Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Glory of “Hats by Agnieszka”

As you all know by now, I am a bit of a hat enthusiast, and no more so than now, with all the burgeoning milliners and their spectacular array of artistic headwear that is surging into fashion, and will continue to surge into fashion, well into fall and next spring. A hat or headpiece always seems to look appropriate to me now, and what I mean by that is that there is always an occasion for beautiful, appearance-enhancing displays of millinery on every outfit that I see these days! Whether it’s spring, summer, winter or fall, and no matter how casual, elegant or avant garde the situation may be, I see the hat as the perfect accessory for every occasion!

So today I am going to introduce you to the brilliant millinery of a very talented woman, Polish-born Londoner and next up in our Hats Heard Round the World Project, England’s very own Agnieszka Stańczyk of “Hats by Agnieszka.” Agnieszka’s hats are such beautiful and unique little treasures, so memorable, so couture, and they are painstakingly crafted by hand by Agnieszka and Agnieszka alone in her amazing studio in Greenwich, a little place bursting with creativity and of course, adorable hats.

Above, I am wearing one of her fine creations, a white sinamay straw fascinator, embellished with a generous fanning of goose feathers. This fascinator is so ideal for a bride or for a chic party-goer at a New Year’s soirée. Shot by Austin Heppler with makeup and hair by Lauren Warner, I styled this fascinator with an enormous tulle ruff that I created for the shoot. I love the look of the pure white feathers with the frothy tulle ruff; it looks so ethereal and at once modern, yet mid-century! It’s edgy, yet elegant. This is an iconic piece of headwear.

Milliner Louise Green has famously stated that wearing a hat is like having a baby or a puppy; everyone stops to coo and talk about it. This quote could not be any more appropriate for Agnieszka’s show-stopping millinery, which is so gloriously imagined and executed that it almost leaves one speechless. Just look at the ravishing, red-and-black confection below, shot by San Francisco photographer Ross Pelton on model Madison Flowers, with makeup by Jasmine Cardenas and hair by Shannon Ward. I styled this shot, by the way, using a vintage couture dress with a giant red-and-black Oriental brocade bow shrug.

I love this hat so much. It’s so couture, and Agnieszka told me it was inspired by Japanese culture. “I made it especially for an exhibition sponsored by Swarovski,” she explained. And if you look very closely, you will see the dazzling display of Swarovski crystals encrusting the twisted chin strap and the trim and the chopsticks of this magnificent headpiece. I’ve really never seen a hat quite like this, and it inevitably tranforms the woman who wears it into a walking work of art. I think it’s brilliant the way that Agnieszka fused the soft silk velvet with the tangled roughness of sinamay straw. And although I chose to partner this hat with vintage couture, any of her pieces are so infinitely wearable and modern that they could easily pair with couture from any era, especially modern chinoiserie dresses or a current couture offering with an Asian sensibility.


Above is another creation by Agnieszka, modeled again by Madison Flowers and shot by Ross Pelton, with hair by Shannon Ward and makeup by Jasmine Cardenas. Agnieszka told me that the black feather fascinator is an effect of her fascination with Ernst Haeckel’s 1904 ‘Art Forms of Nature’ and the art of 3-D designs. She asked her friend, artist Parm Rai to design flowers inspired by Haeckel’s drawings. “My aim was to combine the natural softness of feathers with the flowers,” which are 3-D printed by a computer.

I styled this hat, as I did the one above, with more vintage couture: a black wool dress, studded with mirrors, and matching bolero jacket, circa 1960. Both photos are captured in the idyllic Japanese Tea Gardens of San Francisco, California.

You really must see this hat up close to believe the detail and magnificence of the 3-D black dandelion-type flowers, which posses a strangely rubbery consistency that contrasts the silky black feathers in such beautiful dichotomy. This is the type of work that makes a hat memorable: the loving attention to detail; the wonderful abandonment of rigid standards and the creative affair that a milliner has with their headpiece before the creation is shipped away to its new owner.

“My biggest ambition is to make my hats timeless, wearable and flattering,” Agnieszka stated. And she definitely does. All of her hats are constructed for maximum comfort, great fit and flattery, and made from the best materials with a high degree of creativity. What more could a girl ask for?!? We love you, Agnieszka!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Tom Cruise Was Right…..About Invisalign, Not Scientology

I love Tom Cruise, but I remember thinking he was a little bit crazy when I saw him on a late-night show, talking about, of all things, Invisalign. I’m talking about the clear plastic aligners which promise perfect teeth and a straight, corrected bite. Why would Tom Cruise need such thing? He already has a beautiful winning smile and his chompers looked fine to me, I thought.

