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.

The Angels Sang.

by Kimberly from Pennsylvania
As I’ve mentioned before, I look at the Ivey Abitz website just about every day. If I’m having a dreadful sort of day I may even look it at it more than once. Often I see something new before I get the announcement via email.

Thinking it was about time for my daily fix, I punched in IV (that’s all my computer needs) and the new spring collection home page popped up. At that moment I heard angels sing…

…and my then my computer went… black.

Was there something bigger keeping me from seeing these clothes? The IT guys found out about my Ivey Abitz addiction, perhaps.

No. Simply put, we were in the middle of a wind storm and the power at work had gone off. Did I care that there was work to do? No, I wanted to see the Spring Ivey Abitz collection. My cubbie mates will tell you I was near tears calling them over while pointing to my black screen. They had no idea what was wrong with me.

20 minutes later things were humming again and I went back to my computer and punched in Iv and there they were. I think of myself as a pretty jaded person. But really who was I fooling that day. I was gah-gah.

The clothes are so pretty and I wanted every last one of them. Forget that Cynthia and I had worked on a list for my future purchases. I quickly tried to compose a letter in my head to my mortgage company to see if I could take advantage of the new bailout plan to buy ALL the clothes, but realizing that’s not exactly what they had in mind I calmed myself down.

To tell the truth, the Spring collection was taking me off my plan, but I couldn’t help myself. You just don’t see clothes like this, and when you do they are not really available (read – way, way out of my price range).

Pulling out my list, then picturing items I already owned, I chose a couple of ensembles and a few other pieces that I knew I could start IveyAbitzing my current wardrobe with.

I ordered the pieces with confidence because I know they will last for years and mix with most things I have, as well as my future Ivey Abiz purchases.

Oh my, I just can’t wait for my spring order to arrive.

Deciding on an Ivey Abitz Wardrobe with A Little Help from the Designer Herself

by Kimberly from Pennsylvania

I would like to think I’m pretty good at putting outfits together, but in reality I’m probably hit or miss.  When my outfit is a good one it’s pretty great but some of my misses would make me eligible for that TV show with the secret footage. 

One huge mistake is not following the advice from fashion gurus.  Buy an outfit – not pieces. And what do I do? I buy pieces. I know I’m not alone. Many women do this. You end up with a great skirt but nothing really fabulous to wear with it. So not only does the skirt languish in your closet, but by not wearing it you have spent your money in vain.  

And you say you don’t have anything to wear. Now you know why.

No more bits and pieces of clothing for me. This spring and summer would be different. Yes, I vowed.  But now what should I do? After looking at the Ivey Abitz website for like the millionth time I turned to my new best friend. Yes. I decided my new style guru would help me look great and pulled together. After looking at the website and picking some of my favorites I complied a list and sent it to Cynthia Ivey Abitz. 

Through email we talked about my choices, fabrics, my likes and dislikes and of course my budget.  Then she sent me a list of what looked like a wonderful start to building a useful and pulled together look that I can wear for years.

By doing this I would have the basics to look great this spring and summer. But there is flexibility in this list. I originally wanted the Camilla Dress in a winter fabric but decided that a Baedeker Shirt would help me fill in gaps in my wardrobe better. Not only will it always go with my Ivey Abitz pieces but it also works well with my existing clothing. 

The point is I have a guide now. I know if I purchase something off my list (even though I really want everything) it will work.  And that’s what I need in my life. Stuff that works.

My New Best Friends

by Kimberly from Pennsylvania

Not only are the clothing items fabulous at Ivey Abitz, so is the customer service.  I feel like customer service and Cynthia are my new best friends.

Looking at the designs over and over I noticed that there were some velvets pictured on the item pages. I sent an email to customer service and got a speedy reply assuring me that there would be velvets offered very soon.  

Boy and what velvets they are. I just couldn’t decide what to order but did manage to make a decision. A Lydia Layering Jacket in berry (french silk) velvet and a Cozette Skirt in denim.

