(Above: Vreeland photographed by Horst. 1979.)
"You gotta have style. It helps you get down the stairs. It helps you get up in the morning. It’s a way of life. Without it, you’re nobody. I’m not talking about lots of clothes,” said Diana Vreeland who never really, well, said anything but instead issued forth words with that Vreeland vroom of hers, a purr which, having slipped alluringly past a growl, was on its way back to being a purr again but one that had considered momentarily becoming a caterwaul of delight before deciding that such a consideration itself gave the very sound of her the needed underlying buzzy notes of bemusement. She utilized that purr to make her pronouncements aimed at grownups who were just a little too grown-up for her taste. Indeed, Vreeland delighted others but found delight to be too off-the-rack for her. She preferred to preen sublimely with joy when she was pleased. I like to think of Vreeland as what happened to Eloise when she got too tall - only slightly - to keep that kid act of hers going at The Plaza so she had to reinvent herself as another New York character, but one with the underlying notes of Eloise still intact. Come to think of it, it was those noticeable notes of Eloise lying about in her larger-than-life larynx - Kay Thompson less elongated physically but not phonetically - that put that come-to-think-of-it consideration in that buzzy purr of hers. I always thought of her as half cat/half bee anyway. I curiously wanted to cuddle her but was more cautious of her sting.
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Reinventions - like the one I imagined from Eloise to Vreeland - tend to work when they remind others of an earlier inventive act of creation without having to resort to a replication of it.
STYLE POINT ONE: Unlike fashion, style is timeless but it shape-shifts to fit one’s latest reinvention. One must change if one is to continue to grow, even if only slightly, but one’s style really mustn’t if one has truly settled into the alchemy of its allure. Style is not about the fit. Style is instead fitting.
(Above: A room at The Maker Hotel in Hudson. Photo by Francine Zaslow.)
I moved to Hudson, New York, over five years ago from San Francisco after giving that city five years of its own when, needing to reinvent myself after my 38 years in Manhattan, I moved west to create a magazine as its Editor-in-Chief. I had never even been to Hudson before that first snowy day in the middle of January when I arrived there to reinvent myself yet again. The stylish little town itself has reinvented itself many times over from its whaling days when ruffians on those boats up and down the Hudson River dropped anchor there to find out just how libertine they could be. The lore of the place is that it didn’t have a red-light district back then; the whole town was red-lit. For a time, it was where the mafia set up its own Mayberry. Then the mid-century dealers moved in and it became a design Mecca. It was still Mayberry but one directed by Wes Anderson. Now it is a kind of Brooklyn North, its sidewalks on Warren Street filled on some days with hip young people and older sophisticates who, when they were an earlier version of such young people, settled into an alchemic style that anchored them in themselves.
There is a high-price hotel on Warren Street called The Maker and I often wonder what Eloise-cum-Vreeland would make of it. The latter would probably assign a story about it and slyly pronounce, “Give it an Eloise voice - a kind of hotell-all.” The young writer, like so many young folks these days who are deeply talented yet deeply as well culturally uncurious about the past and thus illiterate concerning it, would ask who Eloise is even though her reconfigured voice was right in front her giving her the assignment. Vreeland however wouldn’t miss a stylish beat but recognize it as her cue to intone. “Marvelous! Go find her there and find out for yourself. There are whispers that the now old gal is hunkered down inside a room at The Maker,” she’d say, lowering the intoning to a hushed timbre and, by doing so, convincing the writer she was a confidant while throwing her off the scent. “Oh, and don’t furnish the piece with furniture - that’s done. That’s over. Yes: Eloise … alone in her room … writing her memoirs at The Maker… ” she’d continue in a kind of reverie that always signaled a meeting was over, as one would then wait for the button that buttoned it up. “But who’s footing the bill? That’s Hudson,” she’d finesse the piece aloud, fiddling with the button until she got it just right. “A make-believe character - aren’t we all - with a real-life bill to be paid.”
STYLE POINT TWO: Style is not about money. It is about being a real-life character. Let the bills become make-believe. Real style states, “I am paid-in-full.”
(Above: Marine Penvern outside her atelier on Warren Street modeling a silken caftan made from a silkscreen of one of her abstract canvases.)
“‘Style is the answer to everything,’” designer, painter, and jazz aficionado Marine Penvern told me one afternoon, quoting Charles Bukowski from “Track 25” of his Master Collection LP, when she came over to my loft for one of her many visits. “'A fresh way to approach a dull or dangerous thing,’” she continued. “‘To do a dull thing with style is preferable to doing a dangerous thing without it. To do a dangerous thing with style is what I call art.’” Marine’s atelier is at 715 Warren Street where, when she’s not reading Bukowski, she can be found working on her creations in the rear sewing room or sitting on a bench out front playing her sax, Coltrane flowing colorfully from her as if she has spun his notes into the silk fabric she uses to to make her signature caftans patterned from her abstract paintings. She is Hudson’s version of Diana Vreeland if Vreeland had reinvented herself one more time as that exclamation point that had escaped that earlier sentence after the word Marvelous - just as tall and slim and a needed bit of excitement wherever she finds herself. Marine possesses an an allure that freedom gives you when you escape a sentence where someone else has placed you.
