Monica D. Murgia

Art, creativity, and fashion

Archive for the ‘Shopping’ Category

November 14th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Find of the Week: Castillo for Elizabeth Arden Coat

Sometimes, good things find you.  That certainly was the case last week.  Every step forward bought surprise and delight.  Good news just poured in like bright yellow sunlight on the morning that you want to sleep in.  It just kept inching its way toward me, making me pay attention.  So things only got better when I was able to purchase this coat:



If you’re new to my site, you may not be aware of my complete adoration of  the work of Antonio Castillo.  The Spanish designer took up couture after the Spanish Civil War, designing for major couture houses including Paquin and Lanvin.  He did design for a 5 year period in New York in the 1940s.


Jody of Couture Allure contacted me about the coat a few weeks ago.  She had read my previous post on Castillo’s time designing here in America for Elizabeth Arden.  (New to my site?  Start with this post.) I had posted a Vogue editorial containing the exact coat! It appeared in the November 1st, 1947 run of Vogue, page 142.


I had to wait a bit to purchase it, but it’s finally mine!  Don’t you think it will look stunning with the Castillo for Elizabeth Arden dress I snagged a few months ago?  Not that wearing them has ever crossed my mind . . .
Many thanks to Jody of Couture Allure!  Please visit her site.


November 12th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Augusta Auctions, Part II

After work, I passed by Augusta Auctions preview of tomorrow’s New York sale.  Tomorrow at noon, 422 swoon-worthy lots will go on the block.  Sometimes people ask me how I amass my personal collection.  Once you really delve into a specialty, like American couture or a weak spot for Lanvin-Castillo, you begin to make all kinds of discoveries.  Like a vintage store in Houston.  Or a kindred spirit with an amazing blog.  You start to develop all sorts of relationships when you share your interests with other people.  Earlier this year, I took my fashion forecasting class to see the April sale preview offered by Augusta Auctions.  I can assure you that if you are a serious fashion collector, this auction is a must attend.


Lot 282: Paco Rabanne Coat & Helmet, c. 1965-67.  Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions.

Everyone should attend at least one auction in their life.  Bidding on a coveted item is a unique experience.  It’s a lot like gambling or playing the stock market.  It’s a mix of adrenaline, sweat, fear, and lust.  Questions flurry your mind and you only have seconds to make a decision: What if someone outbids you?  How much is too much?  What is the real or perceived value of the item?  Is it a solid investment?  Your mind is in overdrive and the auctioneer is crooning to get a higher price.  You’re all of the sudden unsure what hurts more, your purse strings or your heartstrings.

Lot 77: James Galanos Silk Day Dress, c. 1955.  Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions.

Augusta Auctions always has really amazing pieces.  Much of this is because they represent museums.  Museums have limited storage space.  They can only store so many objects safely.  New acquisitions and donations mean that space dwindles.  Curators can either re-organize the storage environment, or decide to edit the collection.  (De-accessioning is when the museum decides to remove items from their collection and sell them on the market.)


Lot 376: 19th Century Matador Cape.  Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions.

The de-accessioning process is what makes the auction so fun.  There is such a rich variety of objects available for purchase.  I was absolutely over the moon for this 19th Century matador cape.  It was a faded light sage green satin with gold gilt raised embroidery.  While signs of wear were apparent, it was such a beautiful piece.

The 1920s were well-represented.  There must have been two dozen beaded flapper dresses.  They were in such great shape they could be worn out on the town today.
Magazines from the time period were also on display.






Another beaded dress I couldn’t take my eyes off of was this Edwardian ballgown.  Beaded objects generally need to be stored flat because of their weight.  The weight of the beads can tear the fabric over time.
Lot 308: Gold Beaded Ballgown, c. 1908.  Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions.
And the rest of the images are just items I thought were beautiful.  Take a look.  (And if you’d like to bid on anything, register for the auction on Live Auctioneers.  Good luck!)
Lot 189: British Consul’s Court Bicorn, c. 1799.  Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions.
Lot 118: Two Brimmed Cloches, 1930s.  Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions.
Dress by James Galanos.  Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions.
Various Hermes Scarves.  Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions.




November 6th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Passion for Fashion at Kelly Taylor Auctions

There is nothing quite like a good fashion auction.  I’ve written about Augusta Auctions, Christie’s auction of Elizabeth Taylor’s estate, and Thierry De Maigret.  Another drool-worthy set of fashion and accoutrements are set for the auction block in London on December 3rd at Kelly Taylor Auctions.
Leon Bakst for Diaghilev

Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe Scheherazade Costume for Young Man.  Designed by Leon Bakst, 1910.  Image courtesy of Kerry Taylor Auctions.

