This week’s interview is with what may be a familiar face for some of you – Catherine, who I last featured almost two years ago. Catherine is an editor, artist, and also writes the blog Aesthetic Alterations. She’s had some major changes – she is now based in New York, is busier than ever, and her blog is now back after a brief hiatus. With these updates in mind, I thought it would be a wonderful time to revisit this fantastic woman. Enjoy meeting (or catching up) with Catherine!
We know who you are (read part one here). Can you now share a little bit about what you do now…and where you are? It’s changed quite a bit from the last time we met! How did you get here?
I’m currently living in New York City! Clapping!!
My partner is a published writer (he published his fifth book last spring, has turned in his sixth to his publisher, and is currently researching his next one); I’m a freelance manuscript editor and an art photographer and printer. For the past few years, we’ve been angling to move to New York since it’s the best place in America for our work. When my partner (MP, for “Mystery Photographer”) received a national fellowship this spring, we decided to brave the future and JUMP. It’s been six months since the move, and it’s paid off; I’m already working with key philanthropists as an editor and making contacts to share my photography. I have a review with a major art gallery (my dream gallery even) this month.
You’ve mentioned that as an artist, it’s sometimes difficult to achieve a balance with your personal/professional life. Can you speak a bit more about this struggle, and how you work through its challenges?
Being an artist and working for myself is not a 9-to-5 job—especially not in a city where every single function puts me in contact with other artists, writers, editors, agents, and businesswomen. I’m always on, and every conversation is an opportunity to share ideas about publishing, photography, and business. I’m lucky that my partner is in the same position, but even so . . . I sometimes find myself wanting pure, unadulterated “me” time. I don’t get it often—in fact, eczema is rearing up because of current stress levels. I know I’m exceptionally fortunate how well my professional life is going, so I never ask the fates for a “break”. What I find myself asking for is something better—women I can just hang out with, drink a glass of wine, laugh, and relax. Those afternoons and evenings rejuvenate me beyond belief. I’ve been lucky to find these women via the blog and forum worlds.
Truthfully, I haven’t yet figured out the whole balance thing. I’m not sure where to start. For now, I’m trying to keep my weekends and evenings free for photography. I plan to dive more fully into cooking, and I’ve recently discovered the glory of Epsom salt and coconut goop baths. And I try very, very hard to reserve time every morning for a walk or the gym. It’s the small, everyday things that matter.
How has your wardrobe evolved since moving to New York?
Since arriving, I’ve been keeping a sharp eye out for what attracts me in the streets. It’s really exciting—that thrill in the stomach when someone’s attire is so perfect. I want to follow them home and have a good long chat about their style. Right now, rocker-chic French dresses and more architectural and volume-oriented pieces are sending me over the moon. So evolutions are happening. I acquired my first runway Comme des Garçons piece—a leather corset-style cape—and it’s sure to be joined by other pieces from Japanese designers. And with the sweeping winds accompanying the winter chill, I’ve fallen hard for fur thanks to all the fur-wrapped women of NYC.
When I want to feel very pulled together, the Diane von Furstenberg wrap and shift dresses acquired while in Oklahoma have transitioned very well. DvF is a master of making pieces that balance fun with professionalism. Likewise, skinny jeans, blazers, and moto jackets always feel great for exploring the city or meeting up with friends. I have to admit, as far as clothing goes, my uniform silhouettes are pretty standard for Western urban centers, so it wasn’t hard to transition over.
To be cool, however…cool is something requiring a bit more study, so I’m taking lessons from the women on the streets and some of the parties we attend. In some situations, a DvF wrap can stick out like a sore thumb (as can Hermès), so I’ve been acquiring key basic pieces from French designers like Zadig & Voltaire, Claudie Pierlot, Carven and Vanessa Bruno. They integrate effortlessly with my older wardrobe and are superbly made, sporting these small design details that just raise the lux-factor up a notch. They stand out, but softly. To be honest, I don’t understand why a designer like Vanessa Bruno doesn’t have as much, or more, press than Isabel Marant; I think the design and the workmanship is much more refined and able to move between different types of events more fluidly.
Shoes have been more difficult. I have a penchant for Church’s, an old-school English label that uses the most exquisite thick leather. I expected them to be my workhorses all year round, but I got so many blisters from wearing the ballerinas or loafers this summer. Surprisingly Roger Vivier Belle flats have proved themselves the most comfortable warm-weather flats in my closet. I’m relieved cold weather has arrived, because Church’s brogues, ankle boots, and knee-high boots are easy on my feet and can work with pretty much everything. I hope the masculine footwear trend keeps going strong.
