of September....
Rejoice! We have shifted through time to the best song-month of the year! Gone are the sandy, sun bleached idol hours of August set to the rhythm of a lapping tide. Here comes the crisp, espresso and Earth Wind and Fire fuled toe-tapping enthusiasm of this perkiest of months. It's time for newness and fashion shows!
This month's Calendar Girl is caught in a whirlwind moment between NYFW shows. One of those moments when everything is just on point and the paparazzi are loving it. Even Bill Cunningham slammed on his brakes to capture this radiant creature.
She invites you to channel her inner killing-it, this month. You too are a show-stopping nymph of sartorial magic who is in for a marvelous night for a moondance. You deserve lace up peep toed boots and off-the-shoulder-everything and Meg Ryan's very own bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils. Go get 'em, tiger!
Oh August! A month that, for me, always inspires a confusing mix of wanderlust and also laziness. The victory lap of summer. The final hurrah of doing nothing and being bored and barefoot, but with the potential for magical and unexpected adventure. The last moments of "school's out" mentality before the rhythm of "real life" starts all over again in the fall.
I chose to toast this month with a scene from the coast of Italy - a place where being barefoot and bored is a lifestyle that seems to me to be maintained with great conviction. No one else does lazy quite as beautifully as the Italians.
This is a painting from a memory I have of visiting Camogli, a little town in northern Italy two years ago in August. (Of course, I gave this girl a better outfit than I had on) Camogli for me is the perfect town to embody both the wanderlust and also the stillness that August is for me. It's a walking town - there aren't really any cars, and you enter by first standing, looking down from the vantage point I've painted above - poised atop a hill - and then slowly winding down a meandering path of stone steps dotted with old ladies drying clothes on lines, haphazardly parked vespas and many cats. This descent on foot is an easy, gracefully transition down into this village out of reality. Once you're in the little harbor, it is still, and slow, and peaceful. You can sit and enjoy pasta overlooking the sea for hours while debating where to get gelato later.
There is such beauty in this Augusty mix of the freedom to do anything and the choice to do nothing. It is a month when I have always felt a great wealth of time. How nice it is to feel very rich at least once a year and in a currency we often feel we have so little of.
So, rejoice, Augustonians, sit back, relax and watch the entire glory of the sun captured in a single shimmering drop of olive oil falling from a perfectly twirled forkful of mid-day pasta. September is is waiting just around the corner and there will be much, much less time.
Margo By The Water, Portrait of a Young Woman circa 2015 - watercolor on paper, artist unknown
A painting that has long been called the iconic image of a time in American history and culture known as "Summering Out East"
What we see here is somewhat of a mystery, art historically speaking. Margo, a mythical "land mermaid" known only by a small faction of elite Hamptons Natives, has been referenced often throughout history and various artistic mediums but few solid details are known about her origins or family lines. While the details of her lineage are blurred by the veil of time, the significance of her image as a Siren of Summer and an icon of Elitism has only grown with the passing centuries.
Shown here, in what would have been understood as a traditional environment, she is depicted as shy, and coquettish, her reticence recalls Bottecelli's Birth of Venus in it's conscious naiveté paired with a direct eye contact with the viewer. Margo's role in society was to be admired, a beautiful, presumably wealthy Hamptonite, she would have been familiar with often being looked at directly by the peasant class while she feigned disinterest. However, here the artist turns this scenario on it's head, showing her looking back, engaging, acknowledging that she is seen.
She is perched almost birdlike on the end of a diving board - an instrument that wealthy landowners often installed above their large man-made bodies of water (pools) which they then used for launching off of into said water, only after consuming a great deal of gin - a botanical, fragrant liquor often paired with lime juice and tonic water.
A lot can be interpreted by Margo's positioning above the water - she is aloof, detached, elevated above the water source. Raised up as though above the fray. Her toe, grazing the surface can be seen as a tentative connection - a small olive branch of kindness - much like the tepid smile someone of her stature in society might have offered the foreign gardner who was undoubtedly hired to care for the opulent display of hydrangea bushes depicted in the background.
Much has also been said about the color choices the artist used. The stark white of the sky captures the clean white haze that almanac records show existed in the weather patterns forming over the furthest points of New York's Long Island and Eastern townships.
The density, the energy, the overgrown exuberance of the flora in the background as exhibited by the painter's hasty use of excessive prussian blue mixed with cadmium yellow are surely a nod to the riotous and lush growth of all plant life between East Hampton and Montauk.
These towns were known for an abundance of expertly maintained Hedges - or walls made of bush, designed specifically by the upper class to keep peasants from peddling past on rusted beach bikes to leer at the unapologetic displays of Real Estate Porn sprawling across the lawns of Long Island.