That was until I noticed my own teeth shifting and crowding, gradually, years after I myself had suffered the teenage torment of primitive braces. When my dentist Dr. Gerald Bittner Jr. recommended Invisalign, I thought about it long and hard. It’s an investment in both effort and money, two things which I hate to part with, but I’m so glad now that I relinquished! Invisalign has made a profound difference in my teeth and smile, made it nearly effortless for me to floss, and was the 100% right choice for me. You don’t even feel them working, they are so non-intrusive. But you most definitely see them working.

“Invisalign has been proven as an amazing advancement for both general dentists and orthodontists treating malocclusion,” said Ria Suri, DDS, of Bittner Family Dental Group.

Here’s how they work: You wear the aligners, which are very inconspicuous, continuously…except while eating and drinking, and of course you remove them for brushing and flossing as well. This means better oral hygiene than braces due to the fact that they are conveniently removable.

“Many people just focus on the esthetics of Invisalign treatment but I can tell you both as a dentist and a patient that Invisalign not just improves your oral hygiene, but also boosts your self confidence so you can get the smile you want by wearing a device that allows you to floss with ease and maintain your gum health,” she added.

The flexible aligners use gradual continuous pressure to correct your bite, but they need to be brushed to keep them clean and hygienic. Depending on your complications and needs, the entire Invisalign process can take anywhere from two or three months up to three years, for severe cases.

Once you reach the pinnacle of the ideal bite, you are given “maintenance” aligners which are worn only during sleeping. The trays help prevent wear from grinding due to their soft, almost rubbery consistency, yet still manage to keep the teeth from shifting because they provide a gradual kind of tension. Hard to describe, but wonderful! Therefore, a beautiful, perfect smile and healthy teeth are things you will live with for the rest of your life.

Unlike retainers that come with braces, Invisalign is quietly powerful, infinitely more comfortable, and almost unnoticeable, plus it protects the teeth from grinding! It’s the lifelong solution for a stunning smile.

Even if you have had braces in the past, I recommend that everyone consult their dentist to see if Invisalign is right for them. I think Invisalign is the greatest invention since, well…since Tom Cruise.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Hats Heard Round the World Project Continues with Prolific Artist & Milliner, Maria Curcic

Happy Easter everyone! And today in the spirit of Easter with all its beautiful hats, it is my great pleasure to introduce you all to the next milliner in the Hats Heard Round the World Project, my dear friend, painter and hat-wearing enthusiast, artist extraordinaire, Maria Curcic.

If you have not seen Maria’s work you simply owe it to yourself to check out her online shop, where there are literally hundreds of wearable confections that are ideal for Easter or any fashionable occasion, and they are every one utterly fabulous.

Maria is one of the most prolific minds that I’ve seen in millinery, and she brings our Hats Heard Round the World project to the opposite side of Canada, Western Canada, where we will peer into her world of hats. It’s a place of intense, almost manic creativity, a haven of color and beauty, and a little gem in the heart of Victoria, British Columbia, where haute couture is less a thing than yoga pants and flannel….That is, with the glaring yet brilliant exception of this French-born milliner, whose European aesthetic runs, untamed, through every hat she touches.

I just love Maria’s designs. The opulent, emerald green beret above was the first of her hats to seduce me. Since then Maria has made many a hat for me, and each one is an undeniable work of art. I adore her use of jewelry, unique trim, and vintage materials. It makes each hat so special and memorable: quite simply, little treasures.

The hats in this article are all part of my personal collection and when I styled them for this shoot captured by the incredible photographer Shannon Brooke, I carefully paired them with both vintage and modern pieces because Maria’s hats, to me, are so current, but transcend trends and have the lasting sensibilities of haute couture.

This rich green hat is an example of just that. It’s such a stunner and really reminds me of something that Scarlett O’Hara would wear in ‘Gone With the Wind,’ yet it looks completely modern and absolutely timeless, as fine couture should. Look how this hat transforms model Alina Lee, with makeup by Jasmine Cardenas and hair by Tiffany Raelene.

Worn with a vintage emerald velvet chinoiserie cape and a simple black Christian Lacroix dress, this hat is draped in satin, bejeweled, and topped with coque feathers. It looks stylish placed straight across the head when worn with a full fringe of bangs, but it can also be rakishly tilted when worn sans bangs or with an updo. It’s just so damned chic and disarmingly versatile! Playing with opposites on the color wheel, Jasmine painted Alina’s lips a ripe crimson to really make the green pop. I love the look of it.

