Thursday, August 6, 2015

Ancestress of Style - Lauren McIntosh

We all have our own style icons. While some of them are constantly at front of mind - Isak Dinesen, Amelia Earhardt - others work their magic in our subconscious for decades until one day they decide to stroll out into the spotlight and take a bow.

Most of you are quite familiar with my love affair with beige. Beige - the perfect low contrast neutral to go with my low contrast coloring, beige keeps me from feeling overwhelmed when i pile on the details or play with an outsized silhouette.

Which is why i felt perplexed at my choice of daily uniform. The last six months have seen me ever more reliant on uniform dressing. Nine days out of ten I'm in a dress or a full skirt and white linen blouse. Even better if it is a full, black skirt. With a white blouse.

Black and white. While this combo indeed comprises neutrals, it is the quintessential high contrast look. Why did i love wearing it so much, why did it feel so me? I knew not why, but continued sporting this combo in hopes it would trigger some insight.

It didn't. What did was a post by Marcy Tilton, sharing with her facebook readers her love of designer Carolyn Quartermaine via a little video. While the focus of the video was Carolyn Quartermaine's promotion of toile de jouy, the calligraphy Ms. Quartermaine favored reminded me of Lauren McIntosh's own artwork. Lauren McIntosh co-owns Berkeley boutique Tail of the Yak with fellow artist Alice Erb. I of course remarked that Lauren McIntosh's personal style was also something to behold.

Lauren McIntosh with her artwork via hat designer Momoca's blog
While searching for a picture or two with which to illustrate my  point, my abiding love of the ensemble black and white stared me square in the face. The pictures of Ms. McIntosh i found online, while scarce, solved the mystery of my black and white love affair in an instant.

If you walked into Tail of the Yak today, you would be awed by the exquisite taste in everything from water glasses, to Victorian-era mourning jewelry, to hand-cut garlands and 1920’s era French ribbons by the yard. But you would not be shocked with a through the looking glass punch to the gut – because Tail of the Yak has been so influential and copied through the decades.

Not so in the early 1980’s. I grew up in Castro Valley, half an hour south of Berkeley to which we’d go on the weekends. I found being so out of place at ‘home’, then 'just another weirdo' a few miles distant to be more comforting than strange.  And in Tail of the Yak, I got a glimpse of people living the type of life in which my talents and preferences would at least be accepted, maybe even admired.

The idea of living with people who didn’t actively scorn me was arresting enough, but what I really loved about Tail of the Yak was looking at everything. I loved the taste and aesthetic and thirstily drank it in.

from Remodelista: Lauren McIntosh, Artist Doyenne of  Berkeley
On the best visits Lauren McIntosh would be working in the shop. She’s strikingly beautiful, but more than that I loved her outfits. When first I haunted the store, she wore crisp, full black cotton skirts with white cotton petticoats, black leather booties, and white or black cotton blouse. She braided her long black hair and sometimes topped it all off with a straw hat painted black. 

jewelry influenced by Tail of the Yak and Ms. MacIntosh herself
This stark ensemble created the perfect setting to showcase her incredible collection of antique (not vintage – antique) European and Mexican jewelry. Pearls! Cameos! Rose cut diamonds! Antique paste! Earrings from the Mexican jewelers who sold to Frida Khalo, in business since the days of Spanish colonialism (I have a pair myself – thank you mom)!

photo from the Real Isabelle Allende's blog
I haven't the words to convey the atmosphere of Tail of the Yak. I did find a few pictures which may give you a taste of it - here is Isabelle Allende sprucing up Ms. Erb and McIntosh's macquillage for a photoshoot, later published in American Craft magazine. That's Tail of the Yak in a nutshell.

"6 places to check out in the Elmwood" from sfgate
Intoxicating, and it seemed at the time, utterly beyond my reach. I didn’t have the budget of the target customer, so never got to know anyone with the store (aside from a few conversations with the ethereally delightful Alice Erb, partner in Tail of the Yak and the gentlest, sweetest of souls). So I consciously put aside the idea of being influenced by that milieu.

Happily, my unconscious was having none of that! I find it so wonderful that our subrosa selves can take inspiration from people and places no matter what 'we' make up our 'minds' to do or not. In this instance certainly my subconscious had very strict and correct views on the matter, and i am grateful to it for showing more common sense than 'me' up here in the brain!

I made this double-layered skirt as part of a Lagenlook Sew Along organized by Garden Girl (Rene) on the Stitcher's Guild sewing forum. These sew alongs started in January and have been quite active - check out the threads for a ton of eye candy, inspiration, and helpful advice. For this double-layered skirt i chose 100% cotton lawn, embroidered in a kind of eyelet/wallpaper stripe. It is easy to sew and very comfortable to wear. (Click here to see some photos showing the skirt details more clearly.)

