Tuesday, September 6, 2016

FASHION REBELS releases in stores today!

Happy Birthday FASHION REBELS!!! I loved researching, writing, and illustrating every fearless, fashion maverick. My biggest hope is that young girls will read this book and be inspired to always define beauty on their own terms. Read more at www.FashionRebelsBook.com 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Fashion Rebels: Style Icons who Changed the World though Fashion

Only a few weeks left to get the pre-order price for : Fashion Rebels: Style Icons who Changed the World through Fashion.

You can get more fashion inspiration at: www.FashionRebelsBook.com

Join the newsletter to get updates on the next book giveaway.

Here is a small preview of illustrations from the book:

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Finding Sea Gold in Whale Vomit

Forget looking for seashells with the kids this summer. Instead hunt for ambergris.[1] In 2012, this piece was found by an 8-year old English boy. It was valued at 60k. Not bad for a beach treasure hunt. 

Ambergris is the waxy substance secreted in a sperm whale’s stomach that is used to coat indigestible objects. Once the sperm whale has coated a hard object (like a squid beak) with enough ambergris, it vomits its prize up - kind of like how a cat vomits up a hairball, except not on your favorite comforter.[2]

Charles II supposedly ate ambergris with his eggs. Yum. 

Although ambergris smells like feces when it first comes up, over time it hardens and smells quite pleasant….a bit like the original Chanel #5. Which is why it is so valuable. Ambergris was once used in Chanel #5 to make the scent last and is still used in high-end perfumes today. [3]

You can read more about how Coco Chanel invented her signature scent in my latest book:

Fashion Rebels: Style Icons Who Changed the World through Fashion

[1] If you find it on a U.S. beach, don’t try selling it. It is illegal to sell ambergris in the U.S. due to the sperm whale’s endangered status.
[2] Some scientists think it more often comes out of the whale’s back end. 
[3] You won’t find it in Chanel #5 today. U.S. perfumes no longer use it. But it is fair game in many expensive French perfumes.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Firehouse Dogs

Ah yes, those perky spotted pups riding atop the gleaming red fire truck. How did Dalmatians become the firehouse dog of choice and why were firehouses forced to stop using them?

See Spot Bite
The first Dalmatians were taught to run next to coaches. These dogs were mostly status symbols, but also protected coaches from thieves. 

See Spot run
When Benjamin Franklin wasn't playing with electricity and wearing some fabulous hats, he bred Dalmatians and asked firehouses to use the dogs. Soon, Dalmatians had a new job. Dalmatians ran ahead of horse drawn steam fire engines (called pumpers) to warn people to get out of the way.

See Spot Smile
In the 1940s and 50s, Dalmatians became an important PR mascot to support firehouses. Dalmatians are very gentle dogs (usually) and were the perfect pet to pose with children.*

They also go well with polka dots.

Bad Spot!
Dalmatians continued to be viewed as adorable mascots until fire engines began accompanying ambulances to accidents. Unfortunately, the Dalmatians had a not-so-cute habit of devouring dead bodies. (Yes, dogs will do that and Dalmatians tend to eat faster than most.)**
So cute until they start eating people

Supposedly, New York City’s Ladder 20 continues to use Dalmatians. We can assume that they are trained to eat kibble only.

*According to some breeders, Dalmatians that are predominantly white can get a little crazy, but let’s not get racial here.
**I really couldn't find the right visual for this point.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Not your mother's advertising

It's that time again. My favorite adverting. This time it's 1960s ads targeting housewives. 

I am so confused. Why is her face going to fall off? 

Again...perplexed. Because clearly the only satisfactory answer to this riddle is - 965 Madison Ave at the Christian Louboutin store. 

Actually....ah, no. The "No. 1 reason for Midol" is not "Your Guy" It's so that she doesn't stab you in the eye with a tampon. 

Which brings me to my next favorite ad....

Why yes. Happy place. 
But for those 60's women without prescribed drugs there is hope in the following....

Thanks for breaking it down for me in small words. So do you mean that dapper gentleman with the big pump doesn't want a brainy woman? well then....

I may have graduated magna cum laude, but I can't wait to clean this oven! 

