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Posts Tagged ‘Edward Molyneux’

Fashion Week, 1947

September 12, 2011 | by

Gertrude Stein and model in Pierre Balmain’s salon, with Rosamond Bernier in the background. Photograph by Horst P. Horst.

When the French fashion houses began to open again in 1946–47 after World War II and the occupation, American magazines thought it worthwhile to send people over to report on them. I was one of those people. I edged into the fashion world almost sideways. I thought I was going to write art features when I was recruited by Vogue. But Mrs. Chase thought otherwise, and her word was law.

I found myself on one of those first transatlantic flights that stopped over for the night at Gander, Newfoundland, to refuel. You rested, fully dressed, in one of a line of cots in a kind of barracks. My immediate neighbors were a group of Dominican monks—Italian, no English. I had studied Italian a long time ago in college but had had no opportunity to practice. I could only remember a few lines of Dante, about returning from hell, not much of a conversational opener. I tried it out, anyhow, and got a gratifying response.

My traveling companion was a small, angelic, and gifted artist who was the magazine’s dessinateur. He went under the name of Eric. My entire professional training was a hissed injunction as I left for the airport: “Keep Eric sober.” Keeping Eric sober turned out to be a major project, but if his gait was sometimes unsteady, his line never wavered. Read More »

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To Bricktop, on Her Belated Birthday

August 15, 2011 | by

Photograph by Jack Robinson. Courtesy The Jack Robinson Archive.

Whenever she was asked about her start in the world, the legendary saloonkeeper Bricktop—born Ada Smith—replied:

On the fourteenth day of August 1894, in the little town of Alderson, West-by-God-Virginia, the doctor said, “Another little split-tail,” and on that day Bricktop was born.

T. S. Eliot later added, “…and on that day Bricktop was born. And to her thorn, she gave a rose.”

Bricktop is a not a familiar name to most people today, though the crumbs of her extraordinary life are indispensable to the telling of a certain moment in the history of Americans in Paris and café society everywhere. Woody Allen’s latest movie, Midnight in Paris, could hardly recall the days of Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, or the Fitzgeralds without Zelda crying, “Let’s go to Bricktop’s!”

Ada Smith, like many African Americans of her day, was born poor. Her mother, who ran a boarding house, had a passion for cleanliness and a self-confessed trigger-fast Irish temper. Around 1900, the family moved from Virginia to the South Side of Chicago, where Ada got her first taste of the theater. She hung around the stage doors of Chicago’s great vaudeville houses, waiting for the likes of Sophie Tucker, a belting singer known as “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” to emerge. But it was the back rooms of saloons, with their sawdust-covered floors, that captured her imagination. Read More »

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