Today’s interview is with somebody who might be familiar to some of you – the lovely TangoTosca, a Tango and Hermes silks lover (among many other things) from Houston. I have long followed TangoTosca’s scarf adventures and am happy today to have the opportunity to share more about her with you all today. I think that you will find her as fascinating and charming as I did, and I loved hearing more not just about Hermes silks, but also about subjects ranging from the South, to Tango. Enjoy meeting the beautiful TangoTosca!
Who are you? What do you do, and where do you live?
I write online as “TangoTosca.” Some of your readers may know me from my “Scarf Circus” thread on the Purse Forum, or as the theme-week organizer of the Scarf of the Day thread. I am somewhat unusual among your interviewees in that I live on the Sun Coast of the United States, not the East or West Coast. I’m a native of a tiny, tiny town in southeast Texas on the Louisiana border, and have lived in Houston since 2005.
You’re a self described Southerner at heart. What is it that you love about the South, and what makes it unique?
I could sooner envision myself living in another country before I could see myself as a permanent resident of Chicago or Boston! I think our best asset is our people – people are genuine here, and genuinely nice. Perhaps we’re not as fashion-forward as people in New York or Los Angeles, but looking nice and put-together is valued here.
Maybe the worst thing about living in Houston is the humidity. Yes, it’s hot, but even the Midwest can reach those temperatures. What adds to our particular brand of misery is we’re basically sitting on a swamp and the humidity is stifling. This is not the most “scarf-friendly” environment so it’s very ironic that I would fall so deeply in love with this little square of silk.
What are some common Southern “stereotypes” that are true – and maybe not true?
The rumors are true. We do like big hair. Bring on the Aqua Net!
Joking aside, there is a tension with history here that you don’t find elsewhere in America, or as William Faulkner put it, “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.” On one hand there is the “moonlight and magnolias South” with its graciousness and good manners, and then there is the “scary South” with its nasty legacy of racism and poverty. And these two opposing forces are bound together in a way that makes the South the complicated and intriguing place it is, and an endless source of fascination for outsiders.
You live in Houston, Texas. Can you share more about what life is like living there?
Houston is the 4th largest city in the United States. The county that contains Houston – Harris County – is larger than the state of Rhode Island. All the major oil companies have offices in Houston, mostly located in the so-called “Energy Corridor” where my neighborhood is. Within a five mile radius, you have the US headquarters or major installations of Shell, BP, Citgo, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil Chemical, along with numerous support companies like Schlumberger and National Oilwell Varco, staffed with people from all over the world.
Houston is a “minority majority” city and often the first destination for people entering the United States from elsewhere. There is a vast Hispanic population here, but also very large communities from Asia, India and the Middle East, not to mention a sizable expat community of families who have moved here for their work in oil and gas. Sit at Starbucks any morning and it’s not uncommon at all for the table next to you to be filled with expat wives enjoying their lattes and talking about passports, green cards, and dual citizenship.
You are a volunteer ESL teacher. Can you describe more about it and your engagement? How has that experience changed how you view other parts of your life?
I volunteer to teach English as a Second Language to immigrants. I’ve had people in my class from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Peru, El Salvador, and of course, Mexico. Tutoring has been a very satisfying activity for me. My students are very motivated. Everyone recognizes the way to a better job and more opportunities for themselves and their families is being able to speak English, and speak it well. But it’s very hard learning a new language as I’m sure many of you have experienced yourselves. I have a lot of respect for the people who come to our organization, Literacy Advance.
It also helps me to keep things in perspective. I recognize that as a college educated woman living in the United States with a closet full of Hermes scarves and bags, I have a life of extraordinary privilege. Working with people who have given up everything to come to the United States and start their lives over again is a lesson in humility and gratefulness to me. I’m disappointed that my SA can’t find a C’est la Fete for me? Get real, girlfriend. There are more important things in life.
You love Argentine tango. Can you describe more about it, and what you do as part of it?
I began dancing when I was 19 years old and living in Atlanta, and I’ve never stopped. I love the sensuality, the intimacy of the dance. This is not the dance that people typically think of when they hear the word “tango,” the Dancing With the Stars, show-style tango with fancy footwork and high kicks. No. This the tango as it is danced socially in the clubs and bars of Buenos Aires, danced in a close embrace. The philosophy is completely different; dancing for the partner in your arms as opposed to dancing for observers watching you. It is a completely improvised dance. The men and women share and understand a common “vocabulary” of steps. He leads. She follows. He offers. She accepts. It’s a conversation without words, the three minute love affair.