Hedges were a fundamental part of Hamptons society in this time - a symbol for the stark devision between the Haves and the Have Nots. The people who summered consistently from Memorial Day to Labor Day "out east" and the weekend warriors who could only afford to enjoy life "out east" two out of every seven summer days, crammed like refugees into rented Share Houses - a form of primitive brothel, often housing up to 45 people in three or four bedrooms.
Margo would certainly have not been of the class of people subjected to Share Houses. She would have been of the class who referred to their Out East destinations as Second Homes, or perhaps, in some rare cases, Third Homes.
The inclusion of the black and white striped umbrella is a symbol of added wealth and power. Black and white stripes used in this context almost always denoted a connection to famed Interior Decorator, Miles Redd, or one of his lesser contemporaries. The Upper Class were slavishly devoted to his vision for their lifestyle and utterly captivated by his Slim Aarons-esque approach to use of black and white banner striping and Martinique Prints on almost everything.
The artist's choice to include this umbrella is surely not accidental, it is a clear message to the viewer in that time period that this was an image of Margo, that this was an image of a Summer Home. Not a Share House.
Many essays have been written purely on the topic of Margo's dress in the image. Her scalloped maillot is believed to have been designed by one of the premier swim designers of the era, Marysia Swim. A designer remembered for charging dearly for approximately 11 inches of unstructured microfiber preferred by the Upper Class and Bloggers alike. Bloggers - or rich white women who documented their #bliss - were a phenomenon of the time period. To own such a suit was again a symbol of Elitism, awareness of Cultural Hierarchy and possibly, even of Blogging. Although no records are found of Margo operating a blog, it is said that her likeness was replicated and seen often throughout blog records of the time period.
While art historians maintain that the legend of Margo is purely that - a legend - many will continue to search for her origins and be captivated by her significance in the rich tapestry of recalled life of the North Eastern Elite.
We salute this image as a touchstone with a romanticized era, as a symbol of American life, as a beacon of summer.
Meet Clementine, the June Calendar Girl.
Clementine maintains a perfect complexion, utterly unmarred by the harsh rays of the sun. She's rarely caught before sundown without one of her signature hats.
How does she keep a healthy glow in her cheeks without any sun exposure? Why vitamin C of course! Clementine has never met a juice she didn't love, especially pink grapefruit juice.
Clementine's thoughts for enjoying the month of June:
Welcome to May. And welcome, also, to one of my favorite weeks of the year. A week which combines opportunities to celebrate two completely distinct cultural phenomenons that are each spectacular in their own right: The Kentucky Derby and Cinco de Mayo.
Do you think that was what the corporate branding specialists were thinking when they opened all those combined-retail-drive-through spaces for KFC and Taco Bell together??
Anyway, these two semi-made-up holidays off-set one another so nicely. I'm just so glad they fall in the same week, and sometimes even on the same day.
Think about it. one holiday celebrates the copious consumption of mint, the other, the copious consumption of cilantro. Win. Win.
Silver Julep cups? Always a win. Giant margarita chalices? (what do yo call those, really?) WIN.
We don fascinators, then we don sombreros. Again, Winning all around in the headwear department.
Cheers to May starting with a bang! And this May starts even more victoriously than usual, jumping straight in with Derby Eve on May 1.
Happy Derby Eve Everyone!
Can you believe I've spent nearly ten years sketching calendar girls and this is the first year I've devoted May to celebrating this wonderful occasion for hat wearing?! I mean, come on! It's a no brainer. May = mint juleps, big hats, horse races. Duh. How did it take me this long to sketch this and give the people what they want? I'll file that under me-making-life-difficult-for-myself.
And now, for some backstory behind this sketch and a bit of reality line blurring...
This is a snap of Martha and Isabelle at last year's Derby. Martha and Isabelle are friends of Daphne's. They live in Kentucky so Daphne sees them precisely one time a year: Derby Day.
And in fact, she wasn't even present last year for the races (which explains why Martha and Isabelle aren't holding mint juleps in this picture. If Daphne had been there, she would have demanded mint juleps all day long)
I loved this image because It's so classically Martha and Isabelle. If you knew them, you'd see why.
Martha is the risk taker when it comes to fashion. Has she ever worn 1.5 inch long blue false eyelashes paired with a white alpaca fur parka to a casual Tuesday night dinner with friends? Yes. Of course.
So, for Martha's standards, this micro-mini feathered dress with the floral appliqué embellishments around the neckline was really actually a safe choice. You should see what she's picked for this year's festivities. Word on the street is that it's a fully sheer two piece outfit composed of both a crop top and culottes.
Isabelle, on the other hand, lives in a world governed by tradition. This pale pink vintage Dior drop-waisted dress belonged to her mother before her. And the fascinator was a favorite of her grandmother's.
The girls are particularly looking forward to the Derby this year. They've invited their old friend Daphne to join them and she's promised that this year she WILL attend. There's no telling what that wild card will be wearing...