It was difficult not to squeal with delight flipping through the virtual catalog.  Aside from the beautiful curated offerings, photographs, and descriptions – the focus of the sale has a Russian spin.  There are several costumes from Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe available.  I have a big soft spot for the Ballet Russe, which was only intensified after my trip to the National Gallery this summer. (New to my site?  You should check out my previous post, Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe)
Ossie Clark

Ossie Clark/Celia Birtwell Printed Chiffon Evening Gown and Cape, c. 1976.  Image courtesy of Kerry Taylor Auctions.

Costumes aside, there are some serious designers represented in the lot.  From Worth to McQueen, you’ll be able to find something to pine over.  I was delighted to see this Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell evening gown with a cape.  This power couple virtually created the fashion scene in England during the 1960s and 1970s.  Celia designed textiles while Ossie made garments for famous clients including: the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Bianca Jagger.


Madame Gres


Madame Gres Black Silk Jersey Evening Gown, c. 1935-1944.  Image courtesy of Kerry Taylor Auctions.

There is a beautiful Madame Gres available.  The Grecian draping is always perfection.  In black, it’s timeless.


Edwardian Wedding Dress
Madame Hayward Bridal Gown for Regina de Bittencourt, 1914.  Image courtesy of Kerry Taylor Auctions.
The 1910s are represented with this gorgeous wedding dress.  It belonged to Chilean heiress Regina de Bittencourt.  The dress is accompanied by primary source articles, wedding photos, and an impressive provenance.
Cecil Chapman
 Ceil Chapman Mint Green Taffeta Evening Gown and Coat, c.1954-58.  Image courtesy of Kerry Taylor Auctions.
I pegged this evening dress and coat as Dior, but read that it was Ceil Chapman.  Chapman was an American fashion designer active in New York during the 1940s-1960s.  (She definitely merits an upcoming post!)  Grace Kelly was photographed wearing a similar coat.
Junya Wantanabe for Comme des Garcons 2
Junya Wantanabe for Comme des Garcons.  Denim dress, 2001.  Image courtesy of Kerry Taylor Auctions.

And my last favorite is this denim dress by Junya Wantanabe for Comme des Garcons.  The spiraling panels of denim and seam-work are too beautiful for words.  If I bought this, I’d never take it off!
close up Junya Wantanabe for Comme des Garcons

See what else is available on the December 3rd auction via the virtual catalog.

June 24th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Find of the Week: Swirl Dress


It’s always a great idea to read your colleagues’ work.  This can be challenging to do with a busy schedule, and literally thousands of websites to comb through.  But when you find a good blog, you should bookmark it and visit when you have the time.  That’s what I do.   And one site I learn so much from is The Vintage Traveler.  This week’s find is thanks to Lizzie!

The print of this dress caught my eye.  It’s a repeat of a little purple bird perched atop a rambling flower vine.  I wasn’t sure that the silhouette was quite “me”, but since when can I resist a great textile pattern?

I took a closer look, and more and more details made this dress irresistible.  Utilitarian pockets piped in blue and green cording . . .


overlapped tulip sleeves, also piped in the same blue and green cording . . .


a really simple and feminine silhouette . . .


As I examined the closures, I thought it could be a Swirl.  And it was!  (Thanks, Lizzie!)

To get the full story on this label, you really need to read this article, as well as view the numerous articles on The Vintage Traveler.  What makes the Swirl so wonderful is that it was an easy to wear, easy to care for dress.  The company started manufacturing during WWII, so the designs had to be simple.  Once you understand the the construction of the dress, it really shows the innovation and modernity of American sportswear of the era.


Unlike the wrap dress of today, the Swirl closes at the back with a small button at the neck.


 There is a cord and small opening in the side seam to allow the wearer to adjust the fit and silhouette herself.  Button, wrap, and go!  This design allows a woman to get ready in a few seconds, but still look polished and put together.


The dress is made of cotton, making laundering very simple.  Even after I washed it, it didn’t need ironing.  Lucky me!

May 2nd, 2013 by Monica Murgia

The Great Gatsby & Brooks Brothers

Teaching fashion history this spring has been absolutely amazing.  There have been so many wonderful places to take my students.  It just so happens that the same week I covered the 1920s, Brooks Brothers also has the costumes from The Great Gatsby on display.  A stone’s throw from campus, we ventured over to take a look at the Fifth Avenue store.
The miniature exhibition was courtesy of Warner Brothers, and completely fascinating.  Brooks Brothers allowed costume designer, Catherine Martin, to access their archives.  Martin designed the historically accurate menswear after carefully studying everything in the archives relating to the 1920s.  There was a short video playing in which Martin talks about the importance of consulting primary sources to make costumes authentic.  Dancing images of old advertisements, swatch cards, and illustrations filled the background as she spoke.


