The fateful ‘found’ dress that sparked a major collaboration
with film industry veteran set decorator Marthe Pineau
Photo: Victor Giarrusso
Shortly before taking a leap of faith to move to Wilmington with no place to live and no jobs in sight, I started reading a book called “Creating a Life Worth Living.” That is one of the last times I can recall reading a self-help style book in my leisure. I prefer fiction as my element of escape. At the time, I had a glamourous fashion marketing job in New York City that started with a private car service carting my boss and I to client meetings at Sony, upstart cosmetic brands and new business pitches all over Manhattan and ending with late night dinners at Mr. Chow. A dream come true, right? Only it was more The Devil Wears Prada than Sex and the City.
They say, “Leap and the net will appear.” As an entrepreneur who worked tirelessly creating my own personal brand, I’ve lept high and far since arriving in Wilmington with an open heart and ideas for days.
In the past few years, I’ve admittedly hit an impass, a glass ceiling that may or may not be self-imposed but ultimately comes along with choosing to live in small city that offers more charm than opportunity. I’ve been tested time and time again, where I’m left wondering if there is any loyalty left in a community that once felt so inviting. And then, something wonderful happens. A mentor appears just in the nick of time.
That is what Marthe Pineau is for me. A strong, creative, talented woman who has built a creative, beautiful life worth living.
Marthe, who was born in Japan, says she “grew up everywhere, really” since her father was in the AirForce. Her father, who is American, met her mother when he was stationed in Japan. She spent the bulk of her childhood in Maine and Alaska before her family moved back to Japan, where she finished junior high & high school.
“My sense of design truly does come from the influence of the East (where I was born) and the West.”
A very early Fashion Fix reader, Marthe first reached out to me via email seven or eight years ago. She already had a connection with my husband Joel, who knew Marthe and her late husband Hugh as favorite customers at Caffe Phoenix.
In recent years, on the rare occasion that Marthe is home on her farm in Castle Hayne and not traveling for a film, she’s invited us over to enjoy a leisurely evening catching the last light with a shared bottle of wine on her dreamy porch. She’s opened her lovely home to me on several occasions for photo shoots – our last collaboration also with Photographer and friend Victor Giarrusso this past winter. I turn to her for advice on a new logo, she shares with me her latest obsession with a coconut sugar substitute. We swoon over a pair of vintage lace and silk tap pants from the 1930’s. And, we always connect over our shared love of storytelling – whether through visuals, a garment or the written word.
Several weeks ago, we knew it was time for a reunion when I texted her a photo of a vintage dress I had found – with her name on the tag!
I had first discovered this dress in the Vintage Room at The Bargain Box at least three months prior. I immediately was drawn to it. It was a soft cream fabric that felt like a linen/cotton mix. I admired the printed silk embellishment but it was priced a bit higher than I had planned to spend and it looked too big for me to purchase for myself. Fast forward a month, I’m back in the Vintage Room and there’s that same dress again. I pick it up to admire it and hestitantly put it back on the rack. Five weeks later – how on earth is it possible that beautiful dress is still here?! This time, I finally look inside and gasp when I see “Marthe Pineau” scrawled on the tag. I immediately text Marthe a photo of the dress. She responded instantly: “Oh my, yes! I designed and made it 25 years ago.”
Wearing the dress I found at the Bargain Box; the very same dress Marthe designed 25 years ago and embellished with silk pieces from upcycled Japanese kimonos.
Hair: Elizabeth Peterson / Makeup: Tess Cash at BLUSH House of Beaute
Naturally, I’m intrigued and the dress goes home with me. My innate storytelling impulse where vintage clothing is concerned immediately takes hold and I make plans with Marthe for lunch to share with her my idea for a photo shoot and interview. Once we start brainstorming over our crepes, she suggests we also host a tag sale since she is feeling the urge to do a bit of purging. We make a plan – I will style looks from her wardrobe that will be for sale, she will handle set decorating and props – and then all we need is Victor!
See full details on Marthe’s Tag Sale
(which is a special part of The White Party at Style Girl Vintage)
September 17th below. *
Marthe’s video on our collaboration / photoshoot.
Besides the beautiful dress at The Bargain Box, there is only one remaining dress of Marthe’s own design in her closet.
Marthe’s mother, who made all Marthe’s clothing from dresses and skirts to tailored jackets with silk linings, while she was growing up, was the one who taught Marthe to sew.
“I was dying to learn. As soon as I was able to pick up a needle and thread, I was very impatient for her to teach me everything. She was brilliantly creative. When she was a young woman, she taught traditional Japanese dance, bonsai, and dress making.”