Black and blue go together like bruises in the buntal straw pillbox above. This is another darling hat by Maria that looks at once sophisticated yet coquettish on model Cyndal McKay. I love midnight blue teamed with black and the vintage kind of noir feeling that this little topper evokes. This hat brings a movie-star quality to life. Cyndal reminds me of Natalie Wood with her expertly-styled coif courtesy of hair artist Tiffany Raelene and her spectacular features, enhanced by makeup artist Jasmine Cardenas, shot once again by Shannon Brooke.

The grey sculpted wool felt hat with jeweled detail, hand-cut fringe and mink pom pons, above and below, would be absolute perfection on a certain English princess-bride. Hello, Meghan Markle! This is such a regal hat as modeled again by Cyndal McKay.

The amazing thing about Maria’s hats is their transformative quality. I mean, this hat really makes the outfit, and that is what you want people to notice when you’re wearing a hat, is how breathtaking the hat itself is, and how gorgeous it makes the woman look without being junked up with a bunch of inferior accessories and nonsense. Honestly, all you need is a hat like this, nothing more, to make a stellar statement that will inevitably turn heads.

When paired with couture, this is true and lasting elegance. I styled this hat with a vintage fitted couture designer dress and wild fox-trimmed cape from my collection. I love the way hair artist Tiffany Raelene twisted Cyndal’s mane into a low, massive, slightly off-center chignon. It’s so impeccable and breathtaking. Flawless.

Just look at that profile. This is what a great hat will do for you: it will make you look beautiful from a 360º view. It will captivate at every angle and turn its wearer into a walking work of art. This is the magic of a great hat. This is the magic of Maria. Merci, Maria. Merci beaucoup.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Couture Accessory Must: African Crested Porcupine Quills

Okay, okay, so maybe this is not a must for *everyone* but when I saw genuine African crested porcupine quills at the Newark Gem and Mineral Show in San Francisco Bay Area last week, I knew this was a couture moment not to be missed! Yes, real porcupine quills….I had to have them. Five of them, to be precise. At only five dollars per quill, it was an avant-garde couture necessity for this fashionista. And whatever for, you might ask? Just gaze at the model above, who uses the quills to puncture her hair in the most curious and creative way, why that’s what for! How cool is that?!?

And although I am not heavily pierced, the quills can be used as a piercing, shown above, or as a hat pin, or for merely decorative purposes. I got mine through Eidos, a San Rafael, California gem and mineral dealer. Co-owner Marcia Wisniewski tells me that the quills, which are hollow and made out of keratin (the same thing hair and nails are composed of on humans), are shed naturally by the porcupine so it causes no disturbance to the animal.

But be forewarned, the quills are incredibly needle-like sharp, so hugging others while you’re wearing your elaborate updo might be prohibitive. This should keep people at a distance. What a relief. Jajajaja!

Order your African crested porcupine quills through Eidos by calling 415.457.7503.


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Truth about Truffles: Make Everything Delicious with Truffle Powder! No Joke! Ja!

It can be difficult to try to stick with New Year’s Resolutions, and if you’re embracing a diet these days of primarily protein and vegetables, trying to avoid your sugars and caffeine, and shunning the carbs like a good little girl, you may be feeling slightly deprived. If you’re feeling depraved, however, consult a psychiatrist.

But good news is on the way, and that is that I’ve discovered the most delectable topping for all your precious proteins: Sabatino Tartufi Seasoning Truffle Zest, made in Italy, produced by the fine folks at Sabatino Italia S.R.I. This stuff is a God-send!

Of course you can transform popcorn instantly, or make a gourmet truffle cream sauce for pasta with ease using truffle zest, but the real allure is how you can elevate both the humble and healthy foods in an instant with just a dash of this stuff. Sprinkle on a hard-boiled egg or ordinary grass-fed beef patties right after cooking, or put it on freshly-fried bacon and it becomes your new Best Friend, STAT! I love the flavor of this stuff. It’s just so gourmet and yummy! Plus it’s gluten- and sugar-free.

At a mere 14 bucks per 1.76 ounces, this stuff is worth every precious cent! It really satisfies and helps you adhere to your diet precisely because it is so very satisfying. Sprinkle it on a simple mushroom-butter sauté as an accompaniment to grilled steak and you’re set for a gourmet experience that will impress even the most discerning guest!

Truffle zest is best when you sprinkle it on hot foods sans much cooking so that you don’t lose the flavorful powder. Just let it melt into the food. And now, for those who are uninitiated or merely curious, here’s some history on this curious treat, the truffle!

