A Time For Every Purpose Under Heaven

13059513_2Nearly nineteen Christmases ago, my then-boyfriend gave me a stunning Raymond Weil Parsifal watch. I had told him I wanted a watch and showed him some examples of the style that I liked, but I didn’t him more detail beyond that. I trusted his very meticulous judgment and knew he wouldn’t let me down – he was from Switzerland, after all, and surely possessed innate good taste when it comes to classic watches. I didn’t care about the brand or even the cost – in fact, I insisted that he not spend much, but rather to find something reasonably priced yet elegant and (forgive the pun) timeless. Plenty of mid-range designer brands met all those criteria.

When he presented me with the little box near a twinkling Christmas tree, I was overjoyed. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered how much he paid for it when I accidentally found the receipt, but in all honestly it really didn’t matter. The watch face sparkled in the light and became my signature. It was the last thing I put on before heading out the door each morning and the last thing I took off at night before showering and getting ready for bed. It remains one of my most treasured possessions.

The boyfriend, of course, is long gone. Ironically, we broke up over the holidays, literally in the remaining hours of 2000. I’ve always been fascinated by how we mark time in our lives, using both major and even minor events as milestones to measure how far we’ve come, how much we still need to travel, how much we’ve learned, and how little we still really know. Despite the provenance of my watch, I still wore it on my wedding day. B. didn’t mind – he knew I loved him most of all, and that the watch by then held a deeper meaning for me, beyond a token of someone else’s faded love.

In many ways it represents not just a half-forgotten relationship but also the many, many things that have happened since. It represents travels around the world, homes I’ve lived in, friendships I’ve made and lost, letters I’ve written, dates I’ve made and broken, dogs and cats I’ve saved, business contracts I’ve won (and lost!), days and nights I’ve lived, loved, cried, laughed, wept, hurt, celebrated. Even during those handful of times I’ve landed in the emergency room, I’ve often hurriedly grabbed the watch from my dresser and clasped it around my wrist just before dashing out the door.

It has kept time and quietly measured the rhythm of my life without fail (well, okay, I’ve had to replace the batteries every couple of years), each second, minute, hour falling away and dissolving into history. As someone who has been obsessed with productivity, time management, and efficiency since I launched a freelancing career and then an actual agency nearly a decade ago, the watch has been the silent witness of my attempts to wrest control of time and make it my slave.

Of course, it didn’t work. (See “emergency room” above.) At some point, although I still wore the watch, it became a poor cousin to my phone, which began life as merely a phone and eventually morphed into this thin, boxy computer ever present in my hand. The box told time but also told me what to do with that time – every second, every hour, every day, it presented me with an infinite universe of things that I could be, should be doing with my time.

I still wear a watch. Sometimes, it’s my Raymond Weil watch. More often than not, it’s a cheap Timex Ironman sportswatch that I bought at Target, which is useful for when I’m running errands or just running, maybe walking the dogs or exercising. It’s extremely useful, the very definition of utilitarianism. Like my Raymond Weil, I’ve taken it on the road – around town and beyond, to Arizona, Oregon, Hawaii.

It doesn’t have the heft  of memory that the Raymond Weil does, though. It doesn’t evoke any memories of even last week’s run or this morning’s playtime with the dogs. It simply is. And maybe that’s how a watch should be. It is, after all, just an object.

But I’ve never been one to just look at an object and see just an assemblage of parts, especially if it’s an object that’s been a part of me and my history. And when I look at the Raymond Weil, its dignified face tells me the time right now but also reminds me of time gone by. Time is fleeting, but not the memories.

If, like me, watches hold a particular fascination for you, you might be interested in reading this recent NPR story about the new Apple Watch, the history of watches in general, why the reporter feels ambivalent about what the era of the smartwatch means for the preservation of tradition and memory.

 

Breaking News: Advertisers Suddenly Discover Women of a Certain Age

A tiny corner of the Internet – the stylish one where older women and fashionistas dwell – broke recently after an AdWeek article was published heralding the explosion of luxury ad campaigns featuring the beauty of older women. And not just any senior women, but women in the creative arts who probably never imagined they’d ever serve as models for any product, let alone luxury brands like Céline and NARS. Women like writer Joan Didion (Céline) and Joni Mitchell (Saint Laurent).

I love that these brands — never known for letting their spokeswomen, runway representatives, or even employees just “be themselves — are embracing the other side of 50. Way, way beyond 50, in fact. But I’m not so naïve that I think that they’re doing this because they collectively had an epiphany one October evening and realized that the autumn of one’s life has its own appeal. Even the AdWeek article frames this newfound interest in gray-haired nonagenarians in purely monetary terms:

Brands know that along with age comes buying power. In the U.S., where the average wealth of households including people over the age of 50 is $765,000, baby boomers reign supreme, controlling more than 80 percent of all financial assets and accounting for 60 percent of consumer spending.

And:

“There’s a growing awareness of the influence of older women as consumers and the purchasing power that they have,” says Jenny Darroch, professor of marketing at the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management at Claremont University.

Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Advertisers aren’t nonprofits, and they’re certainly not in the business of boosting anyone’s self-esteem. If anything, their very reason for existing is to exploit the insecurities and fears of modern folk in order to sell everything from radial tires to radiant skin.