Marthe made dresses repurposed from vintage Japanese kimonos while she was living in Santa Barbara, California in the late 1970’s. She was a co-owner of a boutique called Solstice in Isla Vista.
“The focus was on the ethnic, the exotic. Items were curated from around the world. There was great interest in our little tiny shoebox of a store.”
Marthe said as much as she enjoyed her life in Santa Barbara, “I just found I had to expand my universe essentially.”
Marthe decided she must see the world so she chose to live in Europe for a year. She literally sold all of her possessions but kept her inventory in the shop so that whatever sold, the monies would be wired to her. Marthe landed in Germany and made her way South. She met up with friends in Leonidian, Peloponisis (Greece) and stayed at a 19th century old stone french prison that was converted to a pensionne (hostel). She then made her way via ferry to Switzerland in a VW camper van. Along the way, she designed a line of jewelry which she sold as a street vendor in Old Athens, and also partnered with a clothing designer to create a line of hand-painted silk clothing.
Amazing 1940’s printed day dress with the prettiest lucite buttons
for sale for less than $50 in Marthe’s Tag Sale at The White Party.
Upon her return from Europe in the mid-Eighties, she started spending more time in Los Angeles where the loft, art scene was exploding. She found a handful of cutting-edge boutiques that really loved her work and sold to them on a regular basis along with smaller shops on Melrose Avenue.
When she made the move to LA, Marthe shared a home with a set decorator in the film industry (Marthe’s current position) who asked her to help out as a buyer. “And, that’s how I made the transition from fashion design to film in set decorating.”
A TV pilot brought Marthe to Wilmington in the early 90’s. She met Hugh here, “the great English set decorator” who was brought to Wilmington by Dino De Laurentiis (one of the film industry founders in Wilmington) from England.
“That’s why I’m here – because of him.”
They found the farmhouse together on a dark cold November night. “As soon as I saw the back door and stepped into the kitchen, I knew it was our house.”
It wasn’t until she was on hiatus from decorating the film The Crow (filming was shut down after the accident) that Marthe realized what she had purchased. The dogwoods and azalias were blossoming, daffodils were up. It was still very much a farm. Rather than put their efforts inside the house, Marthe and Hugh just started planting cherry trees, crepe myrtles, ivy and rose bushes.
“Every birthday or anniversary, we would always gift a beautiful flowering tree or shrub. That’s why 25 years later, this place is so incredibly lush and beautiful. No matter where I am working in the world, coming home is one of the most special places for me to return to. It’s an oasis, a sanctuary and it’s where I draw my inspiration.”
Cotton striped chambray tank with mother of pearl cinch belt in back
and floral ruffled skirt (swoon, so romantic!)
both for sale in Marthe’s Tag Sale at The White Party.
“I truly am the old gardening hand. It’s where my heart and soul lives on. It represents all the qualities in life that I adore: abundance, verdant lushness of life, beauty, grace & creativity. Working in my garden has taught me so much – never-ending pattern and color, patience, working with the cycles of nature, opening my eyes to growth and rest.”
Marthe’s life on the farm is also reflected in her own personal style and daily uniform. She laughs and says, “I’m still an old hippie! My style hasn’t changed. Nowadays, it’s terribly casual. I just love classic style – a sun-faded denim shirt and my bellbottoms. If I want to dress up that uniform, I’ll add a beautiful tailored suit jacket with a silk scarf.”
In Marthe’s wardrobe as you’ll see in the Tag Sale, she starts with the fabrics first – linen, cotton, silk, and voile. “The thing I look for is texture and color first and of course, the simplicity and sophistication of the cut and fit matter. Everything else follows. When it feels good, it looks good.”
Cotton eyelet navy dress and field vest both for sale for less than $50
in Marthe’s Tag Sale at The White Party.
Marthe’s favorite designers include YSL, Chanel, Commes des Garcon, Issey Miyake and Yohi Yamamoto. She always finds clothing she loves at Worthwhile in Charleston and Phoenix in Richmond. Her greatest source of inspiration is Pinterest (follow her HERE – warning: this is a time-warp, swoon-fest!) and photographers Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Avedon and Edward Steichen.
Whether gardening or working on a film project, Marthe stresses that for her, it’s all about DESIGN.
Style Girl Favorite: Indigo fitted waistcoat, silk palazzo pants (never worn) from
Anthropologie, both for sale (less than $50) in Marthe’s Tag Sale at The White Party.
“Simple and beautiful design holds communities together. It is the thread that holds all the elements of my life together.”
And, a beautiful and creative life it is, indeed.