Heralded as “the diamond of the kitchen” by French gourmet Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the truffle, pictured below, is commonly found on tree roots. It’s a fungus that, honestly, won’t be winning any beauty contests anytime soon.

Despite their homely appearance, truffles are a most prestigious food ingredient that impart a delicious and distinctive flavor that you’ll never forget, transforming ordinary foods into extraordinary wonders! As a result, truffles are very expensive and considered a delicacy.

There are black truffles and white truffles, and if you browse your gourmet grocery you may find truffle oil at a hefty price tag but be forewarned that truffle oil is merely olive oil saturated with a bit of the dried truffles which are then strained out, leaving a mild truffle flavor. This is not the oil of the truffle. So your money is better spent on real truffles or on the truffle zest itself.

Another interesting aspect to truffles is how they are “hunted,” as it were. If you did not know this unbelievable tidbit, truffles are especially delicious to pigs, and the animal can smell the truffle in the earth so pigs are used, or were used, to “hunt” the truffle. They would snort and forage for the delicious treat, alerting their owner that truffles were near. The only problem was that the pigs would try to devour the truffles upon finding them, so nowadays, dogs have been trained to scent the truffle instead of pigs. Humorous but true. And so ends our time with the truffle and leads me to a joke about the funny fungi. A truffle walks into a bar and asks for a beer. The bartender says, “I can’t serve you. You’re a truffle.” And the truffle responds, “Why not? I’m a fun guy.” Jajajaja. Please tip your server.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Trish Raine Hats of Canada, Next Up on Beauty Shall Save the World

Hi guys! I have such a great milliner next on deck as the Hats Heard Round the World Project heads to Canada to meet with artist Trish Hirschkorn. We are going to take a look at her magnificent heart-shaped hat, above, just in time for Valentine’s Day!

I am so obsessed with this hat, modeled by Alina Lee and shot by Shannon Brooke with makeup by Jasmine Cardenas and hair by Tiffany Raelene. You must have an exquisite face for such a dazzling gem of a hat because the face becomes the focal point, surrounded by a constellation of inky sequins. It’s just so cool, and today we are going to get an up-close look of how the hat was created, the dish straight from Trish. You won’t believe what it’s made from! But first, a little background on Trish Hirschkorn.

Trish lives on the East coast of Canada in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and she has a unique perspective of blending the line between feltmaker and milliner. Nuno felting, that is, the fusion of merino wool with silk, is her specialty. Learning her trade with a few weekend courses, Trish developed her own voice in feltmaking and has specialized in millinery. With each piece her hats evolve and pay homage to the designs of the past while using modern techniques with up-cycled materials. She sources her silks from second hand and thrift shops, so that each piece is unique, each of them, one-of-a-kind.

And although she works full-time as an occupational therapist, millinery is her evenings and weekends passion. Her hats have exhibited in Canada, America, London and Australia and won numerous awards in millinery competitions.

The hat in this article is titled “Wicked Love” and is inspired by heartbreak–“the moment in your recovery when you evolve from hurt to empowerment,” Trish stated.

“I am drawn to sculptured form in hats which is why, when I saw a 2-dimensional heart hat by Stephen Jones, I was immediately inspired,” she said. Starting with a heavily-beaded merino wool silk dress, she began designing this 3-dimensional hat. “Although I am typically drawn to color, I wanted to work in all-black, to challenge myself to show dimension, not only in structure but within the color black. The texture of the thousands of sequins speaks volumes to filling up the space that color normally occupies,” she added.

Trish began by sculpting the hat shape out of molding clay. Once dry, she built the skeleton of the hat using a heat gun and thermoplastic. The thermoplastic was lined with black silk. She then wired the base of the thermoplastic, to provide a structured base of the hat. Using the Beth Beede method of felting on a ball, Trish fused the merino wool to the upcycled silk sequined dress. Once felted, she then fulled (rolled, tossed and shaped) the felt to a shape similar to that of the hat.  Rinsed and dried, she then blocked the wool over the thermoplastic. The same process was used for the chin piece, with the thermoplastic, wiring and felting. To finish the hat, she added combs to keep the heart in place.

Trish, pictured above molding a camel-colored cloche, loves to integrate new techniques with her work as a feltmaker. Her goal is to empower women during the long winter months with grace amidst the worst of winter weather.  Not only are her felt hats beautiful and stylish, but also functional and warm.

Check out her wares online at Follow her on Instagram @trishrainefelting and Facebook at Trish Raine Felting with regular updates and new hats.