The tuxedos and suits were so elegant.  Yet it was difficult for me to focus solely on the menswear, because the women’s costumes made by Prada were also on display.  Just look at the glitzy, embellished fabric.

Prada gown illustrated by Steven Stipelman.  Image courtesy of WWD.
There has been such a buzz about this film for good reason.  Leonardo DiCaprio always carefully selects his roles, so I’m sure he won’t disappoint us with the remake of this film.  The costumes are magnificent. And, perhaps the best part, WWD covered this topic and included gorgeous illustrations instead of photographs.
Prada gowns and Brooks Brothers tuxedos illustrated by Steven Stipelman.  Image courtesy of WWD.
Fashion illustrations have been abandoned with the advent of digital photography and CAD programs.  It’s so nice to see illustrations making a comeback, because they add  such a rich dimension to the mix.  It furthers the relationship between fashion and art.


  Bottles of Moet champagne complemented the display.  The whole environment just felt so opulent.



Brooks Brothers is also offering a limited edition line of menswear based on the film.  Everything from straw boaters, to oxfords, to full tuxedos are available for purchase.  I’m hoping that this creates a new trend of men dressing up!  It’s so attractive.  All of Brooks Brothers clothing is produced in America.  In fact, most of it is made right in New York.


Who wouldn’t like to be greeted by a man wearing something like this?


All images courtesy of Brooks Brothers and Warner Brothers Studios unless otherwise stated.

April 20th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Augusta Auctions

Earlier last week, I took my class to see the preview of Augusta Auctions latest sale.  Twice a year, this auction house comes to New York, offering gorgeous fashion, textiles, and accessories that are de-accessioned from museum collections or consigned from private estates.


Pursuing the selections was so much fun.  There were gorgeous dresses from every era spread out on racks and tables.  I loved this day dress from the 1930s.  The top stitching on the collar and sleeves was such an elegant touch.


Every object could be handled, as long as you wore a white glove.  Auction previews are a great way to examine objects before they hit the block.  You can determine the condition and your budget.  If you are unable to attend when the lot is up for bidding, you can submit a phone bid.  No more wasting the entire day waiting for the lot of your dreams.  (New to auctions?  Keep in mind that every auction house has a buyer’s premium.  This means an extra percentage is added to your final bid.  These premiums range from 20% to 35% depending on the auction house.)


There were also some fantastic dresses from the 1920s.  Their condition was really impeccable.  These dresses were carefully housed in a blue board box, and cushioned with tissue paper to preserve the shape.


I just loved the hemline on this dress.


This was another favorite!  The auction estimates were very reasonable.  I was really tempted to bid on a few things.  Who wouldn’t love a dress with beading like this?


There were bins of ethnographic embroideries and textiles from around the world.  Seeing the quality and craftsmanship of historical textiles makes it so difficult to shop the contemporary market.  Just look at these hand embroidered flowers on this velvet cloth.


The best part?  I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in ages!  Giselle from Fashioning the Past was also at the fashion preview.  If you haven’t seen her blog, you should really check it out.


April 15th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Forecasting Fashion





It’s been an intense week, so things have been quiet on my blog.  New classes, new students, presentations about The Stieg Collection.  Everything has been so much fun, but I’ve had little time to write.  I probably should be grading papers, but I wanted to write a post about my fashion forecasting class.

Much like it sounds, you can predict future fashions and trends if you know what to look for.  We look at different people, what motivates them to participate in fashion, innovations in textiles, trends in colors, and lots of other things.  What I like most about teaching this class is that I have to communicate how I see things.  Last week, I took my class on a field trip to do some trend spotting.  I have some ideas in my head already that fashion is going to become increasingly inspired by nature.


Even in the city, you can see that people crave nature.  Plants line storefronts.  Colorful flowers and shrubs are displayed for purchase.  Food culture is becoming more focused on natural flavoring, organic produce, and saying “no” to genetically modified organisms.


We also went to Brooklyn Charm, and I noticed a lot of jewelry that took cues from the natural environment.  Leaves, flowers, gems, crystals, geodes – everything pointed to the great outdoors.


I couldn’t resist!  I got a few small charms for my own necklace.


I saw some vintage clothing from the neighborhood we observed that had some great references, too.  I wanted to buy everything, but I was only observing.


Leaves can be dressed up or down!


