Ironing One’s Shoelaces

by Sally Steele

Coco Chanel gown, 1938

Coco Chanel gown, 1938


Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends…. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts. 

~Henry David Thoreau

Vintage has always been at the top of my list, the visual, touch, feel, quality. I would rather spend hours, weeks, months, years amidst the old wood cases of museum costume department than shopping. An annual trek to the ACT costume department for Edwardian Ball specialty pieces is the best part of my January, every year. My desk at work is graced with a tree, a lemon tree, 18 inches tall, made entirely and lovingly in the 1940’s from vintage glass beads, the beads leftover in the aftermath of couturier creations and given to the seamstresses who could then make a little extra cash. I have many vintage glass beaded flowers, and vintage beaded bags, plus a few glorious vintage beaded sweaters & dresses, lucky girl.  Apparently, I’m not as singularly bathed in all things vintage as I feel…


Flower making tools, photograph by Estelle Hanania





From the New York Times: “When fashion’s Old World specialty ateliers were on the verge of extinction, Chanel came to the rescue. Now it’s ushering them into the future.”




Limewood molds for hat making, photograph by Estelle Hanania

Limewood molds for hat making, photograph by Estelle Hanania


“Recently, Chanel moved Lesage and a few of the other traditional specialty handcraft ateliers it has quietly purchased over the last 17 years to the Pantin complex to have them in one place, working in concert. For nearly a century, or more, these various houses — including Lemarié, specializing in feathers and flower making; Goossens, the famed jewelry makers; and Maison Michel, the hat makers were run by their founders or family members. But as the last generation found no heirs to lead them into the future and with fashion becoming faster and more industrialized, these ateliers were on the verge of extinction.”




An unfinished suit hangs from a tailor's dummy in Huntsman tailors in London, England, photograph by Bruno Vincent/Getty Images

An unfinished suit hangs from a tailor’s dummy in Huntsman tailors in London, England, photograph by Bruno Vincent/Getty Images


From Wikipedia: Bespoke is an English word that means a clothing item made to a buyer’s specification (personalized or tailored). While the term historically is applied to only men’s tailored clothing, it now generally includes footwear, fine jewellery and other apparel, implying measurement and fitting. For most non-clothing items, the term build to order is usually used instead, although the term ‘bespoke applications’ is often used to refer to custom software built by a company for its own use by a department other than the IT department.

The distinguishing points of bespoke tailoring are the buyer’s total control over the fabric used, the features and fit, and the way the garment should be made. More generally, “bespoke” describes a high degree of customization, and involvement of the end-user, in the production of the goods. Cad & the Dandy, a modern Savile Row tailor, describes true bespoke as having a full floating canvas, basted fitting and detailed hand finishing.


Peter Frew, in his Brooklyn atelier, photograph from Peter Frew

Peter Frew, in his Brooklyn atelier, photograph from Peter Frew

 And then there is Jamacian artisan tailor Peter Frew. From The New York Times: Adam Davidson’s recent column, “What’s a $4,000 Suit Worth?” is about the bespoke-clothing industry and the situation of tailors like Peter Frew, “who makes a modest salary and is struggling to expand his shop — despite selling his suits for about $4,000 each.” 
The follow-up: What Should Peter Frew, the Struggling Tailor, Do?

The follow-up: What Should Peter Frew, the Struggling Tailor, Do?







Now this makes me happy: Ramdane Touhami, is entrepreneurial French-Moroccan “multi-tasker” behind the successful rebranding of Cire Trudon, the French royal wax manufacturer established in 1643.


So many Cire Truson scents

So many Cire Truson scents & colours


His new brand is an old brand, relaunching of the  “historic” French beauty brand, L’Officine Universelle Buly and builds on the legacy of famed Parisian perfumer Jean-Vincent Bully.


Beautiful branding for Buly 1803 Paris

Beautiful branding for Buly 1803 Paris







“I visited about 130 different old apothecaries dating back from the 15th to the 19th century,” recounts Touhami. “I found the Bully archives (at Les Archives Départementales de la Seine) and decided to awaken the past.” “Bully welcomed scientific and cosmetic breakthroughs, invented new formulas and concoctions, which ended up being long lasting successes.”


Receipt for an assortment of Bully concoctions









“I was fascinated by the number of references listed in his catalogue: there were hundreds of lotions, vinegars, hydrating soaps, creams, powders, ointments, perfumes.”











Bully was the character inspiration for César Birotteau in Honoré de Balzac’s Comédie Humaine. A cruel twist of fate, despite the success of his life’s work, and being credited as a master of perfumery, Bully died penniless. Birotteau: “I am not dreaming, my beautiful white doe. Listen. People should always do what their position in life demands.”  My favorite summary…”This novel is the French 19th-century’s great poem of bankruptcy.”

Bully’s name is most famously associated with his star product, the Vinaigre de Toilette de Bully whose recipe is still available. He was also the inspiration behind the character of César Birotteau in the eponymous novel by Honoré de Balzac, Grandeur et décadence de César Birotteau, having experienced a resounding crash towards the end of his career which left its mark on the writer’s imagination.





Antique, and I’m not quite that, yet, is loosely defined as originating before the 1920s. From the 1920s to 20 years before the present day is considered vintage.

And while we’re on the subject of all things deliciously vintage, from Thought Catalog, only a few from their entertaining 1920’s lost verbiage that we should all find and use…

“Bank’s closed!”: what you tell someone to stop making out

Bearcat: a lively, spirited woman, possibly with a fiery streak

Berries: like “bee’s knees,” denotes that something is good, desirable or pleasing. “That sounds like berries to me!”

Cancelled stamp: a shy, lonely female, the type one would describe as a “wallflower”

Cash: a smooch

Cake-eater: in the 1920’s refers to a “ladies’ man”

Dewdropper: like lollygagger, a slacker who sits around all day and does nothing, often unemployed

Giggle water: liquor, alcoholic beverage

Iron one’s shoelaces: to excuse oneself for the restroom

Know your onions: to know what’s up or what’s going on

Oliver Twist: an extremely good dancer

Pull a Daniel Boone: to upchuck


And just fyi, some people/princes do take shoelace ironing quite seriously…

Charles, The Prince of Wales has never picked up his own clothes or undressed himself — he has three valets to take care of his clothes. If he has several engagements in one day, his valet places several ties in the car so he can change en route. He likes to wear the tie of  the organisation or military establishment he is visiting. The record is five changes of tie in one day.

The Prince & his shoelaces

The Prince & his shoelaces


A valet’s other duties include ironing the Prince’s shoelaces whenever his shoes are taken off.


Vintage French beaded flowers



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