Sunday, December 21, 2014

"The Woman I Wanted To Be" by Diane von Furstenberg

   If you ever wondered why most of my book reviews are of memoirs or biographies, The Woman I Wanted To Be is why. Despite reading being one of my fave things to do, time to just sit and have a leisurely read-fest is limited. In order to get the biggest bang for my buck -- to be entertained as well as to learn something new -- I gravitate to reading what is REAL. Plus I guess I'm a bit of a voyeur and enjoy peeping inside another person's life without being considered a stalker. Believe me, a book doesn't get any more real, more entertaining, more full of wisdom out the wazoo, and more behind-closed-doors titillating than The Woman I Wanted To Be by Diane von Furstenberg!
   I have admired DVF since her explosion into the Seventies fashion scene with the wrap dress. She and her clingy, jersey dresses were the epitome of Studio 54 sexy chic! I envied her wild flaming red hair, her sensual confidence, her European sophistication and style, and her real-life princess turned fashion designer fairytale-like journey. Now, after reading her book, I know she is a woman just like me -- often unsure; sometimes taking wrong turns; struggling with aging and feeling good about yourself in a youth-obsessed world; and striving to live your life as true and full as possible so in the end there are no regrets -- and I admire her even more. Through it all, the many highs and lows and reincarnations of herself and her brand, DVF has focused on "the woman she wants to be" and kept marching forward to make that happen. Thank you, Diane, for showing me the way as well!
   In order not to quote the whole damn book (it's that good, but I want you to read it for yourself!), I'll share just a few of the passages that I will carry with me as I march forward:      

On facing challenges: "When I have an obstacle in front of me, especially of someone else's making, I say 'OK. I don't like it, but I can't change it, so let's find a way around it.' Then I find a different path to a solution, which so satisfies me that I forget what the problem was in the first place. Of all the lessons my mother drummed into me, that was perhaps the most important. How could you possibly better yourself if you didn't face your challenges up front or if you laid your problems off on someone or something else and didn't learn from them?"

Beauty is: "Character. Intelligence. Strength. Style. That makes beauty. All these attributes form beauty, and personality, that elusive state of being that is not necessarily perfect."

The truth about aging: "Aging is out of your control. How you handle it, though, is in your hands."

"And never, ever lie about your age. Who can lie with the Internet anyway? To embrace your age is to embrace your life. Lying about your age, or about anything for that matter, is the beginning of trouble; it is the beginning of lying about who you are. What is important is to live fully every single day of every period of every age so that no time gets wasted."

"The best thing about aging, I have come to understand, is that you have a past. No one can take that away, so you'd better like it. That is why it is so important to waste no time. By living fully every day, you create your life and that becomes your past, a rich past."

"In my older face, I see my life. Every wrinkle, every smile line, every age spot. My life is written on my face. There is a saying that with age, you look outside what you are inside. If you are someone who never smiles your face gets saggy. If you're a person who smiles a lot, you will have more smile lines. Your wrinkles reflect the roads you've taken; they form the map of your life. My face reflects the wind and sun and rain and dust from the trips I've taken. My curiosity and love of life have filled me with colors and experiences and I wear them all with gratitude and pride. My face carries all my memories. Why would I erase them?"

Becoming the woman you want to be: "You cannot have a good relationship with anyone, unless you first have it with yourself. Once you have that, any other relationship is a plus, and not a must. Become your best friend; it is well worth it. It takes a lot of work and it can be painful because it requires honesty and discipline. It means you have to accept who you are, see all your faults and weaknesses. Having done that, you can correct, improve, and little by little discover the things you do like about yourself and start to design your life. There is no love unless there is truth and there is nothing truer than discovering and accepting who you really are. By being critical, you will find things you dislike as well as things you like, and the whole package is who you are. The whole package is what you must embrace and the whole package is what you have control of. It is you! Everything you think, do, like, becomes the person you are and the whole thing weaves into a life, your life."

"I didn't really know what I wanted to do, but I knew the woman I wanted to become."

   Beyond all the life lessons Diane imparts, this memoir is packed full of celebrity tidbits, behind-the-scenes glimpses of the fashion industry, tales of her travels around the globe, a fabulous photo gallery, and juicy details of the many loves of a woman who likes to fall in love. Loved it, loved it all!  
   What a fascinating and inspiring woman DVF was, is, and will continue to become!  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

"How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits"

   PARIS -- never been, must go! J'adore Paris ever since Carrie Bradshaw was "An American Girl in Paris" in the final two episodes of Sex and the City. Beyond seeing all the fabulous sights and wining and dining in charming bistros, I want that laid-back yet über sexy Parisienne flair to be my flair. How lucky for me that How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits is fresh off the press! Written by four long-time friends -- Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret, and Sophie Mas (even their names sound sophisticated!) -- as if they were sharing secrets with you over cocktails, this book has given me the tools to let my "inner Parisienne" out until I actually make it to France.
   Just a few How To Be Parisian gems:

* "Don't be afraid of aging. As the saying goes, don't be afraid of anything but fear itself."