Cynthia contacted me over a weekend just prior to my jacket going into production to ask if I wanted it lined.  I chose not to, but I loved that she would ask.

I had them shipped to my work address, and when they arrived, ladies were gathered around to see what I got.  I felt like the lucky women who get flowers delivered to the office.

When I opened the boxes (did I tell you how much I love the tissue paper and boxes) people were like “Oh my – how beautiful.”

I had to write immediately and let them know – well done.   

I like being the object of envy…


by Kimberly from Pennsylvania

I like the idea of new starts and the transformation they can bring.  Moving around as a child it seemed like I got a chance at a fresh start every year and a half or so.  I always wanted to be someone cool, different than who I was.  But my plans always went awry and I was always just me. 

Continuing the trend as an adult, I left my hometown just outside of Pittsburgh to live in very different places like Washington, D.C., Providence, RI, and Kansas City, each time I was determined to be the “real” me. Along the way I picked up a husband, some good friends, a myriad of pets, a few houses, some pounds, and one – and then eventually another – son.  And while I stayed in the same line of business (advertising) I changed jobs, too. 

In a few years I will be coming up on a half-century mark. I guess I have been transforming into me all this time. Finding Ivey Abitz clothes help me complete the picture of how I want to appear. Unique, pulled together, quality, and with a quirky vintage twist.

Six months ago I left the hot sweaty Midwest and headed back to my hometown.  My goal is to find a quality of life I have always wanted.  My own business and a dream house.  I’m on my way to my own business and I have found a house.

Things don’t always turn out like you think they will. I have stopped trying to find the real me and work with what I have –  the real me.  The business I am building is not what I envisioned.  I had pictured a cute little shop of some sort but in reality my husband and I are opening a fingerboard park and store to compete with a European brand my boys love. We hope to be a success and I think we will be.   Once I can swing my loan I will have my Victorian dream house that will ultimately be a retreat for women looking for time to craft, talk, or just let their hair down without the kids and husbands to worry about.

And when it all comes together I’ll be wearing my Ivey Abitz.

The Phrase Vintage Inspired Clothes

by Kimberly from Pennsylvania

I’m addicted.

In 2008, I made a pledge to wear as little mass-produced clothing as possible and started to seek out individual designers and websites that featured handmade items. 

Little did I know that by innocently Googling the phrase “vintage inspired clothes” one day last summer would cause me to become an addict.

Yes, an addict. Now I know what that term really means.  I have been known to think about rich creamy chocolate in addictive terms but this was different.

I had discovered Ivey Abitz. And my world will never be the same again. 

Florentine Jacket by Ivey Abitz
Florentine Jacket as featured in the Ivey Abitz Fall 2008 Look Book.

I just could not stop looking at the Fall Look Book. I kept going back again and again and finally I decided on a few pieces. Since I wear a lot of black I stuck with that palette. A black & white Florentine Jacket in textured silk and a pair of Mercer Trousers in black Premium Irish Linen were my first choices. How could I go wrong?

Now my agony would truly begin.  I had to wait for my order to be made just for me.
After the first few weeks I would keep going back to my order confirmation page and check my order status.  “Order in progress” – how I learned to hate that phrase.  Then I received my notification that my items shipped. I was ecstatic and practically walking on air.
My waiting was not in vain. 

The linen trousers were opened first.  The quality of the linen was superb.  Just lovely. My new pants were a dream.  I held them up and instantly thought of 4-5 ways to wear them. They go with everything.

My Florentine Jacket was a surprise.  It was a combination of cool funky with the raw edged seams and a very lady like vibe. I wear it with everything from a black pencil skirt, funky tights and shoes, to other Ivey Abitz items. 

Needless to say, I was not disappointed by my first purchase from Ivey Abitz. And I can assure you there will be more to come. 