And when your typical 60's housewife is done frying her brain with valium, gasoline and oven fumes, this is surely her greatest desire....

hmmm, if I am half naked on a pole and there are scary clowns around me ....NOT A GOOD DREAM. (but I do like her gloves.) 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Becoming Marilyn…the real story

Lots of surprises researching Marilyn Monroe. I had not realized just how much movie executives transformed her face. There was the obvious platinum blonde hair, but also a nose job, chin implants, and electrolysis to reshape her hairline. (A widows peak was considered the height of fashion…wish that one would come back.) 

Norma Jean….before she became Marilyn Monroe. 

Sometimes, her dresses had horse padding sewn into the bodice, not to make her breasts appear larger, but to reshape them. According to designer William Travilla, Marilyn’s breasts were set far apart and low so he would sew a button into the bodice to make her nipples appear higher. (1) She was also rumored to give herself enemas to manage bloating - an extremely dangerous practice. And no, Marilyn was never fat. Her dimensions when she was the most fit:  36D-23-35. 

I have chosen to omit the plastic surgery and bathroom hijinx because it doesn’t quite fit with the theme of empowered women who changed the fashion world. (Especially for young girls.) There are many examples of how Marilyn refused to become a puppet to the movie executives. (Saving those bits for the book.) The plastic surgery was done when she was just a scared kid, had little money, and not much of a future. I would like to think that the more mature Marilyn would have refused. (2)

A sneak peak at some of the art for I Feel Pretty

Due to some health problems, the new release date for I Feel Pretty will be Fall 2016. Sign up for the Raucous Royals newsletter to keep updated on future book releases. 

(1) This could be problematic if you lost a button. 
(2) But I also believe that people with Chinese symbols tattooed on their body have secret regrets. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

THE dress….

“Isn’t this delicious?” (said in my best Marilyn voice.)

When designer William Travilla first created his infamous “white” dress, he called it “that silly little dress.” Little did he know that his design would become the most replicated dress in fashion history. 

Ironically, no one seems to get the copies right. According to Travilla, the dress was bone colored, not white. Dresses could not be shot in white because the production lights of the time made them look grey. The bow was tied to the left, not in the front like most replicas. And the fabric was a heavy acetate-crepe and not the cheap, thin fabric that you see on most Marilyn Monroe costumes. If you have ever had a Marilyn skirt blowing moment then you will understand what I mean….A heavy fabric billows. A light fabric blows straight up. (Just trust me on this one….I have had my share of Marilyn moments.)

Over time, the infamous dress from the Seven Year Itch darkened to an ecru color. The original was bone or ivory colored. 

Standing over a subway grate on Lexington Ave and 52nd street, 5000 spectators turned out to watch Marilyn giggle at her wardrobe malfunction. Unfortunately, her then husband at the time, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio was not amused. When Marilyn got back to the hotel, Joe gave her an Italian sized beat down that put her out of work for a week. Marilyn filed for divorce shortly after. Despite the many dumb blonde clichés surrounding Marilyn, she was far from playing the fool in real life.

Marilyn's then husband, Joe Dimaggio was not a fan of the white dress.

 Debbi Reynolds purchased the original dress for $200. At auction, it sold for 5.52M (minus the 1 million commission) in June 2011. Not bad for a silly little dress.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The lecherous Louis XIV and scandalous life of Emily Post

We tend not to think of the lecherous, red heeled Louis XIV and Emily Post as having similarities, but the two did share one common goal - étiquette.

Louis pretty much invented etiquette to deal with his ill mannered friends. Every time Louis’ courtiers came over to the palace, they would trample the lawn, throw trash everywhere, frolic in the shrubbery, and pee in the fountains. So Louis had the brilliant idea to place little signs or “etiquettes” all over the palace grounds telling people how to behave. And it actually worked. The lawns looked greener, the fountains looked less yellowish, and the shrubbery….well, let’s just say that there was a reason why it was so tall.  

Flash forward many centuries later to the family operated, end-all to be-all on etiquette – The Emily Post institute. 

Emily Post wasn’t the Gatsbyesque miss that most people think of today. She rocked out on her banjo, hobnobbed with Mark Twain, and cared little for what fork to use during the salad course. Her husband had a fondness for chorus girls that culminated in their divorce in 1905. Instead of retreating in shame from the scandal, Post published her best selling Etiqutte in 1922. It is still today the second most stolen book from the library (the Bible is the first.) And while most of its advice would require you to have a maid and a few token butlers, other advice still rings true today. For example;

"Ethically the only chaperon is the young girl’s own sense of dignity and pride; she who has the right attributes of character needs no chaperon—ever."

