You Need This... I Promise

Back to Basics

I love Alice Waters. (When I realized that my dog Fanny shares a name with her daughter, I was thrilled – I knew we called her that for a reason!) For me, her brilliance lies in that she didn’t just make me a better cook… she made me a better eater. She taught me (and millions of others) to appreciate the components of a meal. No matter how simple or complicated the dish you were setting out to make, it would not be worthy of anything if you didn’t start out with the right raw ingredients. The quality and origin of those things matter enormously, and no amount of fancy techniques or beautiful presentation can make up for poor ingredients. She believed that you can absolutely taste the difference. I wish I had her palate… because I admit that sometimes, on my own, I cannot. But I know the difference after reading her books, and more often than not, knowing makes it taste better. The mind leads, the taste buds follow. 

I have been writing these posts since 2018. There have been so many promises! I have woven so many of my own opinions and memories into reasons you may want to own this or that. An emotional connection to something adds to its value beyond whatever you paid for it or what it would fetch on the resale market. It is the same reason I love things I have purchased on a wonderful vacation… or the sweaters I wore on the playground with my daughters. When I pull them out, they pull on my heart. 

But the older I get, the more I realize that understanding how something is made — its origins, its ingredients, the quality of its make — can add to its worth just as much as sentimental value. So I want to take a page out of Alice Waters’ playbook… or cookbook, rather: 

“I’m convinced that the underlying principles of good cooking are the same everywhere. These principles have less to do with recipes and techniques than they do with gathering good ingredients, which for me is the essence of cooking.” - from The Art of Simple Food 

And so, like Alice, I am planning to spend the next few posts writing about some of our key pieces. Not quite The Art of Simple Clothing, but my own ingredient list so to speak. Capsule wardrobes are having a moment right now, but these pieces have been at the heart of my closet for the last decade-plus. I guess for me it might be my time capsule wardrobe…

These are my own basics of dressing. Alice might tell you that if you can master a salad, an omelet, an herb-crusted steak or a lemon-infused chicken, you will be well equipped to feed yourself or to entertain others. It does not cover everything you want to cook or eat — we all crave Thai food at the end of the week — but with quality ingredients, it is not that hard. 

For me, the key ingredients are:
- Silk blouse
- Menswear-style shirting
- Layering sweaters
- Pencil skirt/easy full skirt
- Several pairs of jeans to rotate
- Your style of pants… whatever that means for your body type.
- Shoe essentials... flat, mid heel, high heel – seasonals like espadrilles, sandals, boots...

      There are lots of add-ons to this list – but this is my primer, and I will start from the top today and work my way down in the next weeks. 

      The Silk Blouse
      The gift to yourself that will keep on giving… forever (if it is the one we make, because the fabric is so incredibly luxe it will probably outlive me!) There are a few iterations of this – our classic Icon Shirt and our tie-neck bow blouse – although we often mix it up and add some styles with small twists here and there (I really love the sleeveless version.) But the two core styles are truly the backbones of my wardrobe. I wear those so often, and have for so many years, that it delights me to add a new one for the season, knowing how much wear I will get from it. Nearly all of our silk blouses are made from 40momme silk. It is pronounced like mommy and refers to the density of the silk weave. The weight and luxury of it are unmistakable. It is 4ply, meaning 4 strands are twisted for each yarn used to weave it. The best of the best use this quality for a reason. The denseness helps with wrinkling, so you can wear it over and over again — hang it up for a bit and the creases will disappear because it is so heavy. It feels amazing next to your skin and drapes beautifully. That drape means it does not cling to your underarms and, to be totally frank, this helps prevent perspiration from finding its way to the silk. This kind of practicality is really important to me. Though I take mine to the cleaners when they need it, my great friend who collects and sells vintage Hermès scarves owns half a dozen of our silk shirts and regularly washes them at home. I don’t mind thinking of my shirts in the same wash tub as Hermès scarves. And just like the herbs are nearly as important as the chicken itself, the trim is worth mentioning in addition to the fabric. Our buttons are made of natural shell — you will notice plastic from others after you start looking and feeling.

      One of my very favorite of our silk shirts is the bow rendition. When I was photographed for the New York Times, this was what I chose to wear. I wanted to look feminine, but just as elegant and in charge as Sid looked standing next to me in a suit. Years ago, we photographed this on my daughter Harriet with old selvedge A.P.C. jeans — it looked youthful and hip that way. Insouciant. I really want to wear it with our new railroad stripe wide-leg jean. Opposites attract and I think this will be cool.

      I can step it up and go more sophisticated if I pair it with our Hutton Pant.

      If I grab a pair of our new fisherman sandals I will look very Cote d’Azure. Espadrilles would do the same. The shoe is very of the moment. If I was to use the Alice Waters take on this – the blouse would be the organic roast chicken – in the winter you would roast it… in summer – it would be grilled with vegetables. How you prepare it is what makes it feel fresh – a simple swap can change the entire dish or in our case, the look of the outfit.


      Whether you are channeling Catherine Deneuve or Babe Paley or Alexa Chung... it is the most versatile, amazing piece. Even more so when it’s made with the best ingredients. And I truly think ours is — I’m sorry. It has ruined all other silk blouses for me, plastic buttons or not. 

      If you want more, I wrote at length years ago and you can read it here.

      The more pared-down, no-bow version, the Icon, is equally great. It can read sort of androgynous tomboy, buttoned higher with menswear-style trousers and loafers… or sexier, opened up and unbuttoned down to the breastbone. Add a cardigan and it can go a little Miss Marple or Queen Mother. Which is pretty cool. My friend Stephanie is an artist and has had the black version, which we no longer make, on heavy rotation for several years now. She doesn’t actually NEED a new one but has been begging me to make it in black again, just in case she forgets it in a hotel room. That is how necessary it is.

      I love hearing this so much. Usefulness is as important as anything. What good is a gorgeous silk shirt if it just hangs in your closet? (remember that the silk will outlive you and you might be more motivated!) My daughter just told me a story about a neighbor of hers who was interviewing for a new job — a step up — and went to our shop to buy a tie-neck silk blouse to wear for the interview. She got the job, and it made me so proud to think of this top representing a life stage for her. Or at least a professional one. A new rung of the ladder. It is not wildly expensive in the grand scheme of things, but I could never have afforded it as a young person. The anticipation of something, and the saving up for it, can make it deliver even more. This spring we have introduced a cap-sleeved rendition of this shirt… I wear the sleeveless one often, but not everyone loves to bare their shoulders. Both of them are wonderful under jackets, but also on their own.

      Of course, this is peak season for new arrivals. March is usually our biggest “drop” of the spring and there is so much newness and fantastic novelty pieces that I am dying to wear. There is a blue silk shantung dress in the most perfect shade of lapis lazuli. I am going to wear it with flat brown sandals for daytime over and over again. I could pluck out ten more new things and write about them too. I am so old that many things we create remind me of the past (my current favorite being the strawberry print on a shirt that is EXACTLY the same pattern as the material I used to sew the bikini I was wearing when I met Sid. Seriously.) So I am not just reverting to the basics. But I am feeling the need to go back and explain the foundations of our collection. It is the reason Sid and I started this business. Since the beginning, he has been saying, “You don’t need a lot of choices. You need the right choices.” We are both always going to make beautiful clothing… high-quality things that we want you to own forever and make your own memories in and pass down to others. We sprinkle in novelty and excitement, but it is the core pieces that I find most helpful. You cannot have one without the other.

      This was lengthy… but for a reason. Not as long as a cookbook, but if you think of it as a sort of Cliffs Notes for clothing, I wouldn’t mind. You need these beautiful pieces. I promise.

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