It is nearly the end of June, which is a time that always brings up some of my favorite memories. The smells of summer. Scent and memory go hand in hand for everyone, not just me. A quick Google search told me that “Scents bypass the thalamus and go straight to the brain's smell center, known as the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb is directly connected to the amygdala and hippocampus, which might explain why the smell of something can so immediately trigger a detailed memory or even intense emotion.” The only word that really means anything to me in that explanation is trigger. So I guess I could say that June is my trigger month.
I met Sid in June and and falling in love with him smells like sweat and sunscreen. The smells of New York in the summer — always, but especially during those early years — are vivid enough to take up a decent amount of space in my head. The heat that blows up at you from the subway, even when you’ve barely gotten down the stairs. Is the air more dense in there? How do those molecules just hang there? I’m not going to Google this, but it has such a distinctive smell (horrible) and feel. The subway couldn’t even contain it. Even on the sidewalk, if you are anywhere near a subway grate, that hot air just whooshes right up at you. I remember being with our friend Nina one Saturday evening — none of us in the Hamptons — but feeling summery, we chose to eat outside on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. It stands out so much in my memory, not only because it was the hottest dinner of my life, but because Nina brought me a bag of golden cherries from Balducci’s on 6thAvenue. I had never seen something so special before. One memory leading to another.
Sid was forever dragging me to one store or another on hot Saturdays in the summer (actually, all year round). When I decided to write about batik this week, I had the haziest memory of him bringing me to this amazing, exotic batik shop downtown that he was crazy about. But when I asked him about it yesterday, he had no idea what I was talking about. How could that be? I guess that is what we have each other for… to carry half of the memories each. But I knew it existed. I enlisted my expert Googler/oldest daughter, and within sixty seconds, she called me back and asked “was it on Mulberry Street?” Presto. She had dug up some NYT piece on the shop that even included a picture. (You know you are getting old when you have to go to timesmachine.nytimes.com to verify your memories.) Yes, that’s where Sid took me. I am sure of it.
I remember the fabric being so special and cool. I probably thought it more so because he thought so. Young love is when someone else’s interests become your interests in the interest of that love. Hmm. Need to think about that. Anyway, I still think batik is special and cool. And the reason I’m sharing this story is that we have many beautiful batik things on the line this season. Not true batik made with wax and sent across the ocean to Mulberry Street, but printed poplin inspired by batik. The fabrics come from Ratti, the mill that creates the most amazing prints in the world… not an exaggeration. If there is anyone out there who can reproduce the specialness of true batik fabric, it is them. The design team visited last year and fell in love with so many of the prints that they have turned up all over the women’s line. Dresses, shirts, even some things on the men’s side.
I love them all. The print is smaller, reproportioned by the experts there to a scale that works for clothing, not just pareos and pillows. The boyfriend shirt is fantastic in it. I love the contrast of such a traditional silhouette in an untraditional print. A bigger statement is the patchwork Andra dress in a shade of indigo that is very typical to true Indonesian batiks. And this amazing wrap dress in a red print that feels different from anything else I own. Between the print and the quality of the fabric, these are some of my favorite pieces of the whole season.
The shop on Mulberry Street had stacks and stacks of beautiful, original, Batik-printed fabric. They were pretty and unusual and cool — not unlike the golden cherries from Nina— but after a few minutes, I was ready to go. But that’s when Sid was just getting started. Diving deep, touching, asking if there were more in the back for him to check out. Chatting with the owner about the origins of not just the fabric... but her. Where was she from? What got her into this business? Five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen. The shop could not have been more than 400 square feet. Frankly it wasn’t much cooler than the street outside. No phone to occupy me. Just hands in pockets and watching him look at the same piles of fabric, one by one. Even factoring in young love, I was bored out of my mind. Finally, I spoke up and told him that I was tired of this. Couldn’t we just go uptown to a museum? He looked at me and said, “Why? We’re already at one.”
Batik – you need it. I promise. And so does Sid.