Dignity and Pride. Not much has changed since Louis XIV demanded people stop peeing in the fountain.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

La Malinche: The slave girl who conquered a nation

Roberto Cueva del Río
This month in history, the breathtakingly vicious Hernán Cortés lands on the borders of Mexico changing the fate of an entire culture. 

Behind every powerful story in history…is an even more powerful woman. La Malinche (Doña Marina) was a beautiful slave given to Cortés as a gift. Serving as an interpreter, she translated from Nahuatl to Mayan while Spanish priest Gerónimo de Aguilar translated from Mayan to Spanish. She gave Cortes a son, most likely syphilis, and the best gift of all – she convinced Montezuma to cooperate with Cortes.

Born in 1496, she was the daughter of a noble Aztec family until her fate got tangled up in politics. When her father died, her mother remarried and gave birth to a son. Desiring the son to rule over Malinche, she sold her daughter into slavery and declared her dead. Malinche ended up as a slave to a Mayan lord who later gave Malinche and 19 other slave girls to Cortés as a gift.

Although Cortés isn't exactly remembered for his charity and kindness, by all historical accounts, he was utterly faithful to Malinche. (as if I couldn't turn this into a love story). Cortez later wrote in a letter home, "After God we owe this conquest of New Spain to Doña Marina. " 

She has been portrayed a zillion times in Latin American art and literature, sometimes as a conniving temptress…sometimes as the sacred virgin who brought Christianity to Mexico. (often as both). Whether virgin or harlot, she continues to inspire artists today. Here are a few of my favorite depictions of her:           

"La Gran Tenochtitlan"
Detail from mural by Diego Rivera at Palacio Naciona
La Malinche by Rosario Marquardt, 1992

From: Mexico the way it was and is
Malinche is the lady with the rosaries. Imagine having a boyfriend that sicks dogs on people for fun? I would pray for his soul too. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Mary Toft: The Woman who gave birth to Rabbits

Hogarth's illustration commemorating Mary Toft and her 19 rabbit babies. 

In 1726, the medical community was shocked by a unnatural birthing phenomenon when an English woman named Mary Toft gave birth to rabbits. The following is her story which I felt compelled to tell in rhyme: 

Mary had a Little Bunny

It’s been said many times
Newborns come out looking funny.
Take the case of Mary Toft,
Her firstborn looked like a bunny.

Mary screamed for the midwife,
And grabbed her birthing chair.
But before she knew what hit her,
Out popped another pair.

Now three babies hopped about
As Mary fell to the floor.
She gave a great big push,
And out hopped another four.

Poor Mary was losing count
With the tally now at seven.
Mr. Stork flew by again,
And dropped two more from heaven.

 “This has to be the last,” she screamed.
“Holy Lord, show me a sign!”
And as if to answer all her pleas,
Out flopped another nine.

Soon men of science, far and wide,
Came to see her bunny litter,
And when they said – “this can’t be true…”
Out cropped another critter.

The king’s physician soon arrived
To examine Mary’s womb.
“My god!” he said. “If you keep this up...
You’ll need a bigger room.”

He ordered an examination
To find the bunny trail,
But when Mary saw his sharpened knife…
She quickly changed her tale.

“It’s a lie,” she screamed.
"A farcical invention.
I made the whole thing up,
I wanted some attention."

“The bunnies you see before you,
Didn’t come from my tummy.
I bought them from the butcher,
Who stole them from their mummy.”

Mary ended up in prison,
Branded a cheat and a liar.
And as for her children,
They returned to their briar.

Now the folks of Godalming,
Still believe the harebrained plots,
And to this day, they swear,
She gave birth to bunny tots.

But if you fell for Mary’s tale,
May I offer some advice?
I hope next time you see my name,
You won’t let me fool you twice.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The True Story of Valentine’s Day

In just a little over two weeks, restaurants will be filled with doe-eyed couples donning red and gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes, despite the fact that their meal is costing more than what their kidney is worth.(1) Personally, it’s my favorite holiday. (yes, I am one of those people.) I mean, what’s not to love? We have a deranged emperor, a poor blind girl, a massacred saint, and it all ends in the institution that ensnares unites two people into wedded bliss.