Can you share a typical day and evening look for you now?
There are two types of days—days of working at home or running errands, and days when I meet up with client.
On the typical errand/work day in the winter, I wear skinnies (black/gray/dark blue), a cashmere sweater (with eczema, I have to forego wools and other materials), boots, large scarf, and a fur or leather vest. I throw on a jacket/coat and grab an Hermès bag, and I’m good to go. I’m very simple with my everyday look.
For a typical day meeting, I wear a DvF dress with flats. Patterned tights and boots come out when temperatures decrease, along with some Vivienne Westwood blazers. Depending on the client and/or environment, I might replace the blazer with a fur/leather gilet/vest or moto jacket. I have a 37cm Hermès Drag II for a briefcase, which is beautiful and completely under-the-radar, and it’s proved the perfect bag for important meetings.
For evenings—I’m one of those people who likes dressing up. On the glam/grunge spectrum, I’ll always land farther on the glam side, even if I’m not aiming for it. I put that down to sporting red lips, long, long hair, and very feminine curves. I pull on DvF wrap dresses for drinks at bars or smaller dinner parties, but for art/writing parties I tend to wear Parisian dresses that play with pleating and layers. I pair them all with boots or these cool Robert Clergerie wedges I picked up last winter. Typically I’ll wear large hoop earrings or a fun crystal necklace, then finish up with a clutch.
Can you share how your accessories collection has evolved since you moved? I know that there have been some major changes!
Oh! How it’s evolved in 2013! I’ve been crazy experimental this past year or so, especially with Hermès bag styles. Sometimes it was instant love; sometimes I just didn’t use a style no matter how beautiful. It’s a bit of a shock to count how many bags I acquired, then soon sold—sometimes before ever wearing them or sharing them on the blog. But I try not to be sentimental about this stuff. And I try to follow only my feelings, rather than adhere to the opinions of others.
When I first acquired Hermès bags, I focused on the larger 35cm or similar sizes—Marwari, Kelly, Bolide, and multiple Trims. Like a lot of people, I lug around stuff—cameras, laptop, water, etc. But over time I realized not all my bags needed to do that—plus larger leather bags are heavy, which makes a big difference when moving from a car-based culture to a walking one. So this year I began experimenting with small bags—the little known Rugby, the Jigé clutch, the small Picotin, and then the 28cm Kelly.
The small bag has been a revelation. On a recent trip to England, I used only a clutch. I never missed a larger bag. When wandering through New York, a small Kelly or similarly sized design is more than enough to hold everything I need. I haven’t gotten rid of all my larger bags, but I understand them now as business bags, which helps underscore I need no more.
A second evolution has been about color. When I first started collecting scarves, jewelry, bags, what-name-you—I wanted the rainbow. But I’ve realized just a few colors feel immediately “me” and easy to use: gold/tan, black, gray, and various reds. I’ve aggressively trimmed down my scarf collection—like, really aggressively. It’s okay to have a few red scarves (especially large ones) since I wear them all the time, but one or two of the others is enough. I’ve also been focusing on only my favorite scarf sizes. I mostly wear large (140cmx140cm) scarves, so I do add to those. I also like wearing smaller 70cm size squares, so I’ve kept most—they’re super easy to tie on the fly. But the classic 90cm carré that Hermès is most known for . . . well, right now I have one, and not even of classic silk twill.
The upshot: I’ve pinpointed what I actually use and released everything else. Is it hard to do? Of course. And I do have an occasional regret, like selling off the Rouge H Chamonix Trim 35cm bag last spring—I would have used that a lot in NYC, even if I never used in Oklahoma. But, as you might expect, releasing the excess opens up room for other things…
After selling off so much, I’m trying to be careful about what I acquire. The acquisition has to open up new aesthetic and/or sartorial territory. For instance, I acquired large silver hoop earrings from Hermès last Christmas. I wear them all the time—first because they’re aesthetically perfect, and second because I have only two pairs of earrings in my wardrobe, so it’s not like I forget I have them.
Then, this past fall, I acquired two Hermès wool/cashmere ponchos with leather trim and tassels—one in golden hues, the other in red. While I’ve never owned a poncho, I’ve long loved throwing on huge swatches of fabrics. I knew I would be comfortable, and I knew it would be unlike anything I own—as much as I enjoy moto jackets and blazers, it’s time for a new, softer silhouette. The ponchos showed up on my radar at the perfect time. It was a bold risk, but I’ve cuddled in them every single day since they came home with me, and they’ve generated more compliments than I ever expected. Last, I picked up a pair of brown knee-high boots at the Manhattan Hermès Sale, and—oh-la-la—they are heaven.
