What Not to Pack
SALLY ISELIN and her husband Lewis, the sculptor, are now abroad, where he is supervising the setting of his war memorial and where she has been making a candid examination of the French and Italian shops and fashions. Having gone to Europe with a welter of things she did not need, she now writes to warn other American wives of what not to bring — and suggests what to look for.
by SALLY ISELIN
WHAT to pack when going abroad? I spent a ridiculous amount of time and money on this problem. But now that I’ve been in Europe — France, Italy, Greece — for three months, I wonder why I brought all I did. Perhaps a subconscious fear of homesickness made me bring that old Brooks sweater, which may be quite suitable for the Adirondacks but hardly for the beach at Cannes or, for that matter, any other place on this elegant continent. I’ve worn it once to bed on a cold night in Greece. I’m still wondering why I was told that I must bring soap. There is more soap in Europe than at home. Granted it is not in hotels, but it is in the shops — nice, smelly soap which makes as many bubbles as a box ot Lux (which is also here). And why did I saddle myself with all that Kleenex? I must seem like an extraordinary person to the customs officers when I say on the one hand that I will be in Italy for six weeks, and then show them enough Kleenex to last for years. And the Kleenex has become a pretty ragged mess by being picked over for contraband. I wish I’d left it at home.
If I had it to do over again, I’d bring enough clothes for the boat and one good suit to wear the first few days in Paris or Rome or wherever. By “good” I mean one that really fits. All suits in Europe, no matter what the age, wear and tear, fit well, much better than our most expensive readymades. Then I’d fill the empty space with new American books and magazines, which are highpriced and hard to get here. They make perlect bread-and-butter presents.
European women strive for an extreme ellect with their clothes and hairdos, whether for the beach, the ballroom, or the street. The colors are brighter or subtler, as the case may be, than in America; the flounces flounce harder; the stand-up collars stand up higher. I brought over an American Jacques Fath (made for the U.S. market in the U.S.A.), very chic and quite striking-looking in New York. Here, at best, it looks like any other black dress, with its main points “watered down”; and it doesn’t really fit. Or so it seems to me now.
On the way over I worried a good deal about what I was going to do with my hair. The foggy rain on board the Queen Mary didn’t help my new permanent. Through my French hairdresser in New York, I went to Yvonne Grand, 3 Avenue Matignon, in Paris. It was one flight up in a very grand apartment house. Very French in that there was much bustle and hustle and conversation. Everyone was distressed because of my tight, frizzy permanent. I told them of the “ poodle clip’ of this past winter. They replied that they had seen pictures of it; that I didn’t look like a caniche, so why had I had it ? Nobody around me had frizzy hair except the wire-haired fox terriers and the caniches who had accompanied their mistresses to the coiffeuse. So I agreed that it should be done away with. Some anti-friz was administered, and my hair was washed. I was asked whether I would like boucles de soleil —which turned out to be blond streaks strewn into t he somber whole by means of aluminum foil. Some cutting and then it was mise en plis (waved).
I came out looking like a European movie star, and I certainly looked more in tune with my surroundings than I did before I went to the hairdresser. Also it was fun. Five people — a man for the bouclcs, another for the wave, a lady for the shampoo, another for the manicure, and a flying chiropodist who painted my toenails — were in excited attendance, deploring and praising in turn. The price for all this was between 3000 and 4000 francs, about $10 or $11. There are many other places. I haven’t mentioned the wellknown Antoine and the equally well-known Mr. Peter because most Americans know about them.
As for my face, I hate to think of the luggage space I devoted to it a year ago, and of how I later made room for French produits de beauté. France has always been a fountainhead for this sort of thing and perfume. Every other store on the Rue de Rivoli sells all kinds of items to put on, and creams with which to take them off. It isn’t exaggerating to say that mascara and eye shadow come in every color of the rainbow. The colors of the various products suit the climate and the light, two very important factors. I’ve found that lipstick made in America looks garish in Paris. French women have a white, porcelained complexion, with what we might think was too much rouge. It looks line indoors, which is where they spend a good deal of the time. The two shops that I especially like are Guerlain, the atmosphere of which is so thick with perfume that you can hardly breathe, and Pinaud, which has soap and cream mascara of every color, including a bright purple and green. Elizabeth Arden has an enormous salon, as she has in almost every city, but it is too much like home for me, even down to the vaguely English-accented ladies who do the work.
