You Need This... I Promise

The Designer Tunic

 

Ann in her closet, wearing Julia's uniform
in Julia's uniform: black tunic, pencil pants, Carolyne slingbacks

 

I want to tell you about a shirt that has been on our line since the very beginning – the Designer Tunic – but in order to do that, I need to give credit where credit is due, and tell you about my friend Julia Reed. It was Julia who inspired this top – or rather, DIRECTED this top since she sort of commanded me to make it. She was bossy like that. But if I back up even further, it was Julia who pushed me to open a store in the first place. I can hear her now. “Oh come on… you should do it… you could make it so cool… have you been up to Capitol?” Just the addition of 'up' sounds so distinctly southern to me. Speaking directionally always does… you go down to see anyone who lives remotely south of you… up to the north. When you put things away (groceries, sweaters,) you put them up. You can also put up vegetables, which can mean canning or freezing or preserving in some way, but definitely saving. I have put up many memories of Julia over the years and this feels like the right place to share just a few.

In the years before the store, I really only knew about Julia. I had read her books, tried out her recipes in the New York Times, and seen her influence in action at Conde Nast. She arrived at Vogue just after I headed downstairs (literally and figuratively) to Glamour. I remember reading her book, Queen of the Turtle Derby, on a Metro North Train and having to put my scarf over my face because I was actually laughing out loud. She had taken all the things that I observed from marrying a Mississippian, so foreign and exotic, and articulated them perfectly, with just the right amount of distance and familiarity and specialness. It was like her own sense of pride and my sense of perplexity crossed paths.

I met Julia here in Atlanta, when she spoke at an Atlanta Girls School event, which is where my girls were. She had attended Madeira herself and was a big proponent of all-girls education. She whooshed into the cocktail party before her talk, and the minute she found Sid, that was it. Of course, they had mutual friends and similar stories and a shared language and overall cultural context in common that – to this day – I still feel completely outside of. There was a wonderful, heavily served dinner afterwards, and after that night, I knew I had made a friend. She began to come back and forth to Atlanta as she had just begun working as creative director for this website called Taigan that connected shops without e-commerce sites to customers. (Remember, this was 2009). At that time it was only the men's store, so we were a part of it, and she did a little story on our family, and was really such a supporter from the get-go.

Every few months, she would whisk into town and we would eat and drink and laugh and stay up way too late and feel horrible the next day. It wasn't just fun… it was INTENSE fun. She was intense, often a little exaggerated, and so, so funny. Julia was a person who enjoyed the highbrow and the lowbrow with equal vigor. She would tell stories of staying at the Ritz (famously going on the already-paid-for honeymoon even after canceling the wedding,) but would happily sleep anywhere as long as the food and conversation were worthy. I can remember tucking her into the extra twin bed, canopied in bunny toile, one late night when she made a last-minute trip. Pauline came downstairs the next morning saying, “there is a lady in my room.” For Julia, it was heaven. The obvious pleasure that she took in consuming things – food, wine, books, fashion, politics, people – was infectious. On the other end, her displeasure was a sting. She was loud and opinionated and brash, and she could hurt people with her candor. As I said, Julia was intense. There are so many fun, social memories I have of her – so many dinners and a few decadent weekends – but most important to me is the friendship we had over email. We had an ongoing back and forth over the years that was intimate and personal and often laugh out loud funny. Julia could work a room, and often dominated. But in writing, it was just us.

Julia had an amazing sense of style that predated her time at Vogue… defined as much by what she wanted to do as how she wanted to look. She knew what worked for her and she knew how to get stuff done, and together, these things guided her whole aesthetic. She traveled, she spoke, she wrote, she went to dinners, and her calendar was booked, so the faster she could get dressed and look great, the more she could get done. So she had a uniform. A tunic of some sort, usually black. Piazza Sempione side-zip pencil pants. Manolo Blahnik Carolyne slingbacks. I am sure she could pack in ten minutes for any last-minute invitation. She did have a lot of great jewelry that probably had fantastic lineage – brooches, dangly earrings, she loved a chunky necklace – but that was kind of it. Simple and efficient and chic. She could spot what was really good in so many arenas. Writing, of course. And food. Wine. Architecture. Interiors. She was decisive and “pick and stick” all the way. Her best friends were forever, and she rightly put her time and energy into the ones she had committed to. One time I tried to connect her with someone I thought she would like, and she replied, “Hell, I do not need any more friends.” She was not wrong, and I felt so grateful to have gotten in from the end of the line before the closed sign went up. I was a minor friend and not a major friend. But I had made the cut.

