NYC in Ivey Abitz and Memories of a Fashionable Great-Grandmother

by Deborah in Rhode Island

Travels with my new Solomon Skirt: My VW Bug and I made it to Brooklyn by early evening on Saturday. A 9 p.m. dinner at Luz with friends and I’m still wearing my lovely Solomon Skirt. I feel luxurious in it – designed by Cynthia Ivey Abitz and made perfectly for me by extraordinary hands. Not a wrinkle from sitting in a car for four hours. A sip of my minty Mojiito and I feel positively glamorous.

It was exciting news when Ivey Abitz moved to New York City. NYC is one of my favorite places to visit and I imagine that it’s such a wonderful opportunity for a designer. Much of Cynthia’s “look” reminds me of my great-grandmother, Emma. She was born in the late 1800’s and went to Pratt Institute to study Fashion Design. My mother remembers her well – very tall, very slim, very elegant, and very fashionable.

Apparently she missed NYC after she left Pratt so she often took her daughter (my grandmother) with her to NY for weekend trips. Emma continued this tradition with my mother who remembers walking around NYC for hours and hours hoping that Emma would get tired of walking, shopping, etc. My grandmother and mother kept up the tradition and showed me around NYC as a young girl, and those are some of my best memories. I think that I was fascinated by remarkable clothing early on – my great-grandmother’s legacy. I still have a beautiful and very heavy crocheted lace skirt and jacket that belonged to her – it is amazing how small waists were! And how tall she was! When I heard of Ivey Abitz’s move to NYC, the memories of my fashionable great-grandmother, Emma, came immediately to mind. She would have looked spectacular in Ivey Abitz.

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Dressing as Well as the Settlers

Ivey Abitz and Summer 2009

by Eleni from Florida

It has been quite awhile since I have written a column (blog) about the Ivey Abitz Design House, a Design House in the best sense of the word.

This talented couple pulled up roots last year from Michigan and went to New York City.

Now as if this isn’t enough to manage, they have done numerous collections in-between (Fall 2008, Winter 2009, Spring Prelude 2009, Men’s Spring 2009, and the creme de la creme: Summer 2009). All the collections featured new design debuts and, as always, fabulous fabrics, and Summer 2009 is almost all new designs.  Now, if it were me, I would have taken a long break or… at least bowed out a season.  But oh no, the two artists that make up this brilliant team set out to work, not missing a beat or a season.  I would like to compliment them on that.  At this point you would not know that they weren’t natives of Manhattan.

They have never let this fan down – ever.  Their work ethic amazes me.  The quality of the work is superlative.

I could speculate and say that perhaps New York City and all of its action, art, and innovation immediately inspired them to work, but I think their momentum more likely comes from their natural talent and ability.  They can’t help it – they are natural talent and ability.  In short, I don’t think they would be any different in whatever cornfield or Big Apple they happen to land on at any given moment.

It’s not a secret that I am an admirer and a fan of Ivey Abitz designs.  I try to get a piece (or an assortment of many pieces) from every collection.  The gods will certainly smile on me if I am always this lucky.  I think that Ivey Abitz in any season is more than adornment.  I find them a necessity.  Like having a sofa to sit on or a bed to sleep in, I would feel very deprived indeed if I were to have to sit out a season.

Which brings me to Summer 2009.

If I wrote about every season since I last wrote about them I would have probably too much to say, so I will stick to the time at hand – Summer 2009. At the risk of repeating myself (and I probably am):

The new designs!!  The fabrics!!!  They are simply to swoon over!

How brilliant is it to turn the Bartholdi Overlay into the new Bartholdi Jacket?  The same for the Elliot Jacket!  The new Bonheur designs – the Bonheur Jacket and the Bonheur Frock…O Ma Lawd…..(I can say that, I’m southern) I was agog, moonstruck, and in awe!  I immediately knew what I must have!  I would like them all. (omg!) Those flowy lines and raw edges.  They are so obviously handmade!

How can one not admire this pure art and creativity?  These are how clothes are meant to be.  They are refined and altogether utilitarian, in both an everyday sort of way and in a special occasion sort of way.

At the same time, it is simple.  After all is said and done, I believe that all brilliant ideas are simple, then we build from that. Like the art school saying: all great art begins with great craftsmanship.

Cynthia Ivey Abitz and I write occasionally back and forth about art and design. I want to comment on something she noticed that I have had on my mind lately.  She mentioned old photographs of folks from the 1940’s… I will go back before this time and to the 1950’s as well.

Have you ever noticed how people dressed?  Of course you have, but have you ever noticed how workmen dressed? Not necessarily professionals, but tradesmen and workers as well, even going all the way back to the time of the building of railroads in America and the rebuilding in Europe.  Going all the way back to when photography was relatively young, you will see men at work in a shirt and tie — sometimes jackets!  I don’t think that back then any working man, no matter what his work or trade at that time, would go to work in anything less than trousers, shirt, and tie.  Going even further back – looking at photos of men and women on the frontier trail making the long trek out west after the Civil War, traveling by horse and covered wagon on the well-doumented Oregon Trail. Women traveled in, cooked in, gave birth in, and raised children in what we would call today (if we had anything to compare it to) formal attire — no matter how rough the fabric. And I may be wrong, but I think the roughest fabric back then was probably quite fine.

I think about that and compare it to now. I don’t mean jeans (jeans are a staple and go with all, says the humble queen of jeans and a self-proclaimed expert on the subject). I mean dress in general.  Everyday dress.  Enough said.  Those who know will know.  Those who don’t are probably not reading this.

I don’t blame this problem with the way people dress every day on finances (It doesn’t matter what your financial situation is. Just look at many of the settlers’ financials).  I also don’t think it is a matter of formal or casual, because you don’t have to be dressed up per se to be presentable. It is the fact that everyday people should know better than to run out to anywhere in workout clothes or beach wear.

I live in Florida. I grew up here in the 1970’s. The most casual dress items I own are probably my $1 rubber flip-flops. You know, the ones with the little designs on the thong?  They remind me of my grandmother, a true beachcomber if there ever was one.  Somewhere in the Smithsonian Museum in one of millions of collections there is a shell discovered by my grandfather, a deep sea diver, in the 1930’s or 40’s which he named for her. My grandmother was a conchologist, and I don’t think you can get any more beachy than that. Anyway, I grew up running around Florida beaches in my bathing suit and $1 rubber flip-flops, but not since 10 years of age.

I am the last person to be formal, but you won’t catch me dead in workout clothes or – what do you call them? track suits? – in public. I own a shop in Florida now and I see people decades older than 10 years of age running around in beachwear. Bathing suits as well! This makes me want to scream “ahhhhhhhhhhhhghhhh” (not a shriek of excitement)!

I think this is what I find meaningful about Ivey-Abitz: You can go back to a time when dressing was special, an event in itself. Turning your very best self to the outside world reflects who you are inside. While our culture may not be as formal as those adventurers who settled frontiers, we can still make clothing special. Yes, even when times are difficult, and especially when life is full of adventure.