I bought the fabric at Stone Mountain and Daughter - at $9 a 54" wide yard, an excellent value. Even more as it has been wearing quite well, no pilling on the embroidery, twisting, etc. I had been kicking myself for not buying more, when last Saturday i went upstairs at Stone Mountain to find the same fabric on sale for half off - I snapped up four yards to make a dress. Thank you fabric fairies!

Do any of you want to take a guess at what style icons lurk in your own subconscious, working patiently while awaiting the right moment to burst upon your awareness? Maybe you've had a similar realization? Please share!


  1. I love this blog post. I like so many different styles and would
    Iike to be more creative in my clothes. This is great food for thought.

  2. I love your blog - so individual and creative. Good question about style icons. I tend to go for a really simple look myself. While I enjoy seeing interesting outfits on other people, every time I try something different or 'kooky fun', I end up not wearing it.

    I guess some kind of 'tomboy chic' would describe my ideal look. I'm not much for skirts or dresses, but I have been thinking of making a flared maxi skirt for the rest of the (southern California) summer.
    :-) Chris

  3. Welcome Mary! i'm glad i gave you something tasty to munch on :) Have fun with your clothes, and don't worry if it takes time to find what really works for you - it does for everyone. Enjoy the process!

    Hello Chris! 'tomboy chic' sounds fantastic, and of course classic for our California lifestyle. I know that as much as i love to work a look it has to allow for hiking, birdwatching, checking out little towns, etc. (which all of these looks do!). Style is so dependent on personality - if i don't have even something a bit unexpected then i feel 'off', we're all unique! I wish i could do classic more faithfully, meanwhile i'll enjoy people like you who do it with feeling!

    ah, a flared maxi sounds perfect for socal and your style. I checked the color palette at your blog, it is just beautiful. Thanks for commenting and happy friday! steph

  4. What a great post!!! My first visit to Tail of the Yak, sometime in the 70s, is branded onto my memory. My friend Debbie lived nearby and we walked in there, after she had told me about it, and I was in love with every single object I saw. And I could not afford to buy one thing. But I kept going back, every time I visited Berkeley. Sometime before 1979 I invested in a pair of the most beautiful enameled silver earrings, big dangling pink orchids! I know it was before 1979 because I was going to Seattle Central Community College and I wore those earrings to school one day, and I lost one. And I went back and retraced all of my steps until I found that poor earring in the middle of a main walkway, all crushed and crunched for having been stepped on many times. Sigh I wonder where those orchids are now. They might have been the inner-mind inspiration for my many pink outfits!!

  5. Glad to see you posting again, and I love the black layered skirt (I would though, wouldn't I! :D ) and the outfits you've made with it. The fabric is beautiful, looking forward to seeing what else you make of it!
    I took a few days to ponder what - or who - my subconscious influences might be, but I'm really not sure. I think the foundation of what I'm still most drawn to was laid when I was about 7-8 years old and reading books like Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo etc - you know, ladies in long swishy dresses running about barren moors and old castles.

  6. Oh Claire, how perfect to find that we share Tail of the Yak in our style DNA!! "They might have been the inner-mind inspiration for my many pink outfits!!" indeed :) I'll be looking at your pink outfits from a different perspective now! Thank you for sharing your story, and how fun to learn that we were both in the store around the same time.

    & you are not kidding about the prices!! wooh!

    Hi Elle! yes, i was so excited to find more! oh, i can really see your style in the books you list. I think it's really great when people can find ways to keep those interests and passions alive through their life - so many people seen to think you should slough them off and 'grow up'. But i think it's important to keep those flames alive - you do so exquisitely.

  7. Sigh - when I visit your neighborhood (that is, the Bay area) sometime we should make a joint pilgrimage to Tail of the Yak. Not on our knees, you know, just parking nearby and walking to the door!

  8. The black skirt is fitting so nicely into your wardrobe. This was a very enjoyable post. I've read it three times now, so I thought I should comment and mention how much I've liked it.

  9. Claire we are ON!!! not our knees, you know - just popping on over to Tail of the Yak (and Tara ice cream is but a few blocks away, yums!)

    Welcome Dawn - what a very sweet note! It is difficult to imagine a more straightforward endorsement than yours; and i always love meeting people with passions along the same lines.

    Even better i see you have some blogs for me to peruse. Thank you and Happy Day! stephQ