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You Need This... I Promise

The Shantung Dress

St. Barth on my mind


My daughters have a running joke among themselves: “Oh no… not the Calypso dress.” Always accompanied by eyerolls and a lot of laughter. Of course the joke is aimed at me. Over the years I have suggested (too many times, it sounds like,) a fantastic little shantung dress for several occasions where they found themselves needing a dress to wear. There were two of them, actually; one in navy blue and one in mint green.

The Calypso dress could — and did — go to a school dance, a rehearsal dinner, a wedding, a National Honor Society banquet, a soccer awards ceremony, a funeral, and several vacations. (“Always pack a party dress.”) You name it, the Calypso dress would have been great. To be fair, this has gotten exaggerated with repetition, and there were lots of other dresses that also got offered up. But those trusty shantung Calypso dresses are still at the back of my closet. I would still wear them today (even if my girls won’t.)

We sold the dresses at my shop when I first opened in 2010. The idea was always to stock a small collection of brands I loved alongside my own designs (that has not changed) and Calypso was one of those. Christiane Celle started her line, Calypso St. Barth, in the 90s and her original location was, in fact, in St. Barth. She then went on to open a string of stores in New York and on to other cities. I am not sure which was the original but the one in Nolita is the one I remember best. It was a treat to visit. At the time tunics and caftans weren’t as commonplace as they are now (it was long before Tory Burch and Roberta Roller Rabbit) and the whole vibe was very international and very boho. You felt like you had gone on a very chic tropical vacation by the time you stepped out of her world and back onto Mott Street. Cool with a capital C. Truly. You wanted to be her. And with that shantung wrap dress… you felt like you kind of were. Or at least I did. To me, it was pretty perfect. Something you could throw on after a shower and arrive at the party with just a gold charm around your neck, wet hair, lip gloss and toe-ring sandals… and feel so beautiful. It was low-effort and chic – two things I value enormously!

Over the years, Calypso went through many iterations. She sold it, then it went out of business, then I think there was some sort of a re-launch (?) Suffice it to say, the romantic picture I had in my head of the Calypso St. Barth “brand” got lost somewhere along the way. But it turns out that amazing sense of style remained with her, not the label. She now has the coolest shop in Soho called Clic, a true lifestyle store with fashion, home goods and photography. Sid and I wandered into it on a trip to New York a few years ago. I didn’t know a thing about it, but of course he did. Sid has a knack for knowing where the cool spots are.

But… back to the dresses. The style was a wrap shape that suited a lot of body types, with a ruffled neckline, made in this amazing silk shantung. To me this is a fabric that goes so easily from day to night depending on how you style it. But in addition to their practical features, the dresses embodied this effortless, not-trying-too-hard, international chic that I remembered from the store on Mott Street. I couldn’t help but throw them at the daughters in hopes that the same cool factor I associated with them would translate to the girls in their teens.

I have been thinking of the Calypso dress a lot lately because there is a new all-purpose dress on our line that has its very best qualities. And if my daughters only occasionally went for my advice, I am now telling you how much you need this, I promise. The The Emilia Maxi dress (or midi, depending on how tall you are) is exactly that…the perfect dress that works for so many occasions with that same magic formula: easy-to-wear shape, silk shantung fabric, and day-to-evening feel. That’s it.

I don’t have so much to say about the shape except that it is truly… easy. The neckline can be gathered to be opened or closed with a pretty ruffle and a drawstring to tie. We have had a shorter version of this style on the line for years because women love it. Consider it wear-tested. And unlike the famous Calpyso dress, this one is not so constrictive. It doesn’t hug your body or cling to your skin. An A-line, to me, is perfect for summer in that way.

Shantung is one of my favorite fabrics. I think it is festive, but not too festive. The low side of silk – for me it reads everyday. When I think of shantung, I think of India, where women have been wearing colorful silk saris forever and ever. In your mind, it may get a bad rap for showing any speck of moisture, but hey, it is summer. We all sweat. I just own it. I recommend you do, too. Don’t fact-check me on this, but India gets quite hot, too. It’s actually really breathable, so as fabric goes, it should keep you relatively cool. I am famous for wearing and re-wearing a long-sleeved green shantung dress to at least ten summer weddings. You will get many opinions on how best to care for shantung… but I play pretty fast and loose with care instructions and all I have to say is that those 2 dresses have been worn over and over again by multiple daughters as well as me, and they still look awesome after 12 years in the rotation.

And I really do believe this is a day-to-night fabric. For day, I would absolutely wear it with flat leather sandals. Maybe with a leather pouch worn crossbody just to hit home the idea that I am dressing down. It really is just another sleeveless summer sundress… more airy than jeans and a t-shirt for running around. If it is too much volume for you, a belt would be great. For evening, I might wear it with sparkly sandals out to dinner. The neckline is so pretty that even a simple low ponytail would feel special. I tried the orange with a pair of hot pink suede mules which felt kind of retro-hostess chic. Big gold hoops would be great. I think you could even take it up to black-tie-optional with heels and a pretty pair of jeweled earrings. And lastly, in the spirit of Calypso St. Barth and international travel — for the record, I have never been to St. Barth — I think this is the perfect dress to take on a trip. It takes up no space, looks great even when it’s a little wrinkled, and clearly works for whatever’s on your itinerary. I am imagining myself walking through a city with cobbled streets all day in sandals… or out in the evening after the beach with my hair still wet. Exactly as I had imagined Christiane Celle.

Anyway, the Emilia dress is great. My daughters might even agree.

From Ann

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