Monday, September 15, 2014

Back in the Day

An Hawaiian Sojourn
(with strings)
Back in the day -- sometime in the early eighties, I worked for an insurance company in Philadelphia. It was called Fidelity Mutual, and they were located in center city across from city hall. I was their graphic designer. I worked there for 11 years, and toward the end of my tenure, they moved to Ardmore, in the suburbs. Up to this point, I had walked to work, and when they moved, I found myself doing the reverse commute on a rickety trolley called the Norristown Line.
Mind you, I had no formal training as a graphic designer, having followed the perfectly useless majors of art and English in college. But I am a quick study, and I needed a job -- so I learned on the job, while not letting on that I was learning on the job.

I was a kind of artsy handy woman at the company, and they asked me to do all sorts of things remotely related to being a graphic designer. For instance, I was expected to take pictures at company functions. This led to an invitation to attend the company sales conference, in Hawaii. The catch? I was to be the official photographer.

But what to wear? Richard and I took ourselves off to New York, to Henri Bendel, the hallowed hall of Geraldine Stutz. This brilliant woman had transformed Bendel's first floor -- creating a bevy of boutiques. The upper floors were awash in chic fashion too, with alcoves full of Jean Muir or Jean de Castelbajac. It was an exotic box of bons bons like no other.
Geraldine Stutz, President of Henri Bendel
from 1958 to 1986.

A saleswoman promptly took us in hand. We looked at Comme des Garcons first. Comme des what? The boutique was like a sparse store in a Russian-bloc country, with lonely items of clothing hanging at spacious intervals on the rack. I bought a white, cotton jacket.
Wearing my Comme des Garcons jacket.

But it was only when we entered that Ralph Lauren boutique that my heart started to flutter. "You are a Ralph girl," the saleswoman exclaimed. And so I was. I purchased a pair of deep-blue linen palazzo pants, a calf-length floral print skirt, a long denim skirt and a white-linen suit with a pleated skirt.
When we arrived at the Kona Surf Hotel on the big island of Hawaii, I debuted my new clothes. And it did not take long for my chic wardrobe to be noted among the chattering class.  One day I overheard a boring insurance salesman's wife remark in a stage whisper to her boring friend, "What's she got on now?" My self-esteem was only a little chipped. I knew I looked good.
Richard bought us each a genuine Hawaiian shirt.

And the photographs I was supposed to take? When the time came, I panicked and could not operate my camera, at which point, my boss said, "Oh don't worry, I hired a photographer."
Richard enjoying a cold brew.

Fidelity Mutual is long gone, but each month I receive precisely $118.22 from my pension with the company. Enough for several lipsticks from a Bendel boutique of yore.

À Bientôt!


  1. Nice post and lovely photos! Is that a red 17 Ricardo is wearing?

  2. Great photos. What do those ol' snits know about style anyway? ;)