179: The other Kaitlin Phillips gift guide, pt I
Objects and accessories. Feat. Lorde, Julia Wagner, Haley Wollens, Emily Sundblad, Moira Hodgson, and Jane Adams.
The rich, information chaos of Kaitlin Phillips’ Google Doc gift guides have made them a pillar of the contemporary holiday experience themselves. Their contents—tip offs from society types about exquisite tokens at the end of funicular journeys and Sam McKinniss paintings—read more like maps to historical artifacts or an inheritance log of your own personal family heirlooms. This is not where you go to get recommended a Coming Soon lamp.
The “downtown publicist” (journalistic tradition dictates that I also refer to her as a “doyenne”) and I started emailing over a year ago, just after she had granted publishing rights to Airmail, about her putting something together for Magasin. This season, it seems I caught her at a good time. Her flagship guide already filed for Graydon’s pages, she told me she’d be down for a fresh angle, more fashion-focused.
The draft she sent me last night, a tome, really, was too long for the optimized Substack inbox experience, so I’ve split it into two: today’s object and accessory-focused half being part one, and the second delivering tomorrow—subscribe now lest you miss it. Other than that, in the spirit of raw Google Doc-dom, I’ve left the copy entirely unedited.
Narrowed down to a single item, the only clothing on this gift guide would be the Balenciaga Towel Skirt in beige terrycloth ($925). It offers a streamlined experience: You don’t have to carry a towel to the beach. Slap on a brand new pair of sunglasses, an old school bikini, the Olsen Tevas, and your towel skirt. I love a hands-free experience, like walking on an airplane with only a newspaper tucked under my arm.
On the runway, the towel skirt was a sun-bleached blue, but drab gray suits the anonymous vibe I go for on crowded sundown buses with randy locals. And it’s short enough to ride a bike. I love the trompe-l’oeil tuck (it’s 2 buttons and “an adjustable belt with a buckle inside”). And it’s under $1,000, which is my definition of “not a crime.” Demna said recently that he’s mystified when people think he’s joking. I get what he’s saying. To think this is funny misses the point. This is the most functional beach skirt in the world. I can sit on it, dry my face when I get out of the ocean, and walk off the beach in it. (A Vogue writer wore it on the subway for some reason; I was mostly taken by the fact that she layers two pairs of Wolfords in the winter.)
While we’re on the topic of Balenciaga’s supremacy—so often being questioned, so rarely debunked—I agree with a certain unnamed GQ staffer (who grammed it on close friends immediately upon holding it up in the glaring overhead light at their offices) that the Balenciaga Spring 2024 RTW bag will be the new Birkin. From what I can tell, it’s not available to pre-order… Let me know how to proceed. I’d do just about anything to get it. (For the record, I don’t know anyone who wants a Birkin anymore; the boring celebrities kind of ruined it, and most women I know have an unwavering desire to put bags on their shoulders. It’s cool to inherit one, but otherwise it’s lame.) If you can find them, the non-Balenciaga branded Erewhon sweatpants would make for a great stocking stuffer. Ditto the candy cane tights from Demna’s first season (Fall 2016 RTW). Georgia Ford gave them to me and I’ve been wearing them without pants all month.
For pet owners: Look, I’m not an animal lover. They smell, they shed, they distract my friends when I’m mid anecdote. Worst of all, the paraphernalia is ugly. (Cat scratch towers in the living room??) But I’d love any animal that has a, ehem, custom order Charlap Hyman & Herrero doghouse slipcover on their cage, or whatever ($4,500-$5,500). A Marie Antoinette fever dream.
I personally love a gift guide where nothing can be purchased right now (even the towel is on pre-order), but if you’re in a bind, and live in New York, here are a few things you can purchase today:
The great American actress Jane Adams, whose performance in The Anniversary Party could have won an Oscar for scene stealing, says that “every December, in the holiday aisle, CVS has inexpensive, plastic, battery-operated Charlie Brown dioramas. They are about 6 inches tall. A different scene is released every year. It has the vibe of a little crèche.” She found hers in 2020. It still works today. “Charlie Brown, Lucy, and Snoopy are sitting around a campfire, in front of a camper with a wreath on its door. Lucy, in spite of her infamous crabbiness, is wearing a Santa hat and a very big, very genuine, smile (somehow drawn with a single line). Woodstock is watching them all from above, wearing a minuscule Santa hat.” It’s animatronic. “When you click a button it lights up both the fire and a string of Christmas lights in the snow covered forest behind them.” The Peanuts Holiday song plays. “What a beautiful, simple piece of engineering this thing is. A friend of mine the other day revealed to me that he’s collected every different one of them since 2021. He sent me a video of them all playing at the same time.” (Start this YouTube video at :54 to see what she’s talking about.)