You bought your first Hermes scarf in 2009. Can you describe what it was – and what made you buy it?
My husband and I were on vacation in Hawaii in early January 2009 and the last spot on our visit was Honolulu. Those of you who have been there know the city is a shopper’s paradise with two Hermes stores within a mile of each other, not to mention an additional one at the airport. It seems foolish to admit it now, but I was too intimidated to even go in the store at first. Though really, what were they going to do to us? Kick us out for looking like tourists? Ha!
So, we wandered through the Ala Moana Hermes – “just looking” right? – but I lingered a very long time at the scarf counter. The silk counter in an Hermes store is such a beautiful kaleidoscope of color, isn’t it? The Spring/Summer 2009 scarves were just in and the “Romance” belt was prominently featured. I was fascinated that a scarf could be transformed into a purse with the help of this little leather strap. I had such fun trying on the silks; it was really the first time I’d every really tried wearing a scarf, and I was particularly fond of a beautiful scarf called Chasse en Inde with its lovely shades of pink.
However, it was time to get going back to our hotel. I regretfully gave the scarves back to the sweet sales associate, and we trudged to the mall exit. We were already on the sidewalk, heading back to Waikiki when I stopped dead in my tracks. No, I told my husband. I’m going back. I’m going to get that scarf.
And so I did. And thus began this love affair with Hermes scarves.
Since then, you’ve clearly built an impressive collection of these scarves! What do you find compelling about them?
The thing I love most about Hermes scarves is how they are a reflection of ourselves and our interests and tastes. I am very fair skinned with dark hair and look my best in vivid blues, reds, and pinks. Another dear friend looks radiant in the oranges, yellows, and browns I can seldom wear. I am intrigued by abstract designs. She is a tremendous animal lover. Each of our collections is a little snapshot of who we are, and that we both feel passionate about our (very different) scarves is a testament to the creativity and genius of Hermes.
There are so many choices for scarves – colors, materials, shapes, and more. What would be some of your tips on selecting a good collection?
It takes a few false starts to arrive at a winning formula for scarf selection, but here is mine:
My Grand Unified Theory of Scarf Buying… I think I can distill it down to two things: color and corners.
My first rule for myself is, do not remotely entertain purchasing a scarf if you know you look awful in the color. That means no matter how much I adore the pattern, if it is predominately olive green, brown, or pumpkin orange I cannot buy it.
I do have scarves that have olive green, brown, or orange in them, but they are accent colors that can be hidden or diminished with creative tying.
Second rule is, it’s all about the corners. It’s all about how it looks tied. It could be the prettiest pattern ever when it’s spread out flat, but if the corners are blah, then it’s never going to look right and I’m never going to be happy with it. Other than that, I like having a nice mix in my scarf wardrobe of traditional patterns and modern graphic prints, scarves that are very busy and scarves that are more subtle, and then at least two from every color family, two predominately black, two predominately white, two taupe, two red, two purple, etc.
I think one of the best ways for you to learn what looks best on you is to:
a) look in your current scarf wardrobe and pick out the scarves you wear the most often, your “workhorse” scarves. Do they have something in common with one another? Try looking for the same quality in your future scarf purchases, then
b) spend a lot of time with a sales associate trying on a lot of scarves and take notes about what does and does not look good color wise. Think more about how it does against your skin first, and then how it would fit in your wardrobe.
When I wear blue or pink my eyes “pop” and I have a nice rosy cast in my cheeks. When I wear olive green or orange I look very pale and washed-out. If you’ve never had your “colors” done, it could be another idea to look into. I first became interested in the idea about 20 years ago. I’m a “winter” meaning I look best in colors that have a blue undertone, and why I look like I’m recovering from a long illness when I wear rusty orange.
c) look at pictures of other people’s scarves. This is definitely the most fun part! It helps “train” your eye for how things will look folded on the bias and tied.
What’s a piece of advice about building the perfect accessories/clothing wardrobe that you’ve learned over the years?
I am not a fashion risk-taker (I save that for dancing Tango). If anything, I’m a mighty boring dresser. I tend wear the same look over and over again. Quality clothes in classic styles that I have worn, and will continue to wear, for years. But it suits me, and when I deviate too far from that winning formula I begin to feel self-conscious and feel more like my clothes are wearing me rather than the other way around. I never want to feel like I’m someone I’m not when I get dressed. It will always, always, show when you’re not comfortable. I want to be honest and always authentically “me” when I walk out of my closet. I might dip a toe into a trend, for example, bright colored jeans were in fashion last summer and I did have fun with that. But I know my True North and seldom deviate far from that.
