In 1926 Coco Chanel created the “Little Black Dress”, a ready-to-wear, practical, sophisticated dress, one could wear all afternoon, and then on into cocktail hour. Originally designed in wool with long sleeves, this dress proved so popular that it soon appeared in a variety of styles, in different fabrics. The little black dress became a central focus of our modern outfits, both for day and evening wear.
Most of us have, in our closets, that one dress which gets us through almost any occasion. I, myself, own at least three or four little black dresses. Recently, while rummaging through a varied collection of items at a clothing exchange, a friend and I discovered a black sheath dress, hanging with the other colored dresses, low-key, yet desirable. We wanted that dress; it was going to fit one of us, or one of our daughters. But when we were able to get back into the room to make our selections, that nice dress had mysteriously disappeared. Someone had broken the rules and stashed it away. It seems that everybody wanted that little black dress.
I have always understood its mystique. When I was still a teenager, and an avid reader of Vogue, I chanced upon an article with an intriguing title, on how to “look very, very rich”. I read this with interest, understanding that truly great fashion never goes out of style. Real style involves a sense of timelessness, self-confidence, quality and design. And, that the most important item in a woman’s closet, was the little black dress. In this case, they were referring to the sheath dress, sleeveless and knee length. When I finally made my trip to Paris, I was wearing my own little black dress, and feeling very fine.
Because a large part of our Brava! business is Concert Black, we are very aware of the need for classic silhouettes, for modern, practical versions of this standby. In collaboration with our designer, Carole Wang, we’ve developed up a few dress styles, each of which is available in our Performance Attire Black 95% Bamboo/5% Spandex fabric. Not surprisingly, our initial foray into the little black dress, our “Diana” style, is tea-length, has long sleeves, a simple neckline, and bears a resemblance to Coco Chanel’s iconic style from 1926. This dress looks good on everyone, and is fast becoming a staple in Bay Area musicians’ wardrobes.
A little black dress can impart its mystery and sophistication to the wearer. It can boost one’s self-confidence. You know you’re dressed appropriately, and impeccably while wearing your little black dress. You needn’t worry about how you look; you can concentrate on more important things, like work, and making beautiful music.
I don’t know why people, including me, always say about a new season’s trendy color, that it’s the “New Black“. There isn’t any color which can replace black; you can’t beat it. It has always been the standard for elegance, versatility and style. At Brava!, black is our most important color; not our only color, but certainly our raison d’etre.
After all, the original idea for Brava! came to me while I was attending a concert of solidarity, performed by the San Francisco Opera Orchestra last year. Amidst the appalling orchestra lockouts in Minnesota, and Atlanta, they had been negotiating their own contracts, unsure of the future. There seemed to be an ever-eroding respect for the Performing Arts, and especially music education, creating an apprehensive atmosphere among professional musicians on a national level. The Orchestra came onstage at the Concert Hall, relieved about the results of their successful negotiations with the Union. The men looked fine in their tuxedos; the women wore their concert blacks.
I knew, of course, that orchestral musicians must wear black in the orchestra pit, but hadn’t really thought about this. There are about thirty female musicians in the S.F. Opera Orchestra, and each one has to come up with a concert black outfit for every performance. There are ten operas scheduled for the 2015-2016 Season, which runs from September – December, then May through June, for a total of 68 regular opera performances, plus any other events the Orchestra is required to perform. This means that each of these women must come up with at least sixty-eight concert black outfits each year. Sixty-eight! Even with double performance days, and switching around the same outfits every week, you’re still looking at a big need for black performance attire.
I saw that the gentlemen looked pretty good in their tuxedos, but the poor ladies were wearing any black they could find. They clearly had issues with matching dye-lots, shrinking, fading, and fit. A lot of them looked uncomfortable. These women were world-class musicians, and I thought they deserved better, especially in this alarmingly pervasive atmosphere of disrespect for the Arts.
When I worked backstage for some of the Lamplighters Music Theatre productions, I had also been required to wear all-black. Being an ex-New Yorker, I certainly owned plenty of black pieces, but always struggled to find comfortable and appropriate black outfits. I laughed to myself, because these days, if I need to wear appropriate, comfortable and stylish black these days, I have my bamboo clothing by Carole Wang.
“I could help them dress.” I thought.
This was no fleeting thought. I decided to see if providing a working wardrobe for female orchestral musicians was a viable idea. I took an informal survey of my friends in the Performing Arts, and found It was as I’d thought; the respondents all faced the same wardrobe dilemmas. I was surprised to find that half of these women were professional singers and actresses. It seems it’s also difficult to find the appropriate audition outfits, or stunning dresses for big events and recitals. I knew I was definitely onto something, then.
About six months later, during my opening event at the Lamplighters Music Theatre rehearsal space, I was further surprised. After our fun, informal fashion show, there was a rush to purchase. And, these women weren’t only buying concert black, but also in these same pieces in colors, for elegant casualwear. The final surprise was that these clothes had a such a wide appeal, to ages 25-65, and to a variety of body types.
Real clothes, for real women.
Brava! has the “New Black“ – Concert Black.