* "Make it look easy. Everything you do should seem effortless and graceful." (I've used this one a ton lately -- working in a hair salon during the holidays is STRESSFUL!)

* perfecting the Parisienne pout

* "Taking yourself too seriously" is a major faux pas. (Another tip I've been using every day!)

* Start every party with champagne to kick up the festivity but add a few ice cubes to stay hydrated and nix the next-day hangover.

* When dressing sexy, less is more. "The Parisienne never gives too much away. When it comes to revealing herself, she follows one golden rule: less is definitely more."

* The art of being naked means "in short, you're not a slave to the cult of the perfect body -- so learn to make the best of what nature gave you."

* how-tos on hair, skin, and plastic surgery for that "au naturel" look

* forget perfection (a very American bad habit), play up your imperfections instead

   I could go on and on, but I want to leave you something to read for yourself because this book is a HOOT! Beyond the life lessons, you'll love the quirky "Scenes From Parisian Life" and candid photos that feel like you've stumbled onto your bestie's diary and sneaked a peek. If you are looking for a fun, quick read that will transport you to Paris -- and to being Parisienne -- from your favorite arm chair, you've found it!

Monday, December 8, 2014

"I'll Drink to That: A life in style, with a twist" by Betty Halbreich (with Rebecca Paley)

   Can retail therapy really save your life? For Betty Halbreich it did. She went from falling apart after the break-up of her marriage, followed by an extended stay in a psych ward, to falling into the perfect life-saving career as a personal shopper for customers of Bergdorf Goodman, the crème de la crème of New York City department stores. And Halbreich is still doing it forty years later, dressing clients and running Bergdorf's Solutions department, at age 86!
   What a fascinating life Miss Betty has lived, which she throws wide open like double closet doors in the new memoir: I'll Drink to That: A life in style, with a twist.  In her distinctively classy but candid style, Halbreich shares her journey from an insular upbringing as an only child in Chicago, fairytale-like with servants and custom-made clothes, to her whirlwind romance and marriage to Sonny Halbreich, a dabbler in real estate and fashion whose real passion, Miss Betty finds out too late, is booze, affairs, and living the high life. To cope with her Park Avenue loneliness and lack of purpose, Halbreich turns to shopping with the ladies-who-lunch. And she was good at it, it came easy for her, and she became the go-to gal for help in "looking put together" within her crowd. When Edna Woolman Chase, the legendary Editor-in-Chief for Vogue, said, "Fashion can be bought. Style one must possess," she could have been speaking directly about Betty Halbreich.

   While at times I felt sad for Miss Betty's struggles with confidence, feeling lost within her own life, and having to deal with Sonny's bad-boy behavior until she finally gave him the boot -- he was quite an ass! -- seeing her life unfold on paper was like watching a masterpiece being painted, with each event and experience, each job and connection, layering on the canvas of her journey to culminate in a very rare phenomenon: finding exactly what you are meant to do, making a good living at it, and actually loving doing it. Going way beyond personal shopping, Miss Betty has become a mentor, confidante, social worker, and lay counselor to her wide variety of clients AND SHE LOVES IT. Maybe not all day -- some of her clients sound so insanely demanding they should be banned from Bergdorf's, but Miss Betty tolerates them with wit and tough love -- but every day. After forty years! I am so jealous! I have been looking for a "calling" like this my entire life. But I've got a while left before I hit 86, so maybe there's hope for me.
   Love this book! And I adore Miss Betty! She tells (and sells) the truth straight up, but makes it palatable with a twist of humor. I gobbled up all the delicious details of Big Apple life through the decades like a pie straight out of the oven, then the whip cream on top was the secret tidbits about the fashion and costume designers she connected with through her Solutions department. And anyone who's read any of my writing can guess that I nearly went out of my mind when Miss Betty wrote about helping Pat Field dress the Sex and the City ladies -- my bestest gal pals for six seasons! -- and her many encounters personal shopping with Joan Rivers! I am a "Joan Ranger" for life and am still mourning the recent loss of my Fashion Police guru.
   Just like Fashion Police and Sex and the City, I never wanted I'll Drink to That to end, but sadly it did. Now I'll just have to read Miss Betty's other book, Secrets of a Fashion Therapist, and hope she writes another very soon. 
   (Kudos to Rebecca Paley for co-writing this memoir! I'll be looking for more of her work as well.)