An exhibition of Marine’s paintings, running until April 2, is hanging at Hudson Hall which consists not only of her abstract works but also portraits of characters around town whose style is not only embedded in their faces that Marine has rendered with a tender yet tough-eyed realism, but also in their character. Characters with character is a kind of summing up of those I got to know there who no longer have the exhausting need to be fashionable. Because they no longer have that need, the first thing I noticed about them was how more deeply stylish they are. Their style was what led me to want to know them better. Fashionable people are fine, but having a deeper sense of style is often the first clue I need to decipher a new friendship. Such deciphering happened a lot for me during my years in Hudson
Having a sense of home within a herd is what being fashionable finally offers, but individuality is the foundation of style. It also has given Hudson its commercial one. Even the furniture stores and boutiques there along Warren Street’s ten long blocks are defined by their individuality, almost all of them independent ones. An exception is the latest outpost of Westerlind, the outdoor apparel emporium managed by Tom Pawlowski. Its founder, Andrea Westerlind, is mindful about her brand - being mindful about it is her brand - so she has been careful about her company’s expansion. The brand’s recent footprint in Hudson, however, proved to me alas that the town’s hipness, always an evanescent concept, has hardened into a fact found now in market research. That was a first clue itself in my deciphering why I had the impulse to leave to begin yet another reinvention as a pilgrim. A house is a fact that is factored by real estate prices - which have become exorbitant along with rents in Hudson. I feel more at home within abstractions and metaphors and imagined purrs, so much so that I am now on this pilgrimage where my imagination - fact-based but not biased by facts - is the ur- in my own purr.
STYLE POINT THREE: Fashion is a sentence you read. Style is a sentence you write.
(Above: Sculptor Judy Engel, owner of Modern on the Hudson, and I at PS21 in Chatham to see the production of Compagnie de La Vallée/L’héliotrope’s Pollock.)
Marine Penvern was just one of people with whom I became friends because they have accessorized their style with kindness. Many, like Marine, own their own stores. Sculptor Judy Engel’s Modern on the Hudson was right across the street from my loft. I often stopped in not only to chat and catch up, but also to see what outfit she was wearing. She curates her clothes with the same keen eye with which she curates mid-century furniture and design. We bonded in the pre-pandemic days when we volunteered to help prepare meals for an organization’s community dinner on Monday nights. She even looks stylish in an apron.
Sam Logan owns Meridian at 438 1/2 Warren which he describes on its website as “a digital and physical space for contemporary clothing & visual culture.” I had a crush on him when I first moved there but I learned long ago not to pine for straight guys. So I would visit him in his boutique to talk about navigating an exit from his marriage with his purposeful grace (his own mindful brand), parenting his two young sons, and who the lucky lady might be he was currently dating. One of the greatest joys I was to discover in Hudson was seeing Sam and one of his sons skateboarding together up and down Warren. It takes a lot of style - and even more love - to pull off being a dad who can do that. In fact, the last time I saw them skateboarding toward me when I was walking to the train station, I told his son that he had the coolest dad on the planet. “Do you know that?” I asked as he sped by. “I know that!” he called back to me.
(Above: Sam Logan and one of his sons skateboarding toward me on Warren Street.)
Other stores in Hudson I like for their sense of style are Mikel Hunter’s cutting edge boutique and gallery at 533 Warren which is a kind of twin of his other store on Martha’s Vineyard in Edgartown, one that has the familial aesthetic but needed to make a home of its own to hone it further. Kasuri (the Japanese word for “village”) was once the first boutique you encountered when turning onto Warren Street from the train station. But there was a flood in the building many months ago and, when I left to set up my home base here in London back in October, was still under reconstruction. Kasuri is now located on the ground floor of the Cannonball Factory on Prison Alley where Etsy once had a satellite office before closing it in September. The shop’s haute couture now finds itself surprisingly in dialogue with the crafty ghosts of the Factory’s former inhabitants. (When you live in Hudson you learn to shrug off entities that haunt the town anyway; when visitors say its has a haunting beauty, they mean precisely that without maybe even knowing they do.) Vivienne Westwood, now a ghost herself, is a favorite designer of Jonathan Osofksy, who is the shop’s Creative Director. He was just in London for her memorial service and for the five days of London’s fashion week having arrived from Paris and its shows. Among others carried by him at Kasuri are Yohji Yamamoto Rick Owens, and Walter Van Beirendonck. Jonathan, who grew up on a Columbia County diary farm, has a taste for narrative threads as well as the luxurious ones used by such designers. “The designers we carry have been profoundly influential on fashion design but they transcend it,” he has said, which sounds like a mission statement for style. “In fact, they really represent a kind of Anti-Fashion, uninterested in the trend cycles.”