And you can never go wrong with flowers.


I started to see how people were already wearing this on the street.  Doesn’t it look sort of like the early 1970s?



My thoughts were confirmed when I saw all the pictures from Coachella!  New York and California seem to agree some fashion points.  It’s a flower power revival, don’t you agree?

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Coachella 2013.  Image courtesy of Celeb Buzz.

March 24th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Find of the Week: The Art Spirit by Robert Henri



My previous posts about the “Find of the Week” have always been about clothing.  But today’s post is all about a wonderful book I discovered.  The Art Spirit by Robert Henri is a collection of the artist’s beliefs, theories, and teachings on painting.  I can’t tell you how excited I was to accidentally discover this book!


Robert Henri (1865-1929) was an American artist, primarily know for his portraits, and the leader of the Ashcan School.  Around 1900, this group of painters focused on depicting scenes as they were (Realism) instead of in the dreamy, staccato way of the American (and French) Impressionists.

Henri attracted droves of students to The Art Students League of New York, including George Bellows. (New to my site?  Please take a moment to read my previous post on George Bellows) Henri was an excellent communicator, mostly because of the passion which drove him to create art.  He saw no separation between art and life, constantly stating that art is a matter in which everyone is vitally concerned.  Why?  Henri opens the book with the following:

Art, when really understood, is the province of every human being.  It is simply a question of doing things – anything – well.  It is not an outside, extra thing.  When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching , daring, self-expressing creature,  He becomes interesting to other people.


Current course catalog for The Art Students League

The Art Students League is still in operation.  After finding Henri’s book, I took a trip to the school.  There classes are extremely flexible and affordable.  You simply select the type of class you’d like to take, and pay for a month of enrollment.  Classes offered range in price from $80  to $240 for the month, and meet either once, twice, or five times a week.  The Art Students League also offers workshops, as well!  I’m hoping to enroll in a class or two this summer.



Classroom storage at The Art Students League.

The book is so inspiring.  It is no wonder to me that Henri had so many students.  When I read his words now, so long after they were written in the 1920s, I can feel this dormant creativity in myself waking up.  A particular passage in the book really touched me:

“There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual.  Such are the moments of greatest happiness.  Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom.  If one could but recall his visions by some sort of sign.  It was in this hope that the arts were invented.  Signposts on the way to what might be. Signposts towards greater knowledge.”

1908 Jessica Penn in Black with White Plumes oil on canvas 196 x 97 cm


Jessica Penn in Black and White Plumes by Robert Henri, 1908.

That is what made Henri such a great artist.  He could observe daily life in such extraordinary detail.  Looking at his portrait of Jessica Penn, I imagine that he captured her likeness very well.  Penn seems very self-assured with her bold pose: shoulders back, hip thrust back and jutted out to the side, arms positioning the fabric of her skirt to show her silhouette more closely.  She has that s-shaped silhouette so typical of the time period. But look at her face: doesn’t she look a bit, well, bored?  Maybe she is just tired – those extreme corsets of the day certainly made daily activities, like walking and breathing, difficult.

Her outfit is really skillful depicted.  It really reminds me a lot of this dress by Jaques Doucet from 1903.



Dress by Jacques Doucet, 1903.  Image courtesy of The Kyoto Costume Institute.  





March 6th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Celebrating The Stieg Collection!

I’ve been so lucky to catalog and archive The Stieg Collection at The Baum School of Art.  About a year ago, the school was gifted the custom-made wardrobe of Mrs. Robert Stieg (Jane).  The collection spans from 1958 – 1968, and every garment was made especially for her by the Utah Tailoring Mills.  (New to my site?  Please read more about The Stieg Collection!)
Back in November, I started organizing, photographing, and cataloging the collection for teaching purposes.  Of course, I also started researching and writing about the collection because it is such a fashion history gem.  My enthusiasm has been a bit contagious!  Happily, we are celebrating this generous donation by hosting the event VINTAGE.


On Thursday, April 11th, you can join us to learn all about The Stieg Collection.  I’ll be giving a short presentation on Jane Stieg, the Utah Tailoring Mills, and how the Baum School of Art is using this resource for their fashion design program.  Several pieces from the collection will be on display.

In addition, there will be a chance to buy your vintage treasures.  Remedy, Underwired Vintage, and Duo Design Studios will be there with their fabulous merchandise.  The event will be at the swanky Cosmopolitan in Allentown.  Tickets are available for purchase, just click here.  Hope to see there!
Many thanks to Lehigh Valley Style, Cosmopolitan, The Baum School of Art, and our vendors mentioned above!


