Diana Vreeland had the Costume Institute, Sally Cohen has a spacious house in a suburb redolent of The Ice Storm. I'm in awe of the sublime finds I saw in her collection, and check her new Etsy shop daily for inventory (purpose: to fund her first-ever dream trip to Paris this fall!). While's she's deciding what to wear on la Rive Gauche, I thought we'd chat with a true stylist extraordinaire and see if we might come away with a few secrets...
LC for LUX LOTUS: You say that you love the hunt, "the pursuit of those elusive treasures among the estate sales and church basements of the great Northeast." What do you look for when you're on the prowl? Specific designers? Materials?
SALLY COHEN: I look for fabrics, mostly. When you're faced with literally hundreds of choices, it helps to have honed your eyes to the good stuff –– the gabardines, Bakelites, lucites, linens, wools and silks, which have a different sheen altogether than the seemingly oil-based products of the last thirty or forty years. Then, when you find a good fabric, you pray to the design gods for the right color (I'm always debating what's more important, how silly is that?) and then that it's intact, and that it's well-made, whatever it is. Chances are good that, if it's made previous to 1975, it's made well. My heart still jumps when I find it. I've learned to live with the disappointment of seeing something out of the corner of my eye and thinking, "No! Could it be? Is it?" and being mistaken. Other materials? I am in the growling midst of a Lucite fetish, and cork, and anything golden.
LC for LUX LOTUS: What aspects of a piece make it timeless?
SALLY COHEN: Timeless? Hmm. Well, it seems to me that the clothes I love, primarily 20's(bien sur)-60's, were made less with the idea of showing off the body and more with the idea of showing off the idea, if you know what I mean. Women used to conform their bodies to the clothes, rather than the other way around, and so something can be, on its own, quite lovely on the hanger and peculiar on the unpinned body. Not that I'm advocating the conformity and absurdity-nay, downright misogyny- of the whalebones and stilettos-those poor women! But I do love something that gives me entree into the mind of whoever designed it, if it's the giant color-blocking of the great Finns a la Marimekko or the cascading, fantastical reams of silk of a Balenciaga. They are so evocative! Of everything! If something makes you gasp, it's timeless.
LC for LUX LOTUS: What's something to look for this season/year?
SALLY COHEN: I can't help you there, I am so out of the fashion loop... I sort of despise fashion, I think it's like the snake that eats itself, but not in a good way –– fashion is designed, I feel, to dispose of itself. It's too competitive. Ever hear of a 1661? The woman, or man, who looks 16 from the back and 61 from the front? Well, that's fashion. Any sort of 'trend' or exterior voice telling you how you should look, what you should be communicating, has, by its very nature, an agenda, and that's just lying. Or selling.
LC for LUX LOTUS: Any recommendations for the budding icon on a budget?
SALLY COHEN: Advice for the budding budget? You don't need any money to look fabulous. Just wear the hell out of whatever you've got on, and you'll look like a million. Go to the thrift stores! Go to the library, read about Dior and The New Look and the Great Feud between Schiaparelli and Chanel! Who was Suzy Parker? Babe Paley? Dovima, and The Shrimp? Courreges and Charles James? Paul Poiret and the astonishing House of Worth? Roger Vivier? There's so much to learn about style and glamour, and what it says about us... Get smart about what fits you well and what doesn't, and please, for god's sake, look at yourself objectively. Enough with the asscrack and overabundance of cleavage already. Sometimes, as Chanel said, "Elegance is refusal."
LC for LUX LOTUS: Captain Ahab had his great white whale in Moby Dick, the conquest that obsessed him. What's yours?
SALLY COHEN: My Moby Dick is Pucci, mi amour Emilio. I can remember, like first kisses, every piece of his I've ever found. He's the dreamiest. 'Course I love a good Bonnie Cashin, and I never turn down a little Gucci. And let's not forget the second stringers –– Henry Waters made Shoes of Consequence, and Alfred Shaheen was, indisputably, The Master Printer of Hawaii, as it says right on his labels. And then there's Vera..
LC for LUX LOTUS: What inspires your style - beyond fashion?
SALLY COHEN: What inspires my what? Style? Humor, grace, Canadian Geese, perspective. Calder, Richter, Miro, Currin, Barney, Sargent, Bourgeois, Koons... Italian sunglasses. Humor. Good coffee. Katherine Hepburn and Rudy Vallee. Art deco jewels. Gershwin, Porter, Hoagy Carmichael. The smell of books, the smell of Fracas and Dior's Addict. Color, I love color, and, through it, a pleasing proportion. Humor, equanimity, spelling. Candy. Harmony. Chaos, too, for that matter. Everyone else in the world. You.
Visit Sally at Miss Sally's House of Truth & Beauty on Etsy.