(Above: Photo from the Kasuri website. A Hudson young man wearing Y-3. Letterman Jacket, SS23, Yohji Yamamoto x ADIDAS Sportswear. Y-3 Wrap skirt and sneakers.)
I like to shop for vintage clothes and when you do so at Look Apparel and Accessories, the designer vintage boutique in the back of Fresh Stockholm, the cosmetics store at 401 Warren, you can be assured that Marie and Ian - everybody just calls them Marie and Ian - have already sorted out the best recent choices from what they have in storage and from their carefully culled sources. You can trust them about pricing. More important, when you try something on you can trust them to tell you if it makes you look silly or furthers your style which they have instinctively sized up when you walked in. A couple of Christmas seasons ago now when I was shopping for a gift there, they instinctively knew I would be alone on Christmas Eve and invited me to a small dinner at their home because that too is their style.
The most inexpensive place in town to shop for clothes is Second Stage Thrift Store which benefits Columbia Memorial Hospital and Operation Unite, the latter a collaborative to reduce drug addiction and promote recovery. Judy Engel and I like to shop there and brag to each other that we “got it at Second Stage” when we wear what we found on its racks which usually elicits a resultant compliment from the other. Not only do we like a bargain, but we more deeply like that buying something that fits our style at a charity thrift store can also be about generosity and an act of service.
STYLE POINT FOUR: One can be mean and still be stylish. But kindness never goes out of style.
(Above: Richard Stengel and I buying pastries and bread at Breadfolks, the bakery owned by photographer and baker Norman Jean Roy, that alas closed this outpost before I left town. Masks were then still in vogue, but I still wear them here in London because for me they haven’t gone out of style.)
“The best time to leave a party is when the party’s just beginning,” was another pronouncement issued by Diana Vreeland. “There’s no drink that kills except the drink that you didn't want to take, as the saying goes, and there's no hour that kills except the hour you stayed after you wanted to go home.”
I left Hudson at the end of October and headed to London as my new home base for six months a year. I leave this week for Paris where I’ll be living in the Eighth Arrondissement in March and April. I will then alight in Santa Fe, San Francisco, New York City, Mississippi, Asheville, and Provincetown before heading back here to London in October for six more months. Becoming a pilgrim - I like that term better than elder nomad - was my latest act of reinvention. But after five years in Hudson, I didn’t think I was leaving the party early. It had instead become a different kind of party. The pandemic changed the place as even more New York City residents sought refuge in Hudson and its surrounding area and discovered that they liked being city refugees in such a small-town, bucolic place where they could also buy the cheese they like and have dinner parties with likeminded folks who find comfort in style as much as the right kind of cheese. Well-paid not just well-fed, they soon began buying real estate and the market heated up as Hudson was discovered yet again by this latest city crowd who wanted to get away from the city but still be surrounded by city folks. They are now, as I mentioned, also surrounded by city rental and real estate prices.
Richard Stengel, the former Managing Editor of Time who served as an Under Secretary of State for President Barack Obama and collaborated with Nelson Mandela on his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, has had a home outside Hudson for years. I ran into him a few days before my departure from town having lunch at The Cascades, the cafe on Warren Street where locals eat, a place that doesn’t worry about the rightness and wrongness of whatever cheese is back in its kitchen. We talked about his appearances on MSNBC as a talking head, which was a reinvention for him when he first took the job, and my own imminent reinvention as a pilgrim setting off to engage with the world in a different way. I told him I had donated most of my library to Time and Space Ltd in gratitude for enriching my life while I lived a few blocks away from it, had re-homed my cats, Finn and Matty, breaking my own heart, and that I had sold or given away everything I owned except for a few pieces of art, a few boxes of books, my five watches, and the clothes that can compose a wardrobe that consists of blacks and greys and navies along with some old white shirts. “After a guy reaches a certain age he should dress like a chic lesbian anyway” I said with - God help me - a considered Vreeland-like purr. “When I go to my closet each morning, I stare at my clothes and ask myself one question: ‘What would Kate Clinton wear?’” I looked over at Stengel to inspect his casual lunchtime attire. “You understand. You already dress like a lesbian with style,” I complimented him. But he wasn’t sure if I had. The sweet befuddlement on the face of a man who is so seldom befuddled unexpectedly moved me. As I continued my walk home that day to my loft where I was now editing my life after a life lived editing my stories, I added this lovely little lunchtime happenstance to the memories I made there. Where else but Hudson, New York, could you run into Richard Stengel and tell him he looked like a well-dressed lesbian? I miss the place. I do. But it was time to move on. Because that - moving on - is my style.
STYLE POINT FIVE: Keep it simple.
An edited version of this story can be found here at The Mountains magazine’s website.
SES/SUMS IT UP with Kevin Sessums is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
The Maker looks like the perfect place to lock one’s self in for the winter.