If you have time on your hands, you can visit a very famous beauty lady called Mme, Crès (Rue de Logelbach, 7, near the Parc Monceau). Mme. Crès herself looks almost frighteningly young with bright red hair. This last is her own secret, one she doesn’t attempt to give to her clients, restricting herself to t he skin proper. By way of some mysterious honey which she calls miel and which she sprays over your face, she makes you very beautiful. Prices vary according to age from $5 to $10 an hour. I was very much irritated to be rated as middle-aged, but it was explained that if I came more often, I would get “younger,” and consequently cost less. Besides her personal services, she has all kinds of creams and lotions to sell which she prescribes by patting your face in a professional sort of way. I asked her why she didn’t come to America, and she said she hadn’t gone because she liked Paris. To make money in the States, she would have to “expand,” and she likes doing the work herself.
Italian women look slightly more tanned, otherwise just as carefully “done” as the French. You can buy any amount of American cosmetics in any drogheria for about what we pay at home. Max Factor seems to be very popular, doubtless as a result of his movie fame. In Rome I saw more Helena Rubinstein than Elizabeth Arden, but that was chance, for they both have huge Paris salons and distribute all over Europe. Even in Greece you can buy their products. Expensive but plentiful. In Greece, cleansing cream costs 65,000 drachmas for 2 ounces ( roughly $4).
As for clothes, I’d try to arrange my trip so that I would land in Italy in February or September, after the Italian dress designers have had their showings for the American buyers (January and July). I’d fill up my bags with Italian clothes, leaving space for no more than one dress from Paris. Why one? Because Italian clothes cost less than half as much, and have a simple, easily packable quality along with all the chic one could ask for. During the past year they have become as popular with American buyers as French clothes. It is amusing to hear the designers of the one country talk about those of the other. In Paris I was told that this year’s Italian showing had been a frosl, that all the buyers from Amérique had returned from Italy empty-handed. When I got to Italy I was told just the reverse. The Italian designers looked like cats who had swallowed a mighty fine canary and were barely able to digest it.
Besides their lower prices, the Italians have one other very important advantage, and that is speed. Anything from ball dress to bathing suit can be delivered in two days.
When I first arrived in Florence, I didn’t know where to go or what to do, hav ing never been there before. So I looked up an old friend, the Marchese di Bagno, a much sought-after man about town, He didn’t pretend to know a great deal about clothes, but he did know Signor Giorgini, who put the Italian fashion world on the map a year or so ago with fashion shows to which he invited the American buyers. Giorgini gave me some general facts and a list of designers in Milan, Turin, Florence, Rome, Naples, and Perugia.
What else comes under the not-to-pack heading? Very trim slacks and ski pants arc designed by Emilio in Florence and made to order for $27. Ski pants and slacks fit almost like ballet dancers’ tights, and come in a wide range of colors: turquoise, violet, coral—and in the event that you don’t want to be conspicuous on slopes, or don’t ski well, black. It is very comme il faid, almost obligatory, in Italy to have them tight.
Shorts are really short and made of silk. Silk shirts with maps of Gapri and Zermatt on them, and of every conceivable color, cost about $17: poplin ones much less. The over-all effect is quite formal — so much so that I can just see how undressed, perhaps workmanlike, my blue jeans would look alongside of them.
There are straw hats that are trim, formalized versions of those worn by the peasants in and around Florence which have a kind of Mary Poppins formality. These are to shield you from the sun, and are to be worn in the streets (not to the beach) of Capri to compensate for the shortness of the shorts. This is very Latin logic, but I assume it gets by with the local legion of decency.
As for underclothes, there is a whole galaxy of handmade silk creations, all pleats and lace—the type everybody knows about. As always, prices are lower than at home, but I’ve found that my purchases become while elephants when I’m faced with laundries in New York. The real news is that nylon, produced in Italy, is used in all kinds of ways —appliqué, lace, and so forth. You can order your own specially, and get something “different,” or take it as it comes. I saw coral-colored slips with black lace, plain pink and blue, every possible combination. Prices for nylon arc about ihe same as for top quality at home. The place to go in Florence is Vigliardi, 22 Via dei Servi; in Kome, “Nailon Style,” which is on the Via Condotti. Needless to say, the same is true for stockings. Christian Dior mass-produces them in France, and you can buy them anywhere, including, I presume, his own house. Prices, again, are about the same as at home. I mention this because I brought over enough nylon in these forms to dress a boarding school, under the mistaken impression that nylon would be hard to find here. In both France and Italy ihere arc silk stockings which will be a find for those who love silk.
