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You Need This... I Promise

The Cache-cœur

Ann at home in an ivory cache-cœur wrap sweater and mid-wash blue denim.

 my own cache-cœur

It is rare that I write about a piece of clothing I have never owned before. Usually it is the tried and trues — the things I have worn over and over again and know are truly fantastic — that find their way into this column. The things I can say in good faith that you NEED. But in all my years, I have never owned a trim, wraparound sweater. Also known as a cache-cœur (here's how to pronounce that œ.) Or at least that was the term that came shooting out of the mouth of Polly Mellen, my first real boss and the amazing and tough fashion editor at Vogue. 

I have written before about the fantastic quips she would dramatically toss around. She was a treasure trove of words I had never heard. This brand-new, completely foreign fashion vocabulary would just spill out of her and I had to try to keep up and pretend I understood:

“Annie – grab me the miniaudière!” Uh. What even is that? The small, jeweled evening bag to be plucked from the 25 other purses laid out on the table. Of course.

She couldn’t just say, “get me the pink necklace.” She had to call it cerise. I mean, I took French and all, but that just flew over my head. Cherry (cerise) was a completely different shade from the five other pinkish, reddish necklaces on the table; how could I not see that? 

Another humiliation. “Dearie… I said GUNNNNmetal, not gold!” I was an idiot. Clearly.

But in hindsight… I get it. This was what I signed up for when I interviewed to work at Vogue. I am sure there was some sort of fashion glossary I could have checked out of the New York Public Library and done my homework. And there were context clues to pick up on – when there are two pairs of heeled pumps sitting on the table, I could sort of guess that the “kitten heels” would be the smaller, cuter, more demure ones. Or at least pray that was the case. But there were so many opportunities to show my inexperience, and I felt so stupid, so often. Before the luxury of Google, every day was a minefield. Little fashion bombs that would expose my naivete. But when they went off (and they did a lot) they stuck with me. A chubby was a short fur. (I loved this one.) A smoking was a woman’s evening tuxedo. (Style-wise this would fall in between what Polly called “big evening” — ball gowns — and “easy evening” — silk pants and a cardigan unbuttoned just so. And so when I see a tight, knit, wrap-style top like this one, I can hear her voice in my head, purring as she wrapped the model in the sweater. “Oh my… I am breathless… this cache-cœur was maaaaaade for you. Makarova should look as beautiful.” 

A few years after that, after I had left the minefield for a new job (my head full of all the fashion buzzwords I could have ever wanted), I got a hot tip from a very cool girl named Nadine who did the PR for a brand I covered at Glamour. I was pregnant and gearing up for a work trip to Paris. She went on and on about about how I should absolutement go and stock up on baby clothes at Monoprix. “The leetle onesies and cache-cœurs are fantastique. Not at all as expensive as Bonpoint.” I was clueless as to what Bonpoint even was, let alone how expensive it was, or how exactly baby clothes were related to the sexy wrap tops I had in my head… but I smiled and took my notes and the next month I returned home from Paris with half my suitcase stuffed with tiny little cotton onesies and the cache-cœur undershirts that would be worn by all five of my infant girls over the next twelve years. All I can say is, thank you Nadine. And thank you Mrs. Mellen for teaching me the term. I may have looked like a fool once, but at least I didn’t have to ask Nadine to spell it out, too.

A cache-cœur sweater the baby days of Ann's daughters. It's made of lightweight white cotton and has long sleeves and delicate ties.

Anyway. Now it is my turn. I get to wear my own cache-cœur. The grown-up version that Polly wrapped around the gorgeous girl on the photo shoot is modeled after the very simple wraparound top that ballet students wear in practice. V-neckline, adjustable ties, form fitting and beautiful and feminine. It is flattering on so many women. We made it this season in an ivory cotton-cashmere blend that is truly wonderful. I will wear it over worn jeans as a delicate counterpart to the rugged denim. Opposites attract. I will wear it on top of menswear-style trousers – there is a terrific houndstooth pair coming in October that I keep bugging our production team about. You will see. The small shape will look great with the volume of wide pants… but a trim silhouette on the bottom works, too. (Think of a ballet leotard and tights!) It would look great with one of our full, silk shantung ball skirts. (Just be sure to make one of the ties a small knot so you are not doubling up on two big bows.) This could certainly qualify as “BIG evening” in Polly-speak. Paired with black, wide-leg pull-on pants and slingbacks or dressy flats, it would be “easy evening.” Or somewhere in the middle layered over a silky slip dress.

The idea of a top made for ballerinas or infants may not do it for you – but so much of a fashion and design inspiration comes from sources of all kinds. The likely and the not so much. It is all in how you choose to look at things and then declare them so. Cerise sounds better than pink. It just does. That was Polly’s point. It conjured for her a real cherry. And not just any cherry – a cherry in France. The drama and enthusiasm that she brought to each day was a choice in how she wanted to live her life. You can choose to be the kind of person who deems things aubergine rather than purple, or cache-cœurs rather than sweaters. You can choose to make things special if it delights you – and Polly did. I learned so much from her. She turned 99 a few months ago. I know she is still looking at the world through a creative force field of energy and enthusiasm. And even if only a very little bit of it rubbed off on me, I feel very grateful.

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