February 28th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Byzantine Express

Once in a great while, there is a collection that blows me away.  Dolce Gabbana’s Fall/Winter 2014 was one of those dreamy, art inspired collections that I can’t stop thinking about!  In my eyes, this label can do no wrong.  They always make beautiful garments, most of which reference Italian art and history.  This year, they looked to Byzantine art that is so prevalent in Italy.
Look at how the dress above (image courtesy of has a geometric printed textile that mimics the gold coated mosaic bits of stone and glass.  The crown on the figure looks to have hand-sewn embellishments.  Looks a lot like this this Byzantine mosaic, doesn’t it?  The way the head is gestured, the crown with three points, even the eyes and crook of the nose all looks the same . . .

Image courtesy of Orthodox Northwest.

There were so many great looks!  I tried to pick a few that had a strong correlation to existing mosaics.  This dress certainly looks like it was inspired by the mosaic of Saint Michael, the Archangel.  Take a look:
The red halo, the blue tunic with golden Maltese crosses, the geometric patterned stole.  It’s all the same!
The general patterns are a really close match, too!  Take a look at this hemline . . .
compared to this detail . .
 The accessories are so amazing, too!  Look a this handbag.  It really resembles Justinian, don’t you think?
It’s not an exact match, but pretty close.  The crown is a different color and shape, the jewelry is different – but the clothing is draped the same way and fastened with a similar brooch.
The collection is pretty dreamy.  Be on the lookout for Byzantine inspired fashion.



February 27th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Find of the Week: Scarf by Jacques Fath



Ascots.  Foulards.  Scarves.  Whatever you call them, I’m fascinated by this accessory.  I have an enourmous collection of scarves.  In fact, I’ve started writing a book about my own personal collection.  Hopefully it will be out by the end of the year.  The only problem I have is just when I’m about to finish, I find another amazing scarf to add to the collection.  This week was no exception.  I found this lovely scarf by Jacques Fath! 


I’ve written about Jacques Fath before in How to Speak Fashion, Part II.  Fath (1912-1954) was an eminent Parisian fashion designer that rose to fame during the WWII Occupation.  He became popular by designing dresses that could be worn while riding bicycles – which was the main mode of transportation.

After the war, he was considered to be one of the “Big Three” fashion designers – the other two were Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain.

His influence sky-rocked postwar, as he created very feminine silhouettes.  Fath’s garments were also fun, and allowed women mobility.  He died of leukemia in 1954.  His wife, Geneviève, took over the fashion house’s direction after his death until 1957.

Jacques Fath
The scarf is cotton, and judging by the color way, I’d say it’s from the mid to late 1960s.  A little sleuthing around the internet indicated that Fath created a scarf and hosiery  line in 1954.  The early signatures are much different than the one on my scarf – probably because the business was sold in 1957.  The image below is from Polyvore and is dated to the 1950s.  It looks more like a real signature.

After the company sold, the name would have become more of a brand identity than reference to the actual designer.  You can see that the label actually changed to reflect this.  My scarf has a more generic looking typeface on the bottom right corner.  But it’s still a gem!


February 23rd, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Menswear: Saddle Up!

I’m always spotting amazing fashion during my travels. The New York subway system is a constant source of fashion inspiration for me. There is just a constant flux of people getting in and off the train, all with unique and individual ways of dressing themselves.  Last night, I spotted these awesome saddle shoes in contrasting leather and suede. They are by Cole Haan.  So beautiful!


So here is why I love these: You can tell just by looking at the leather that it is a fantastic quality.  The brown leather looks very pliable, meaning it will mold to the shape of your foot the more you wear the shoes.  I’m also really partial to naturally dyed leathers in shades of brown.  Natural dyes and tanning processes in leather create variation in color.  I think these photos show exactly what I’m talking about.  The more you wear naturally dyed or tanned leather, it will scuff or change shades slightly in certain areas.  I love this effect!  It gives your shoes a bit if character.


The green suede is also really beautiful.  I’m pretty partial to green, but this combination is just stellar!  It’s classic, could be worn with lots of different outfits, and mixing different textures on a shoe is almost always a good thing.  It’s just more interesting than a uniform solid color of leather.

I decided to check out Cole Haan’s site for the shoes.  The closest pair available for purchase is the Ellwood Saddle Oxford.  This version has a similar color way (British tan & khaki), but both colors are made of the same type of hand polished leather.  The Ellwood also has a cutout design on the toecap.

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Not as interesting as the pair I spotted on the train, but beautiful nonetheless.  The Ellsworth is currently available for purchase, for $428 on Cole Haan’s website.

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