Everyone told me that leather goods were the thing to buy in Italy. I did find that they were less expensive than in France or at home, but Hermés and his many imitators on the Rue Saint Honoré have it all over the Italians in quality and chic. In Florence the two leather goods stores I liked were Guceio Gucci, 47 Via Vigna Nuova, and L. Alessandri, Via Vacchereccia, 17. The first makes copies of some Hermes things for half the latter’s price.
THE question of shoes, I haven t solved. I brought over three pairs of “sensible shoes, one of which was a pair of pony boots lined with sheepskin. They were made for snow and ice, but they are just right for the cold wind which seems to rise off the marble floors of the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace. I also have a pair of very prosaic oxfords with rubber soles. And I m glad I packed them. In my bag I keep a more becoming pair of “sensible” shoes which, to the guards’ dismay, I don for lunch as I leave the museums. You can have shoes made for this and any other purpose, but made-toorder shoes are an acquired taste, and expensive. I have acquired it because I like superhigh heels and strange leathers. If shoes are made for you, the heels can be even higher.
In case any reader is so inclined, here are some tips. Florence is home porl for the famous lerragamo, who has been written to death, so I won’t try. My Italian friends gave mo some advice which I stupidly didn’t take in dealing with him. I was warned not to order a pair of shoes made, but to trust to pot luck and buy only what fitted from the ready-mades. This is in direct contradiction to his own publicity. My friends proved to be right. And I wish I had taken their advice, For the pot-luck pair were perfect, and fitted. Those I ordered do not. One shoe is shorter than the other and the heels are low. They’ve been back to the “shop” (quotes because shop is hardly the right word to describe ibis palazzo) three times with no apparent changes made. However, it must be possible to order successfully. As one of the concierges put it, “Mr. Ferragamo is known throughout Italy. So well known that a street address is unnecessary.” His prices begin around $65. Time, about four days.
I found another man in Kome who does all the fashion models — Signor Versace, Via Vigna Nuova, 71, telephone 470-256. He hasn’t any shop but will come to your hotel, and charges slightly less than Ferragamo. My favorite shoe shop is in Paris, Castell-Saguer, 10 Rue de la Tremoille, around the corner from the George V Hotel. The shoes are something we don’t see at home at all. Thin, tall heels, fancy leathers, perfect beauties.
Cigarettes are well worth packing, particularly if you like filtered tips. The regular brands are in plentiful supply but cost around 50 cents a pack at the legal rate. They’ve come to be almost as popular with Europeans as with us, and headwaiters tend to look down their noses at you when you put European cigarettes on the table. I’ve found that some European cigarettes are quite good — Memphis in Austria, Yasef and Nazionules in Italy.
I’ve “unpacked” a lot of things besides the Brooks sweater, and I haven’t begun to do a complete job. Remember that you can find copyistes in Italy as well as France. You’ll have to get their names from friends who live here and have a “little seamstress.” This term is a polite word for copyiste. The least expensive course is to buy the materials and have the little lady make them up for you. This takes a lot of time, which is why I didn’t go into it. It can be done quickly in Greece. If you go to Athens you can buy the materials at a shop on Churchill Street around the corner from the Grande Bretagne. It is run by an Englishwoman called Miss G, Stewart Richardson, who has been working with the Greeks for over twenly years on development of hand-loomed cottons and wool. Even the Italians (I say “even” because there is no love lost between the two) admit that they will last way beyond our lifetime. I bought a heavy sirified cotton which cost $2 the pik (two thirds of a yard). It is about a yard wide. There was also a heavy white wool which was a refined version of that worn by the shepherds. It cost $6 the pik, about the same width. Miss Richardson will find a seamstress for you who will come to the hotel.
If I had only a day to shop, and I was in Haris, I’d have to wear American clothes, but I’d “chic them up a bit.” Some good accessories can make the American woman in Paris look loss dowdy.