Food writer Moira Hodgson, the author of Holiday Recipes (1981) and Favorite Fruitcakes (1993) and, in my opinion, the thinking woman’s Laurie Colwin, says the perfect Christmas gift is two tickets to the New York City Ballet “on any night when a work by the great Ukrainian choreographer, Alexei Ratmansky is on the program. He left Russia, where he was working at the Bolshoi in Moscow, within hours of hearing that Putin had invaded Ukraine. He has been called the successor to Balanchine.” She says “especially the Shostakovich pieces” are worth seeing. For a stocking stuffer, she recommends John Bowen’s The Girls. The McNally Edition has a cover by Edward Gorey, and can be picked up in-store. “For those like me who find themselves yearning to escape the daily horrors of the news, this story of murder in a Cotswold village with its craft fairs and cheese makers, is just the ticket. A cross between Barbara Pym and Stephen King.” If you’re new to Moira’s work, start by reading this piece on Arthur Miller’s wife, then order Good Food from a Small Kitchen (1985), which will double as a gift for any New Yorker with a kitchen smaller than their wingspan. (Moira is of the era when the food critic herself was as elegant as the nearest dinner at Le Bernardin.)
If you’re hitting the bookstores in New York, may I recommend Maeve Brennan’s Christmas Eve and Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford as quick stocking stuffers. And, for a fantasy reader into “big books,” Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, but the first edition only. Pretty sure I saw one at the Strand last month.
Chloe Sevigny’s longtime stylist Haley Wollens recommends anything from Katya’s shop. “I love the crotchet mini skirts, personally.” She recommends this black velvet dress with its own cape for its extravagance. (This is the same designer that makes the fur minidress that Kate models.) With prompting, Haley said SC103 Official makes one-of-a-kind pillows stuffed with multi-colored ribbons. I reached out to the brand, and they said you can email firstname.lastname@example.org, and they will send you a selection. I also noticed—for one fleeting moment online, but it’s not on their site, that SC103 is making laptop cord covers…
It must be trending. Lorde, the rare singer with an anthem for every mood, says Iko Iko “makes these organza cord covers, I have them all over my house for the unsightly AC cord. A tan organza cord cover against a tan wall…orgasmic.” They come in a ton of colors! The writer Grace Dougherty also recommended Iko Iko, but for pillows. This scented pillow especially. Personally, I love this velvet pillow covered in plisse.
I harassed quite a few people to give me pillow recommendations. Why? I’ve noticed that boomer women have so many obscurely sourced throw and floor pillows. (Just last week I saw woven buckwheat pillows with tiny conch shells dangling off.) This is a sister problem to the lack of “linen closets” in the homes of my contemporaries. (Why did my mother have 50 sets of sheets and I have 3 ½?) I don’t know why millennials don’t have multiples of things—no artful collecting of seashells and paperweights—but it’s worth correcting.
The best needlepoint pillow I’ve ever seen was homemade by my friend Alex Traub’s grandmother. It says “Best Chairman in the World.” A gift to his grandfather, a CEO. E-Girl Ava Van Osdol and Chanel model Coco Baudelle both recommended sassy but tasteful embroidered pillows by Amber Schiffer on Instagram. $200, handmade to order. She usually does silly phrases, but I got custom one for my husband that says “Mrs. Passmore loves you.” (Not a spoiler, he doesn’t read my gift guides!) Speaking of, my husband does recommend pillows by Fine Cell Work, an organization which trains prisoners and prison leavers in high-quality needlework skills. I love this “wedding cushion,” which you can get embroidered for newlyweds. Yasmin Kaytmaz, the artist who also co-owns the The River, my favorite cocktail bar, recommends Pioneer Linens “for uppity women who live between Palm Beach and New York. They put initials on any size pillow and have the best linens.” Nick Plett, the great-grandson of Humphrey Bogart’s agent, swears by Josef Frank for Svensk Tenn. Susie Lopez says Eva Joan can make custom pillows in NYC, and also mend anything you have. (A good boyfriend gift is fixing all his sweaters…)
The sought after set designer Julia Wagner, who has the most artfully decorated apartment of anyone I know, says to ask for an appointment with Emilie of Xenomania via instagram DM for all your textile needs. (See this “Mae West” pillow in 18th c. french silk damask.) Julia says, order the “world’s best chocolate cake” in a “fab wooden box” from Vienna; medieval-looking beeswax candles; vintage Vera Newman Napkins from downtown legend Paula Rubenstein; old lady pajamas from Peress Madison; Serge Lutens Lip Ink, “but put it under your eyes to look sickish, feels like painting your face with watercolor;” and knee-high socks from Charvet!