Despite my cynicism, though, it still gives me the warm fuzzies to see the wrinkled, slightly scowling face of Ms. Didion on staring back at me (behind blacker-than-black sunglasses) from that striking Céline ad. I don’t love getting older (am I really 43?), but the campaign reminds me what I do love about aging: the dignity, deep well of experience, the I-really-don’t-give-a-shit awareness. Ms. Didion’s face is her reward for a life well-lived, and oh, what a prize it is.

Beauty Review: Paula’s Choice Resist Super-Light Daily Wrinkle Defense SPF 30

ihwx.c4628849-8e47-4e5e-98d1-4f9b4dd261d0.1200.800It has a terribly long and tongue-tying name, but that seems to be par for the course for a lot of contemporary skincare products. In fact, bonus points appear to be in order if a branding specialist can squeeze in an exotic, preferably French-sounding word in a product’s name. (Is Génifique an actual word?)

Regardless, don’t let the dull name fool you. A lot of you know that I’m a huge fan of Paula’s Choice products, and have been a devoted user since the early 2000s. Like founder Paula Begoun, I have oily/combination skin prone to breakouts, and if there’s one thing I love about living in the 21st century (right up there the with the Internet and smartphones), it’s the explosion of combination skin-friendly products on the market. Paula’s been taking care of us combo-skin girls from the beginning, though, so I always eagerly await the latest and greatest from her lab.

The Resist Super-Light Daily Wrinkle Defense SPF doesn’t disappoint. For daily wear, I still rely exclusively on her reliable, mattifying Hydralight Shine-Free Daily Mineral Complex SPF 30, but when I need a tad bit more coverage, this is my new go-to.

The product page on her website lists all the usual, impressive promises: feather-light, sheer tint that works beautifully for all skin tones, fortifie[d] with potent antioxidants to repair and stimulate collagen production for firmer skin. It’s marketed as a miracle in a jar, and I have to admit, the marketing copy is enticing. What drew me in and why I keep my medicine cabinet stocked with this product is the silky texture, gently mattifying effect, and flattering tint that lets me get away with skipping foundation altogether. I wear it anytime I have to actually dress up and attend a business or social event that requires more formal dress than my usual t-shirt and jeans, and with a swipe of eyeliner, a bit of blush and a little tinted lipgloss, I look pretty darn good, if I may say so myself.

Plus, I still get the high-SPF protection I need for daily wear without worrying about that weird, gray/white cast many sunscreen products leave behind.

It’s more expensive than a lot of drugstore brands and even some department store lines, but if you’re anything like me, when you find something that works, you stick with it and pay whatever it costs. This is what works for me.

 

Book Review: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, Sophia Loren

51NCyYBV--L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Even more so than Catherine Deneuve or Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren has always represented Old World beauty, sophistication, and, yes, joie de vivre. Sure, she’s proudly, unapologetically Italian and couldn’t possibly be a better ambassador for her country, but something about that impossibly beautiful face, her eyes, and the voice that always seems on the verge of laughter, reminds me of happy, sun-splashed valleys under a dazzling blue, Mediterranean sky.

I’ve always loved Sophia Loren. Maybe because, unlike wispy, boyish Audrey Hepburn or icy Catherine Deneuve, Sophia’s curvy figure, wide mouth, and open, wicked eyes have always seemed so much more approachable to little ol’ me. I love the elegance of Breakfast at Tiffany’s Audrey, but there’s no way in the world I could possibly fill that famous little black dress without looking like a sad, lumpy, funereal shadow. That’s not me being modest. That’s be being honest.

So it was with much eagerness and anticipation that I dove into her newly published autobiography, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. I’ve read several books about her before, including her style book, Women & Beauty, and the lovely Sophia Style, so there really was nothing revelatory in this latest version of her life story. I knew about Cary Grant’s infatuation with her and was very familiar with the particulars of her poverty-stricken childhood growing up in war-ravaged Naples. I knew about her long struggle to conceive, the overwhelming joy she felt at finally becoming a mother (twice), and her fierce loyalty to, and passion for her husband, the powerful, much-older Carlo Ponti.

Knowing the intimate details of her life, however, took nothing away from the fascination I still harbor for this woman. The book’s literary framing device — it begins and ends with Sophia in her silver years, celebrating Christmas with her large, extended family, and sifting through a treasure trove of memories and memorabilia — feels artificial and not a little clunky, but the writing, while not exactly brilliant, reflects its ostensible author’s energy, intelligence, warmth, and wisdom. She sprinkles plenty of anecdotes about her close friendships with Grant, Vittorio de Sica, and of course, her most famous on-screen partner, Marcello Mastroianni, and even throws in a couple of arch observations about Audrey herself, Sophia’s former neighbor in Switzerland.

No one should expect salacious details about Sophia, who managed to simultaneously be one of Hollywood’s most glamorous women and yet also one of its most likable. On screen and in her public appearances, she radiates charm, ease, and that enviable bien dans sa peau I so love of French women, and she manages to do the same in the pages of this hefty book. The photos alone are worth perusing, as they’re filled with gorgeous shots of Sophia through the years, from her awkward, frizzy-haired adolescence to the jaw-dropping beauty she eventually became in her busy, jet-setting adulthood.

Most of all, the book serves as a wistful reminder of an era when movie stars projected an ethereal, otherworldly appeal, revealing little of the mundane, dull detail that our era can’t seem to get enough of. Whatever makeup Sophia wore, whoever made her dress, wherever she shopped for groceries or whatever she drove, none of that matters here, nor does it matter to me. What remains is the woman herself, who continues to define and personify authenticity and grace at a time when our modern day “celebrities” suffer such a deficit of both.