Even When You’re Preggers

By Reba from California

Pregnant with twins was not the most beautiful experience of my life. Not even in the top 100. Pretty much a complete nightmare. Don’t get me wrong, I love the end result, it’s the process that I despise. When I delivered at 36 weeks, I had gained 60 pounds. My husband referred to my belly as “the nose cone.” Toward the end, the only clothing I could fit into was an xxl maternity swim cover-up and that was stretching toward risqué. Currently, being pregnant with a singleton and not being nearly as large ranks one measly step above being pregnant with twins. The only consolation for me is that up until the 7th month I could work cute and pregnant. Barely. I have discovered when first pregnant and not showing but not exactly fitting into anything, more like being really bloated with a hefty dose of nausea, the best solution is tunics.

I also discovered the Solomon Frock. This little piece of joy saved me. I could wear a tight tube dress -something i wouldn’t do UNLESS pregnant, strangely the same goes for pigtails, but i digress – with the Solomon over top and totally work it. I could also still wear heels. We are talking first trimester here. The Solomon also worked well with leggings and a long tee shirt. Seeing how sucking it in wasn’t an option I could just relax and still look good. In the second trimester, the Camilla Skirt came in quite handy. Never one to admit to owning a long sleeve unitard UNLESS pregnant – you see how rules are tossed when one procreates – I have one (ok, two). I would never wear just the unitard, that would be not only absurd but obscene. However, the unitard with the Camilla Skirt looks amazing. The baby bump is obvious and cute without screaming “i need a epidural stat”, and I find that paring something having volume (the skirt) with something not having volume (tight unitard) helped me feel less frumpy. Frumpy is bad. Really bad in general, especially bad when pregnant.

It’s hard to dress with any structure when one waddles. It’s also hard when your belly becomes the repository for scone crumbs. Therefore, I find it uplifting to dress well, even on those days when all I wanted to do was eat saltines and watch my stories. After the 7th month, that all goes out the window and I would rather only leave the house for a dr. appointment or ice cream run while wearing some jokester’s idea of maternity sweats and sensible shoes.

As I lose the baby weight in the coming months and start to look normal, or as normal as one gets toting a newborn and chasing twins, I envision the Camilla over leggings with a sassy tank top. I also envision the Mercer set coming in quite handy. Comfortable without having to sacrifice individuality. I swear I won’t be going platinum, but I just might add a couple more tattoos… 2 weeks to go.

The end.

Right on schedule, Reba had a healthy baby boy. His name is Max.

Having Babies Changes Everything – but NEVER a Sense of Style

Until I met my husband, I never wanted kids. I never wanted a wedding in the grand sense. We compromised: Elvis walked me down the aisle in Vegas, and I said I would think about kids. I did think about it and decided that at 30 it was time. Apparently my body had other notions, and, like all good things that come to those who wait, I had twins at 33. God has a sense of humor. I wanted one child. What I got were two girls. I knew then that my husband was in deep trouble. Girls tend to shop like their mothers. I am pretty sure he will need to get another job once they get a wee bit older.

When the husband and I met, it was less than love at first sight. I shocked his east coast sensibilities with the profusion of black dresses and black hair, funky six inch platform boots and leather coats. To this day he wears garanimals for adults, or what is better known as (insert international mall chain label here). Takes all the guess work out of the morning. He got used to dating a girl who didn’t shop at the mall and I got used to dating a frat boy. Go figure.

Like I said before, I love a good costume and that’s what dressing was like before kids. The work costume of pencil skirts and jackets meshed with the cropped pants, tight tee shirts and funky long coats. Six inch heels were not a problem. I liked the edginess of walking into a meeting and being six feet tall. I also liked that my clothes had a structure all their own. There was nothing baggy or boxy, no soft cottons or linens, no dresses without slips. Weight fluctuation was not an option. My after hours costumes varied from fishnets and short dresses with ridiculously high boots to short skirts and concert tees with vintage leather jackets and heels. I am pretty sure there was little to no casual costume.

