Thursday, December 29, 2011

What I learned in 2011

I'm a work in progress, so I'm always interested in learning how to improve myself.

As I look back on 2011, here's some of the advice that's been most meaningful to me from experts that I interviewed.

From legendary designer Oscar de la Renta: "Mister” (as his staff affectionately refers to him) had this to say about what makes a woman elegant: “Elegance is how you live, not just how you dress. To be dedicated to living elegantly takes a lot of discipline. It’s about understanding yourself and being very visual and dedicated to surrounding yourself with beauty.”

From Charlotte event planner Todd Murphy: He had great advice on how to not let your job take over your life. “Sunday is truly a day of rest and relaxation,” he told me. “I have set a boundary of no human contact on Sundays until the afternoon. That means no appointments, no cell phones, no voicemails, no e-mails, and no texting . . . just quiet time with coffee, the newspaper, magazines, CBS’s Sunday Morning and my dog.”

From Charlotte exercise guru Andre Hairston: “There are so many things going on with social media and extracurricular activities, it’s hard for some to make exercise one of their top priorities, but it should be more important than updating your Facebook status,” he said. He also believes in investing in yourself. “We have to treat our bodies better than our homes and our cars. We can always replace (a material) possession, but we only get one shot with our bodies.”

From style expert Clinton Kelly, co-host of TLC’s “What Not To Wear”: “Your actions are the important thing,” he said. “You will be defined by the things you do and say. But you’re also defined by the way you’re groomed and the clothes you put on your body. We’re human beings. We judge each other. It’s built into our DNA and to ignore that is just silly. If you want people to notice you and recognize you, it’s in your own best interest to look your best.”

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Have a snazzy holiday

Neiman Marcus at SouthPark hosted its first Snazzy Holiday Luncheon recently and it was such a success they plan to do it again next year.

The guests - who were mainly the store's top customers - mingled in the designer clothing department before sitting down to a delicious luncheon. The "entertainment" was provided by the fun and style savvy duo of the store's manager, Kristine Matthews, and its public relations manager, Kristin Jackson. Each had a table set up with their favorite gift ideas from the store in several different categories including gifts for parents, spouses, siblings and children. Models also circulated through the crowd to show off holiday fashions and dazzling jewelry.

Instead of visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, I'm now seeing a Rachel Zoe brand Liza sequined blazer and Connie tie-neck top. Here's a photo:

My favorite unisex gift idea is the Chateau d' Estoublon olive oil from France that comes in a bottle that's so stunning it could be mistaken for a large flacon of rare perfume sitting on your kitchen counter. It costs $100 and is available in the store's Gift Gallery, although there are only two left as I write this. Here's a photo:

Matthews and Jackson also shared some exciting news that I've been waiting to hear for a long time: Neiman Marcus stores now accept MasterCard (before it was just Neiman Marcus or American Express cards).

Even if you can't afford some of the luxurious merchandise, it's always inspiring to walk through the store because it feels good to be surrounded by all that beauty, and you can get ideas for putting together things you already own in new ways by observing what top designers are creating.

Also - as Matthews so eloquently summed up for the guests - it's important to dream.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mama got her bling

Lynda Austin, pictured above, is the winner of the beautiful crystal bracelet I gave away last week on my blog. After reading this excerpt from the funny e-mail she sent me, you can understand why:

"I am a forty-something working mother of two children, wife to one husband and mistress to three mischievous dogs," she wrote. "Your blog appealed to me because you are 'shining the light on those who know the art of living an elegant life'. I plan to live vicariously through your blog because my life these days is anything but elegant. From carpool lines to homework waking hours are spent shepherding my two young charges through life with as few scrapes as possible. In the midst of the chaos, it would be delightful to look down at my wrist to see a shimmering reminder of what my life used to be...those days before school uniforms and field trip permission slips. This nama needs some bling."

You got it, Lynda. And thanks for reading my blog and getting my mission.

Now I want to share a really great idea I saw over the weekend while walking my puppy through an unofficial dog park near my house. I didn't have my camera with me, so I'll have to rely on my descriptive powers.

A group that gathers at the park regularly throughout the year decided to hold a holiday party at one of the park benches. They hauled in their supplies in several large plastic containers. After emptying them, they put one container on the bench and stored the rest on the ground underneath it. Then they covered the whole bench in a white table cloth.

The part that was raised because of the box was used as a platform for a large tray filled with hors d'oeuvres. On one side of the platform was a gorgeous silver champagne bucket stocked with beverages. On the other side were the cups, plates, napkins and utensils. The back of the bench was decorated with a festive fresh garland of evergreens and holly berries.

It was a clever and beautiful way to use a plain ol' park bench and could be reworked for different seasons. I plan to steal that idea and tailor it to either a New Year's Day picnic or maybe a spring gathering.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My first blog post

For my first blog, I can't think of a better topic to start with than Opera Carolina's recent Bella Notte gala, which is the Super Bowl of Charlotte's social scene. Here are 5 reasons why:

1. The sold-out event is kept to 300, so the guest list is a Who's Who from Charlotte's top arts, business and philanthropy circles.

2. The gala's honorary chairs are always stellar members of the community who really know how to do things right. This year's hosts, Paige and Art Roselle, continued that tradition.

3. The attention to detail - from the gorgeous engraved invitation designed by Elizabeth Peters of Arzberger Engravers to the sumptuous d├ęcor executed by event planner John Lupton - is off the charts. To give you a sense of the event's atmosphere, I've included a photo by Jeff Cravotta taken from above the stage of the Belk Theatre where guests dined on food from the Ritz Carlton and danced to the Big Swing Orchestra.

4. The women in attendance make the effort - they take dressing for a Charlotte gala to another level. I was completely star struck as I looked around and realized many of them were so stunningly beautiful and were wearing such elegant gowns that they could have been at an opera gala in New York, Paris or Milan and would have turned heads.

5. It's the only Charlotte gala that's covered by the luxury society magazine Town & Country.

At each woman's place setting at the dinner was a thoughtful gift of a lovely leather bracelet embossed with crystals in different colors. Mine is a combination of gray and black. I saved it (it's never been worn) because I want to give it away to one of our readers. (Staff photographer T. Ortega Gaines took the photo of it so you can see how pretty it is).

To win it, send a short pitch on why you want the bracelet to Include your name, mailing address and phone number.