And Happy Valentine’s Day!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Welcome to Lallu Chic Couture Millinery of Warsaw, Poland….A Veritable ‘Hat Wonderland’

“I work in my hat wonderland,” said milliner Hania Bulczyńska simply. And it is here, in a tiny little atelier, where the most beautiful hats in Poland are born. Here, amidst a chic clutter of tangled ribbon and trim, opulent fabric and colorful hatboxes, set in decorous display against slate grey walls, with gilded mirrors and antique furniture, is where Hania does her thinking and her work. It’s a cozy, inviting French-style artist’s space, brimming with beauty at every conceivable corner, stuffed with heady candles, pots of flowers….and lined with adorable hats, of course.

Hania’s story as a hat artist began seemingly only a mere five years ago, “and since that time my Lallu Chic Couture Millinery Atelier became well-known here and abroad.” But in reality, Hania has always been mesmerized by high fashion designs. Her mother was one of the best-dressed women in the city where she grew up. “I was raised in a home where there were antiques, vintage clothes, bags, Italian shoes, beautiful old jewelry, jazz music, oil paintings in golden frames. I was influenced by good design and art from the very first days. It is all hidden inside my soul. When I create my hats, it comes out naturally. Just like that. Without much thinking.”

Just as Hania’s hats seem to come to her suddenly and without deliberation, so too came her vision to be a milliner. “It was dreamed about and came to my mind so unexpectedly that now, when I think about it, I was hit from the sky high above. Love at first sight,” she told me. “Extreme happiness, positive madness.”

And so, as a perfectionist, she had to learn how to create hats and all the beautiful headwear professionally. “I came to New York and learned couture millinery.” And now, for the first time, Hania’s work is featured here on BSSTW, and I, as a hat-wearing enthusiast, could not be any more delighted!

Check out this turban, pictured above on model Cyndal McKay and envisioned by the brilliant photographer Shannon Brooke, with makeup by Jasmine Cardenas and hair by Tiffany Raelene.

I love this turban so much! It’s absolutely dreamy! This has got to be the most creative and beautifully-executed turban I have ever seen. Ordinarily, one would expect a turban to be exotic, crafted from ethnic textiles perhaps. And this is an exotic piece, but executed in such an utterly couture and sophisticated way.

The color combination is unexpected and riveting, the flowers are fantastical, the detail is exquisite—note the green pearls dotting the fabric—and the scale, well what can I say? It’s downright impressive. I am crazy about the gently-rouched, puffed bow that tops this topper, and as a quick aside, the turban itself fits like a glove and is extremely comfortable. Its wearability is completely practical. The entire piece is nothing short of a masterpiece, and evokes paintings by Van Gogh or Monet, “my beloved impressionists,” Hania stated.

I styled this turban with a vintage lavender Japanese kimono that is embossed with a honeycomb pattern, which is, remarkably, preserved in pristine condition and comes from my own collection of couture. But I’d love to see this giant pistachio bow with a custom purple and green floral wrap dress or a sheath of rich purple velvet and nothing more. This turban renders other accessories completely unnecessary!

And was it the gorgeous green silk fabric or the iris looking at Hania from the vase on her window which inspired her? “I do not know. The only thing I know was that I wanted to create the biggest turban I have created so far. And my dream came true,” Hania mused.

Hania, pictured above wearing one of her own creations, a whimsical golden gem-encrusted crown, also makes little, glamorous headbands, luxuriant pillboxes, and stunning fur felt hats. But most of all I love her eye-catching, huge hats. “They are such a fantastic means of making each woman a true lady,” she said. All her hats are exceptionally creative and wildly imagined, but simultaneously very wearable. But make no mistake, when you’re wearing Hania’s hat, it will likely take center stage.

“First comes the hat! Then comes the woman, expensive bag, rings and shoes. Every woman should realize that. The hat is the most powerful accessory,” she insisted.

Hania’s hats are created with love, with extreme patience, and handmade of the finest quality fabrics. “If I was to say how all of them and each separately were created, I could not,” she reflected. “The vision of each design comes just like that. Sometimes it is a single bead, sometimes the color of the fabric. Sometimes a Dolce & Gabbana shoe or Balenciaga dress. The inspiration comes out of nowhere.”

And clearly one can only surmise that Hania is very sensitive to the beauty of details, the beauty of nature. And upon awakening, when you open your eyes in the early summer morning and look out of the window, all you can see is a field of beautiful purple flowers, laid on a bed of green leaves. “This is the beauty of nature. The beauty of hat-making. The true art that I am deeply in love with.”

Check out Hania’s website, Lallu Chic, or call Hania for custom orders, +48 505 097 057.