 

Scanned postcard reading: "Dearest Ann - enclosed is one of the cotton tunics..."
the postcard she tucked in with the shirt

 

So - the shirt. When I was deciding what the heck to put in this shop that Julia - and our landlord Michael- had practically bullied me into opening, she shared this tunic with me. It was a shirt she wore over and over again, from some designer who was no longer around – I cannot remember the line for the life of me. It was part of her uniform, with a half popover placket, no buttons to gap open, three-quarter sleeves so you didn't have to roll up the cuffs, longer length to cover the bum. In it, she was a tall, handsome burst of confidence. She graciously threw hers in the mail so I could check it out, with a note detailing all the ways it was so useful and spectacular, and a few ways to make it even better. (Critic to the end…) It was not something I would wear so much myself, but we both knew that there were boatloads of women who would. We called it the Julia Tunic for the first few years. I am pretty sure she is wearing it in this MSNBC interview, actually, where you can hear her signature raspy voice. At some point it became the Designer Tunic, in part because it grew so popular with women in the interiors world. It is chic, simple, practical… a real problem solver and confidence booster, just as it was for her. It looks great no matter your position in the bra cup alphabet (a woven shirt can be tough if you are chesty) and the center seam is kind of magic in how it creates some shape in the waist. A throw and go shirt. Throw it on – throw it in the wash – throw it in the suitcase – and get the $&@# out the door. (She really could swear).

My amazing design team knows the importance of this type of piece in a woman's wardrobe, and over the years we have riffed on the "throw-and-go" shirt over and over again. Tweaking what works and changing it up just slightly, so that even if you are wearing a bit of a uniform, you can add a little freshness and feel like an updated version of yourself. The one that I like to wear myself is the Anaya Popover. It has a much fuller and more romantic sleeve, the hem is rounded and not straight, and there is a large band collar and a couple of buttons. Like a modern poet shirt, I guess. But it does the same thing for me that the Designer Tunic did for Julia… it gets me out the door feeling like I am wearing my own pro uniform. Pretty, but pro.

 

Ann in her closet, dressed like herself
my own uniform: navy Anaya Popover, navy Faye pants, leopard buckle shoes

 

Of course, Julia died in August. There are a million other memories to enjoy and ache over – so many others have written about her beautifully. But here I wanted to share her generosity, and the dear, empathetic, gentle heart that doesn't get quite as much of the spotlight as her bravado and her lust for life. She was especially kind and helpful when our girls were first diagnosed with their disease. I want to give her credit for pushing me to open this store, the second act of my own career in fashion, which is a pretty major thing to do for a minor friend. The whole point of this blog – I hate calling it a blog – is the story behind the clothes. And this particular piece has such a good one. Having that little bit of emotion that makes something more interesting to put on in the morning. “Defining your own style” and “finding what works for you” and “expressing yourself” gets a lot of air time, but for me, one of the very best things about style is being inspired by other people. Not always copying it, or adapting it, or making it your own… often just admiring and appreciating it. Through that shirt of hers, Julia is forever in the shop every day (and maybe even in your closet, too.)

I am not the only one remembering Julia lately. Just last week, there was an auction of her beautiful things that raised an incredible amount of money for her charitable trust. If you are one of the women I mentioned earlier – interior designers, the second namesakes of the Designer Tunic – this was likely already on your radar. Paintings, china, carved coconuts from the 19th century. There was a lot of great stuff in there. Like I said – she was so good at sniffing out the most amazing things. There is another auction to come in March. It is hard to end this piece. You may need something like a Designer Tunic or an Anaya Top, if you don't already have one. But what you might need today, and what I wanted to share, is a reminder of the special things your own friends add to your life.

From Ann

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