Then came kids, two at once. There was that six month period after they arrived that I don’t remember so I have no idea what I dressed like. There is one picture where I had apparently bleached my hair platinum. Big mistake. Once some semblance of sanity arrived I discovered that I had nothing to wear. Literally since I had gotten pregnant at a size 2 and woke up a size ten. I had to rethink and repurchase my wardrobe. I don’t get a lot of sympathy from people. My husband does.

I couldn’t very well go back to the the pre-kids style. I needed to move. To bend down, lay down, sit down… generally be down. I needed to walk a stroller, chase a toy, carry babies. I was getting spit up on fairly regularly so silk was out of the question. So I started collecting. Shoes came first so I turned to Cydwoq for my every day shoes. Comfortable and funky. Next I had to evaluate what I could wear on a daily basis and decided on cropped and wide leg pants in basic colors (Mercer Trousers are some). I have about 50 black t-shirts, which may sound like too many but when one can go through five in an afternoon with a spitty baby, 50 is almost too few. Button down tops became the enemy, just not worth it. I figured I would get some great sweaters, jackets, and coats to throw over the tees. I kept my eclectic side and just pared down the tailoring. I’ve bought lots of dresses and frocks once the girls quit spitting up. I was amassing my new wardrobe. I was on a roll. I had purchased heels and some going out on the town clothes, I was ready to go. I was the cool mom, the well dressed mom who didn’t own khakis or wear yoga pants in public. Then I got pregnant again, because God has a sense of humor. I have two weeks and six days to go.

From Youth to Pregnancy

When I was young…. no that’s wrong. When I was younger… that’s much better… I wore clothes to differentiate myself from the herd. Hard to do in catholic school with the unspoken rule of conformity. Only grandmothers in mourning wore black. I and a few fellow cohorts also wore black. Lots of black. We dyed things black. The more outlandish the better – buckle boots, black hats, vests over black poet shirts, leggings under skirts with petticoats. So very dramatic. It was a costume every day. I love a good costume. Naturally, we differentiated ourselves so much you couldn’t tell us apart. Irony comes to mind.

Spending my 20’s in San Francisco was liberating in so many ways. I found clothes. Lots of them. I also found that I knew nothing of the difference between wearing clothes and being dressed. I would much rather be dressed. The connotation of attending an impending event, one where thought and care would go into every stitch chosen, still appeals to me. Granted that event was often grabbing a guinness at a pub. It didn’t matter. (I don’t wear sweats to the market. Well, I do now, but that’s just until the latest baby arrives. I hate sweats.) People around me dressed too. Not always in what is defined as well-dressed, but with spirit, with gusto, with confidence, such confidence. No need to shock and awe through clothing, but more like elegant birds of different eras all crashing together in a thoroughly modern and individualistic way. I like that.

I started collecting. Many items of clothing I have now, 16 years later. I still wear them. I found local designers and had things made – skirts with trains, coats with bell sleeves, corsets trimmed with lace. I have to admit it’s been a couple of years since the corsets came out – I’ll save those for the twins.

Currently I sit and stare at my clothing. I have four weeks until the little one arrives to join his sisters. Most people would be lining the nest for the baby, picking out bumpers and footies with matching hats. Not I, oh no. I took care of nest lining months ago. Now I get to add some key items to the post pregnancy section of my closet. I have spent months wearing the equivalent of jersey jammies that are destined for some sort of bonfire. It is very difficult to consider oneself dressed when the primary concern is not letting ones belly hang out. It is also hard to feel well put together when it takes five minutes to put on socks. At four minutes 30 seconds I am winded and ready for a nap. Like a raven drawn to shiny objects, I am searching out that interesting pleat, the perfect silhouette, something transitional that I can still wear in six months… like the Luella Overlay in black cotton floral lace.

I’ll sneak it in the house somehow.