Twin-sets, pencil skirts, and sheath dresses are the foundation of my closet. I particularly love white skirts and slacks, which provide a wonderful blank canvas for brightly-colored tops and scarves. My jewelry is very basic: two sizes of gold hoops, two sizes of silver hoops, pearls, and diamond studs. I use my scarves to accessorize my outfits, and I love my collection of Hermes bangles and Clic Clacs.
I avoid buying designer clothes because I would be so sad if I bought expensive dresses or skirts, gained a few pounds and then found I couldn’t fit into them anymore. There they’d be… hanging in the closet… mocking me…. a silent reproach for indulging in those chocolate cookies, slices of cheesecake, or biscuits and gravy. I’ll stick with Ann Taylor and Talbots and enjoy my chicken fried steak, thank you very much!
When it comes to bags, again, very simple is the key for me. Clean lines; no fringe, studs, or “frou-frou.” Louis Vuitton Almas, Chanel Classic Flaps, and Hermes Bolides are what speak to me.
What are some of your favorite items in your wardrobe? What about the most worn?
My favorite Hermes bag is my Clemence Mou Bolide in Bleu Electrique. It is the most perfect shade of blue imaginable. My favorite shawl is L’Arbre de Vie in Bleu Electrique, since it is a perfect match with the blue Bolide. I also have gotten a lot of enjoyment from my 140 Farandole necklace and my black and silver Clic Clac. I’ve been very fortunate to obtain some “grails” that are on many a scarf collector’s must have list:
Top Six Grail Scarves I was Lucky to Find:
De Passage a Tokyo in Red
Hola Flamenca in Red
Beloved India in Pink
Rencontre Oceane in Lilac
Les Triples in white
Please Check In in Black
Six Scarves that make me melt:
Ex Libris en Kimonos
La Femme aux Semelles de Vent
Lumieres de Paris
Peuple du Vent
Top Six Most Useful Scarves (black and white figures prominently here):
Please Check In in Black
Tout en Carre
What are some of your favorite Hermes scarf and shawl knots to wear?
I think I can speak for a lot of Scarfies when I say that Mai Tai, and her website Mai Tai’s Picture Book, is a huge influence. She is a marvelous resource for creative and inventive knots. One of my favorites of her is the Waterfall knot and asymmetrical shoulder wrap. When it comes to shawls, I think they look best when worn casually, folded as a triangle draped once around the neck with the tails hanging down.
What are some of your other passions and hobbies?
I adore the opera. We are fortunate enough here in Houston to have one of the better opera companies in America. I’ve had season tickets for years and have been lucky to see famous performers like Samuel Ramey and Frederica Von Stade as well as new stars like Joyce di Donato and Ana María Martinez. It is my favorite art form to watch (though dancing is my favorite art form to participate in). The opera is usually the only place in town I see other Hermes scarves and bags, and when I see another lady wearing a scarf I always make a point of going over and telling her how great she looks. I have had some very fun and entertaining conversations during intermission that way.
And like many of your other interviewees, I enjoy cooking and entertaining. I’m determined that my next house is going to have a bigger dining room! Setting a beautiful table is very important to me, and I love collecting china patterns and nice table linens.
I’ve been a subscriber to Cooking Light magazine since the dawn of time, though my favorite cookbook these days is Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. Both my grandmothers were good cooks, but especially my father’s mother. I inherited some pots and pans from her, and my mother’s mom’s Desert Rose china. Last week I fixed dinner with one grandmother’s legacy, and served it on the other’s. It is a nice and happy way to feel connected to the wonderful and fun women who came before me. Both of them would be tremendously amused that you asked to interview me about a collection of scarves, of all things!
And finally – please share something surprising about yourself!
My greatest fear these days is that with so many of my pictures on the internet, I’ll end up as a Glamour Magazine “Fashion Don’t” with a black rectangle across my eyes!!
I have read that last line from TangoTosca at least five times now, and it still cracks me up. It’s a perfect representation of Tango’s fabulous personality and sense of humor – though I don’t think there’s any risk of her ending up anywhere near being a “Fashion Don’t”. Thank you very much to the wonderful TangoTosca for sharing some of her fascinating hobbies, perspectives, and the magic of Hermes silks here today! For more of TangoTosca, please visit her thread on The Purse Forum, here.