Since you clearly have through a few evolutions of your closet – what’s a piece of advice you’d give to someone who is just beginning to build a wardrobe?
It’s better long term to pick a single class of item that would expand your sartorial horizons, then find the perfect piece. An example is the lady-like structured bag that can go from work to a chic evening out. For that, a vintage black box Kelly with gold hardware is a powerful choice—it’s a unique presence in the wardrobe no matter how many bags surround it. So: determine what category would give the biggest punch to your everyday wardrobe—a purse, a bracelet, a necklace, a pair of boots, a coat—and then focus on finding the best piece.
What are some of your current favorites in your wardrobe? What is on your “list” that you’d like to add?
I love my hooded leather vest—I have a problem with being cold, and it adds the perfect amount of warmth in the fall underneath a moto jacket, blazer, or coat. I recently acquired a shearling fur gilet, and it is heaven now that winter’s descending. My black ankle boots and black knee-high boots from Church’s still make me giddy when I touch the thick leather. And the Comme des Garçons cape I mentioned earlier is sublime; it’s a stand-out piece that makes me feel on cloud nine when I wear it.
As far as Hermès goes, my large red mousseline silk scarf is so perfect, I wonder why I have other scarves. My favorite bags are a pristine Rouge H Chamonix Dalvy, a vintage Rouge Vif Box 28cm Kelly, and a rough-and-tumble, heavily patinaed Vache Naturelle Bolide. The Rouge H wool/cashmere poncho is a new favorite I can’t imagine being without.
For jewelry, the Baccarat So Insomnight choker is my most favorite piece, followed by the Hermès silver hoop earrings mentioned earlier.
My wish list for further aesthetic alterations includes architectural Japanese pieces, like vintage Commes des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto, and Issey Miyake. These were the influences on my wardrobe when I lived in Paris in the early 2000s, and now that I’m back in an urban center, my aesthetics are pulling that way again.
What’s a new lesson about building your personal ideal wardrobe and defining your personal style that you’ve learned in the last year, since we last talked?
As much as I advocate aesthetic alterations, I also know the immense value of an aesthetic core. When I first started experimenting with clothing and personal style, I went after what seemed fresh and new for me. That sometimes worked very well—even the list of “favorites” above contains some very new things for me when I started the blog (the ladylike purse, the leather vest or jacket, the boots, the poncho). But I’m learning that what I’ve loved for 20/25 years, whether or not I could afford it—French crystal, yards of silk, bold patterns, architectural volume, and the color red—constitutes the core of my aesthetics. Choices made with those elements in mind usually become oft-used favorites. Especially anything red.
You’ve lived all over and also spent the last year or so in rural Oklahoma. What did you learn about yourself while living in this area? What was it like?
Living in rural Oklahoma was lonely. It was immensely productive since there wasn’t anything to do but work, and the low cost of living make the Hermès acquisitions possible—but it was lonely and stifling despite our constant attempts to reach out to others. But due to the blog, I met two couples in Oklahoma who are amongst the most fabulous people I’ve known in all my life. Dinner parties with them brought me so much pleasure. I miss them.
So really what I learned in Oklahoma is how much I love being with people. I grew up with my head stuck in a book 24/7, and I pretty much stayed that way throughout my 20s and 30s. I thought I was shy, and I avoided a lot of public events. But after two years out on a rural farm, I’m embracing every opportunity to be with people. Dinners, parties, readings and drinks, weekend-long adventures, lunches, museum meet-ups…I do it until I drop from exhaustion—then start up again.
What are some of your other new passions and hobbies?
Hunting the best Frenchie treats in New York! That’s a heavenly adventure. For instance, there’s a relatively unknown local Polish bakery in Williamsburg that makes, seriously, the best almond croissants I’ve ever found in the U.S. My boyfriend thinks hunting treats would be dangerous (I’m body and health conscious like many), but what if I had to seriously trek to any given place? I did that when I lived in Paris—I’d walk across most of the city to grab the best tarte au citron or sable cookie. Sounds good to me!
But for right now, art is what gets me walking across New York districts. Art has been my passion since I was a child—and for the first time in years, I can walk out the door and see phenomenal pieces at almost any hour of the day. This means a lot to me. Turning a corner and seeing, for example, a Dubuffet exhibit is like stumbling across an old, old friend who brought me so much happiness in years past. So the new passion is the resurgence of the old one.
And finally…please share something new that’s surprising about yourself!
I love football. I even sleep in a Chicago Bears jersey.