After reflecting on our own common thread and mentor/muse dichotomy, Marthe shared, “Fostering and ‘growing’ ideas is also why I love working with you on this project: it’s synergistic. The cultivation of the creative landscape is what we enjoy and appreciate on many levels.”
Silk embroidered caftan, cotton field vest, leather belt – all for sale for less than $50
in Marthe’s Tag Sale at The White Party.
GET THE LOOK:
by Tess Cash of BLUSH
This natural beauty makeup look is a modern take on a fall favorite with semi-matte skin, a super blended smoky eye and a rosy pop on the cheeks. Blend a dark brown liner and shadow near the lash line and fade to lid with softer brown. I used YSL dessin du regard in deepest brown. Use a cream blush on the apples on the cheeks and don’t be afraid to put it on twice for an extra pop. Used here is YSL kiss and blush in Rose in Paris (a lip color & blush in one!). A bold flush is
super chic for fall. Either a nude lip or a dusty muted rose lip goes well with this look.
BEHIND THE SCENES
on Marthe’s Farm
L: Getting shy doing this modeling thing in between takes.
R: Victor setting up the shot.
Marthe tasting her muscadine grapes.
Behind the Scenes video from our shoot on the farm
Special shout-out to my girl Katie Kern for sending me these Zara lace-up block heels from Atlanta. Last pair nationwide in my size and they would not sell/send from the store! Katie saved the day.
Here kitty, kitty!
Hot off the Press
Special “YOU my dear, are the Bee’s Knees!” to Salt Magazine Editor Ashley Wahl for such a beautiful article celebrating the magic & wonder of vintage and my deep connection and love for the past. And yes dear flappers, I am planning Wilmington’s 1st GATSBY Lawn Party presented by Kusek Financial Group (as a follow-up to my 4th annual Great Gatsby Gala) for Saturday October 17th. Stay tuned for more details!
To read the SALT article “Gatsby Girl,”
Photos by the amazing Lisa Brown of Bella Rose Photography
WHAT: “One Last Cookout” Summer Sale
@ Aqua Fedora (Downtown)
WHAT: “Stomp Out Cancer” Fashion Show
End of Summer WHITE PARTY
featuring “Marthe’s Tag Sale”
@ Style Girl Vintage
As a follow-up to the “Think Pink” Party and Labor Day upon us, my thinking is let’s throw the rules out the window + wear white into the fall! Style Girl Vintage is offering 30% off all white clothing + accessories for ONE night only! Come dressed in your favorite white hot look. Mixologist Joel Finsel of Astral Cocktails will be creating another original cocktail (white hued, of course), more delicious Baklavoom from Kathy Rayle + Photographer Harry Taylor promises his chemicals will be ready for discounted Tintype portraits. PLUS, SGV is hosting a “Shop Marthe’s Closet” tag sale featuring vintage & designer pieces from the personal collection of Marthe Pineau, film industry veteran / set designer. Priced to move! Full story on Marthe + this special sale in next week’s FASHION FIX!
WHEN: Thursday September 17th 6-9pm
WHERE: Style Girl Vintage + Harry Taylor’s Photography Studio
21 Market Street, 2nd floor
WANNA GO?: You’re Invited !
Entire look from Marthe’s closet (for sale) modeled + styled by Jess James
Photo: Victor Giarrusso / Hair: Elizabeth Peterson + Makeup: Tess Cash
from Blush House of Beaute
Follow along + see new arrivals first on the Style Girl Vintage Facebook page.
5th Annual CARE Project Gala
@ Union Station
TICKETS: Click Here!
Wilmington’s 1st Gatsby Lawn Party
Presented by Kusek Financial Group + Hosted by Jess James
WHEN: Sat Oct 17 / Rain date: Sun Oct 18th
11am – 4pm
WHERE: Paula Corbett’s Lawn:
6604 Spring Garden Drive (off Airlie Rd)
More details coming soon..
from Style Girl LLC
Re: 5th Annual Great Gatsby Gala
Please be aware that Jess James and/or Style Girl LLC, producers of “The Great Gatsby Gala” for the past four years is NOT in any manner affiliated with a “5th Annual Great Gatsby Gala” event being promoted by The City Club for early September.
Have no fear, flappers! A reinvention of your favorite Jazz Age inspired event is in the works – Wilmington’s first Gatsby Lawn Party! See more above. Hear more details first in the FASHION FIX. Thank you for your support. xo
+ Pound Fit (only available with Karson in Wilmington!) Tuesday 6:35pm and Saturday 10:15am at BFAB Studio Click above for more details.