Apropos, gallerist and artist Emily Sundblad said Charvet is her “go-to for gifts. Everything is beautiful there.” But for “something strange” she recommends a a music box from Limoges. “I just got one shaped like an egg that has a frog inside, also the little boxes from Limoges are fabulous. We keep our dachshunds baby teeth in one that looks like a seafood platter.” Here’s one shaped like a Tennis Court.
I’ll add to the chorus: Over the summer, I went to Charvet and got a custom shirt with my initials to the left of my belly button in a now discontinued fabric. I genuinely believe that taking your partner to Charvet to get fitted for a custom shirt is a really good idea. Three months later, they get the perfect shirt mailed to them. HOWEVER, if you’ve broken up, there’s a window when you can cancel the order. You only lose your deposit. (If you get married, they keep the size on file, and you can reorder a shirt for them in a new fabric each year.)
While I’m recommending the obvious. Here are my go-tos, that I recommend every year, on every gift guide, that never go out of style, that you always want to replace and/or need that multiples of: Vanessa Noel baby cashmere scarves. I only buy them when they’re on sale, and this year the sale isn’t as good as it usually is, but I’ll keep it on the list because the permanent sale on Vanessa Noel wedding shoes is worth looking at. That’s where I got mine. I plan to wear mine until they scuff, and then dye them a bright brown at Evelyn and San (212-628-7618; 400 E 83rd; they take off the Jewish holidays). Ludwig Reiter snowboots. This pair. And Baserange tops in every version of the “Pama” style. Flattering, sexy… practical. I also love their over the knee socks. As anyone who follows me knows: The store I shop at most frequently is Lara Koleji; and second to that, Tokyo Joe; and, although it’s a touch expensive, I do stop by Duo NYC (she carries some interesting things; always has good Armani jackets for men, and fun, unexpected choices like 1990s Victoria Secret; and, for those with slim feet, Ferragamo shoes).
More generally: Glassware is a constant on gift guides. If you’re not buying the best wineglass in the world, at least keep it festive. These wildlife tumblers double as “winter stemware.” For New Yorkers, get the Rockefeller Center. The best bathrobe in the entire world – thick, short, cozy, takes wear and tear, upcycled from vintage towels — is from Gallery Dept. My husband is always stealing it. Most of the clothes I buy for him are from Constant Practice. It’s a little label heavy, but they always have excellent Katharine Hamnett and Marithe Francois Girbaud pants. Good for tall, fit men. The site’s taste can verge on fashionably silly (nylon parachute pants) but most of it is utilitarian and stylish. They have good sales on the holidays, and are fast on DM. Run by some cute guys in the middle of America. Maybe a touch overpriced as late, but not enough to stop shopping there. Giacomo Vigliar, a man I met in Los Angeles at my friend’s house drinking wine said that his mom likes to buy his underwear at one of the the oldest shops in Rome, Schostal, because they make their underwear with shirt material. (“The shop is the best part, like stepping back in time.”) Raimundo Langlois is making the sexiest slinkiest tank tops. Lots of perverse 90s references going on over at his little brand. He sent me this one, and I wear it under all my sweaters. You can’t seem to buy the tanks on the website—it’s a small small brand—you’re going to have to dm them. Though I hear there’s a few at Cafe Forgot. Don’t sleep on it! Just reach out to them and get on the waitlist. If you have an overly sexy gay best friend (who doesn’t), you can buy them these Ambercrombie-inspired cargo shorts now. Bring sexy back! I think for me, when it comes to objects, I love a “where the hell is this from?” Top of my list right now are knight vases from Joseph Dupre’s studio. He’s showing at various galleries in France and Britain, you can DM and he’ll tell you what is available.
Children’s gifts: This is ridiculous, but I love to play finger puppets with toddlers. These sloth finger puppets are my favorite ($12.50), but here’s the whole barnyard. If you go to the store that sells these, you’ll notice there’s another children’s store across the street with the most perfect fur-trimmed princess capes. Most girls have princess dresses these days—capes, not so much. I don’t see the one I’m thinking of online, so you really are going to have to go in person. For teens, the Fairy Core Kit from Colombe D’Humieres is a MUST ($3,330). The set has interchangeable stones. You can get those charms by Harmony Korine’s kid but… I’d prefer a Belladonna choker.
And finally, if you wish to shop with a clear conscience: the Lenox Twins—great, diligent publicists who happen to be Palestinian—put together a gift guide featuring Palestinian goods.
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