Let’s start with the diabolical emperor - Claudius Gothicus. (2) Hmmmm let me plunge deep into the recesses of my mind to find something nice to say about Claudius. (long pause…..longer pause…..still thinking…..If I use more ellipses than something it going to come to me ….) Oh I know, Claudius was really handy with a sword.  Yep, that’s about it.  Claudius spent a good portion of his life massacring Goths and he was darn good at it. He wasn’t too spectacular in the love department.  There doesn’t seem to be a misses Gothicus pulling on his heartstrings in any part of this story.
Claudius Gothicus. The missing nose may have made it hard for him to get a date.

Not one for romance, Claudius didn’t want his soldiers coming to work all weak in the knees and missing their wives at home. His solution was to forbid marriage. That’s not to say he didn’t allow his soldiers some recreational enjoyment. After one successful battle, he wrote to one of his generals that there were so many female Goths captured that each of his soldiers could have not one….but two to three women to rape a piece. (Like I said, not much for romance.)
Saint Valentine, A man who always looked good in red. 

In an effort to preserve the holy union of marriage, a priest named Valentine secretly wed couples behind Claudius’ back. When Claudius found out, he was none to happy and ordered Valentine to be put to death. While Valentine was in prison, one of the judges, Asterius came to pray with Valentine along with his blind daughter. Supposedly, the blind daughter was healed and before Valentine was to be stoned and decapitated, he sent her a letter and signed it “from your Valentine.” 

Valentines Day is the only day that I will tolerate cherubs.

The story does have some dubious sources and may just be the thirteenth century version of Hallmark hogwash. But like most holidays smothered by commercialism, Valentine’s Day does have something sacred at its core - Valentine died for his beliefs. And when we all come off of our chocolate heart sugar high, that’s a great reason to wear red.

(1) I googled ….the going rate for a kidney is 150,000 so as usual, I am exaggerating slightly.
(2) Claudius Gothicus means "conqueror of Goths." He was also called Claudius the Cruel. I think the first name sounds far more bad ass without being so literal.   

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Seven Degrees of History: Anne Frank and Audrey Hepburn

In the winter of 1940, Nazi soldiers began rounding up Jewish villagers in Belgium, Holland. They shoved men, women and children into covered military trucks, the yellow stars on their chests picking up the last rays of sun from a cloudless sky. Beside the truck, a young German soldier shifted back and forth on his feet, his shaking hands trying to keep a cigarette in his mouth. He was far too young to have death on his soft hands. 

A young girl felt the butt of a pistol against her back as she was thrown onto the truck’s cold hard floor. Over and over again, she whispered to herself, 'Our Father Who art in heaven....Our Father Who art in heaven. ' This young girl was just another prisoner to be taken to a nearby concentration camp and disposed of without witness. Her name was Audrey Hepburn.

Audrey was not Jewish, but her family was believed to be sympathizers and that was bad enough. She knew she was headed toward her death. Several friends had already been taken away. Most painful of all, she had watched Nazi soldiers line up her uncle and cousins against a wall and then shoot them in the head.

Suddenly, a soldier on the other side of the truck began beating one of the prisoners with the end of his rifle. This was her chance. Live or die. Fear. Fear would not win. She slipped underneath the truck, her lithe figure going unnoticed in the shadows. And then she ran. She ran until her heart beat like a trapped bird inside her chest. 

Less than 150 miles away from Audrey’s escape, a young girl looked out her narrow window from an abandoned building in Amsterdam. Her hands were wrapped around the checkered red, cover of a simple diary – the diary that became her last connection with the world of hope, love and kindness.  Her name was Anne Frank.

Anne’s story so moved Audrey that when later asked to play the role of Anne Frank, Audrey refused. She had once escaped that pain. She would not revisit it.

Audrey and Anne. Anne and Audrey. Two famous people with similar dreams. Two famous people with similar suffering.  One awoke from the nightmare. The other did not. I often think children understand biographies far better when connections between famous people are made. Without these connections, historical figures seem to exist on their own plane, never bridging the gap between time and emotion.

Hoping to find many more of these connections.